Heroin

The dying fisherman

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AIDS surged through fisherman Brian A. Farland's vice and into his veins. It has already claimed the life of his wife, Violet. Soon it will likely claim his. "I am not ashamed of dying of AIDS," he says, reflecting on his life while sitting on a bench on Water Street. He is thin and weak and his voice is barely audible because of the cancer that grips his throat. "I am not ashamed of having AIDS," he says, puffing on a cigarette. "I am ashamed, though, of some of the things I have done."

He remembers Violet. "One night I had a cut on my finger," he says. "She came over to me and started putting it in her mouth. I said, 'Don't do it,' but she said, 'If you are going to die, I am going to die with you,' and she started sucking on it, sucking the blood right out of it." She died two years ago.

Davide Sorrenti was a popular fashion-photographer who took photos with a special "heroin-chic" style. He died later of heroin overdose. His photos became controversial then, because people thought they glamorized heroin

A fisherman for 22 years, Mr. Farland says he became hooked on drugs in 1970 while serving in Vietnam. "I did drugs before that, though," he says. "But that is where I got hooked. I saw death there and a lot of crazy things. Drugs were easy to find. A lot of people did them. I spent the next 23 years of my life trying to stop doing them. When I wasn't fishing, I would steal to get them." Mr. Farland was a captain once or twice, a first mate and mate on a dozen ships sailing out of New Bedford between 1974 and 1991. He made good money, but couldn't hang onto it for long. "None of it was worth it," he says. "I just blew it all away on drugs." Dr. Stephon Cabral, an anthropoliogist who studied the drug use of fisherman, said fisherman have a peculiar habit and that it is not uncommon for some to binge on drugs and alcohol on land and abstain from using them at sea. Mr. Farland says he never did drugs at sea. He found the ocean the only true safe haven from them. It was a safety based on fear. "It was too dangerous out at sea," he says. "I once saw this Portuguese guy drinking. He was a mate on one of the ships I was on in the '70s. He was laughing, hollering, having a good old time." Then tragedy struck. The boat rocked and the unidentified man found himself caught in the trawling machinery. His chest was crushed. "I gave him mouth-to-mouth like I learned in the Marines," Mr. Farland says. "I kept him alive for 45 minutes until the helicopter picked him up. He died a little later. I ended up going to his funeral and there were all these Portuguese people there. Those people cried like I had never seen before. It was awful. I never did drugs on the seas after that -- only a joint here and there."

Mr. Farland says he turned to drugs on land to escape a poor self-image, never realizing he was drowning himself in a worse fate. "I have always been depressed," he says. "When I was growing up, my father always called me stupid and a dummy and said I would never be anything. It kind of like brain-washed me. I lost all of my respect for myself." Mr. Farland says he never lost respect for others, though, and could not hurt anyone. He said he was never malicious. "I was brought up right by mother," he said. "She is an angel. She was always there when I needed her." Mr. Farland married Violet Mason more than 20 years ago. They did drugs together. Her first arrest for prostitution was in 1981. Her last was in 1993, one year before she died. When he was not at sea, Mr. Farland says he was either writing bad checks, shoplifting or attaching stolen plates to his car. It was the life of a junkie -- doing anything to get the next fix. "I was making good money fishing. I was making $3,500 every 10 days. I would go out, make the money, come back in and spend it all on drugs for me and my wife. "I know fishermen who are in their '50s and '60s and who are still doing drugs. Real serious, too -- ike there is nothing better to do in life than drugs. I think depression has a lot to do with it." Memories of his family life are stained with shame. "My wife was a prostitute," he says. She would sell herself so they could do drugs together. "It drove me crazy. We fought a lot, but I would go out and steal, shoplift, sometimes getting a whole bag full of stuff. And she would go out and turn tricks. I knew I was wrong but I needed the drugs at the time."

Mr. Farland was diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, 14 years ago -- a year after his first child was born and two years before his second child, who would die unexpectedly at the age of 2. Mr. Farland says the cause of death was never determined. He says he and his wife never recovered from the child's death and became heavily depressed, sinking deeper into the drug world. "I thought I was going to die any day," he says. At some point after his diagnosis, his wife tested negative, but nevertheless she decided she would not protect herself against the deadly disease. Mr. Farland has lived with full-blown AIDS for five years. "I never thought I would make it 14 years," he said. "I would love to see my son grow up, go to college, have grandchildren. My mother has 49 grandchildren -- wouldn't that be nice? "My son is 16 years old and he does not do anything wrong. He is smart. He will never be like me. I pray he is never like me. I pray every night for his life and my wife."

Mr. Farland believes he contracted the virus by sharing a contaminated needle. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone,' he says. "It is a hell of a way to die. I almost died two years ago from pneumonia. I had a good doctor -- the best -- she saved me. She is still saving me." Mr. Farland continued to do drugs with other addicts even after he was told he had AIDS. He did not keep it a secret. He would warn other addicts not to share needles with him. "I used to tell people before I would shoot with them that I had AIDS and if they didn't want to get it they should go and get another needle," he said. "Some would. A lot of them said they didn't care, though. They said 'Doesn't bother me.'" Death has been a ringing bell over the years for a generation of junkies in the city. Many, Mr. Farland says, were fishermen. Some were longshoremen; some were professionals. He did drugs with them all -- and many are now dead. "In the past 15 years, I would say I knew about 100 to 200 people who died from AIDS and drugs," he says. "I would say half the fishing fleet right now has AIDS and probably half of them don't even know it -- or don't want to know it." Mr. Farland's wife died of AIDS in 1994. The disease had earlier claimed the lives of her sister and another family member.

"I loved her more than anything in this world," he says.Mr. Farland finally escaped the drug world's vicious grip three years ago. "It was my sister who saved me. She took me to her church. I didn't want to go but she made me. "I kept saying, 'I believe in Jesus but I don't need to be saved.' But when I got to the church, some power grabbed me. I started to cry. I felt saved. I felt alive, It was as if all my sins went away. It was like a high, but better than any drug I had ever had in my life. I knew then I was not making a mistake." Now he is clean for the first time in 23 years. "At one time I couldn't walk down Union Street without getting pulled over by the police," he says. "They would just search me and pull my pants down. They didn't care who saw it. Now the only pills I pop are the ones given to me by my doctor, and I am so proud of that." But he is challenged every day. A man in his '30s with a black mustache approaches as he is being interviewed. "Are you looking, Brian?" the man asks. "No" Mr. Farland replies. "I don't do drugs anymore." "You sure, Brian? Real good stuff." "I don't do drugs anymore," Mr. Farland repeats, his voice fading almost in desperation. "You see what I mean?" he says, turning to the reporter. "They won't leave me alone." Such is the life of a junkie. Forever tested by a vice which, Mr. Farland says, has already claimed his life.