In Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in Urban America, anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and photographer-ethnographer Jeff Schonberg document the daily lives of homeless drug users, drawing upon more than a decade of fieldwork they conducted among a community of heroin injectors and crack smokers who survive on the streets of San Francisco’s former industrial neighborhoods.
Our exhibits team created a chalk board wall to collect comments from visitors. Every week or so, Allie, our Exhibits Developer, takes a photo of the chalk board before erasing it – a duty that evokes memories of elementary school detention. The presence of an actual elementary school group is often evidenced by the chalk commentary about completely irrelevant topics such as Justin Beiber being hot or Justin Beiber being [not] hot.
But occasionally, we will walk past the board and stop, struck by a poignant thought simply stated by someone who was particularly moved by the black and white images in the exhibition. Usually these statements are short, striking, and unfanciful, like most revelations.
Photo by photographer-ethnographer Jeff Schonberg in Righteous Dopefiend
The exhibits team also set up a donation box in the exhibition for four local non-profits dealing with homelessness and addiction. Visitors were asked to fill out a card that asked why they chose to give. Here are a few of their answers…
“I myself am a recovering heroin addict. I have a year and six months clean now and my old life still haunts my dreams at night. This exhibit had me in tears more than twice as I stared at my scars from track marks on my arms. This is a really strong exhibit. Prevention Point plays a huge part in keeping drug users safe and healthy. Because of their services, I was able to practice sanitary injections and avoid sicknesses as well as find and sign up for a recovery program. I owe a lot of my success to this organization. Thanks…”
“I have a place to live and so should everyone else.”
“It is a shame to see this in the USA”
“I see the homeless everyday and I want to give something more lasting than my spare change.”
“A very smart friend with a bright future turned to drugs when he could not get the proper treatment for his bi-polar disorder. He is still struggling.”
“Pops, a homeless man I sang to and with in DC is gone but still in my heart.”
“As a tourist from Europe I am shocked to see so much poverty and homeless people in the streets of USA cities. This should be a rich country!”
“We need to better understand to help addicts”
“Addicts need effective treatment and care not punishment”
“I have lost 3 family members to heroin addiction”
“I’m saddened that drugs prevention rehab policies don’t extend to funding needle exchange programs. Non-judgemental help is what’s needed. Thank you for a genuinely provocative and important exhibition.”