Thin and nervous, the 26-year-old woman says she is ill at ease with people she doesn't know, which is an odd predicament for someone, who by her own account, has slept with several thousand strangers in the 3 1/2 years.

Until last month, the woman who in this article will be called Jane, was a masseuse in a Prince George's County massage parlor. It's a job that she likens more to that of a prostitute than to the physical therapist she thought she would be.

Sexually inexperienced and shy when she began her masseuse career, Jane said that the money-as much as $1,000 in a good week-kept her in the job long after she wanted to leave.

"I never had that kind of money when I grew up and it kind of overpowered me like Satan," she said.

Jane was willing to reveal why a woman from a poor, uneducated Prince George's family chose to stay in the massage business long after she knew of the prostitution, because she now wants to "go straight."

"I want a new me-to straighten out my life. I want to by the Bible, be honest, loving and forgiving and obey the Ten Commandments," Jane said.

Her Story, she said, is a simple one. The daughter of a failed businessman and a mother who works behind a fast-food counter in a shopping mall, Jane found the prospect of $1,000 a week as masseuse irrisistible.

A high school dropout at 17, Jane, a tiny, bird-like woman, worked at several unskilled jobs in her first post-school years and twice was fired for rejecting her supervisors' sexual advances.

Broke and feeling at a dead end, she was told by a friend about the lucrative massage parlor business and was now willing to do whatever was necessary to land a high-paying job as a massuese.

"At first I thought it was like a hospital thing for people, like a physical therapist," she said, carefully pronouncing each syllable of the last two words.

"Boy, did I learn different," she said, letting out a laugh and a sigh before confiding that she feels nervous talking about her past.

Jane entered the shadowy world of massage parlors through rather conventional channels. Unhappy with her job as an aide in a center for retarded children, she answered a newspaper advertisement for masseuses in a new Prince George's massage parlor.

In a dimly lit, upstairs room of an old, rambling frame house, she quickly experienced her initiation. A few minutes into her job interview, she was asked if she would mind taking off her clothes.

"I needed the job, so I said, 'I guess not,'" she recalled. "I was only worried that they were going to make me take drugs." No drugs were forced on her, she said, but her interviewer suggested sex "to see if I was any good."

She reluctantly complied. "I'd only slept with two men before then," she said.

"I just don't have the maturity" to avoid being easily swayed, Jane added.

"Oh, God, it was so embarrassing for me," she said, starting to blush and giggle uncomfortably. "It seems funny now, but I was only 22 then. I'm a little more open-minded now."

The next day, she began working reqularly.

"At first it was scary," Jane said, and she " would try to get it over with quick."

Even in her near-panic, though, she had moments of warmth for her customers. "The guys came in 'cause they need to be held or cared for; they needed to feel like men," she said. "My heart just went out to a lot of them," she said.

Once, a legless Vietnam veteran came to the parlor, and, Jane said, 'I just let him have it for nothing.I felt so bad for him."

Jane and the other massueses-one of whom was only 15 years old but had forged an identity card stating her age as 18-developed a routine of 15-to-30 minute sessions with as many as 20 customers a day.

The women, the oldest of whom was 32, worked in two shifts-10 to 5 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight. Jane worked the more lucrative evening shift.

"The first day I just sat there hoping nobody would come in and ask for me. One guy picked me and we went upstairs, and I told him I was new at this and he would have to bear with me. He did. He didn't get angry and he gave me a tip," Jane said.

When a customer appeared at the parlor, one of the masseuses negotiated the type of massage-starting with the $20 standard, partially naked kind. Jane learned to speak in carefully worded language, a sort of massage parlor code, to avoid arrest by undercover police.

"They (the customer) would say after the basic massage was completed, 'What about something else?' and I would say, 'What do you mean? and let the customer propose the arrangement.

A few minutes of financial haggling followed until the customer offered the "right price" - anywhere from $30 to $50. The masseuses, Jane said, kept 40 percent and tips. The manager got the rest.

During our work Jane said, she would often push her thoughts away from the massage parlor. You put yourself in another type of world and fantasized about being on the beach or getting a new dress or dancing," she said. Sometimes, she would cook a meal in the parlor's small kitchen or just listen quietly to the constantly playing rock music.

