Quite real. In early November 2008, Scott was working on one of his own sociology/journalism projects, filming Pony Tail Steve and his wife, Pam, as they shot up a couple of ten-dollar bags of heroin. Pony Tail slipped into a deep nod and then fell backward. He was turning blue, overdosing—dying. Scott put the camera—a Panasonic HVX200—on a table and jumped into action. With the camera rolling, he and Pam went to work to revive Pony Tail, shaking him and roughly kneading his chest. Scott gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Nothing worked. Then Scott injected him with a syringe of naloxone, which brought Pony Tail back from the brink. (Paramedics and emergency rooms have used the drug for years to reverse overdoses.) Scott sold forty seconds of the near-death scene to a cable news network. He charged forty dollars per second (the proceeds went to Pony Tail and Pam). He also turned the scene into a naloxone how-to DVD for The Chicago Recovery Alliance.
Scott “fixes’’ journalists up with junkies to pay for his own habit—making short documentary films, most often set in Junkieville, such as The Family at 1312, about a band of crack addicts, and Matrimony, about the wedding of Pony Tail and Pam, his heroin-addicted lover. His award-winning journalism for WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago, is also set in Junkieville. He traces his commitment to telling the stories of the addicted to an encounter he had in 2003 with a heartbroken, heroin-addicted panhandler called Freeway. In the early 1990s, Freeway’s infant daughter had died of sids. Within twenty-four hours, Freeway’s wife was dead too, killed in a car crash. A week after the combined funeral for his wife and daughter, Freeway found himself in a dope den, smoking crack and snorting heroin. A few months later he was living on the street, panhandling to support his new habit.
When Scott ran into Freeway one night in 2003, Freeway was sitting on some railroad tracks, near the remains of his shack in the Brickyard. The day before, railroad police—or “bulls’’—had come through and “evicted’’ him by setting fire to his makeshift shelter, for trespassing on railroad property. In a radio essay called “Brickyard Reflection,” Scott said a “plume of oily-smelling smoke’’ rose into the sky as Freeway scribbled “furiously in a slightly charred notebook.’’
“Actually, he was drawing,’’ Scott said in the essay. “As it turns out, the bulls had burned down his home and everything in it while he was out making money to buy the heroin he was using to self-medicate clinical depression. From memory he was trying to recreate by hand the image of his dead infant daughter, whose last remaining picture went up in flames.
“That night I decided that I would dedicate the rest of my life to living among, documenting, and telling stories publicly about the people who occupy what has become one of the lowest rungs in our society—the junkies, crack heads, dope fiends, and hookers who used to be our beloved mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, best friends, and neighbors.’’
Scott the fixer is Scott the broker, teacher, translator, story shaper, and protector of journalists and junkies on the shorter-than-many-people-think bridge between the straight world and the addicted one. “I have to do a lot of contextualizing,’’ he said. “It’s an opportunity for me to help shape the story, to help shape the image that gets out there. What I want most out of all this is dialogue; a robust public dialogue about addicts and addiction.”
It can be a dangerous job. He does his best to keep everyone out of harm’s way. But if something goes wrong, he is not a bodyguard. In case of trouble, his advice is simple: Duck low. Run fast. That’s exactly what the crew of Ross Kemp: Extreme World did last summer when a pissed-off pimp pulled a pistol.
Kemp and his crew were in town to do a show about heroin in Chicago, one of America’s smack capitals. They had learned about Scott from Hughes and hired him to take the six-member crew into dope dens and introduce them to a pimp called Silk and to Baby, one of his prostitutes. Silk agreed to allow the crew to film Baby as she walked the street, trying to pick up customers. The money shot they were after was Baby getting into a car with a trick. The longer Scott and Silk talked, the more into the idea Silk got. He even asked Scott if he wanted him to slap Baby around on camera. Not too hard, Silk added. Scott declined.