Candy Coated: A Memoir

Candy Coated
is a memoir about survival, social justice, and recovery. The story of one young femme’s journey toward discovering that compassion is better than punishment and rights are more effective than rescue, it reveals the truth surrounding what society says is good versus bad. Entertaining, intense, and informational, Candy Coated is a book that deconstructs the ways Western society views substances, sex, labor, and healing. It is a compelling and human story that invites empathy while offering a realistic look at systems of (in)justice in the U.S.

Readers have called Candy CoatedOrange is the New Black meets Party Monster but more Brown, magical, and inspirational.” Justice is a brave and honest storyteller, and her journey to self-love is universal.

Readers say...

“In this plainspoken but electrifyingly emotionally resonant memoir, Justice Rivera brings their nuanced historical analysis of the War on Drugs and the war on sex workers into an understanding of their own personal narrative. Rivera has long been an indispensable asset to the sex workers rights movement, expanding and complicating discourse on survival sex work, poverty, and the broad spectrum between choice, circumstance, and coercion.

Now, in this painfully honest yet compulsively readable account of their youth, they bring that same empathy and attention to detail to the complexities of their own drug using and sex trading past. Rivera urges us to understand that punishment has no redeeming value personally or politically, but the reader never feels preached to."

Caty Simon
Tits and Sass co-editor, Urban Survivors Union leadership team member, and Whose Corner Is It Anyway co-executive director

The story

What if society focused on acceptance and love instead of judgement and punishment?

What if we lifted people up instead of locking them up?

What if we empowered people to help themselves rather than trying to save them?

In her riveting memoir, Justice takes us into her world as a passionate and sensitive 22-year-old facing a 12-year felony sentence. From this vulnerable place, stories unravel: the fight with her mom that triggered smoking crack with her crush, her spiritual quest that led to an indoor tent, and how and why she worked at a job that didn’t pay her for months. She was desperate to stop the spiral, but she couldn’t escape herself and the punishing realities of life on the streets, addiction, and the judgement of the world around her.

Through her rocky journey, Justice experiences heartbreak, betrayal, exploitation, and systemic failure, but she never loses connection to the magic she knows lies beyond the thin veils of this human experience. After she begins to find her voice, a sympathetic judge gives her the break she’d been praying for. Hope turns into determination. She threw herself into the pursuit of universal truths, self-knowledge, and community. She begins to piece her life together. Justice connects to activism and harm reduction programs where she found language to understand her experience, and the self-love she needed to forge her own path.  

As the book closes, readers meet Justice more than ten years later, during an evening of street outreach where she connects to other street-based women and femmes with the compassion that comes from shared experience. Justice’s life has changed, but the ways society stigmatizes and criminalizes survival and bodily autonomy haven’t.

Towards Bodily Autonomy: A Healing Justice Anthology Decolonizing Sex Work & Drug Use

Read more