Culture

Ex-Gang Members Get A Glimpse Of The Life They Could Have And It’s Emotional

CREDIT: SKINDEEP HOMEBOYS / YOUTUBE

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.

CREDIT: SKINDEEP HOMEBOYS / YOUTUBE

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.

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CREDIT: SKIN DEEP / KICKSTARTER

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.

For anyone who is interested, Homeboy Industries performs around 3,000 free tattoo removal treatments each month. For more information, check out Homeboy Industries’ website here.

 

The transformations in the video are shocking.


They also reveal a truth about the stigma behind men and women with tattoos. Face tattoos in particular.

And so many of the men in the video conceded to feeling emotional about their tattoo-less images.

So many of the men in the images admitted to feel pained by the isolation and stigma of their tattoos. Some detailed stories of being shunned on buses and avoided in streets.

Some of them even teared up.

While others admitted that their tattoos sometimes made them feel so limited in their potential they’d considered ending their lives.

And many of them opened up about how their tattoo transformations would have affected their family lives.

One of the video’s subjects confessed that his tattoos often made him want to isolate himself from his kids so they wouldn’t grow up to be like him.

READ: Homeboy Industries Removes Tattoos For Former Gang Members And Released Prisoners

Tekashi69’s Undocumented Driver Cooperated With Federal Authorities To Avoid Being Deported

Entertainment

Tekashi69’s Undocumented Driver Cooperated With Federal Authorities To Avoid Being Deported

6ix9ine / Instagram

Rapper Tekashi69 has been all over social media lately with memes making fun of the musician in court. Tekashi69, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, was in court testifying against two Nine Trey Bloods gang members in a case of racketeering and firearms brought against the gang. However, it was Hernandez’s driver who got the rapper involved in the court case.

Tekashi69’s driver, Jorge Rivera, served as an informant for federal authorities after being arrested by ICE for being undocumented.

Credit: @KollegeKidd / Twitter

According to Rivera’s testimony in court, the driver was arrested in May 2018 for being undocumented. It was while he was in ICE detention that he started to cooperate with federal authorities on their case about Nine Trey Bloods gang, of which Daniel Hernandez was associated with.

Rivera continued to work with the feds after being released from ICE detention on July 2018.

Credit: @PPVSRB / Twitter

According to New York Daily News, Rivera was hired back as Hernandez’s driver shortly after being released from ICE detention. As part of his cooperation with federal officials, Rivera installed two cameras in the SUC he used to drive the Brooklyn driver around. The cameras captured a moment when two gang members, one of which he is testifying against, rear-ended the car and kidnapped Hernandez.

“I thought we were going to get killed. And we would be robbed,” Rivera said in Manhattan Federal Court through a Spanish interpreter, according to New York Daily News.

Rivera admits that he worked with the federal authorities because he wanted to avoid being deported because of his undocumented status.

Credit: @innercitypress / Twitter

Rivera acknowledged that he would be receiving a 5K1 letter as part of his agreement to cooperate. A 5K1 letter is a letter drafted by the United States Attorney and given to a federal judge who is presiding over a case. The letter can allow for the judge to give leniency to witnesses who cooperate with authorities investigating and trying the case.

It is unclear if Rivera has any prior convictions but he is hopeful that the 5K1 letter will limit his own sentence after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering, weapons possession and robbery. He also hopes that the letter will spare him from being deported.

There has been talk about relocating Hernandez with witness protection since his testimony in court has been met with death threats.

Credit: @nytimes / Twitter

Thousands of people have been relocated with the United States Federal Witness Protection Program since 1971. The program is used to protect witnesses who testify in court against defendants, especially if there is any chance that the witness and their family are in immediate danger of retribution. Hernandez’stestimoney in the court has led prosecutors to begin considering the program for Hernandez.

Hernandez’s testimony has also decimated his reputation in the music industry.

Credit: snoopdogg / Instagram

Snoop Dogg is one of the many people Tekashi69 has said is part of the Nine Trey Bloods gang. The list of people includes Cardi B and Jim Jones.

People have used the moment to remind everyone of Martha Stewart’s prison sentence and her refusal to name names.

Credit: @Chinchilla_773 / Twitter

What do you think about Tekashi69’s testimony?

READ: Soundcloud Latino Rappers And Their Controversies That Shook Their Fans

From Gang Member To Politician, Here’s A Brief Look At Mexican Congressman El Mijis Who Is Now Fighting For Vulnerable Communities

Things That Matter

From Gang Member To Politician, Here’s A Brief Look At Mexican Congressman El Mijis Who Is Now Fighting For Vulnerable Communities

mijisoficial / Twitter

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.

Credit: hoysololeslie / Instagram

He was born in San Luis Potosi, a state in Northern Mexico, in 1979.

He grew up in a broken home.

Credit: hoysololeslie / Instagram

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.

Credit: elsiglodedurango / Instagram

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.

Credit: revistamx / Instagram

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.

Credit: gabicompean / Instagram

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.

Credit: lobatoali / Instagram

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.

Credit: ana.zareth / Instagram

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.

Credit: obturepressagency / Instagram

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.

Credit: telediariomx / Instagram

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.

Credit: carlahz / Instagram

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.

Credit: adn40mx / Instagram

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.

Credit: aaroncadenaovalle / Instagram

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.

Credit: elj_30 / Instagram

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.

Credit: bobadilladeanda / Instagram

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.

Credit: enredesnoticias / Instagram

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.

Credit: revistalacorriente / Instagram

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.

READ: From Gang Member To Emmy-Nominated Actor: Here Is The Incredible Life Story Of Richard Cabral