We wish to thank the following people and organizations for their help with this book: LIFE Magazine, Richard B. Stolley, John Loengard, Melvin L. Scott, Jerry Esterly, Gary Schneider, Sidney Rapoport, Kathleen Brennan, Connie Nelson, Willie Nelson, and Tom Waits.

Our gratitude to the following people who shared their lives with us:

Alabama Floyd Patrice
Annie J.R. Patti
Antoine James Peehole
Baby Gramps Jimi Rat
Biker Kim John Red Dog
Black Junior Juan Roberta
Breezy Justin
Buddha Kim Sam
Butch Kevin Shadow
Calvin Lillie Shellie
Chrissie Lora Lee Smurf
Dawn Lulu Sparkles
Dewayne Melissa Tiny
Drugs Michele Tracy
Eddie Mike White Junior
Erica Munchkin William


Mary Ellen Mark

In April 1983 reporter Cheryl McCall and I traveled to Seattle, Washington, to do an article for LIFE Magazine on runaway children. One of the reasons we chose Seattle was because it is known as "America's most livable city." Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York were well known for their street kids. By choosing America's ideal city we were making the point "If street kids exist in a city like Seattle then they can be found everywhere in America, and we are therefore facing a major social problem of runaways in this country."

Seattle is a beautiful city. We spent our first few days driving around the downtown area looking for places where the kids might hang out.

Cheryl and I had a long working experience together on several difficult stories. We trusted each other's instincts, and were an excellent working team because we totally immersed ourselves in a story and tried to get as close to our subjects as possible. We became obsessed with finding and meeting Seattle street kids.

I will never forget the first time we saw our kids by the graffiti wall between First and Second on Pike Street. We had driven past that wall many times before and it was always empty. That particular day we drove by around four thirty in the afternoon and the wall was transformed into a meeting place for kids. This is where we began our story on Seattle's street children.

At first they were very suspicious of us. They were sure we were undercover cops. We showed the teenagers magazines and books with previous stories that we had done, but nothing would persuade them.

I think that there were two important factors that helped convince the kids that we were o.k. The first was my getting a jaywalking ticket and having an argument with the policeman who gave it to me. The kids gathered around and watched the dispute. They were impressed that I stood up to a cop. The second factor that brought us closer to the kids was Lulu's accepting us.

Lou Ellen Couch was a nineteen-year-old girl from a large and turbulent Seattle family. She had been on and off the street since she was nine years old. She was gay, and at the time we met her she was involved in a difficult relationship with a girl named Wendy. Lulu was by far the most loved and respected person among the street kids. She was high strung and emotional and she had a major drinking problem, but she also had an extraordinary sense of justice.

Lulu was constantly defending the kids she felt had been done wrong. As a result she often fought with men and women much bigger or stronger than herself. She always gave them a good fight and most of the time she won, but as a result of her constant battles she often had a black eye and a scarred and battered look. Sometimes she reminded me of a sad but feisty old alley cat. Lulu was an extraordinary character and Cheryl and I were immediately drawn to her. When Lulu decided that we were o.k. most of the kids accepted us.

One by one we met the group of street kids that we came to know, write about, and photograph. We met a sad and lonely Shadow on his eighteenth birthday and celebrated with him. He in turn introduced us to his friend and "popcorn pimp" competitor Munchkin, who introduced us to his combative girlfriend Patti.

Every Friday and Saturday night the kids would gather at a questionable Seattle discotheque called "The Monastery." Most of the street kids didn't have the entrance fee so they would hang out in the parking lot. They would run from car to car, drink beer or whiskey, buy and sell drugs, and generally get high. The energy and expectancy level in that parking lot was highly charged. Occasionally fist fights would break out and there was a continuous entrance and exit of cars on the lot.

The first time I saw Erin Blackwell was in this parking lot. A big station wagon taxi pulled up and two little girls looking about ten and twelve stepped out. The one who looked twelve was actually almost fourteen and her street name was Tiny. The other was her friend Phillis and she was eleven. They both wore tight sweaters, tight jeans, and lots of make-up. They looked like little girls playing "dress up" and they were amazing. I approached them, introduced myself, and asked if I could spend time with them to take pictures. They both started to giggle and ran towards a waiting car. The next day Teresa, a social worker, introduced Cheryl and me to Tiny. She also assured her that we were journalists not police. That was the beginning of a long relationship which continues today.

