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I have always been a city person. The sounds of the traffic at night; the bright lights that decorate the sky; the familiar buildings that shape the downtown skyline. Each city has it’s own character, it’s own flavor. I love the smell of the sea in Portland, the architecture in Boston, the festive lights of the Superdome in the New Orleans skyline.

The downside to living in a city, besides the traffic of course, are the faces you see along the streets every day begging for money.  They hold signs. Sometimes they have cups. Here, they also frequently have dogs. But they’re all asking for the same thing. Many of us pass them by without any acknowledgment; some will give an occasional dollar or some spare change.  I often find my social-worker self avoiding eye contact as I pass by familiar faces on my morning rush to Starbucks.  I feel bad that they have to ask for money, while I rush by to purchase an over-priced latte. Most of all, I feel bad that I get annoyed by the begging. I turned away one man the other morning who was asking for money for coffee, saying that I had no spare change. He asked several people standing near me, and promptly stood in line behind me to purchase a coffee. I immediately felt the pangs of guilt: this man really did just want a coffee. At that moment, I wanted to buy him 10 coffees. I felt horrible for my judgment, and it stayed with me for a long time.

Recently, I came across the following collection of photography, entitled Faces of Addiction. It is a collection of photographs taken by a banker in New York who explores the lives of people living on the streets coping with addition. As I click through the photos, reading each person’s story, I am reminded of my judgment and assumption of the people I see standing at traffic corners. These people are fighting their own hell every day, just struggling to survive.

They cannot get back with their family. They cannot talk it out. “Really?” says Bernice, “What? Am I supposed to suddenly have a relationship with my family? Sit down, and pretend one of my mother’s boyfriends didn’t force himself on me when I was young?”

So we throw them in jail. Drugs are wrong, selling your body for sex is wrong.

Being fucked by your dad is even more wrong.

Throw them in jail. Remove the problem.

Throw them in jail rather than realize how damn unfair our society is. How badly some are chewed up, abused, spit out, never given a chance.

Throw them in jail to preserve the fantasy that our culture is filled with domestic bliss, that being poor doesn’t suck, that life is fair.
Throw them in jail rather than ask why so many men rape children?

Spend a night in Hunts Point. Listen to the stories. Know that dads, uncles, neighbors, often rape little children. Know that it fucks them up for life.

 I found myself becoming lost in the photographs, immersed in their stories. Most of all, I was reminded that every person has a story. Every beggar, every addict, every prostitute – is more than that.

 

Look through the pictures:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/arnade/sets/72157627894114489/?page=2