3 Words: “Do or Die” (A Biography of a Community to Stop an Execution)

We recently went to St.Louis to produce a social biography video for a capital case. The attorneys, as committed as we have ever seen, are determined to saving their client’s life. Their state of Missouri had been on a torrid  execution pace — averaging an execution a month this year. We were asked to capture the story of the community their client grew up in during 1990’s — a decade defined as a “war zone” for that part of the city. Their client, the man who’s life we are fighting for, said, “You grow into the shape of the container you were raised in.” The poetic reflection gave us a framework for our video. We would ask people — the survivors of an era of extreme violence, drugs, and political corruption — to describe their city in the 90’s. The first response we got from someone as he showed us all of his bullet woulds and stabbing works. He said, “Three words? Do or die.” The following photos by Jean Melesaine shares some of the visions we saw — a post-war city, still holding on to what got them thru: dignity, love, and each other. (Click the image to see the full photo essay on De-Bug.)

"Bone" shows us where he was shot in his abdomen and his tattoos. He has been shot multiple times on different occasions and has survived. His tattoos read: "Gods Son."

“Bone” shows us where he was shot in his abdomen and his tattoos. When asked why we didn’t see more men of his age in the municipality, he said, “They are all dead or in prison.” His tattoos read: “Gods Son.”

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