One day an old merchant seaman named George approached us on Pike Street. He heard about the story we were doing and he knew two young boys that we just had to meet. The boys were called Rat and Mike and they lived in an abandoned building. He said the younger boy looked like a little kid and was a real character.

The next day George took us to the abandoned building which was several blocks away. We borrowed a ladder and the three of us climbed up into the building.

I was really glad that George was with us, even though he was an old man and I don't know how he would have helped us if we were attacked. It just felt better to have him there. The interior of the building was beyond terrifying. It was dark and deserted and full of garbage and broken glass. There was evidence that people lived there: old mattresses, bottles, rotten food, and even some old Playboy magazines. George took us down a long hallway to the room where Rat and Mike lived. We knocked on the door but there was no answer. The entrance to the room seemed to be blocked by a piece of furniture. We found another way into the space through an adjoining room. Once inside we found it was empty but we felt that people lived there and that they would return. There was an old couch in the room, probably moved from another part of the building. There were music and movie posters on the walls and in the corner there was a lace-up pair of roller skates. Cheryl and I left a note for Rat and Mike saying that we would return to find them.

A few days later we came back to the abandoned building. We arrived there this time at six a.m., because we felt it was a sure time to catch the boys still sleeping. George didn't want to come with us that early so Cheryl's friends Rick and Connie followed us to the building in their pick-up. Thinking about entering the building alone made us really nervous, so the understanding was that every ten minutes Cheryl and I would wave from a window in the building to Rick and Connie. This way they would know that all was o.k. and this gave us a sense of security. We found the room and knocked on the door. This time there was clearly someone inside. We pushed the door open and saw four people asleep in the room. Three boys were buried in sleeping bags; one slept on the couch. Two of the boys looked older. They could have been in their late twenties and looked more like hobos. The other two were younger. They introduced themselves as Rat and Mike and they were both sixteen years old. Rat looked more like a twelve-year-old and he was actually the leader of the two. Mike acted as his protector. The two boys were from Sacramento. They had run together after arguing with their families. They lived by begging, stealing, and eating from dumpsters. While searching for food in a dumpster Rat found a pair of roller skates, and he loved to skate up and down the hallways of the abandoned building.

The next morning I spoke to my husband Martin. He is a filmmaker and we often talked about working together. I told him about the strange and fascinating lives of the Seattle street children, and I told him about a kid named Rat roller skating down the hallway of an abandoned building. At that moment we all decided that we must come back to Seattle and make a film.

Cheryl and I returned to New York in mid May. In July 1983 our article appeared in LIFE Magazine.

In late August 1983 Cheryl, Martin, and I returned to Seattle to make Streetwise. Cheryl raised $80,000 from her friend Willie Nelson. The additional money needed to shoot the film was invested by the three of us. We totally believed in the project because we knew that the kids had a special story to tell.

We found Tiny, Lulu, and Rat still in Seattle; Rat's partner Mike was gone. He was in a juvenile jail in California. Other children were also gone and there were many new kids on the street. In many ways it was like starting all over again.

The first night of shooting Martin did something that proved to be an excellent lesson in gaining access to the kids. We were filming in the Dismas Center, which is a facility open to kids for food, counseling, and recreation. Suddenly Chrissie, a sixteen-year-old street kid, became very angry with Martin for filming her. Martin, to everyone's amazement, opened his camera magazine and gave her the exposed strip of film. Chrissie stormed out the door holding the strip of film which I later found crumpled on the sidewalk. After that incident, whenever we saw Chrissie on the street all that she wanted was to be filmed and to be our friend. When Martin gave the exposed film to Chrissie he showed her and the other kids that we were not trying to steal something from them--if they wanted to be part of the film that was fine but if they didn't want to that was o.k. too. We knew that it was hard for these kids to trust anyone, but we hoped that they would learn to trust us a bit.

