Underneath It All by Traci Lords
Grace After Midnight by Felicia "Snoop" Pearson and David Ritz
If suicide "gave Heather depth, Ram, a soul; Kurt, a brain," Baltimore, that charming whipping boy of a city, gave Traci Lords a chance and Felicia Pearson a future. Although the subjects of these two memoirs don't share many similarities on the surface, the fact that Baltimore and show business play such large role in their respective redemptions gives the books a surprising symbiosis.
Lords, who was a Penthouse centerfold and star of at least 20 X-rated movies before the age of 18, was in the midst of untangling herself from the porn industry when John Waters cast her as a juvenile delinquent (and Patricia Hearst's daughter) in Cry Baby. As she recounts in the book, the role not only introduced her to her first husband, but also to a wacky family of people who accepted her. In tears over being subpoenaed by the FBI on the set, Waters comforts her saying, "Traci, I bet everyone here has had a run-in with the law," raising an eyebrow at Patricia Hearst. Then everyone in the cast and crew sits around sharing stories about "previous incarcerations."
Love John Waters. Just love him.
After the first 100 pages, Lords's book turns into the glowing post-slipper part of the Cinderella story, focusing on career highs and (mostly) positive relationships. However, Pearson spends very little time talking about her acclaimed and chilling role on The Wire. Grace After Midnight focuses instead on Pearson's tumultuous youth. Born to a crack-addicted mother, Pearson finds a home with a loving foster family. However, their nurturing isn't enough to keep her off the streets, and at the age of 15, she is arrested, and eventually convicted for second degree murder, and sent to prison until the age of 20. Throughout the book, Pearson also speaks frankly about her homosexuality, her family, and her street family, the latter providing a number of surprisingly positive role models.
After experiencing a revelation of grace in prison, Pearson is released with the intention of going straight. However, she's repeatedly fired from legit jobs once her criminal record comes to light, and goes back to dealing until she's discovered by Michael K. Williams (aka the unspeakably awesome Omar Little).
Both memoirs document the long, hard road to redemption well, but with each, there's a sense that the authors are omitting important details, more concerned with putting their best face forward than in providing true insight. The difference between Pearson's lurid accounts of her fellow inmates' crimes and the disclaimer-filled version of her own are telling. And despite her history of abuse and her coercion into the sex industry, Lords glosses over the fact that she obtained the fake ID that said she was 22 on her own.
Still, I'm inclined to come down on the side of our authors here, as both were under the age of 16 when they met their notorious fates, and there were circumstances surrounding each that were, to say the least, extenuating. If you have any doubts, read the Human Rights Watch report on child offenders serving life without the possibility of parole. A child in California is currently serving life for a crime in which no one was even injured.
Plus, cheesy as it is, I like the idea that people can turn their lives around, and if you do as well, these books are for you.
One additional note, Lords's book has taken no small quantity of flack for being "poorly written." I don't agree at all. Sure, it's conversational and sometimes downright chatty, but it's not sloppy. Plus, I think it takes a certain amount of balls for a woman with not so much as a GED behind her to tackle a memoir without a ghostwriter.