Finding Dentinho in harm reduction – Cleyton’s story

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My name is Cleyton Ferreira, also known as Dentinho. I am a harm reduction worker, also working as visual artist, activist, and researcher. I was born in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, near the city of São Paulo, Brazil. 

My parents came to São Paulo before I was born to find work, my father as a construction worker and my mother as a housekeeper. Life was never easy for us. We moved around a lot so that my parents could find work until they were able to buy a house near São Paulo.

I was born with respiratory and vision problems. Growing up, I was bullied and got beaten up a lot at school. I started using drugs very early. The first drug was alcohol and then tobacco. The reason why this happened is a question that I don’t even understand, but I think it was my attempt to exist in the world. 

I always tried and I still try to stand out, because of all the violence I suffered. My vision problem always made it difficult for me to get a steady job. When I was 20 years old my mother died and soon after my father abandoned me and my brother. Around this time, I started working multiple jobs trying to sustain our home.

I had a broken life: I never had a good job, I never had opportunities, I was never accepted. I started working at night and found cocaine. Soon after, I went to the city of Sao Paulo and started living on the streets. 

I tried to kill Cleyton. I was never accepted, so I thought that if I lived on the margins of society, perhaps there I would be accepted. 

I wanted to start from scratch and that’s how Dentinho was born.

On the streets, I discovered crack. I found myself living in the area known as Cracolândia, [an open-air drug scene] in the city centre. I lived there for 2 years, where I suffered one of the worst instances of violence my life: Police officers threw a gas grenade at me, directly to my head, which led me to lose my left eye’s sight.

It was during this time that I learned about harm reduction. I joined São Paulo city’s award-winning programme De Braços Abertos and through it I had access to housing, food and a job. 

My life changed dramatically. I became a visual artist. I started to join public courses offered in the area. And I got in touch with the É de Lei Drop-in Centre. This is also the time when I became an activist and started talking about my rights. And speak up against police violence, based on my own experience.

Today, even if the De Braços Abertos programme was closed, I continue fighting for my rights. 

In 2020, I had the opportunity to work as a harm reduction worker in the É de Lei Drop-in Centre, where I still work.

For me, harm reduction has given me an opportunity to look at people with care and respect; including myself. Never before having had a chance in life, I now see myself as a capable man who was fortunate to get in touch with harm reduction and to work taking care of other people and changing lives.

Thank you for listening!


Photo credit: Cleyton Ferreira

Cleyton’s story was compiled with support from É de Lei. This story has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.