When we were shooting on the street, Lulu's accepting us was once again a major factor in helping us gain access to the other kids. One by one we met the main characters in our film.

We were introduced to Dewayne, a fragile sixteen-year-old boy who had been in a juvenile facility while we did our story for LIFE Magazine. His mother had deserted him and his father was in jail. He lived in a trailer with a young street couple and their newborn son. He ran errands for them, and in return they gave him food and a place to sleep. We learned that he was going to visit his father in jail and immediately sought permission to film the visit. This meeting between Dewayne and LeRoy Pomeroy was one of the most moving scenes in the film.

In every successful still photographic project that I have completed there has always been a turning point in the story where I felt that perhaps I was working on something that could be very special. This happened three weeks into our filming in Seattle.

All of us felt that Tiny could be a very strong character in the film. When we first started to work with her we were a bit disappointed because she was too self-conscious. One afternoon we decided to film her while she visited her mother Pat, who worked in a local coffee shop.

When Pat finished work we followed them home to the tiny shack that they shared. Pat started to drink beer and play solitaire and Tiny went into the bedroom. They started to argue, and an intense personal conversation developed between mother and daughter that touched the core of their relationship.

As a still photographer I had photographed many situations that were highly emotionally charged. Even though those situations sometimes led me to take very strong photographs, when I looked at my contact sheets I always remembered the real situation as being even stronger than the photograph. With the filming of Tiny's and Pat's argument, for the first time I was seeing something unfold before me that was being totally captured. That was an extraordinary feeling. We filmed many moving scenes with Tiny and she became a major character in the film. By chance she fell in love with Rat which led to a sad and beautiful departure scene when Rat left Seattle a few weeks later.

We all worked long and hard hours. Cheryl was brilliant at dealing with social service agencies and gaining access to families and institutions. I worked as a link between Cheryl and Martin and tried to help Martin, especially when he was filming on the street. With all of the stress, anxiety, and quick tempers that film-making can bring, none of us ever disagreed about the point of view of the film, it was a film about the kids as told by the kids. It was their story.

One big difference between still photography and film is that film is a collaborative medium that requires several people and much more equipment. When you are shooting intimate scenes it is more difficult in film than in still photography to be a "fly on the wall." Most of the intimate scenes were filmed with just Martin and sound recordist Keith Desmond present, because Martin wanted as little distraction as possible.

When it was time to leave Seattle it was very difficult to say goodbye to the kids. Halloween was our last night of shooting and there was a party at the Dismas Center. All the kids came in costume. Shadow wore a skull mask and a top hat. A thirteen-year-old girl named Lillie came as a mouse with a red nose, whiskers, and a green wig. She gave us each a tulip bulb to plant so we would not forget her. Tiny looked very grown up and beautiful in a hat with a veil, a short black dress, and dark stockings. She told us she was dressed as a French whore.

Sunday, the day before we left Seattle, Martin and I drove to Tiny's house to say a last goodbye. She had been out all night and was still in bed. She looked so sad and vulnerable, so alone. "Take me with you," she said. I told her that if she lived with us she would have to go to school like a normal fourteen-year-old. I also told her that at night she would have to be home at a reasonable hour and that she would not be allowed to hang out on the streets.

"Forget it," she said. "I don't want to go back to school because I would have to go back to the sixth grade where all the kids are only twelve years old. It would be too embarrassing."

She propped herself up on some pillows. She had just gotten a permanent, and she suddenly looked older. "I could never leave the street," she said. I took one last picture of her. She was wearing a T-shirt that had a prominent 16 on it.

We returned to New York and eventually raised additional finances for post-production. When Martin met Nancy Baker he knew she was exactly the right person to edit the film. They spent many months working together in the editing room. Cheryl returned to LIFE Magazine to report and write and I continued my work as a freelance photographer.

