Former adult film star Jennie Ketcham chronicles leaving her old life in new bookWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In April 2009, a young woman stood in front of the Pasadena Recovery Center in California. Superficially, she was there to attend rehab for sex addiction. In reality, her motives were far different — tied to the cameras that followed her every step.
She was known by fans and co-workers as Penny Flame. She’d appeared in more than 200 adult movies since her career began at the age of 18. No matter what her appearance here would lead some to believe, she had no intention of leaving that life — much less her identity — behind. Flame was beginning “treatment” because it was part of a reality show, “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Think of all the publicity a regular role on VH1 could generate! It might even be enough to get her struggling webcam business off the ground, she hoped.
Things didn’t quite work out that way.
“Quickly, I realized that without alcohol, pot or sex, I had no identity, and that was kind of terrifying. It’s scary to wake up at 26 and not know how to respond to being called your real name — I’d been using an alias my entire adult life, and Dr. Drew Pinsky and his staff refused to perpetuate the fantasy world in which I lived. Thank God.”
Jennie Ketcham. That’s her name, now, as it was before “Penny Flame” ever existed. A short time into her stay at Pasadena, things changed. Her goals changed. She changed. By the time she left rehab, Ketcham had decided to radically alter her life. She would stop doing porn. No more drugs. Penny Flame, whoever she had been, was a thing of the past. All that remained was Jennie. Whoever she would be.
In an effort to explain, chronicle and aid her transition, she began to write about her life in a blog named “Becoming Jennie.” It was there — among the thousands of words, thoughts, reflections and emotions she shared with her loyal readers — that Ketcham’s unique and fascinating voice as a writer began to come to the forefront.
“I had always kept a blog but never kept an honest one about my feelings,” Ketcham said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “I was also so out of touch with those feelings, and the voice with which to describe them and experience them, I felt safe behind the gossamer veil that is Internet blogging. But once word got out into the porn world that I’d left, the blog’s popularity boomed and the rest is history.”
During the past few years, her site has become an exhaustive and emotional look at the many changes in Ketcham’s life. The world of adult films is, indeed, in her past. She now works as a hostess at a Pan-Asian restaurant. She’s attending college. And — most importantly — she’s becoming happy with who she is.
As Ketcham has grown, so too have her writing skills. Now, all facets of her personal evolution come to the forefront with the release of “I Am Jennie,” a new memoir released July 10.
“I had always wanted to write a book, and to be a ‘writer,’ but until I realized the most valuable part of my body was between my ears, actually writing a book seemed like a pipe dream. So I started ‘Becoming Jennie’ when I left adult [films], and Dr. Drew and one of his writer friends, a wonderful woman named Jill Stearn, approached me about it. Jill introduced me to an agent, who introduced me to the woman who would become my agent, Terra Chalberg, and bammo,” Ketcham said.
“More than anything, it took people believing in me. Perhaps that sounds silly, but it wasn’t until people who had written books said, ‘I think you can and should do this,’ that I started to believe I could.”
“I Am Jennie” is an engrossing chronicle of Ketcham’s life, the narrative divided between her time before and during her pornography career, and her new life. It also follows Ketcham’s attempts to trace her emotional struggles — sexual and otherwise — to their source.
“All of these destructive behaviors, the promiscuity, the drug and alcohol abuse, the self-sabotaging of relationships and compulsive cheating, it’s all inextricably linked to rape trauma and addiction. I feel like I’m in trouble if I start to pick it apart, as if one will exist without the other, thereby excusing me from the comprehensive treasure chest of addiction,” she said.
“I think pornography probably saved my life for a while. It gave me a relatively safe place to numb out and provided the financial means to continue living. But, like any addiction, it only works for so long before you hit a bottom and have to change everything.”
Still, in those early days after rehab, Ketcham hadn’t planned to completely sever ties with the adult world.” I was afraid of being shunned by friends I knew in the industry, so much so that even though I was walking away from it, I didn’t want ‘it’ to walk away from me,” Ketcham said.
“It’s taken the past three years to honestly say that participating in the industry — though paradoxically I just claimed it ‘saved me’ for a while — was probably one of the most harmful and damaging things I could have done, both to my body and mind. It perpetuates the myth that women are only good for sex, that youth is the only valuable age, that two-dimensional people are something to aspire to, and that meaningless and violent sex (in this American culture) is ‘just having fun’ …
“Do I regret it? Wish to shut the door on it and never look back? No, it’s good for me to remember from where I came. Would I ever go back? Advise a girlfriend, daughter or sister to do a few scenes for some ‘quick, easy cash?’ Not a f****** chance.”
Maybe that change is why the separation of narratives in “I Am Jennie” is so effective. Penny Flame’s story is now over. But Ketcham’s story — one of growth, renewal and, above all, hope — has just begun.
“I hope that a reader will be able to see herself or himself in the book, and to feel like no choice is so permanent it can’t be unmade. I hope whoever reads this book will be able to identify with the feelings, and know that they are not alone. For me, the task of completing it, of it being accepted by Gallery, and most especially, of working with all the wonderful people with whom I’ve worked has been the most rewarding experience.
“Even if the only people that buy the book are my family, friends and the people at my restaurant who have to buy it because they look me in the eye all the time,” Ketcham said with a laugh, “I consider it a success. Shoot, even if they don’t buy it. It’s been worth every tear, finger cramp and bad dream just to see it all happening now.”