Jesse Bernstein: Losing Kathy: Slow Violence and Social Service Work in New York City

NY Post Archive Photo. Hart Island aka Potters Field. June 14, 1979. Coffins buried yesterday are covered with earth. Photo New York Post staff Frank Leonardo.

Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, May 13, 2020

One of my last conversations at Ladders Services was with the Medical Examiner’s office after I heard Kathy had died.* My cubicle was in a cellar with an open floor plan, shared with other cubicles, and my boss and I agreed that I should call the Medical Examiner from a room with a door. Privacy. Sitting in a barren room with dirty white walls, browned floor tiles, and a dated Dell desktop, I called the municipal morgue.

Surprisingly, my voice didn’t shake. “I’m calling from Ladders Services. We heard that one of our clients died but we haven’t been able to confirm. Can you let me know if she’s shown up there?”

I confirmed Kathy’s name and date of birth.

“I can confirm that she is here, and no one has claimed the body.”

Beyond this last conversation, there was my last advocacy effort.  I tried to get the executives of the multi-million-dollar non-profit to pony up some cash so Kathy’s body wouldn’t be dumped, nameless, in a collective grave on potter’s field, located on “Hart Island” – a moniker ironic or brutal or both – off the eastern end of the Bronx.

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