by Monika Norwid
photography Ian Jones
realization Valentina Ilardi
by Monika Norwid
For most people, the idea of living on the street is a nightmare on par with incarceration, illness or death. For some, however, it’s a reality—one that is often as hard as our worst fears might lead us to imagine. But it’s a reality that is also, sometimes, a choice.
Why do some people end up on the streets? Why do others choose the streets as their home? And why do others still find themselves drawn to and identifying with this mutable community, either as friends, artistic collaborators or just neighbors?
These are not questions that an article with a few pictures and some text can answer. Even a book, or a library’s worth of books, would barely scratch the surface of our society’s relationship with street life. All we can do is engage with a part of our world that is as omnipresent as it is easily, even willfully, ignored. With this engagement in mind, we showcase a few of our neighbors and friends, young people who in some form or another make up the vibrant street community on our block. Through the generous support of Diesel, may we present:
Yeah, I was just on tour in California [with the band Beechwood]. Everyone else stayed on the West Coast afterwards, but I wanted to get back to New York as soon as possible.
The streets to me are about being able to do whatever I want. That’s always been the most important thing for me. What makes me happy is being able to do what I want to do, and not have to be obligated or forced to do things I don’t want to. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been doing whatever I wanted. Coming into the city, being with my friends, skateboarding. I’m a professional skateboarder too. I’m going to Europe next month to skateboard in a Christian Dior film.
I’m lucky that I grew up around music. I come from a musical background—my dad is a major guy in the hip hop world. You know Beatnuts? Yeah, that was him. So we always had these great musicians coming through and music playing in the house. Jazz, hip hop, everything. That definitely affected what I do now. It educated me. Beechwood is the only music project I’ve done, that’s how I got into music. It’s me, my friend Gordon Lawrence on guitar and Andy Mazaneres on bass. I’m on drums. We just finished our record and it’s on Lolipop Records and Burger Records.
There’s definitely a link between music and skateboarding. Music inspires us in terms of the style, the clothes, but also just how we live. In both, it’s about being spontaneous, in the moment. I guess the type of freedom or rush that I get from music is the same thing I feel when I’m skating. It just feels like you’re connected to the world on some other level and to people around you. I don’t think I could separate the two, they’re equally important and work together in my life.
No one specific has really influenced me more than anyone else—it’s more like everyone has, the combination of all the people in my life have contributed to who I am. I wrote a book, I’ve been writing it in the past year. I just finished it. It’s basically just from life experience, I guess like an autobiography or memoir. I also paint. I think some of my work is gonna be in the Whitney Museum this fall. My friend Ricky Powell, the photographer, is having a show there, and he asked me to collaborate with him and I’m gonna contribute a couple of my paintings.
I used to work in the social services field. I was a site supervisor for a nonprofit. I’m into helping people. There aren’t a lot of people out there nowadays, old or young, who are gonna stomp the pavement for us, or for people period. There are no longer activists running around these streets. My people don’t have lobbyists going to Washington lobbying for us. So for me, I’m just here to uplift my people. That’s my goal. That’s what I like doing. Currently, I’ve got about three or four—Damo, Danny, Kickin, and Slim—I’ve got about four people that I’m working with, trying to get them to change their view point.
At age 13, ACS [Administration for Child Services] came and took me away from my family. My mother was smoking crack, my father was allowed to do whatever he wanted. I got fed up, and I went to school one day and I told on my mama. So they finally took me away [to Rochester, NY] about a year after that. I came back to New York City at 15 and I got sidetracked. I was like, “Damn I’m back home, I’m not in upstate anymore.” I came back to the city and I just lost control.
I caught my first felony on January 21st, the day before my 16th birthday. I wanted to have a couple dollars in my pocket because I wanted to do something for my birthday. I robbed a delivery guy for ten dollars. I was charged as an adult, at 16 years old. I did three years for ten dollars. I went to prison at 18. I came home the first time at 20, on parole.
I still liked it, you know, the streets, the drugging, the running around. I thought, alright, since I’m not beating anybody up, I’m just sitting here, I’m gonna be okay. And before you know it, BOOM, I was back up north on the run. They sent me back to prison and it was the second time. That’s what did it for me. Being home and then having to go back up. Oh my fucking God, that shit killed me.
When I had to put the—they call them state greens, it’s like the jumpsuit they make you wear—when I had to slide back into them, and I had to go back to my old number, because you get a den number . . . you’re not a person anymore, you’re a number, you’re like a piece of cattle to them. 0882414. The “08” means I got locked up in the year ‘08; the “8” means I went to the Downstate Correctional Facility, and the “2414” means that I was the 2414th inmate to come through Downstate in the year 2008. [Downstate Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison in Fishkill, NY.]