"Sure, there were times in the first few months when I thought, 'What am I doing with all these strangers?' when I just wanted to walk out of there. But the money kept me," she said.

There were other benefits. '"I grew up sexually at the massage parlo," she said. "I felt like a kid, a young girl. I do feel more of a woman now. But it's like I'm divided in half: In bed I'm more of a woman, and with people away from work I'm still like a kid. I have to work on that. $"By seeing different men, different personalities, it helped me relate to them better and not be a frightened little thing," she said.

In the course of 3 1/2 years, Jane said, she probably "massaged" 5,000 men and "with two-thirds of them, I went all the way."

Only two female customers came to the parlor while Jane worked there, she said.

The parlor's customers, she said, included doctors, lawyers, dentists, truck drivers and salesmen. For somebody who is insecure about her intelligence, who is constantly apologizing for stumbling speech and a limited vocabulary, she felt reassured by the attention of professional men.

"I met a lot of people I liked. One older guy, he was real sweet to me. He knew his lines, how to make you feel good, like you was somebody. I still like him," she said, adding softly, "but he doesn't care for me."

"A lot of them I asked, 'Why do you come here instead of going to a bar and picking someone up there?' And they all said the same thing, 'You go out on a date, and you have to play games and spend a lot of money, and only then maybe . . .'"

Once she got adjusted to the work, Jane said, she found she "wanted to make (her customers) feel good and enjoy themselves so that they would like me. I used to try to bring them back (for another session). It was good for me, for my ego.

"It was an ego trip, I guess. When people would sit downstairs and wait for me because I was busy and they wouldn't take nobody else even though they were prettier, it make me feel good," Jane said.

For the first two years, Jane said, working as a masseuse was just like any other job, if she didn't think about it too much. "It would get to me when someone asked me where I worked and I'd have to say, 'Oh, just here and there.'"

Occasionally, Jane saw someone on the street she had met at the massage parlor, and, she said, "You'd turn your head and try to get out of there. It was like an X-rated movie-you looked and you hid."

It also disturbed her the time her father called her a "hussy" and her mother got upset at the skin-tight body suit she wore at work. But her parents fully knew what kind of work she did for her salary, whiich was used to help support them. Then, there were the occupational hazards. Her one bout with venereal diesease had to be paid for from her own pocket, as did all birth control pills and devices on which she and the other massueses relied.

Jane said that the massage parlor managers "never pushed the girls to get regular check-ups, and a lot of girls had (untreated) infections."

The managers did push the "girls" to look provocative, and their insistence on bikinis, nighties and body began to annoy Jane.

"I would wear decent clothes, a nice dress or jeans, and they would say, 'You're not dressed for work.' We had to wear something sexy," she said emphasizing the last word disdainfully.

"I got very moody when I was there because of the pressure and not wanting to be there. You'd be sitting there all night long, knowing you'd want to be out and having fun. It was tearing me up and I'd just try and ignore it, put it aside, Jane said.

More disturbingly, she said , "I began to lose my personal interest in sex."

Six months ago, Jane reached her limit. "After you get pawed all over and undress in front of men, you wanted to be dressed, wanted to have someone like you and want you and not (just) your body," she said.

"People would call me a 'pro' and spit on me, but I don't think I'm a pro. That's someone who knows how to con somebody and take their money without feeling guitly," she said.

An ivestigation by the Prince George's County Department of Licences and Permits and county police reached Jane's massage parlor in recent months and helped encourage her to retreat from the massage parlor business.

"I decided to find me a new job, a new face and a nice man to get married to," she said. As a first step, she has had plastic surgery on her nose and chin, and is thinking about widening her eyes "to look more feminine," she said.

The day she went for the surgery, Jane vowed not to return to the massage parlor again. That was over a month ago, and despite hard luck finding another job, Jane said she has not been tempted to return.

"I'm 26, and I don't want to get old and lonely. All I want is one man, a little home and children . . . to be happy.

"I know now that as long as I can pay the rent, and buy food and help out my parents, I'll be fine," Jane said.

And for once, she said, "it feels good to be doing the right thing."