2015 – Present
An artist I only briefly met had a tremendous impact on my life as an activist.
Cody John LaPlante was an artist, writer, poet, and community organizer. I met Cody through a mutual friend who invited him to collaborate with us in our two person exhibit DEMONS. Cody participated by writing poems about how he felt when looking at my artwork and that of my friend, Sam Paolini. He wrote two poems for me and he recited them at the opening of DEMONS. Cody looked at my artwork, which contained a bunch of words, and he called me a poet. That was the first time I ever considered myself a poet. And that revelation had a significant impact on the art I was creating.
Later on, Cody contacted me and said he wanted to write an article about me for The Sound, a local arts and entertainment magazine. He told me he pitched the editor about an article, and that the editor said I was on the radar but they did not want to print anything about me at the moment. Cody then asked me to collaborate with him in an online zine The World is Large and We Are All On It. He wrote poems and I did a group of intuitive drawings that paired with his words. I really enjoyed the collaboration that we did.
I only knew Cody just a few shorts months before he injected a hypodermic needle right into his vein and overdosed on heroin on June 7, 2015.
I didn’t even know that he used, let alone was in the grips of addiction. Had I known he was an opiate user I would have shared with him my story of addiction hell with pain pills. My addiction wasn’t to heroin specifically, it was to opiates – pills I was given after being involved in an accident at work. I struggled with that addiction and I was able to overcome it.
After Cody died, I was upset and I wanted to scream about the ills of heroin addiction.
I had a burning desire to do something meaningful – I’m an activist, and I wanted to ACT UP!
I wanted to make a statement and I wanted to bring it to the street. I set out with a friend to create some illegal art in Berwick, Maine. I had lived in that small town and it was not uncommon for addicts to overdose in the bathroom of the convenience store right in the center of town. I decided to spray paint a wall across the street from Berwick’s Town Hall. My friend and I hit the wall 3 times with a number of different stencils.
The art we created had 4 components: a hypodermic needle, the words HEROIN KILLS, a small cluster of buildings to represent the neighborhood being affected, and a help line phone number. I wanted to say very clearly, “When you stick a needle into the community people will die. Heroin is a killer. AND look … here’s help. CALL THE NUMBER!”
The art we created was eradicated by maintenance workers 2 hours after it appeared.
A picture surfaced of the graffiti and Bob Keyes, an art writer from the Portland Press Herald, contacted me to do a newspaper story (article here.) I was happy to be interviewed about my street art, but that was just not enough of an impact for me. In talking to my friend Erin she said, “Why not do a poster project?” With the seed planted, I decided to do a poster campaign and then called it HEROIN KILLS.
Tammy Ackerman, the DIrector of a local art organization in Biddeford, Maine, ENGINE: Propelling the Creative Community, saw the article about me on the front page of the Sunday arts section, and contacted me to ask if I could make more posters. She said if I did she would see that the posters were circulated. I placed an ad for help distributing the posters and a number of people stepped forward to put up about 50 posters in my local area.
The project is now in its 3rd incarnation.
I have tried to widen the scope of the project. Some of my international art friends have gotten in touch with me when they saw my project on social media. Artists started asking me if I would make posters for them. I’ve had other artists contact me to tell me they were inspired to create similar projects because of my project. My friend Richard Williams, a street artist in Germany, asked to collaborate with me. When I asked him why he wanted to collab he said that it’s his passion. Acting up and being an activist about social issues is very rewarding.
The new HEROIN KILLS poster for 2019 are much more graphic. It still uses the same stencil of the hypodermic needle that my friend Bailey made in 2015 and the sentiment “HEROIN KILLS,” but now feature a stencil of a graveyard and the words “DIG YOUR OWN GRAVE.”
I decided to create a 2 color stenciled poster: I have chosen one color (black) while the second color is chosen by my collaborators.
Folks, contact me.
I make the posters and I will mail them out to you at no cost. Then once you’ve received the posters to hang them, take a picture of the posters out in the world and share the image on social media with the hashtag #heroinkills.
Someone recently asked me what I hope will happen as the result of my poster campaign. It’s simple: I want people to stop using heroin. I’m hoping that my words “HEROIN KILLS” resonated with just one human and that I might save just one life.