In July 1984 Cheryl and I were assigned by LIFE to do a story in Minneapolis on sexually abused children. One afternoon I was photographing a mother with her two daughters in their home when suddenly I had a strong impulse to call home and speak to Martin. I asked if I could use the phone. The line was constantly busy, and when I finally got through Martin told me that he had just been speaking with Jerry Esterly, who had phoned to tell him that Dewayne Pomeroy had hung himself in a juvenile correctional institution the night before his seventeenth birthday. Martin, Cheryl, and I immediately returned to Seattle. Dewayne's death was a great tragedy. He was about to get released from the juvenile facility and we felt that the idea of facing the streets alone again was just too much for him.

In October of 1984 we returned to Seattle to show the completed film to the kids. This was the first public showing in this country of Streetwise, and it was for all of us the most terrifying. If the kids in the film did not like the film or if they felt betrayed by it then we would have falled.

About fifty street kids and a few parents and social workers piled into a small room in a social center in Seattle. During the first part of the film the kids laughed and hollered whenever they saw themselves on the screen. Lulu was especially excited about being in the film. She brought a group of friends with her and all of them roared with laughter whenever Lulu appeared. Halfway through Streetwise the mood of the story changes, and the film becomes more serious. At that point, the room became silent. By the end of the film many of the children were in tears. One boy approached Martin. "Are our lives really like this?" he asked. He then continued, "I want to hit someone but I don't know who to hit."

The street children of Seattle embraced the film as their own. They felt it was truly their story. The only criticism that they had was that we were not present at a memorial service for Dewayne Pomeroy they held a week after his death. They planted a tree in his memory in Freeway Park. Teresa from the Dismas Center gave each of them a balloon and told them to think of something that they would like to say to Dewayne. They then released all the balloons over the park. The children thought that it would have been good for us to film this, and they were right.


Today Erin Blackwell has two children. She has a boy named Daylon born February 5, 1985. I photographed his delivery and it was an unusually easy birth. On May 1, 1987, she gave birth to a girl who she named LaShawndrea. The baby was born at ten minutes to three in the afternoon. Two hours and twenty minutes later Jerry Esterly came to visit her. He found her sitting at a table in her room with a cigarette in her mouth playing backgammon with another young patient. When she saw Jerry, she jumped up and said, "Want to see her?" She then trotted down the hallway to show him the baby.

In December 1985 Martin received a call from Lou Ellen Couch's sister. Lulu had been stabbed to death in a street fight while defending a friend. Her last words were, "Tell Martin and Mary Ellen Lulu died."

During the past three years much of the area around the Pike Street Market has been renovated. It is rapidly becoming gentrified. The grafitti wall has not been torn down yet and it is still a gathering place for street kids. Many of the kids that we knew still meet there from time to time and of course there are many new street children. The oldtimers talk about how things have changed and how it will never be the same without DeWayne and Lulu there. Sometimes they will take a new kid across the street to the Pike Street Market and show them two plaques on the ground. Plaque 21393 says "Lulu Couch 1985" and Plaque 21394 says "Dewayne Pomeroy 1984."

Mary Ellen Mark

New York City
July 18, 1987


John Irving

The children of Pike Street are runaways; when I first saw Mary Ellen Mark's photographs of them--in the spring of 1983--I knew they were perfect characters for an important story, because they were both perfect and important victims. The characters in any important story are always victims; even the survivors of an important story are victims. At the time, Seattle's Green River Killer had already murdered 28 young girls, yet the teenagers of Pike Street were holding their own --pimps, prostitutes, and petty thieves, they were eating out of dumpsters, falling in love, getting tattooed, being treated for the variety of venereal diseases passed on to them by their customers.

All teenagers plan for unlikely futures--"three yachts or more"--and lifetime lovers, but the children of Pike Street must conduct their dreaming in the presence of expediencies far darker than most Americans can imagine. Tiny is a fourteen-year-old girl, malnourished, an accomplished prostitute with a lengthy record of occupational diseases; her alcoholic mother says that Tiny's prostitution is "just a phase." Dewayne is a sixteen-year-old boy; he visits his father, a failed arsonist, in prison. Dewayne's father fails as a father, too; Dewayne is one of the victims of Pike Street who won't survive this story.

