High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell
High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell is a 1995 American documentary film directed by Richard Farrell, Maryann DeLeo and Jon Alpert. It was a co-production of HBO and DCTV, produced by Farrell, DeLeo, and Alpert. The documentary takes place about 30 miles northwest of Boston in the economically depressed former mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts.
While Lowell is generally known for its central role in the Industrial Revolution as the first planned textile town in the United States, the city had fallen on hard times since the mills left the city in the early 1920s. Wang Laboratories, a major employer in Lowell in the more prosperous 1980s, declared bankruptcy and virtually went out of business in the early 1990s. The Lowell of 1995 had a large percentage of the population unemployed or underemployed, in poverty, and unaffected by positive things in the city like the Lowell National Historical Park and The Lowell Folk Festival (established in 1990). Much of the film takes place in a lower-class section of the city's (Lower) Highlands neighborhood.
The documentary frames the lives of three addicts against this background; particularly their hopeless situations, while exploring them as human beings. The film reveals the lives behind addiction: their aspirations, why they do drugs and why they don't quit, etc. It interviews their families, friends, and members of the community, discussing how drugs have destroyed the lives of the addicts. Richard Farrell, one of the directors, writers, and producers, is a native Lowellian and a former addict; allowing the crew deep access to the city's drug scene.
The filmmakers follow around three people: Boo Boo, Brenda, and former professional boxer Dicky Eklund in their daily exploits to get high.
Throughout the course of the documentary, Brenda, a prostitute, becomes pregnant and contemplates an abortion but has to "hook" to pay for the abortion. Whenever she earns enough money she blows it on drugs instead of getting the $395 abortion. The father could be her on-again off-again boyfriend Mike (who doesn't want you in his building) or the father may, in fact, be Boo Boo, whom she says has been pimping her out. Brenda also attempts detox rehab for the baby, but after talking to her parents decides to abort, then do detox, then to go back home. Brenda's ambivalence about aborting the baby becomes a big sub-plot in the film, as she shares that her parents forced her to have an abortion at age 15 and it had been a "nightmare" for her, and she felt like she'd "murdered" her baby. Yet with all the drama and going back and forth she does on the issue, no one ever talks to her about giving the baby up for adoption as an option that might be best for her and for the baby. At one point she does go into detox, but she loses the will to complete the program and walks out, as she had 6 times before.
Brenda ultimately goes missing which launches Boo Boo into a panic as he looks for her all over Lowell, including filing a missing person's report with the police. The police eventually do locate her, but are unable to tell Boo Boo per her wishes, only telling him she is alive and well and "she's had the child and straightened her life out, but does not want to reveal her present location." After this, it's not clear what her situation is. She's simply gone.
Dicky is a boxer who had at one time had a promising career as a boxer and had fought Sugar Ray Leonard, losing by decision after 10 rounds, and had attempted to make a comeback. For the sake of his young son, he tries to prevent his habit – and the crimes he commits to feed it – from destroying his life, but he can never stay clean for long and ends up arrested on multiple violent charges. While awaiting trial, his mother attempts to raise bail money with a benefit at the local VFW. During the event a fight breaks out between spectators and the $5,000 bail is not raised.
After Brenda leaves the area, Boo Boo's drug habit gets worse and he begins shooting cocaine intravenously. He then gets tested for HIV and finds out he's positive. This acts as a catalyst to turn his life around. He stops using for several months, joins an HIV support group and gets a job working as a delivery man at a local area donut shop where he's well-liked and they actually feel he's dependable. He starts to re-open contact with his family. But then it all falls apart again when he loses the job when he's stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation and it's revealed he was driving with no license. He spends the next day getting high with Dicky, as it is Dicky's last day out before going to jail for 10 to 15 years.
The documentary ends with Boo Boo discussing how he is the only member of the three left. Dicky is in jail and Brenda is gone. Boo Boo hopes she's doing well with her new life with her baby as he puffs on his crack pipe.
In the closing credits, it is revealed that 6 months after filming, Boo Boo is still in Lowell with a $200 a day crack habit, Dicky won't be eligible for parole for at least 4 more years (in 1999), and Brenda died from a drug overdose on October 25, 1995.
In popular culture
A fictionalized version of the documentary is featured in the 2010 feature film The Fighter, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. In the film, the documentary is titled Crack In America. Eklund, portrayed by Christian Bale, is shown smoking crack and being high throughout, telling his family that the HBO camera crew are filming him making a boxing comeback. Bale won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Eklund.