He told us his name was Ray Casados but on the street they called him Rah-Rah. He was a young tatted up heroin addict who was spending 90 days at the Hoy Recovery Program in Velarde, New Mexico, hoping he could finally kick the habit that had him by the balls, and move forward with a new life as a barber. He hailed from nearby Espanola, a drug trafficking corridor with multigenerational drug abuse and entrenched, life crushing poverty. Rio Arriba County where he lives has the highest rate of heroin overdose deaths in the country. Ray wanted to stop dealing drugs, to make money legitimately, and stay out of jail. He knew this was his last chance, that if he didn’t get his shit together he would probably spend the rest of his life in prison.
We met Ray and the other clients at Hoy while attending Ami Vitale’s multimedia course at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. It was a five day intensive that taught us how to tell our stories using DSLR cameras and Final Cut Pro. Neither my partner, Karsten Balsley, or I had shot or edited video before, and like Ray, our learning curve was incredibly steep. I shot with a Nikon D7000, Karsten with a Nikon D3S. We are both accomplished photographers but everything was different. We were told out of the gate that we would learn from our failures and over the week there were many mistakes and setbacks. Karsten was cracking up as he helped log the tape because he could hear me saying “shit, shit, shit” as things went to hell in a handbasket.
For me the biggest revelation was that with multimedia production I could get out of my news box and break rules that have been ingrained in my head for 30 years. I was also forced to be aware of things I simply take for granted when working with professional photojournalists and, especially, sound men. I count on my photographers to notice things like lighting and composition so I can pay attention to producing. Now I was doing it all myself. These days in news production, sound men are often left by the wayside, but you come to edit with screwed up audio and you’ll tear your hair out. I can’t thank Ami enough for her creativity, Jake for his patience and Final Cut expertise, and my classmates for their support as they struggled through their own projects. We completed our stories in four days. No one got much sleep.
The week of the course was one of the most intense of my life, but at the end Karsten and I returned to Hoy and showed our piece to Ray and the other men and women at the center. Throughout my career I have not had many opportunities to sit in a room with people watching my work. For this audience, that has been through so much, there was laughter and back slapping and especially gratitude that we were able to look at them and see their humanity. I know I saw Ray sit up taller that afternoon. I believe Ray, Karsten and I now have a skill set we can use to make a difference for ourselves and for others, all because of our time in detox.
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