Michael Poster: If she has a pulse, she has a chance

October 5, 2018 - January 7, 2019

Photographer and essayist Michael Poster leads a support group at Turning Point of Windham County, an addiction recovery center in Brattleboro, Vermont. He entered the project with a genuine desire to assist fellow travelers in recovery, a journey he embarked upon in the 1970s. That Poster gained the trust of the Turning Point community is a testament to his gentle nature and authenticity. It has led to the production of a remarkable body of work.

In If she has a pulse, she has a chance, Poster introduces us to our neighbors—their struggles, bravery, and determination. His photo­graphs are accompanied by “as told to” narratives, expanding our understanding of how the demanding work of recovery requires hope, empathy, compassion, and the support of a robust community.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

I often get close to the people I photograph, but it’s unusual for me to become deeply involved in a subject connected to my own life. As a young man I was addicted to heroin. In 1970 I left everything and everyone I knew in Philadelphia and moved to Derby, Vermont. With the help of methadone and new friends, I began the long process of recovery and personal reinvention.

Now, forty-seven years later, I volunteer at  Turning Point in Brattleboro. When I’m not facilitating group recovery meetings, I make photographs of the people I meet at the center and listen to their stories. They have lived through childhood trauma, committed crimes, served long prison sentences, or struggled through multiple detox treatments. They have watched friends and loved ones die from overdose, survived overdose themselves after receiving emergency Narcan treatment, or lost children to state agencies because of their addictions.

My friends and I have a few things in common. We’d been addicted to drugs or alcohol, had engaged in criminal behavior, and had pretty much been given up on by society. But now we are in recovery, living productive lives, and working to help others find their own paths to recovery. We are trained recovery coaches, meeting facilitators, or program coordinators. My friend Ella is passionate about her job helping opioid users get medically assisted treatment. One day I heard her say: “I refuse to give up on her. You just never know when someone will be ready to change. The way I see it, if she has a pulse, she has a chance.”

— Michael Poster

We are grateful to the Brattleboro Retreat, Turning Point of Windham County, Groundworks Collaborative, and Communicators Group for their assistance in the production of this exhibit and related events.

If she has a pulse, she has a chance is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts.

Generously sponsored by