The Ninth Floor

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The Ninth FloorPhotographer: Jessica Dimmock

“The Ninth Floor documents a group of heroin users that were living in the apartment of a former millionaire turned heroin user, Joe Smith, 63, in the flatiron district of Manhattan. Joe, the lease holder of the apartment, had allowed one of his young tricks to take a spare bedroom in his 3 bedroom apartment several years ago. By the time that I met them in the fall of 2004, nearly 15 people were living in the apartment at a time – Joe had given up his bedroom and stayed on a dirty sofa in the living room opting to take a teaspoon of methadone, a daily bag of dope, a beer or several cigarettes in exchange for rent. Electrical cords snaked through dark hallways to fill each room with the light of one lone bulb, bookshelves and tables had been stripped of all potentially valuable items to be sold on the street to get money to feed habits, the dead cat found in the bathroom took more than 2 weeks to remove, and the people moved through the halls, past each other, wearing their addictions like chipping armor while their personalities and character remained further and further unearthed and unfed. As the child of a former drug addict, there was something hauntingly familiar upon entering this space for the first time. I recalled the friends of my father I had been brought to as an 8 year old – the lone bulb hanging in the corner, the vacant and unengaging grown ups, the mattresses without sheets, and the crying baby that could never seem to get the attention of the adults in the room, even when she had rolled onto the cement floor. I have been motivated to do this work from my personal history, a concern about the destructive effects of addiction, and a commitment o make photographs that are socially relevant.”

-By Jessica Dimmock

The Story of The Ninth Floor

The shades were always drawn on the ninth-floor apartment at 4 West 22nd Street. “Shhh,” Mike whispered from his dingy mattress as the sun rose one morning. “If you close your eyes, you can pretend it’s not happening.” Morning was a time for “getting straight,” which actually meant getting high for the rotating cast of a dozen addicts who hid out in this unlikeliest of heroin dens. For years, a 2,000-square-foot, rent-stabilized apartment steps away from the Flatiron Building provided refuge to a family of sorts. Neither the stately façade nor the prime address offered a hint of what went on inside: “Tricks, smoking crack, snorting dope, shooting dope, hustling—it was a 24/7 party,” recalls Jesse, a pretty 32-year-old who lived there for two years. “You couldn’t close your eyes for a second. Every moment was survival, despite whoever or whatever you had to walk over.” Old Joe had held the lease since 1973 but slept on the couch after his housemates took his bedroom. Everyone thought he came from money, and when times were good he grew zucchini and tomatoes on the roof and was happily surrounded by young gay men. Things went south for him four years ago, when one of them—his boyfriend—jumped out of the apartment window.

January, 2005.  Rachel stays in the bedroom of Jesse and Mike after her the arrest of her boyfriend, Lucky.Photography by: Jessica Dimmock

January, 2005. Rachel stays in the bedroom of Jesse and Mike after her the arrest of her boyfriend, Lucky.
Photography by: Jessica Dimmock

Soon Joe was doing as much heroin as others would give him and letting just about anyone stay for free if they’d help him shoot up, since he couldn’t do it himself anymore. Sometimes that was Jesse, who was grateful for Joe’s hospitality after a decade of street life. She and her boyfriend Mike heard about the place from other users, but her journey there began in high school. Jesse had been home-schooled on a boat by hippie parents, and when they docked in Northport, New York, to take care of an ailing relative, her new life was a shock.

“I didn’t know what Guess jeans were,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what cheerleaders were.” Drugs gave her an identity. At Joe’s place, she shared a bedroom with Mike, the singer for the punk band Murder Junkies, who grew up in middle-class Mount Vernon, New York. His younger brother Joey, who first shot up at 13, lived at old Joe’s place, too. At first, Jesse and Mike tried to clean up the apartment, and Jesse worked in an antique store to help pay the bills. Soon she lost her job. When nobody paid Con Ed, they turned to candles or electricity stolen from the emergency stairwell.

Joey got mad and punched holes in the drywall, next to a tacked-up picture of his 8-year-old daughter. Needles were everywhere.“It felt like perpetual night—but not in that soothing, bedtime way,” says Jessica Dimmock, a 27-year-old graduate of the International Center of Photography who spent eight months shooting these pictures. “It doesn’t ever feel like it settles into stillness there.” In June, a year after Joe stopped paying his $1,200-a-month rent, the owners kicked everyone out. Old Joe wound up in a hospital somewhere, and young Joey was last seen on the Lower East Side. Over Labor Day weekend, Jesse’s friend Sean died after drinking a bottle of methadone. Mike’s in jail, and Jesse now spends days in Union Square and nights sleeping on church steps. Compared with her concrete bed, Joe’s hellhole now seems like the Waldorf. “As crazy as it was, I was also part of something,” she says. “But it really got out of control.”

 You can see all the pictures at one of the links below or this one right here:

Source and more photos:

Source and more photos:
More photos from The Ninth Floor Project by Jessica Dimmock:
Aren’t we grateful we are sober today? This used to be our lives. If your or someone you love is suffering from addiction please save them from something like this and call us today. We offer interventions, treatment, free assessments and just a listening ear and a caring heart. Don’t hesitate, because if not now, when?