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Drug Abuse, Family
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North America
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USA, Children, Youth
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A long term documentary project on the family structure within a drug environment. More importantly, how this lifestyle is reinforced and passed onto the next generation.
Elisa Maple

1995 — student runner-up

Today’s society faces one of its hardest challenges ever as another generation is lost to drugs. Although there has been an increased focus on the issue of drug use and distribution, very little attention had been placed on the reinforced cycle of destruction which occurs within a family structure in this environment. This project offers a long term documentary photography of a family structure within a drug environment - Justin and his mother Anna. More importantly, how this lifestyle is reinforced and passed onto the next generation. It is a cycle based on a loss of hope.

As I now look back on this project, I see the tragedy in the potential loss of a person to his/ her environment. With Justin there was a gentleness and sensitivity that was beautiful, although he was a handful at times, but amazing for the environment that he was being raised in by his drug addicted mother. The combination of violence, drugs, and general disregard for life was overbearing, and still that beauty prevailed in Justin.

When I left, he had started attending a Sunday church group, and was always looking forward to going on Sundays. There were many things that occurred in the apartment that could not be photographed, but they have never left me, and I carry them with me everyday. It is my hope that these images will give you some insight into the beauty and potential of a little boy within a home of drugs and violence, and a cycle that can be broken.

There are several factors that keep these cycles/ environments going. One of these was the isolation of these 'communities' that are located in thriving urban areas. Justin was already isolated within the 'family' structure being the only male in very angry female environment, and then he was living in an area that was separated, at least psychologically, from the rest of 'society' in Nashville, TN.

The violence or threat of violence was not only in the home, but also outside was another factor. I had guns pulled on me by teenage want to be drug lords. And this violence combined with poverty is dangerous.

In addition, social services knew about Anna and the family situation. Her 11-year-old old daughter, Justins' sister, had been removed and put in the care of the grandmother. Then the grandmother lost her apartment, and was homeless with the granddaughter. Eventually, another apartment was found for them. But, social services did nothing about Justin. The system, I believe, is too overwhelmed with not enough resources to effectively deal with these situations. Not many make   it out of these environments. Do I believe that Justin made it out? Honestly, no. I would like to think that he did, but the anger, violence and isolation are heavy walls to battle through.

I would like my work to provide the basis for an open forum of discussion on the issue of the family structure within the drug environment. In hope of better understanding the problem of this continual cycle of destruction, which inevitably leads to the loss of another generation due to the acceptance of violence, drugs, and the loss of hope. This in turn will be the first step in finding a solution. It is no longer just an issue of saving the children, but also saving our future and that of our country.

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Justin kicks door while Anna and friend begin to party. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin plays with Anna's crack pipe. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin on his bed for the night. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin and Anna. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin in front of the refrigerator. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin watching other children. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin hanging out with local 'older' drug dealers. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Anna smoking crack in the kitchen. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Anna with her mother, screams at a drug dealer-friend. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation
Justin peers through the blinds on the front windows. Elisa Maple/Alexia Foundation