Chris Arnade

Faces of Addiction.

This is what Chris Arnade chronicles as he goes into the Hunts Point area of the Bronx, New York.

But it is much more than that.  It may have started out him taking photographs and telling people's stories.

For me, it has helped me understand the people who live in this part of NYC.

By reading these stories Arnade's posts on his Facebook page and tumblr website, it has helped me develop a small understanding of the lives these people live, and the fact that some of them can survive day to day is amazing.

It has me ask the question to myself..."If I had been sexually abused from as early as I can remember, from family members, how would I try and escape the horror?"

Below is what Arnade wrote in a recent Facebook post about many of the people he encounters in Hunts Point:

Almost every woman (and many men) who finds herself addicted and homeless is a victim of childhood trauma. Mostly it's sexual, and mostly it's from a family member.

They flee home because home isn't a home. 

Without a legal route to prescription drugs, or therapy, they turn to what can be bought for a blow job on the street: it provides solace, escape, and numbs the pain. 

Poverty itself is traumatic. Poverty wrapped in the hell of childhood sexual abuse is a nightmare that lasts a lifetime. 

Next time a friend tells you an addict is lazy, dirty, dumb, weak, ask them, "have you ever been f*@#%d at the age of twelve by your uncle, your father, your brother, your mother's boyfriend, your grandfather?"

Some of the women were prostituted at a young age by their own mothers and fathers.  Some were born to drug addicts.  Most were living in a hell on earth they needed to escape.

And Arnade often compares his own circle of friends in Brooklyn where he lives, and the circle of people he encounters in Hunts Point.

In Brooklyn, the people he knows would have the financial means to get therapy and prescription drugs under the care of a physician to deal with any trauma they may have faced in their life.

The girls who flee their abusive homes don't have this luxury.

Chris Arnade received his PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1992. He spent the next 20 years working as a trader on Wall Street. He left trading in 2012 to focus on photography. His "Faces of Addiction"series explores addiction in the south Bronx neighbourhood in New York City.

Here is some of his observations comparing the world of Wall Street, and the world of Hunts Point.  This is from an article in the online newspaper guardian.com.

When you're wealthy you make mistakes. When you are poor you go to jail.
Yes, it is like comparing apples and oranges. That is the point though. We have built two very different societies with two very different sets of values. Takeesha was born into a world with limited opportunities, one where the black market has filled the void. In her world transgressions are resolved via violence, not lawyers. The law as applied to her is simple and stark, with little wiggle room.
Mr one-glove was born into a world with many options. The laws of his land are open for interpretation, and with the right lawyer one can navigate in the vast grey area and never do anything wrong. The rules are often written by and for Mr one-glove and his friends.
No, Mr one-glove did not break any laws. Not explicitly, although in 2008, he helped to bankrupt a company that helped to almost bankrupt the global economy. Rather, he spent his adult life moving numbers around on spreadsheets and betting on other numbers. Over his entire career, he has probably lost more money than he made, with the hole from 2008 swallowing any prior profits. For that he has been very richly rewarded. Tens of millions of dollars rewarded.
Takeesha has broken many laws, none open for interpretation. You use drugs (well, not prescription drugs), you go to jail. You sell your body for sex, you go to jail. You can paint a narrative where young Takeesha shakes off her rape at 11, shakes off being sold on the streets at 13, and rallies. She finds the right foster family, takes advantage of the social services offered, and graduates from high school or at least gets her GED equivalent, then goes to college and moves well beyond her past.
Maybe she even ends up in banking, with her juvenile record forgiven. You can paint that story, but it's a fairy tale.
Mr one-glove would probably not approve of Takeesha. He felt everyone makes his own path in life, that raising his taxes to help the poor was encouraging a lifetime of sloth. To him, poverty was because of a lack of trying, a lack of working as hard as he had. Many successful professionals, who forget their benign youth, share that attitude.
Poverty and addiction have a thousand mothers, none of them sloth. Surviving the streets and hustling for the next fix is some of the hardest work around. Takeesha would probably say about Mr one-glove what another addict said with admiration, when hearing about my Wall Street life: "You made tricky money in a tricky world."
Mr one-glove eventually left his company. He is still working somewhere in finance, putting together another portfolio of mortgages using borrowed money.
Takeesha is still out on the streets, charging $50 for men to have sex with her. Or maybe she is in jail. I have to check weekly to see which it is.
I like that following the photographs and writings of Arnade has challenged my thinking.  It has given me a glimpse of a world and culture that I am not a part of, though I know exists.  I have been drawn into the stories and been brought to tears.  I have cheered their triumphs.
Reading these stories had me ask myself a question.  Now it is your turn to ask yourself..
"If I had been sexually abused from as early as I can remember, from family members, how would I try and escape the horror?"
And, as you answer this questions for yourself, I hope it gives us all just a little more compassion, and a little less judgment...because we often don't know the backstory.

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