Interview with a Skid Row Gangster

gangster
Gangster Erwin Ross talking to PRISM about life in South Central, Los Angeles, heroin addiction and homelessness.

Words and Photography by Joshua Thaisen. Every Monday morning at 10am, street sweeping trucks roar up and down the gutters of Skid Row, while homeless people, who are being threatened with loitering citations by the LAPD, search for a new space of footpath for the next long, restless night. The four-square-mile district of Skid Row is ‘home’ to thousands of homeless and saturated with drugs and prostitution, creating a climate of sickness, hunger and violence. With a population nearing 20,000, the strain on community services and healthcare has created the largest humanitarian conflict zone in the developed world. The footpaths are furnished with used needles, broken crack pipes, loan sharks, and street gangs. Referred to by locals as a lawless “snake pit,” Skid Row is society’s comedown, with track marks that lead back to a great institutional failure of a nation neglecting its own people. Skid Row gangster Erwin Ross spoke with PRISM about life in South Central Los Angeles. Erwin is a well spoken, hard-edged elderly man, decorated with scars and stories from a hard life on the streets. Born in South Central Los Angeles, Erwin describes his life as a colorful adventure of risk-taking and hard lessons learned. At the age of fourteen, he was sentenced to four years in the State penitentiary for vandalism, depriving him of any formal education or career prospects. While in prison, Erwin’s masculine identity formed in an environment rewarded by violence, deception and drug-taking. Erwin developed what would become a twenty-two-year-long heroin addiction, keeping him bound to a vortex of crime, incarceration, and homelessness.

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