Addiction and prostitution go hand in hand. Addicts say men turned to theft to pay for their fix when money got tight. Women, on the other hand, sold their bodies.
Alexa was an athlete in high school. There was no substance abuse in her family and by all measures she could have had a "normal" teenage life.
At 17 she met a guy who was using and started skipping school. He introduced her to pain pills and she gradually moved up to heroin.
Her teenage years quickly turned into a life in and out of motels, hustling to find the next fix.
When the money really started running out, Alexa's boyfriend pushed her to escort. She had worked for an escort company once before as a dancer. She would only agree to dance, but clients were expecting more. The stint only lasted a few weeks.
This time she turned to Backpage.
"In the beginning it was good when I was making a lot of money and was getting as [explicit] up as I wanted to be and that drowned out a lot of it," Alexa said, tapping her cigarette.
While none of the women ever said they enjoyed the job or the clients, they all said the money kept them coming back. The average girl makes a few hundred dollars a day. Some clear $1,000 a day.
The relationship between drugs and prostitution is the ultimate tug-of-war. Whatever the scenario that got her into prostitution (financial desperation, pimped, trafficked, homelessness, etc) they find it nearly impossible to endure the "work" without being high to numb the experience. If drugs were the reason for starting, for the most part every dollar goes to the drug dealers.
The dependency between prostitution, money and drugs is the reason so few women leave The Life.
Alyson was a long-time drug dealer who kept getting busted for heroin. To make money outside of law enforcement's radar, she started prostituting on Backpage.
"Eighty bucks and you can go get you a couple bags, get to feeling better," Alyson explained. "Later on turn you another trick and go get you some more. It's easier than going and working a regular job."
Kasi has three children and is now in jail on prostitution charges. While pregnant with her little girl, she was doing pain pills the entire pregnancy.
After being raped as a little girl, Kasi entered The Life in her teens and started running with a crowd that regularly used and sold.
"I couldn't find no pills one day, it was right after I was pregnant with my third son," Kasi remembered. "So I call a friend, and a friend comes over, pulls out a small bag, dumps it out and is like 'snort it.'"
That was the first time Kasi tried heroin and she was hooked.
As her descent into street life hastened through lost jobs, homelessness, lost custody cases and so on, her drug use exploded.
"I'd stay up for days at a time," Kasi recalled. "Just getting high and enjoying it. Numbing the pain."
Of the women who are mothers, most said custody issues or losing their children to DSS was the event that sent them spiraling so out of control that there seemed to be no turnaround.
"I'd get my first high by 9:00 in the morning. That was the first thing I did," Kasi explained of her day. "You don't want to be sick. You don't want to be going through withdrawals and then have to take a call."
Nikki's money, however, went to getting other people high at the hotels.
"I get so lonely and I don't want to be by myself out there, so I take these people and I get them high," Nikki said. "I party with them and my money goes."
Nikki would make about $1,000 a day. She spent roughly $60 a night for her hotel room and the rest on drugs.
The women say drug dealers are always eager to work with them since they're bound to have cash on had. Of course, widespread knowledge of that money also makes them a target.
When asked how the women would describe The Life in a single word, one always comes to mind: dangerous.