Book Review: Phd To Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life
Book Reviewed by Anita Doreen Diggs
PHD (Po Ho on Dope) to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life by Elaine Richardson begins in a poor and working class section of Cleveland Ohio during the 1960s. Daddy is a retired musician who keeps himself busy as a volunteer superintendent of the building where he and his family live. Mama (a Jamaican immigrant) is a kind, hard-working, cleaning woman who dreams of a better life for her son, Chris and daughter, Elaine.
Elaine Richardson’s descent from innocent junior high school kid to drug-addicted prostitute begins with a deep seated sense of guilt. Shocked and depressed by the abortion of a baby conceived during her first sexual experience, Richardson starts hanging with the wrong crowd. She is only 13 when she meets Andrew Ball, a 17-year-old thug who has been in and out of juvenile detention centers for many years. He is cool, good looking and a smooth talker. She is smitten and starts breaking curfew to spend time with him. Andrew is a hustler who is supported by a young prostitute called Fat Bitch and Richardson is too young to understand that it won’t be long before he turns her out as well.
Mama tries to stop the downward cycle which is on the horizon but her daughter is stubborn, in love and willing to do anything for Andrew.
He calls from jail and tells Richardson that he needs money to get out and that Fat Bitch will help her learn the ins-and-outs of whoring to pay the bill. After a few awkward and dangerous episodes, Richardson becomes somewhat comfortable in her new role. On one occasion, she and a fellow hooker named Candy take two johns up to a hotel room. She writes, “We played wit em, danced for em, switched up, let em drink up, sexed em up, ripped em off and got out. My first night in the big leagues.”
After Andrew is sentenced to a lengthy prison term, Richardson goes back to school and even manages to get into the remedial program at Cleveland State University. Her life is back on track. There is only one problem. She loves spending time in after hour joints where the pimps, playas and dealers hang out. It isn’t long before she is right back where she started. Richardson is a sympathetic protagonist because of her youth, naiveté and optimism even when she is literally near death.
The narrative at the end feels rushed but Richardson’s painful yet determined climb out of the streets is still inspirational. Richardson gives an unflinching account of life as a young prostitute who is both addicted to drugs and controlled by unfeeling pimps. It is a raw and heartbreaking narrative which is impossible to put down However, it is her rise from the bottom that is absolutely enthralling. She goes into rehab and manages to re-enroll at Cleveland State.
Against enormous odds, Richardson hits the books with a determination that is simply awe-inspiring. She succeeds on a scale that she could not have imagined when she is named Professor of Literacy Studies, in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State University. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds.