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.
Roland: Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Roland's new to drugs and the street life at 21 -- his first lockup (possession misdemeanors, a felony sale charge), non-violent offenses. He did time in Rikers Island jail before choosing a deal: a stint in a long-term residential drug rehabilitation facility in exchange for sentence time. He chose the deal over jail, entering into substance abuse treatment in Brooklyn. A couple of months in, he left treatment one afternoon and returned to the South Bronx. He was rearrested on the street the next morning and taken back to Rikers, back to jail with no treatment.
Five Months Earlier
Roland in the squat: Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Roland climbed over a stained, bare mattress on the third floor of the "squat," an abandoned house with no electricity or plumbing, a dwelling with eroding floors and drywall dust caked over everything. Within the pile of clothing heaped on one side of the room, between cast-aside books and syringe wrappers, Roland's hand disappeared and reappeared clutching a tiny jacket. The heroin-glazed man shook the material on a hanger, grinning. "Look what I got for my son."
It was a thing sized for a toddler, black with puffed, down-filled sleeves and chest. The material looked shiny, new.
He toted it around the room, inched it near his visitors' faces.
He would see his son soon -- he had regular visits. The normally quiet man became a talker. "You should come see my son. When can you come? I see him on Saturdays."
After talk of his son, silence.
Roland hefted trash out from under the bridge, sorting and keeping the good stuff, the only resident who would keep the space neat besides Michael. He lived there, under the bridge, he and a handful of others. He silently collected garbage for removal, did his tasks, found his morning drugs the night before. A responsible tenant.
When someone crawled by in the tight space, he would scoot over, nodding. He would help someone find a hit if she was curled-up dope sick. Courtesy and, more than that, kindness.
Roland spent his adolescence in a Brooklyn group home, after his mother died of a heroin overdose. Eventually, he signed himself out of the teen residence and found drugs on the streets, specifically a heroin habit he promised himself he would never acquire because of his mom.
He had been in Hunts Point just over a year then, homeless.
Earliest, the First Time We Met
“I have potential but I don’t know how to use it," he said. Hands in pockets, head down.
Roland lags in Rikers Island jail, a fragment of rehab behind him, the streets to re-envelop him moving forward.
Roland and his tattoos: Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.