You know what scared the shit out of me? We have no power. You’re stripped of your political rights. You’re state property now. You’re a slave again. You work for two, three dollars a week, you’re forced to work, you have no control over your own life. And then it’s like, you get up there with, for lack of a better word, hicks—and I say hicks because they’re not white, they don’t like white people, that’s how bad the [corrections officers] are, and it becomes scary, you become afraid for your life. You’re around a bunch of killers and murderers, and you’re not even worried about them, you’re worried about those that are supposed to be there to serve and protect you. I’ve seen them hit people with vans, I’ve seen them beat people down. I’ve been in jails where they’ve got the highest assaults of COs on inmates. Six, seven people beating someone down with wooden sticks. The COs made me not want to come back.
So when I got out the second time, I was done. I haven’t been back. It’s almost five years coming up. A couple of times I’ve been pinched for miscellaneous bullshit and I’ll be almost panicking in Central Booking. Even though I know I’m coming home, it does something to me now.
I’ve got a motto: there’s one person coming into this world, and one person going out. One person’s always held accountable for what that one person does. I just live my life like that, you know? You’re always gonna need help from the outside. But I feel like, limit that, man—the smaller your group is, the safer you are. You know, coming from where we come from. Because you never know, you’ve got the wolves in sheeps’ clothing all day around us. It’s really not safe to have too many friends where we come from. One minute they’re your friend and the next minute, you’re waking up and your pockets are empty or your friends are gone. I got my friends, but I fall asleep on my bench and I wake up by myself.
My accent is Romanian. I think it’s because that was my first language before I learned English, before preschool.
I’m studying at Hunter. I do painting but I want to do every medium because depending on what you want to do, you need a different medium, so it really depends on the project, so I don’t know if I would say I’m a painter. Maybe more of a multimedia artist.
I think music is really powerful so when I think of myself as an artist I guess music would fall into that. But I think sound is more intense than painting or photography. Maybe you could cry to a photograph but I’ve never cried to a painting. I love the Clash. I like their broad horizons. It makes me feel like I can do whatever I want to do without being confined to a genre.
It’s always been something I wanted to do. It’s just something I wanted to do but I didn’t think I could do, but after finding bands like the Clash, they literally made it from nothing, they were nobody and they somehow made music and did all this stuff and they were just themselves and it was very inspiring so I was like “Maybe I can do this,” even though I’m not a great singer like Beyoncé—like I definitely can’t do that, and I respect her and I like her music—but I can’t be her, so I was just gonna be myself.
My solo stuff is more recent but I’m working on this band, the name of the band is Poser. I don’t know if I started Poser, but I’m the only one left now. One person wanted to do a solo project and the other person just disappeared. They literally had their own stuff to do I guess. I just do vocals and guitar right now. But I can play all the instruments, so whether or not I have people to work with, I’m always writing music.
I wanted to come up with a song by today because Ian [Jones] had been telling me about the fact that I can talk about my work. This is my chance! Haha. If I could just do music, I would drop everything because that’s very important to me. Playing it. Even going to shows and being able to sing along to songs and have that experience is also good. And I also like the community.
I got kind of angry with fine art because I found it to be very exclusive—when you get to a certain point, money starts to matter more, so I didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why I like music more, because I really don’t like money, when money becomes too involved.
My dad is a hotel engineer. My mom is a housekeeper. My dad will sometimes joke around and be like “Oh you can’t play music, you can’t do anything,” but then he helped me buy my drum set, so I don’t know if he’s just trying to push me to do things or if he’s being literal. I think he’s just trying to challenge me. He’s always asking me if I’m serious about things.
It was a whole mixture, a jumble of crazy stuff going on at once. Somebody I’d been going out with, Taylor, he’d spent four-hundred dollars trying to move out to New York to be with me, twice. I didn’t know he was messed up [laughs]. I thought he was cute. It was a really really bad relationship and I was just a huge mess. I got him to come out here and we were living on the street.
My mom was on the verge of not wanting me in the house anymore in the first place, because I was just a train wreck at that point in my life, and I think she was tired of how self-destructive I got at that point. She tried to help me of course. My mom’s a great person. But I was deluded. I don’t like to think of that time, it was a mixture of a confusing and painful point of my life.
I had my friend who took me in—I stayed with them. And then my therapist, my psychiatrist helped—she gave me and my mom a session together that changed everything. Thank God for my psychiatrist—if it wasn’t for her, I dunno. After that I did move back in with my mom, and then I just didn’t leave my room for like a few months. It got to the point where I didn’t want to go out anymore, I didn’t want to socialize. That time period. . . I feel like I block it out.
