Crossing Boundaries: Stories of Strength and Survival is the result of a five-months long project by four members of the Young Photographers Alliance: Shane King, Marke Liimatainen, Taylor Martin and Erica Meza, under the mentorship of Laura Doss and Barry Schwartz. During the summer of 2014, these photographers worked with young women at a rehab center run by The Teen Project. The young women there had faced a range of challenges, from gang violence to drug addiction and domestic abuse. Each photographer approached the project with thetheme of “boundaries” in mind. Boundaries can be constructive - setting limits on behavior, resisting the negatives influences from others - or they can be destructive, driving people into emotional and physical isolation. Through this project, the artists hope to inform viewers about the problems faced by others, and to highlight the important work done by The Teen Project to help people improve their lives.
My project in Crossing Boundaries is a set of portraits of two young women who were members of rival gangs. While in rehab and free from the confines of their gangs, they became close friends, and are now putting limits on their pasts to make room for their futures.
Lisa, 24, and Shay, 19, are from rival gangs in the same area. While they had never met each other directly, Shay had followed Lisa's friends as part of her gang duties, keeping track of their comings and goings on behalf of her gang before being sent to prison.
Shay was actively involved with drugs and her gang since she was 14. In prison and rehab, she saw the outcomes of drug abuse and being controlled by gangs. The gang is to be obeyed with no exceptions; one's own gang can be more dangerous than one's enemies. Leaving that life took courage -- to stand up for herself and set her own boundaries for life going forward. "It's like you've been on mute so long, you don't know how to use your voice," she says. Developing her own future outside of the gang meant cutting off her old friendships.
In the gang, your territory is your only home. In Lisa's case, many of her friends had never been outside of their neighborhood. Once she got herself outside of the 'hood, mental restrictions built from years of living in a gang melted away. She started to get to know people from other gangs and see other walks of life. In preparation for leaving rehab, she has begun cutting ties and setting limits on how her old friends can interact with her.
"Its like a pot of crabs in boiling water," Lisa says. "You try to climb out, and just as you can see outside of the pot, they try to drag you back in." Shay adds, "You have to isolate yourself from your homies so they don't have time to get you into trouble."