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When one door closes, another closes

Taxi Driver

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We'll call her Suzannah. It's not her real name, but then she could be any of a number of similar young women who have gotten into my cab.

She is, and they are, sex workers in the "WebCam" area of the industry. For them it's an economic last resort, a life-saver.

Suzannah's trying to overcome addiction and a stubborn prison record. At 38, life, it seems, is tougher outside prison walls than in.

"I'm not against having to pay my dues for what I was doing wrong," she says. "Whatever I was doing wrong was against the law. Plain and simple."

Over the course of our time together, she'll make it clear that she accepts the state's version of her own criminality, and with having spent eight years in a Colorado prison for possession of methamphetamine.

"I'm square with the state," she says. "I went and did my time."

I've found that people who've been through the Colorado prison system often speak as if they'd written a book on the subject. Their thoughts are organized in a business-like way around times, dates and decisions, with a self-contained, controlled lack of emotion.

But on this short trip "home," to a basement apartment she shares with a friend, Suzannah won't be too clinical, because the past is not really the past. Another possession case against her is coming up in February. She faces a 16-year term this time if she can't find a good attorney. She declines to get into the details about this one, as it's pending, but hints at a setup.

There are many reasons, of course, why Suzannah doesn't want to return to prison. One of them that she mentions in our time together: More time there will bring more Ritalin, which she says was given to her while incarcerated. She'd prefer not to take any drugs, she says, as she's in rehab now.

Like many other single women in Colorado Springs who are navigating hard times, Suzannah says she's making all kinds of efforts to improve her lot and step on the playing field. She can reel off a dozen job search websites she's tried, and plenty of companies to which she's applied. She has an attractive Facebook page to support her applications, and good employer recommendations on hand.

But, she says, "Nobody wants to lease to a felon." Or, apparently, hire one.

The "Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Yes or No" question on most job applications eliminates Suzannah, and many like her, from consideration instantly. They're shut out of convenience stores, telemarketing companies, you name it.

"Every day," she says, "I'm still punished."

So what she and others sometimes do in these circumstances is set up a web connection in the "skin industry." Thus a simple computer, that same instrument of hope and economic betterment we can't live without each day, becomes an aid to put-food-on-the-table porn.

It must be acknowledged, too, that Suzannah makes a strong candidate for this line of work. She's kept a sleek, graceful figure, developed as a dancer for 15 years. She knows how to attract and hold attention without distancing those around her; soon after we take our conversation into her small, clean and warmly furnished apartment, her housemate enters, and despite our never having met, Suzannah makes both of us feel comfortable.

We talk about a variety of topics — politics, TV, books — but mostly about her current situation. At some point, she explains, the phone will ring and it will be time for her to go into the bedroom, close the door, and turn on the Hewlett-Packard. Time that could be devoted to more job-searching will go to paid masturbation. A client will appear on the screen, and for $7.99 per minute Suzannah will do as she's told, and as the client wishes, wherever he or she might be.

Her earnings amount to a small percentage of the total charges. They're immediately calculated and entered into her account by an employer she never sees or talks to. It's all done online.

The phone rings. Before I find out who it is, I figure it's time to leave.

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