My time in New York was short lived but I felt privileged to of experienced a small part of what was described to me as 'The Real New York' and meeting the 'Ghetto Boys' contributed to that immensely.
I was temporarily staying in an apartment in a part of Bushwick you wouldn't want to stray into after hours. I was there because I'd been offered rent free living and like all documentary film makers, I tend to be attracted to areas and situations that I'm not supposed to be in. There was a graffiti covered, clap board fronted building a few doors down from my apartment which initially grabbed my attention as a potential location for a music video shoot I was working on at the time. I assumed the building was out-of-use however, coming home late in the following nights I noticed the clapboards would be taken off anywhere between midnight and 5am, there were lights on and stickers that said 'Ghetto Boys' covering the windows. My curiosity got the better of me one night and I decided to find out what was going on in this back street hang out. I walked through the door to find several tattoo covered men sitting in what appeared to be a tattoo parlour. There were wanted posters and images of clients, friends and rappers covering the walls and several knives lying (casually) around. Upon realising my situation, I mumbled '...fuck' to myself and naturally, they all looked at me like I was crazy - what's this girl doing walking in here?! - It was hostile but after speaking to the two owners who go by the names First Born and Bank Sinatra (aka The Ghetto Boys) I think they became equally curious about me and told me to come back that Friday night. Looking back, I realise it a completely insane thing to do but despite their 'thuggish' looks, I sensed a warmth from them and I'm glad I trusted my instincts.
Friday night came and nervous with camera on arm, I made my way over. I was, as I expected, totally out of my depth but there was something really captivating about these two characters. Both in their 40's, born and raised in Bushwick, Born and Bank had seen it all. They spoke to me about stabbings, shootings, murders and rapes that had happened on the block. It became evident in their blase attitude that they'd grown a numbness towards these things having grown up experiencing so much pain and death. Tattoo's for them and for many of their peers were a way of expressing themselves, many of them covered head to toe in names of siblings, parents and children who they'd loved and lost. They also told me that the majority of the tattoo's they do are of things that represent wealth; Bentley's, Cadillacs, Dollar signs - when in reality none of these people own any of these things. It gave people a sense of aspiration.
Bank tells me that having these tattoos mean that "eventually their dreams will come true". Something touched me about the persistent optimism all of these guys still held through the years despite having clearly experienced a life of struggle that many of us can't begin to fathom. They'd started their own business from nothing and had a sense of brotherhood that one could only dream of. No doubt, there were many moments of terror that night for me - I saw some things I'll never forget and am glad I wasn't allowed to film - It's safe to say I was out of my comfort zone but all in all, these were good, smart people who welcomed me in to their world for one night and for that, I'm incredibly grateful. My only regret is that I'd got more footage. Here's an edit of what I did get.
Thank you to First Born and Bank Sinatra, two very kind hearted people who really do make the most of what they've got.
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