When photographer Steven Burton started the Skin Deep project, he wanted ex-gang members to see photographs of what they’d look like without tattoos. To accomplish this, Steven collected countless photographs, and spent over 400 hours painstakingly photoshopping away every tattoo from each individual, revealing what they would have looked like had their lives taken a different direction. Burton’s goal was to show how society judges these men, and, in turn, how these men judge themselves.
Emotions pour out of these individuals when they see themselves without tattoos.
As if freed from their past, for just a few minutes, these men suddenly open up about their life and their regrets. They speak candidly about the people they’ve hurt, from friends, to parents, to their own children. They confess how much of their lives they’ve wasted in jail cells or in pursuit of a gang lifestyle. And as they look at their tattooless image, you can almost see in their face a glimmer of hope that maybe hasn’t been there in a while. It’s as if they can see life beyond their past for the first time. On the Kickstarter page for Skin Deep, Burton writes, “This book puts a very human face on a group of people that our society is so often too quick to demonize.”
The photos from the Skin Deep project will be turned into a book, and a percentage of the profits will go to Homeboy Industries.
The Skin Deep project has been a massive undertaking by Steven Burton, as well as the fantastic Homeboy Industries. For those who don’t know, Homeboy Industries is a Los Angeles-based non-profit that “provides hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” With these collected photos, Steve and company are looking to turn this project into a book, around 172 pages they estimate. However, the project still needs funding from supporters — as of today, they are about $7,000 short, with five days to go. You can pledge money for this project at the Skin Deep Kickstarter page.
July 2, 2018, was a watershed moment in Mexican political history. Of course, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected as president after two failed attempts, and his new party MORENA became the main political force in the country. They won state governorships, the presidency and federal and state spots in senates and congresses. Perhaps one of the most controversial stories to come out of the election was that of “El Mijis”, a reformed former gang member who won a set in his state congress running on a progressive platform. Conservative commentators and politicians soon started to attack him, while others just fell in love with the second-chances narrative of “El Mijis” and his political ascent. He is very active on Twitter and you can follow his handle @mijisoficial, where he talks about Mexican political life and continues his activism. He also engages in a frank and friendly manner with his adversaries. Only time will tell if he will live up to the expectations and how far his ideals will take him.
This is what you need to know about one of the most interesting and polarizing figures in Mexican politics.
His full name is Pedro César Carrizales Becerra.
He was born in San Luis Potosi, a state in Northern Mexico, in 1979.
He grew up in a broken home.
His family experienced domestic violence and, like many young urban men, Pedro Carrizales sought refuge in a street family. This led to gang altercations and problemas con la ley.He was once addicted to drugs and alcohol like many disenfranchised youth.
He was in jail for two months.
He acknowledges that he made some very bad decisions early in life. This led to a two-month stint in prison, which has been a controversial fact since he became a public figure. Being an ex-convict has been his Achilles heel on social media, where conservatives have used him as evidence of a corrupt political system. Don’t they believe in second chances, a key element of a healthy democracy?
He survived an attempt on his life after being elected.
Earlier this year, on February 4, the vehicle in which “El Mijis” was traveling was shot five times. The attack was perpetrated by two men on a motorcycle. A few days later he Tweeted a photograph of himself wearing a bulletproof vest. He wrote: “I can experience fear, but not cowardice; I have never left a struggle halfway through. I will continue doing my job and following my ideals”.
He is not new to activism, as he has been involved in community work since 2003.
He is the leader of the Movimiento Popular Juvenil. These ideals include community work, which started soon after his mother passed away. He recalls how he chose to hang around with his gang instead of seeing his sick mother, and how the guilt and shame hung over him. He sought to end violence in his community and reached out to the San Luis Potosi state government. He wasn’t heard. He chose Morena as his party and faced stigmatization and discrimination during the campaign. He was even kidnapped, a threat that attempted to convince him to stop his candidature. At the time he said he didn’t want to become a martyr. He discussed quitting politics with his family and decided to stay put.
When he was sworn in he wore jeans and a t-shirt.
He has made a name for himself for standing up for who he is, and for owning his past mistakes. He refused to wear a suit when he was sworn in as a legislator. He claims that he wore jeans and a t-shirt to show solidarity with those who have been excluded by the political status quo, those who remain invisible.
He is an ally of the LGBTQ community.
As a former gang member, he knows what it means to be stigmatized and face discrimination while trying to be a member of society with the same rights as anyone else. He has shown his support for the LGBTQ community. He also supports initiatives in favor of animal rights, particularly around the criminalization of bullfighting.
He wears his tattoos proudly.
While many politicians and everyday men and women hide their tattoos because they are seen by some as a sign of criminality (particularly in countries like Mexico), “El Mijis” wears them proudly and shows them off whenever he can.
He survived a machete attack.
Since he became an overnight celebrity, “El Mijis” has told unbelievable stories of his days as a gang member. He told Nacion 321 that he once survived a machete strike on the head and that he kept fighting “like a samurai”, getting wounded on the hand as well.
His origins are as humble as they come.
Even if he has the president’s ear today, there was a time when, as a 12 year old, he became a gang member after having begged for money juggling at traffic lights and singing in buses. How things change.
He travelled the country with the project Un grito de existencia.
Before being elected, he had already shown his skills for community organizing. He traveled more than 1800 kms speaking against the discrimination of people with tattoos and former gang members, advocating for social inclusion and job opportunities.
He survived five suicide attempts.
After his mother’s death Pedro Carrizales became depressed and almost died by suicide. He told Nacion 321that he would throw himself at moving cars and that he once tried to hang himself but the branch broke off.
He has 12 tattoos in total.
Among these tattoos, one represents a dream he once had: a koi fish and storming clouds surrounding it. He also has a tattoo that reads “Becerra”, his mother’s last name. Perhaps the most significant is a mythical Phoenix, a sign of rebirth.
He has experienced real struggle, and he plans to legislate accordingly.
He argues that the beginning of change is full respect of human rights. We know he is right, but we hope that he can change the hearts and minds of so many politicians that think otherwise.
He has said he wants to be president one day, and he has been mocked for it.
Pundits such as Ricardo Aleman have belittled Carrizales’ dream of leading the country. He has replied like a true gentleman. Here, he tells a journalist: “I am not sure what your motives are, but while you are attacking me I am defending you with a call to improve protection for journalists.” Touche!
He plans to bike to Central America.
Even if he is a legislator now, he has continued with his activism in favor of former gang members. He plans to expand his advocacy to Central America, a region ravaged by civil unrest and violence produced by gangs such as MS-13. This is both a smart political move given the current migratory crisis and a coherent episode of his improbable life story.