‘Jasmine Is My Street Name’

By Candice Novak

A conversation with Jasmine, who lives on the streets of Oakland, California.

Why do you go by Jasmine?

“Jasmine’s been my street name for a long time. I used to travel freight trains and stuff before I became a junkie. Jasmine was always one of my favorite flowers and I used to soak myself in jasmine oil. All the other kids would always smell like patchouli, but I’d always smell like jasmine oil. . . Very few people go by their real names out here. Pretty much everybody’s got fake names.”

Do you have access to services?

“I do, but I’m hustling all the time, just trying to stay well. I’m not even getting high, I’m just not getting sick . . . I’ve been on heroin for 10 years and I’ve gotten clean before, but I can’t stay clean for longer than a couple weeks because even after you go through the physical withdrawal, then it starts fucking with your head . . . You could be the straightest edge person and you wouldn’t be able to beat it. No one can beat heroin.”

Do you have rules you live by?

“Yeah, kind of. I believe in karma. I consider myself a good person. Even though I’m a heroin junkie, I don’t fucking rob people and I don’t steal. I sit out here and beg for money. I try to make people smile . . . I don’t put on my sign, you know, ‘Hey, I’m a junkie!’ But if people ask me, I’ll tell them.”

I do, but I’m hustling all the time, just trying to stay well. I’m not even getting high, I’m just not getting sick.

What kind of schooling did you do?

“Um, well, I dropped out in 8th grade. I hated school. [Laughs] I was a total Megadeth t-shirt-wearing stoner, black-fingernail-polish type. People picked on me a lot. I was fat and I had these really cheap, ugly pink plastic framed glasses. Because we were poor, we could only get the welfare glasses, you know? So, I was not cool. I had really, really low self esteem. And that’s how I ended up getting pregnant at 15.

I didn’t get cool until I was homeless and started traveling around and shaved my head into a mohawk and got tattoos. [Laughs] I’m pierced up, I just don’t have any jewelry anymore . . .”

So, you were a really young mother.

“I kind of fucked up . . . I never really wanted to be a mom. So I gave custody of my son to my mom. But when I got pregnant with my daughter I was a little bit older and I wanted to at least try to do the whole single mom thing. I tried going to school and everything. And when my daughter was 2, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t like abusive or doing drugs around my kids. I was out being a homeless drug addict, traveling around.”

You’re homeless, but you’re being evicted?

“Yeah! [Laughs] They just left this today, but they don’t say when they’re coming. They just list a bunch of days and then come whenever they want and take all your shit. They’ve taken my husband’s bike before. They took our cellphone last time they came. I begged them not to. Someone had given me $50 on a good day and that’s how we got the cellphone — and then they just took it away. We moved out of our old spot where we had our tent under the freeway because there were too many black widows. And my husband’s super afraid of spiders.”

How’s being married?

“I don’t even have a sex life anymore because heroin takes it away from you. It kind of sucks. You know those little tingly feelings you get when somebody touches you in the right way? Well, somebody can touch me in the right way now and I don’t feel nothin’.”

How does your husband feel about that?

“He hates it because it does it to him, too. Even though I try to tell him, I don’t care that we don’t have sex. But it bothers him. He gets really insecure about it.”

How far do you have to walk to get your dope?

“Not too far. Like 10, 15 blocks . . . There’s some dealers that you have to call. And then there’s some that hang out somewhere — which is stupid. That’s one of the easiest ways to get caught.

I don’t even have a sex life anymore because heroin takes it away from you.

I sold dope for four years. I used to hide it in my cheeks. I would never carry more than 30 or 40 balloons on me and I would keep about 10 of them in my mouth. And then the rest of them I would have rolled up in a baggie and shove them down my panties. So that way if a cop’s rolling up on me I could just swallow the dope.”

Have you ever had to do that?

“Yeah. I puked them up two hours later. When that happened I only had five bags in my mouth . . . All five of them would’ve had to have broken open to kill me.”

How long has it been since your last fix?

“Well, I just fixed about an hour and a half ago, but if you get caught with a fever . . . Sometimes there’ll be bacteria on the cotton and it’ll get caught in your bloodstream. It’s weird. It will always hit you like 30 minutes after you’ve done a shot. You’ll start feeling the chills and it’s almost like the flu, and your muscles will start to ache and you’ll get a really bad headache. And the only way to get rid of it is to do another round. I don’t know why it’s like that, but you have to do another shot. It makes it go away. That’s why I’m sitting here trying to make 20 bucks.”

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