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Good Girls on Bad Drugs

m. m. braunstein | Connecticut (New London, Norwich, Willimantic), United States

Organization: www.markbraunstein.org

please see RESOURCES for notes on the captions

Street photography of crack and heroin addicted prostitutes of the three small cities of Connecticut's casino country. In the War on Drugs, these are our civilian casualties.

These 44 are selected from a portfolio of 144 different women whose lives are ruined by drug addiction and doomed by drug prohibition. So 100 more portraits remain to potentially ruin your day. Society slanders its sex workers, so we might nickname this selection UnHappy Hookers.

Note that among these photos of prostitution and addiction are three strangled streetwalkers murdered by johns. Another was an accessory to other two murders. Another committed vehicular manslaughter. Another robbed six banks in six successive days.


Prostitution and addiction. Whores and drugs. Not all prostitutes are addicts, and only some prostitutes become streetwalkers. But all streetwalkers are hooked.


It is easy to condemn and demonize these girls, whereas it requires effort to try to understand and humanize them. Once you hear their tragic life stories, you can no longer regard them as criminals or monsters or demons. The demons may or may not lurk in the drugs they use. But demons surely reside in our fears of the drugs we do not use and therefore do not know.


As a chronic addict, upon hitting the streets she usually comes with a four- or five-year expiration date stamped on her forehead. Knowing or hoping her days are numbered, she recites her life story as though dictating her last testament. And when she willingly poses for photos, it is as though for her high school yearbook, so we her classmates might commemorate her. At ease in a front passenger seat, her familiar workplace, she stares out boldly and frankly. With few years left to live, she has little left to hide. Makeup poorly conceals blemishes and abscesses, when flash illuminates flesh. Hair and sleeves barely cover pockmarks and track marks, when photography memorializes tragedy.


Patrolling the streets of the three small cities of Connecticut’s casino country, they gamble with their lives. Theirs are stories of professional addicts, not of professional prostitutes. As IV drug users, many of them now are dead from hepatitis or OD or AIDS. As sex workers, three were murdered, two of them unsolved, their cold cases unclosed. The funeral procession seems endless, so this chronicle too eludes closure. Most books have conclusions, but some just close. Most lives have endings, but these girls’ lives just end.


[See "Resources" for Notes on the Captions]





NAMES, especially first names, could very well be aliases, pseudonyms, nicknames, or street names. Yet in most cases, their first names have been either confirmed with or corrected to those by which the State of Connecticut identifies them in its Dept of Public Safety crime logs and its Dept of Corrections inmate listings.


ADDICTION is unfortunately the single attribute that most clearly defines their lives. Yet this is largely because their addictions are to drugs against which their country has fought a long losing war. If their drugs were decriminalized and therefore affordable, their lives would be peaceful. Though unstated, most are addicted also to caffeine and all but two to tobacco. Indeed, cigarette smoking is a visible indicator of more addictions, just hidden.


AGE, or rather aging, is severely accelerated by life on the streets, of which drug use and sex work are two elements. Most women, not just these women, lie about their ages. But most ages as stated here have been confirmed in crime logs and inmate listings.


CHILDREN almost all are in foster care or permanently adopted out. For the few women who have borne no children, that is listed. But if the number is unknown, then nothing is stated. While their number of children may not concern us, it is important to the mothers. Want to make these women cry? Ask them about their children.


LOCATION sometimes is identified in the embedded texts, but is omitted from the captions. With four exceptions, all these portraits were shot on the streets of the three small cities clustered around Connecticut’s casino country. A former whaling port, New London hosts the Coast Guard Academy and across the river a Navy Submarine Base. Inland ten miles north of New London is Norwich, and ten miles northwest of Norwich is Willimantic, dubbed “Heroin Town” by The Hartford Courant. Norwich and New London serve as nearby transportation hubs for Connecticut’s two Indian casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.


YEAR photo’d and age are the only biographical texts both embedded in the photos and repeated in the captions. Otherwise the captions below the photos supplement rather than repeat the texts within the photos.


All texts are the women’s own words, recorded on audiotape. I transcribed the tapes, then edited their stories. I never added any text, but I did do much shuffling and much deleting. “Like, umm, you know what I’m saying?” I also am writing a literary book, of which more than 100 pages are fully completed, consisting of half my introductions in my words and half their stories in their words. But that’s another story.


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