Chris Arnade Photography

Total Control: Heroin and Hunts Point

 “I have already destroyed myself. I can’t walk by a corner with a pocket of money and not buy dope.” — Erik

"I’m going to die out here."  — Sonia

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To reach Erik and Sonia’s bedroom on the top floor of an otherwise abandoned building you must first climb over a high fence. A plywood door, secured with heavy chain and lock, leads into the building. The first two floors are completely dark, the windows boarded up, a small trail weaves through garbage and building decay, navigated with light from matches. The smell of sour piss and rotting shit overpowers you.

The third floor has open windows, allowing for a small breeze. Heavy sheets over most of the windows dim the light. The old bathtub, filled with wet fallen ceiling, is the urinal. Another room, the “Boom Boom Room” is where one shits in a bag, to be later thrown downstairs.

Their room is in the front. Sparse, except for detritus of drugs and a few reminders that Erik and Sonia once led different lives: A few potted plants, a children’s book, a rosary hanging alone on a wall. A cat with her five newborns nests on dirty old shirts in one corner. 

imageThey met in Rhode Island ten years ago. He was fishing out of Point Judith. She was raising a family south of Providence. They bonded over heroin. Sonia eventually left her husband and children and traveled with Erik. “We went looking for heroin.”

"I wasn’t addicted to drugs until my 30s,” said Sonia. “Before then, I was a normal person, meaning I wasn’t a fucking junkie. I lived in Rhode Island and had a family. I was a soccer mom. I always kind of knew I was a heroin addict. I always knew not to fuck with heroin. I always knew it was the drug for me. It just makes you feel good. And when you’re feeling bad, having a magic button is kind of a great thing. Unfortunately the magic button is also a stupid button because it comes with a lot of consequences."

They ended up in Hunts Point five years ago. “This is the only reason me and Sonia are in Hunts Point,” said Erik, “because this is literally right now the best heroin in all of New York City. This place is ghetto. Niggers are fucking pieces of shit.”

They need twenty hits a day, $200 worth of dope. She panhandles, he does odd jobs. “I have a kitten hustle (would someone please name a band “Kitten Hustle”). I take the stray ones here and sell them on the Upper East Side for twenty bucks each. Otherwise I do some carpentry, help folks paint.”

imageWe spoke in their bedroom. It was the second time I had been in their house. The first time Erik showed me a room where he wrote on the walls, sometimes in blood. “I like to come down here when I am high, just put the thoughts up here as they come to me.”

Both sat on the bed, gracious hosts, offering the writer Cassie Rodenberg and I the only chairs. They apologized for the mess. Sonia was sick. “I am always sick these days. It’s like that with heroin. Always something, cold, flu, stomach.”

After we spoke I handed each a twenty. Erik came to life, grabbing his jacket. “You want to watch us shoot up? I will be back in five.” Sonia asked him about food, “Don’t worry honey, we already ate, remember?”

While he was gone she quietly talked about her addiction. “I am happier in some ways than I’ve ever been in my life. But I’ve lost so many things. I want to get out of my addiction but in some ways it’s made me grow a lot. And I think I know now how to live more than I ever have. We both want to get out of this life. We both want to get to a point in our lives where we’re being good Christians because we both love Jesus, and we know this is sinful and that we’re being disobedient. But people don’t understand that this and being dope sick isn’t something you can walk away from. People that haven’t been through it really have no clue.”

imageErik returned with four bags of heroin, stamped with “Total Control” in red letters. “I only trust the stuff with names. Other stuff is shit.”

He then dumped the packs into an old screw off cap, lit a match, heating the cap till the heroin turned into a thick syrup. He filled a syringe with water, and lifted the contents from the cap. “Watch forty of your dollars get shot into us.”

“Now we fight over who gets hit first,” joked Sonia. I turned away as Erik shot the drugs in Sonia’s ass. Ten seconds later Erik was injecting himself in the arm.

Within thirty seconds he was talking fast, about plans, about redecorating, about fixing and selling a large fishing net he keeps in the second floor. Sonia relaxed on the bed, gently stroking the cat, Erik kept talking, faster, grander, and louder.

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I have spent a lot of time in Rhode Island, where my wife is from. I can still see in Erik and Sonia the prior version, the blue-collar couple living in Warwick looking to have three kids. That couple is ten years ago, before 2,000 grams of heroin went into their bodies. You can still see small reminders of them, in small trinkets scattered around the room, in quiet mentions of the past and the future.

Heroin withdraw by all accounts is hell: “It’s the worst fucking feeling.” For Sonia and Erik, shooting twenty bags a day, it can start within six hours of the last hit. The love of the high, the loathing of the low, has driven Erik and Sonia to totally commit to living for heroin.

For heroin they live in Hunts Point, for heroin the live in an abandoned building amidst garbage, for heroin they shit in a bag, piss in a bathtub, and beg for money. For heroin they have lost their three kids to the state.

“What did I lose? Lost time, lost my children. I fight with my wife. I could of finished college, if not for the drugs. Hell, I have lost everything.”

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Please read Cassie Rodenbergs blog for more info on addiction: White Noise

For more on Heroin addiction and withdraw please read this: Addiction


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    Is it ok for him to give them money? Is it ok for him to stand by while they shoot it up? Exploitation or good...
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    I’ve been looking at...reading Chris Arnandes Faces...don’t...
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  22. dearj- reblogged this from arnade and added:
    The story is incredibly powerful (and hard to take).
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    Chris Arnade’s photography...junkies, sex-workers...powerful...
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