By Matthew Loflin Davis
After getting back from Thailand without my score, I wound up on the streets of Ann Arbor — the homeless shelter on Huron to be exact. I had built up a sizable habit in Asia and now was sweating it out cold turkey in bunk beds with a bunch of other junkies, drunks and thieves who swept through the room at night going through the pockets of the destitute, stealing what they could, and pretending to be friends in the day.
I got to know quite a few of the fuckers there as we slept together in the two big rooms provided for us, ate breakfast at the church together, and saw each other on the easy streets of U of M every day.
I still had my interest in photography and was able to hold on to my Minolta X-700 but had to steal the 35mm film from Krogers when I needed to create some art so I had something to keep me feeling like I wasn’t a complete low-life. My old instructor at Eastern Michigan University would let me use the darkroom so I was able to keep shooting film on the streets.
Carrying that camera around actually got me laid once in a while with the U of M college hotties while I looked like a photographer with a job. Getting small jobs was easier too as I played the starving artist, which is exactly what I was. Carrying a camera around my neck and the knowledge to use it gave me gave me an air of decency.
I was in the church eating my free breakfast of Honey Nut Cherrios with all my buddies and I decided to start taking some pics of my favorites: the scared and the scarred, the ancient drunks and crippled. The shelter was a host of subjects to record. The women’s shelter was different from the men’s but we all ate together in the morning so I had the gamut of the streets all in one place to photograph, as I’ve always been a street photographer.
I snapped a few pics of the locals eating their cereal while kids worked off their community service for getting caught with a bag of weed by serving the Kool-Aid and day-old doughnuts to the homeless and the nuns poured powdered milk on your bowl of cereal. After a minute or so I had a black man, slightly younger than me, in my face asking me what the hell I was doing taking pics. He knew me; most everyone in the church knew me by then. Black was in my face questioning my motives. I explained my usual rant that I’m a street photographer, as well as being on the streets. He got in my face some more but seemed surprised when no one had his back. They seemed tired of his BS partly, and they seemed to know I was one of them. I stood my ground and stayed calm, not giving him a chance to go off. I’m sure my size over him had something to do with it.
Black and I had another run in or two, usually when he was drunk but he seemed to know exactly when to stop. He was a kid not much younger than me. Black wasn’t a bad kid; he just wanted to be bad.
A month or so later, I was hanging out in the shelters office with Malik, one of the workers I had made friends with. I had done some photo/graphics work for one of his poetry-reading fliers, so we had a decent rapport. As I was leaving the office, Black was limping around the corner, his legs bowed and face pummeled black and blue. It looked as if someone took a two by four to his face in a fit of rage. His arm was in a sling and his other hand held his ribs. I don’t think he could even see me through his two swollen eyes and he walked right by me. Instead of his usual stone stare and bad ass demeanor, he just turned the corner and limped into the office.
Later, I asked Makik, Black had been raped; I never heard the details but the understanding was he had snitched on someone and that person had finally gotten out of prison and came back for revenge. I believe Black had been hiding out in the shelter which is often times common practice. His past had caught up with him.
Sometime later, I heard that before I was in the shelter Black had noticed an Ann Arbor News photographer taking pics in the church during breakfast. Black had rallied the people while they ate their doughnuts and he started asking some aggressive questions. Who was this employed man who thinks he can come down here and exploit the poor? Black, I heard, had a following that day, the folks at the church didn’t wanted to be treated like objects for fodder and they chased that photographer out the church.
He had that power to point out a wrong and rally the people.
*When he wrote this story, Matthew Loflin Davis was an artist and recovering addict living in Detroit. “Black” was his second story for TYTT. Sadly he died of an overdose in 2015. I never knew him personally but wish I had. His blog remains: www.junkysays.blogspot.com,
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