Portrait of Stefan


When I was working as a designer for the Sanford School of Public Policy, I had the opportunity to meet Stefan and hear his story as part of the North Carolina Leadership Forum (NCLF) project. As someone who recently paroled after serving over ten years in prison, he was finding his footing and working as a dishwasher at a hotel in Durham. He was getting paid a little above minimum wage in North Carolina, and was sharing a small house with a few other people in East Durham, a primarily African-American area that experienced aggressive redlining. Stefan was making ends meet, barely. When he invited us into his home, he explained how he routinely heard gunshots outside his house at night, and would find bullets in the front yard the next morning. He had not been able to finish high school because of his sentence, but he had dreams to continue with school later on. He just didn’t have the financial security to even think about it at the time. Meanwhile, he was worried about keeping his job and staying out of the system, which is far more difficult when you have various systemic biases going against you. Stefan’s story is a heartbreaking tale of what occurs at the intersection of race and poverty, and how that intersection can impact recidivism in a broken judicial system.


Stefan was incredibly open and allowed my producer and me to interview and take photos of him for the NCLF project, which aimed to present the stories of various Durham folks who were struggling due to systemic barriers. These stories would be shared with policy makers in North Carolina, who could then turn their newfound insights into action. Stefan’s stories became a central part of the conversation; though he only lived a fifteen minute ride from Duke University, folks like Stefan are barely (if at all) represented in the conversations that happen between policy and academic leaders. In my photos, I wanted to capture him with the dignity that he deserved. One of my photos of Stefan eventually won the Latent Image award, and was featured on the cover of their annual publication.