I met Nelly, not the rapper and not his real name, on Somerset Street today while joking with a,”friendly” dealer about unwittingly discovering his stash spot in a bush after he didn’t notice me putzing around with a camera. To say the least, he was in rough shape.

He was jumped about a week ago and had his jaw broken in the scuffle. Because of the incident, well, his appearance, he lost his job managing a store at the King of Prussia Mall. He has battled drug addiction for the past nine years and was using prior to his injury, but not as heavily, he says. Nelly uses for a variety of reasons, one being the upbeat personality required to work retail, or in his words, “you can’t be the angry black dude.”

An intravenous user like other addicts I have met in Kensington, Nelly says that his real addiction is to the needle. Not necessarily the drug that it contains, but the act, the feeling, the process, he says, “I like watching the blood rush.” But he adds, “it used to be fun.”

“Now I hate that I can’t stop using drugs.” he says, and the broken jaw doesn’t help. He was prescribed Percocet which he immediately sold for heroin. He says, “Dope is the ultimate pain killer.” To support his habit without a steady job, he has turned to selling “works,” or clean syringes, to other addicts for one or two dollars a piece.

He hopes to have another go at kicking the habit and getting his life back together when his jaw heals and is confident he could get his old job back. He says,”I’m a good worker.” But it will be at least another four to six weeks until he can get the wires removed. Still, he remains optimistic and wants to get clean so that he can be a better father to his young son.

Nelly sits in a deli on Kensington Avenue and attempts to drink a cup of noodles out of a straw. His jaw has been wired shut, making eating and drinking difficult.


Nelly walks through West Kensington on the way to an abandoned house frequented by addicts on Clearfield Street. At right, he still struggles with drinking a bottle of strawberry milk on the way.

Nelly arrives at an abandoned house, or “shooting gallery,” used by addicts in the neighborhood. He showed off a citation he received after police entered a few weeks ago, he says, “they give you a ticket, you go to court, and they tell you not to do it again.”

Nelly has a seat after a lot of walking to find “good dope.”

He mixes heroin with water before shooting. Drug cooking techniques have improved in recent years so that the old method of heating it in a spoon is usually not necessary.

Shooting up/capping the syringe.

Nelly puts his belt back on after using it to restrict blood flow to the area of his arm where he injected.


Having a cigarette after getting high and leaving the abandoned house. He was happy to have gotten high in order to relieve the severe pain in his jaw but also angered and annoyed by a man that he knew who had been sleeping on a mattress and was offended when he wouldn’t share his bags of heroin with him. Supporting an addiction can and is a full-time job. He had been out for the majority of the day raising money to get high and says the man in the house has never helped him out when he needed it.

To take his mind off of things, Nelly browses a thrift store on Kensington Ave. He has an interest in clothing and tries to look the best he can despite being homeless at present.


Having a look in the mirror with a track jacket that caught his eye.

Nelly has a look at the merchandise for sale at a pawn shop on Kensington Ave. He has a young son who he sees as often as he can. His girlfriend, the mother, and he had recently broken up, having his jaw broken and losing his job haven’t made life any easier. Still, he tries to be optimistic and says that he is focusing on getting clean and picking up the pieces as soon as his broken jaw heals.