Friends were like alright—they would call me out on my shit. “Dude, what are you doing with your life, you’re doing nothing.” I guess people were worried about me—I didn’t even realize.
I had someone tell me straight to my face—and he was not even nice about it—basically, “Why would someone want someone in their life who has no job and does nothing and is bitter and complaining all the time?” I think that changed me. And then from then on, I was like, “You know what, I think it’s time to start living.” I didn’t keep in touch with that person. Because at the time, I did not like what I was hearing. But it was the awakening.
I like to create. I like anything that involves me creating something! I have a lot of interesting ideas in my head artistically. Two of them that I’m currently in progress with are, first of all, sculpting this short-lived comic book character which is like the raunchier cousin of Mickey Mouse—Mickey Rat. So I’m sculpting Mickey Rat. And secondly, my mom had this weird body form thing she got with a dress once, and I’m making the body form look like Tank Girls, the comic book character, hand painting it.
I’m from Jamaica Plains, Boston. I lived there till I was two, and then my mother passed. And I never knew my father. I was in a foster home for a little bit, and then got adopted and moved to Rhode Island. When I was 12 or 13, I ran away from home. They were very very very very abusive towards me. It happens. I mean, it wasn’t that they were abusive, they were just like. . . the chemistry wasn’t there. And looking back, I can’t blame them. They had their own life and I just kind of appeared and needed all this attention because I was fucked in the head.
I knew from 12 years old that I would be a drug addict when I grew up. I’m looking at my life and I’m seeing kids have parents and then me in middle school saying, “Oh there’s no point in you even going to college ‘cause you’re not gonna get a job,” like that type of shit. I was working when I was twelve years old.
I was actually almost signed to Universal, but fifty thousand dollars for the year is horseshit. I do the composing, I write the lyrics. I’ll find the instrument and play it. I record analog. I don’t read it but I hear it. I do all the stage work, the managing, the teching, the recording. I did rockabilly when I was 14, I did an industrial outfit and that’s how I met Marilyn Manson. He’s always been an inspiration, ever since he said that shit on Bowling for Columbine when I was like eight.
I have friends who come up to me and say, “I need you, unaccredited studio time, right now.” I’ll be like okay. Music is free. Music should always be free. Music is a living fucking thing, it’s not something you can put a label on, it’s not something you can put a dollar on. It’s something that is constantly evolving, being added to. It’s an essence, it’s something everybody has.
I never had anyone growing up. I had this friend in college, I don’t talk to her anymore but she really helped me get my life straightened out. She was a college classmate that I hooked up with the first day of college, and we ended up being really close. Whenever I’d be down, she’d always help me out in college. She was one of my coolest friends. Her name is Emily. I guess I fell in love with her. She did take my virginity so that probably had something to do with it.
I don’t talk to her anymore. There was this thing that happened, when I was at her house. She told me to come over, we got into a fight, so I left, and—I shouldn’t have done this, but I went out to one of my friends and I scored some smack and I shot it and I got really drunk. I came over to her house, and she says, “I’m enabling you to do heroin,” and I was like “What the fuck are you talking about, dude?” But I went to rehab. I’ve been fairly clean since.
Everybody would tell me I’m running from something but I’d always fire back with, “I never had anything, that’s why I left where I was at.” I was never running from anything. I was trying to find my opportunities. The kids nowadays, they’re going from town to town getting fucked up, building up a rap sheet. This generation of travelers, it’s like shit’s so fucked up in the world that it’s no longer about being able to go and get a job somewhere.
People are like, you’re homeless. No, I’m not. The earth is my home. I’m just houseless. I sleep better outside. Ask my girlfriend. I have night terrors whenever I sleep inside. For the first month I’d meet her, she’d say “You were screaming in your sleep again.”
My friend did this tattoo. When I got clean off of dope, I got it. I went to Bowery Mission—I was locked in there, that’s the only way you can get clean off heroin. They lock you in a fucking room, literally. I was there for six months. You’re allowed to leave twice a week for an hour. But I was doing outreach so I was allowed to leave in the vans and go get food and clothes.
I only really get high or fucked up when I can’t play music. That’s my real high.
I came here from a boat in south Brooklyn and this is what I was wearing last night. I didn’t know the shoot was today and I’d been swimming in the inlet right off the marina which is disgusting, so I had to take a quick shower at my friend’s house who lives off the Dekalb stop, and then my friend rode me over here on the handles of his bike to get here real fast. That inlet water is nasty. It’s illegal to dump your sewage into the inlet but people still do it. And gasoline. I shouldn’t have been swimming in it. But I just love water, and I was wasted last night so I didn’t care.