More than a year after I saw Mary Ellen's pictures of these children, I saw the rough cut of her husband's movie. Martin Bell is an Englishman, which makes the powerful authenticity of his film all the more impressive to me: that he could so thoroughly have gained the trust of Tiny and Dewayne and the others--that he has succeeded in getting them to accept the presence of his camera so unselfconsciously, so completely gracefully. These children's voices are heartbreaking; their tone is mostly deadpan, sometimes dreamy, relentlessly honest. It is the narrative technique of Streetwise that makes you forget you're watching a documentary; the absolutely natural quality of the children's voices has the storytelling exactness of fiction. And the unobtrusive quality of the camerawork contributes to the impression that Streetwise is as concrete and inevitable as a good novel.

I saw the finished version of Martin Bell's movie not long after President Reagan's landslide victory. I wish the president could see Streetwise, for there is little acknowledgment of the existence of Pike Street's children in his plans for America. At a time when so many of the self-righteous are crusading for the rights of the unborn, who is paying attention to the born? Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell have been paying attention to the children of Pike Street, who are very much born--and unloved, poor, unwanted, abused. Like all good stories, Streetwise is timely. I wish that the national (and presidentially approved) fervor for fetuses could be slightly redirected. Dewayne and Tiny and their friends Rat and Shadow and Munchkin--they all managed to be born. But who is taking care of them?


Jerry Esterly

"I gotta get off the streets, Jerry. Can you help me find my sister? Maybe I can stay with her. She's someplace in California. My Mom's in California or Arizona, I'm not sure. I think my Grandmother in Oregon knows where."

For the past twenty years I have worked as a Juvenile Parole Counselor. I'm working with some kids whose parents I used to have on parole. I've seen a lot of stuff, but nothing like the current street scene.

Every week kids drift into my office. Maybe they used to be on parole or maybe they just saw me around. Many street kids are escaping from homes where they have been abused emotionally, physically, and sexually, or from homes where they have found no love or understanding. Some are searching for excitement and some simply drift there because they have no other place to be or to go. When they first hit the streets they are young, cocky, full of fun, and excited about life. After a few years they are eighteen, nineteen, or twenty and the excitement and fun have gone. The streets wear them down. They do too much, they see too much and have too much responsibility. They can't take the time to learn and grow. Rather than expanding, their world narrows.

The streets are tough and those that have other places to go soon leave. Those that can't, like the kid I'm talking to, have had to scheme, "dumpster dive" for discarded food, panhandle, meter pick, rob, steal, sell dope and their bodies to get by. They get old and desperate, so they come in and we talk.

"If this placement with your sister doesn't come through (they seldom do), how about a program? I can get you into a mission for a day or two. I know it's just temporary, but then maybe something will come up." "Thanks, Jerry. Sounds good. Maybe I'll check that out later and get back to you on that."

The kid says, "How about a job?" A job is a luxury few of these kids can afford because it requires the resources to last the two weeks or a month until the first pay check. I look at this beat-up kid in front of me. Rotten teeth, dirty clothes, no job skills, and little idea of what it takes to get or hold a job. I wonder if he found a job how he could keep it.

So I say "Great idea but I don't have any sure job leads right now. How about a program to help you get a few more job skills? They help find work too, you know."

He looks down. We both know those programs take more time and energy than he is probably able to spend. He says, "Thanks, Jerry, sounds good. I'll get back to you on that one." You see the real reason this kid is in my office is he is sinking and praying someone will save him before he goes under. He needs that miracle, that sister or someone to make it right. He needs food, shelter, clothing, and stability--a place to dream of better things.

In reality these things are probably only going to be available to him in prison. I say probably because once in a while a kid will get lucky. But I wonder if a long shot doesn't come through pretty soon just when this kid will go for the big score, thinking, "If I make it big, great, if not what the hell."

Some are in prison now and at least have food and shelter. Some are dead. They can't be hurt any more. It's funny how we will spend thousands of dollars to lock these kids up and spend nickels and dimes when they're out there on the street and need our help. I wonder most about all those kids who don't seek somebody out. What is the future for the growing numbers that are out there just drifting. I wonder too about the next generation. What kind of parents will these kids be? What kind can they be?