For about 20,000 women in the Chicagoland area, prostitution is a way of life. Over the years, many of these women are arrested and locked up briefly, only to return to the streets. The cycle is something that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart hopes to break with a rehabilitation program designed to help women leave lives of prostitution.
On Thursday night, some of the inmates and former prostitutes from the program will share their stories in a two-hour documentary titled, "Prostitution: Leaving the Life" on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
As the documentary explains, the Cook County Jail founded the Department of Women's Justice Services in 1999 in response to a growing female inmate population. In 2008, the department joined mental health professionals and former prostitutes to address why women begin working as prostitutes, and helping those women on leave that life behind,find medical care and safe housing.
"This is not a victimless crime, it never has been," Sheriff Dart says in the documentary. "What actually goes on is not the movie 'Pretty Woman.'"
(Scroll down for more clips from the documentary)
Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute working with the Sheriff’s Police Vice Unit, meets with women just moments after they are arrested in sting operations, offering them a way out. Myers-Powell said she was shot five times, stabbed more than 13 times and beaten repeatedly during her 25 years on the streets. At 5-years-old, she was sexually abused, and that abuse continued for years.
"Without that treatment for prostitution that I had, I would never have made it," she says in the film. "I'm trying to do what was done for me."
“Prostitution: Leaving The Life” will air at 8 p.m. CST on OWN.
Watch more clips from the film here: