Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence


Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Art created by incarcerated teens Shine is following in our next film

By Susan MacLaury
March 26, 2018

Watching the dailies shot last summer for our newest film about juvenile justice, I see one our three incarcerated teen subjects first experience a virtual reality simulation. His headset on, holding two controllers, he’s immersed in a shootout with aliens. Suddenly his head snaps back. “I’ve been shot in the face,” he says.

Eight months later life imitates art. The film’s director, André Robert Lee, emails us to say that this teen actually was shot in the face and hand and that he and a friend were fighting for their lives.

We didn’t know if they would survive. The crew and the arts community that had nurtured him these past 8 months were devastated. They’d watched this charismatic, natural leader gain confidence and become enthusiastic while learning collaging, spray paint art, poetry, art installation, silk-screening, and helping to create a virtual jail cell.

He’s continued in the fellowship created by ART180, a local arts collective that provides training, job internships and overall support for incarcerated Richmond teen males. He has also taken a part-time job with a landscaper, and is taking online college courses. This is a kid you root for.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and the other teen shot, but then the inevitable question arises: What could possibly compel one person to kill another? What could leave someone feeling so hopeless that killing is an acceptable behavior? We tell kids that if they only work hard, anything is possible, that the American dream is accessible to all, but we know this isn’t always true.

I am privileged to be a documentary producer telling stories about kids struggling against odds that sometimes seem insurmountable. But efforts such as Shine Global’s are only a beginning step in truly helping those who, through no fault of their own, must cope with the consequences of gross social inequity.

These past weeks, life has imitated art again in the example of the Parkland students, who’ve refused to be labeled as victims and instead stand strong against a legislature bought and sold by the NRA. We’re watching soon-to-be-voters in real time stand strong against a legal system that has left them unprotected, showing as much resilience and generating as much hope as any subject of our films.

We are awed by their determination.