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The White Noise

The White Noise


A hit of addiction and mental illness, chased by chemistry and culture.
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Conversations with Men on the Run, or Not on the Run

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.

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Delaware researchers have argued for a continuum of primary (in prison), secondary (work release), and tertiary (aftercare) therapeutic community (TC) treatment for drug-involved offenders. Previous work has demonstrated significant reductions in relapse and recidivism for offenders who received primary and secondary TC treatment 1 year after leaving work release. However, much of the effect declines significantly when the time at risk moves to 3 years after release. Further analyses reveal that program effects remain significant when the model takes into account not simply exposure to the TC program, but, more importantly, program participation, program completion, and aftercare. Clients who complete secondary treatment do better than those with no treatment or program dropouts, and those who receive aftercare do even better in remaining drug- and arrest-free.¹

Eric: I have to go to a new program, got kicked out of the one I was in. Dirty urine.

His bulky flannel coat barely shifted with his shrug. Just another program-to-court oscillation, the hope for a good-tempered judge. He knows all the judges by now, can recite legal-speak of the options to expect. When he isn’t high he thinks about it too much.

Bad luck with a judge means being remanded to Rikers on the spot. He’s facing two years if his luck’s bad.

Sonya, Eric’s wife, can panhandle, or sleep, or inject enough drugs to not think, or sit behind silenced pews to listen for her husband’s docket number through the rotary of criminal court lines and scans.

She could see him being taken in front of her, led to the court’s underbelly without so much as a hug goodbye, all because he sold $10 worth of heroin to a cop. Or she could wait under the bridge, distract herself, bide the hours to see if her husband would come back, grinning and bearing Cobra malt liquor at a successful charge evasion.

What if he doesn’t come back? What then?

Last time Eric went away she housed a man or two in the front room of the house where she was squatting (don’t worry, they were just friends) and got into a spat with a dealer who allowed her to stay in the building.

The dealer who, at the time, was the center of neighborhood malaise: “Stay away from Block X, guy’s got guns.” “He hurt somebody and the cops are looking.”

Sonya dealt herself, drugs shuffling up and down the stairs, unable to keep from taking extra. “Don’t let a monkey sell bananas,” one of the men she lived with, Jason, said.

Increasingly, groups of strange people tried to enter her apartment, and her debt built. Then there was a fire. She ran, though didn’t go far. Instead, she lived here and there, chose to slink at odd hours and avoid certain people’s schedules.

Eventually, she arrived on the expressway, a place she felt safe, where, presumably, the drive-by world would see someone beating up a woman alone and report it.

And so Eric found upon his release from jail.

Sonya and Eric. New home
Sonya and Eric under the expressway: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Eric: If I don’t come back from court what’s going to happen to Sonya? She screwed it up and lost the apartment last time. What now?

At least now Sonya has Eric for a companion, one shackled to the area by check-in and urinalysis requirements. A companion who talks of a job and a resume, though it’s turned to vague speeches of running, or gaming a system that’s already set to bear down on the drug-using, probation-carrying homeless. A companion who asks her for her panhandling money to buy drugs, one with no plan.

Sonya: Did I tell you? My husband beat the shit out of the Mute the other night. The guy stalked me. You should have seen it. The Mute was cowering on the ground.

Eric has patches of flaked white around his hairline (psoriasis), sores around his mouth and line of blood that from far away looks to be a nose ring. He stands and staggers under his Cobra can.

Eric: Last time I got a fair judge. Thinking about pleading innocent in a couple of weeks and seeing if the cop that I sold to shows up. Bet he won’t.

The Mute smokes crack and doesn’t or can’t speak for one reason or another. A man with hearing problems, among other ones, who walks the Bruckner each day. Or did, before Eric’s intervention.

Eric: Guy’s a fucking asshole, making comments at my wife. I’m not going to deal with that. But listen, this trial. I’m not made for jail. I can’t go back. I’m not that type of person.

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More Hunts Point Addiction Writing
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Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. tuned 11:56 am 10/30/2013

    Long term hard drug abuse is KNOWN to cause brain damage.
    That’s not fixable by any program.
    It will require genetic manipulations to fix the base causes of addiction, depression, etc.
    The rest is just band-aids, not cures.

    Link to this

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