I’m from South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, if you’ve ever heard of it. It’s like a big Coney Island. They have this awesome reality TV show that is called “Welcome to Myrtle Manor” and it’s about a trailer park community and it is my favorite! It’s so funny. Everybody in Myrtle Beach thinks it’s bad: “We all look so trashy, we hate this show.” I think it’s fabulous.
I just graduated in May. Pratt. Art history and performance studies. Recently I was working with Kembra Pfahler, and while I was in my last semester, I was taking her performance art 101 class with her and spending a lot of time with her and learning things from her. I love her. But I only started getting into performance my junior year at school so I still have so much to do.
I was a dancer for a long time when I was in high school but then we have this teacher at Pratt, Jennifer Miller, she’s the bearded woman and she used to do this sideshow at Coney Island. Everyone was telling me about how amazing she was and so I thought, “I have to take her class.” And she really is my biggest influence. She is so fucking amazing.
On the left: The transparent lace dress worn by Crackers reveals a mesh body worn underneath, juxtaposed against black denim shorts. All by DIESEL fall/winter 2014 collection, including the silver metallic boots, pendent bracelet and head band. On the right: Bernard wears a studded leather biker jacket, deconstructed by a leopard print shirt. All by DIESEL fall/winter 2014 collection.
I was scared to be in a new relationship, because in my previous one, I was physically and mentally abused by this person I’d been with for six months—the one who introduced me to heroin. (He put it into my arm for the first time.) I lost everything I had in California and I had to get out of there. So in the first couple of months with Joey, I was iffy about being in a new relationship—but I finally snapped out of it.
Joey definitely levels me out. I’d been in love before but I’ve never felt so connected. It kinda freaks me out, how connected you can be to somebody. Happiness is the key to everything. I know it’s the key to me, because I was in such a dark place before I came to New York, and Joey actually helped me out of it. He just said, “You need to get the fuck out of Oakland, I’ll get you a one way ticket, you can move in with me.” I was like . . . okay.
I was nineteen when I first rode trains. I always traveled with my best friend Savannah. She would always find these weird boyfriends and they would be all over the country, and she’d call me up and say, “Quit your job and come with me, let’s go traveling,” and I’d be like, “You wanna go traveling and see a boy? Okay, I’ll just go with you! Haha.” We used to travel across the country just to go see her boyfriends.
Hopping my first train was so exhilarating. I was in a box car and I was running back and forth, peeking out—I couldn’t help it. I was climbing all over, and everyone was saying, “Don’t do that!” and I was like, “I have to!” The first time surfing the train, I got on top while it was moving and I stood there and it was the best thing ever. On top of grainers they have little ladders and you can stand on top. Double stacks, you can get on top of those too. I knew how dangerous it was but it was so much fun. I loved the scenery and seeing the whole country. I love traveling. I love being in new places.
I’m the only child and my parents constantly fought. My first words were “Fucking asshole.” My mom said that I used to say it really fast, and every time I’d get mad, I’d go, “Shit. Damn it.” My parents divorced when I was eleven. They should’ve never gotten married. My grandfather made my dad propose to my mom because she was pregnant with me. She was only eighteen. My grandfather said that if my dad didn’t propose to my mother, he basically would never see me.
I had a lot of insecurities. I’m growing to love myself more and more over the years but before, I had so much anxiety because of my childhood. It wasn’t a terrible childhood but everything was so dramatic around me. I would just sit in my room and cry because I didn’t have anybody to talk to.
Later on, my friends were there for me. They went to counseling with me. And traveling helped, to break free and get out of there.
Actually, I’ve quit doing everything [self-destructive]. I don’t even really drink anymore. In my mind, I’ve already got a nice apartment and my dog and Joey. I wanna start a little business of some sort, something of my own. I feel like I need to be an adult. I want grown-up stuff. I want a house. I want a stable job. I wanna do something that I love, and I really love the ocean and I love welding. I love it because it’s useful. I love things that work. I was welding for six months in Oakland.
I want to buy a motorcycle and work on it and possibly build parts for it. I just need to focus and do it. I need to be busy constantly. Even with my little shit jobs that I have here and there, I can’t just stand there and do nothing. That’s how my dad is too. He’s a marine electronics specialist. I worked for him—he taught me how to work on boats and how to install the electronics. I was his secretary for a long time. He got to a point where he’s like “No, you shouldn’t be working on boats, you’re a girl.” He doesn’t want me to do underwater welding because I’m a girl. And that makes me want to do it even more, you know? But he also wants me to take over the business.
by Monika Norwid
photography Ian Jones
realization Valentina Ilardi
all clothes by
Hair and makeup
at SARAH LAIRD & GOOD COMPANY