In the awful weather, a windy cold rain, Prince was pulling an old air conditioner down the dark street. Homeless since being released from jail (two and half years for dealing), he spends the night collecting scrap metal and old pallets that he cashes in before sunrise. He uses the money mostly for heroin, an addiction that has landed him in prison three times.
From the Virgin Islands but raised in the Bronx, he is the oldest of seventeen children. He was molested by a neighbor as a child, something he is only now understanding.
Despite the weather and his condition, he was upbeat, polite, and engaging. When I asked him how he wanted to be described he said “Don’t just talk about the bad stuff. I graduated from High School and plan on finishing college.”
“Guys is not my thing. I got mad love and respect for females. Never in my life would I want a man again.”
There are plenty of underage girls working Hunts Point, drawn to the “easy money” or often pulled in by pimps offering weed. In Hunts Point it’s what they see, it’s what they know. I have shied away from taking their pictures, worried about encouraging them. However Natalie, 17, was eager to tell her story. I asked that she cover her face.
Natalie lives with her sixteen-year-old brother and their mother on one of the roughest blocks in Hunts Point, filled with dealers, addicts, and folks just trying to get by. She dropped out of high school last year, but hopes to start going back to school if not locked up. “This is not my style, but times is hard and rough. It’s quick and the money’s good.”
Her brother, always nearby, provides support and protection. “This is my aunt’s territory, this block.” As we spoke a young man approached, someone she was clearly uncomfortable with. She called her brother over. “You want me to pop on him?” he asked. She said, “Na, just be here. He was inappropriate with me.”
Two older transsexuals, both who have been in Hunts Point for over fifteen years, came over, hearing Natalie speak with me. Both told Natalie to stop, to get the hell off the streets. “It seems fun running wild, ten years from now you’ll be doing the same shit. This ain’t the way. Anyone that asks you to be out here is not your friend.”
My oldest daughter, Anna, is exactly Natalie’s age. I couldn’t help noticing similar mannerisms, to think of Anna back in my Brooklyn Heights apartment. Natalie, like Anna, is bright, quick, and hopeful. Already, at 17, the gulf between the two now is so great. A visceral reminder that where one starts matters greatly.