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A New Town, a New Try at Outrunning a Felony

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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The purpose of this study is to evaluate the deterrent effect of imprisonment. Using data on offenders convicted of felonies in 1993 in Jackson County (Kansas City), Missouri, we compare recidivism rates for offenders sentenced to prison with those for offenders placed on probation. We find no evidence that imprisonment reduces the likelihood of recidivism. Instead, we find compelling evidence that offenders who are sentenced to prison have higher rates of recidivism and recidivate more quickly than do offenders placed on probation. We also find persuasive evidence that imprisonment has a more pronounced criminogenic effect on drug offenders than on other types of offenders.¹

This is the first of a three-part post series on Eric and Sonya. After, read part II. Then, read part III.


Eric and Sonya: On the Way Out of Town. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

It smells better where they are going, and the cops don’t know them there.

It isn’t Hunts Point where every car passes Sonya and says, “I know you want it.”

This is what Eric and Sonya say on the way out to a new place. A new-old place. They’ve lived (and injected) there before.

In the process of leaving, heroin is shot in the pit near a gas station where they sleep, and they sing to Hotel California as it plays on car radio.

On the drive, they pass a metropolis of powerlines, Diet Snapple and “If you die tonight: heaven or hell?” billboards.

The pair is nervous despite having laced the country before, spending a few months here and there, hitch-hiking for jobs before the heroin habit got too bad and they stuck flypaper-like to the Bronx. Sonya joking-but-serious asks for Xanex.

Eric, in ramble, speaks of industry and neutrinos, Sonya, of how she wants to fall off a map away from the world, how certain dealers’ quality fell in Hunts Point the last few months anyway, so they’re not missing anything by moving on.

They leave in hopes of Eric finding work and to lose touch with the warrant squad that searches for his face in bodegas. If caught, he would be locked up for two years, he said, and then what? What would happen to his wife?

Laws are harsher about heroin where they are going, so they’ll do less. Eric is going to find work and get clean, then he’ll help Sonya.

On stops, they search gas stations for beer and cigarettes, become consumed by loud arguments over money in parking lots full of minivans.

Once in their new-old place, they pass where they used to buy drugs and the low building where Eric once got his birth certificate.

Sonya recites directions of buying here. The good stuff’s thirty minutes by bus from where they’re thinking of staying. Not that they’ll need it.

In the new place, they will find shelter, someplace where they don’t have to carry their bags every day. Walking around with bags makes police suspicious, and the police don’t play here.

Doesn’t matter — they won’t cause trouble, won’t get into screaming matches with other panhandlers like back in New York.

Near their new home, a woman with a ponytail and Polo shirt washes the tires of her VW Golf.

They recount the days where they used to visit bars and get big sandwiches with cash, then wonder what to eat now, musing: the trash cans are worse here, not changed as often.

Read Eric and Sonya: Part II. Then, read Eric and Sonya: Part III.
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More Hunts Point Addiction Writing
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Chris Arnade’s Photos and his Facebook feed

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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