Lost and Found

Baby Girl has one last chance at a new life.

"Sometimes I'm in so much pain that I wish they'd just cut off my leg already," she says.

At least Clayton and others at Chrysalis support her. She gets mad when she thinks about how some women take advantage of Chrysalis. She gets even madder when she thinks about another woman in the program who offered to sell her crack. Out of the eleven women active right now in Chrysalis, she's in the half who haven't tested positive for cocaine.

One woman who'd walked the streets for three decades made some progress in Chrysalis, but now she's on the run. Another addict who'd sold her body for crack stayed clean for five years in order to raise a child -- but then a relapse led to the streets and, finally, Chrysalis. Despite a hot UA early on, she's taken the role of leader in her classes, and she's one of two women who've moved to phase two of the three-phase program. She's job-hunting now, looking for a new place to live and fighting for custody of her child.

Mark Manger
Lois Clayton, manager of the Chrysalis Project, is on 
call 24/7.
John Johnston
Lois Clayton, manager of the Chrysalis Project, is on call 24/7.

Relapse is simply a part of rehab for some, says a Chrysalis client who's dropped three dirty tests and gone back to jail while in the program. The 36-year-old addict has been prostituting off and on since she was sixteen and had never before received treatment. Chrysalis is working for her because she wants it in her heart. "I'm a runner," she says. "I ran from my problems a lot, and this program has helped me face the issues I have. Being around women that come from the same background is a help, a comfort."

When dealers who used to sell her crack ask if she needs anything, she tells them that she doesn't smoke anymore. Now she has the tools to stick by her convictions.

She's off the streets, back in a stable apartment, and has rebuilt burned bridges with her father, who comes to court to support her. She showed off her son at Empowerment one day, a solid kid who's stayed away from trouble. "I couldn't have made it as far as I've made it without Lois," she says. "I have a lot to lose. I have my relationship with my kid to lose, I have my apartment to lose, and I worked hard for that. It's a struggle every day, but my kids are worth it, and I am worth it."

Chrysalis isn't like baseball, Marcucci says. It's not three strikes and you're out. The rules aren't the same for everyone, so the women can't test them. Marcucci's top priority is to keep the women out of prostitution. It's great to get them off the drugs, but getting them off the streets is his job.

He keeps a tighter leash on the women with more offenses, who've been in the game for so many more years. He lets some into the program, but he warns them that they won't be allowed even one screwup. With the younger prostitutes, Marcucci sends them to jail for hot UAs, missed UAs, missed classes and missed court dates.

"I am really shocked by the way in which the prostitutes' entire lifestyle is interwoven with the sex acts that they perform, their use of drugs, their living situation, their daily activities, their friendships and their associates," Marcucci says. "It is not like a truck driver or some other professional person who has a drug problem, who uses drugs recreationally or addictively, but still has another life that they go to: It could be a reporter, it could be anybody. But these women, their entire existence revolves around getting drugs, doing acts of prostitution to get drugs, going to live with people who do and buy and sell drugs, then going back on the street the next day to get their money.

"To break the cycle, I think we'd have a greater success rate if we were able to release them to some type of actual holding facility that was away from Colfax, that did not allow them to have access to the neighborhoods that they normally live and work in, commit acts of prostitution in, for at least some period of time, thirty to sixty days. I don't think it has to be a year, because if their problem is that severe, it's probably beyond the resources of Denver. We need to break their whole lifestyle."

New women who join the program are now required to stay in the safehouse for at least thirty days so that treatment can get under way.

Of the 39 women Lopez has interviewed in jail to see if they're eligible for Chrysalis, 21 have been accepted. About a dozen are actively participating. Nine of the women have run -- three before they began Chrysalis, and six afterward. Four are still on the run.

So it's your choice to do what is right and to become whole or end up in the hole.

Sitting in jail one day, Baby G said that she liked to win. Win, like talking a john out of some money without sex, or hustling her crack for free by selling it on the streets. She liked the easy money of the game when she followed the most basic rule: Don't get high off your own supply. When she first went into Chrysalis, she thought she could still sell crack, just not smoke it anymore. But after she fell off so hard, she realized that the game can't be won -- not now, anyway.

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