The Face of Social Suffering: The Life History of a Street Drug Addict by Merrill  Singer
176 pages, $24.95 list
eBook availability
The Face of Social Suffering
The Life History of a Street Drug Addict
2005 recipient of the Society for the Anthropology of North America’s Prize for Distinguished Achievement in the Critical Study of North America
2005 recipient of the Society for Medical Anthropology’s Practicing Medical Anthropology Award

This brief, compelling life story of a drug addict poses and answers questions of broad public concern about social responsibility, illicit drug use, hidden economies, and social inequality. Merrill Singer, a medical anthropologist involved in the public health impact of alcohol and illicit drug use, conducted interviews over a seven-year period with Tony, a street drug addict who grew up in the inner city. Tony learned the ways of using and selling drugs from his father, became an enforcer in a street gang, spent considerable time in prison, committed seemingly heartless, violent acts, and has had to struggle with the knowledge that he suffers from HIV infection.

Tony’s life story is an insider, personal view of a tumultuous, marginalized world that intertwines closely with the wider social milieu constructed and sustained by the U.S. political economy. Unique to this book is its attempt to understand the forces that contribute to the risky behavior of drug use, even at a time when drug users know about its deadly and damaging connection to diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Tony’s story demonstrates that none of us make choices in a vacuum. Further, the book addresses important issues about how structures of social inequality in our society impact the lives and options of those at the bottom of the social ladder.
“A moving portrayal of the impact of structural forces on a life. Simple language makes the story touching in a very human way while offering material for reflection to policymakers, analysts, teachers, and practitioners.” — Judith Noemi Freidenberg, University of Maryland, College Park

“As someone who teaches criminology and has worked with drug offenders for thirty years, I highly recommend this book to students and anyone who wishes to understand the stark reality of street drug life.” — Joseph Moran, Lourdes College

“This is an outstanding book that offers insights that are not possible in quantitative analyses. Very well written.” — Paul Roman, University of Georgia
Table of Contents
1. A Life on the Edge
Into a Life / Knowing Other Lives / The History of Life History / The Theoretical Orientation of the Book / Hooking Up with Tony / Organization of the Book

2. Into the World: Of Drugs and Families
Bloodlines / Early Years: Like Father Like Son / The God of Dreams / Denizens of Hell’s Kitchen / Breaking the Family Circle / Omens of Things to Come

3. On the Prowl: Preteen Years
The Political Economy of Life / Street Youth / Enter Dope / The History of H / Harsh Lessons / Guilty

4. Becoming a Dope Dealer
Demonization / Back in the World / Running a Block / Caught / Everyday Violence

5. Into Ganglife
Explaining Gangs / Finding Love / A Trip to the Island / Men of Tomorrow

6. Out of Ganglife
Grave Consequence / Illicit Enterprise / The Same Thing Over and Over / Lessons in Lives

7. Drugs and Romance in the Time of AIDS
I Want to Live / HIV/AIDS / Stigmatization / The Street Drug Scene / Lovers and Other Strangers / Today

8. The Meaning of a Life
Shalimar the Clown / The Individual / The Social Milieu / The Structure / Interplay