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Absence of Being

United States

by Michele Zousmer

Published September 2023

In August 2014, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore spoke to me about a new reentry program starting at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Center for women. He asked me if I could ‘change the perception of the female convict with my images.’ The following week I entered Las Colinas open to this new challenge.

Listening to the women I quickly realized they were all victims of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. They all experienced hardships and suffered deprivation. As an observer, I heard their tales and felt their pain. My heart hurt for them.

As my involvement deepened, my relationships with these women grew. I shared the grief I was feeling being recently widowed. They appreciated my expressing vulnerability. I encouraged them to discard their shame and not allow incarceration to define them. I showed up for them.

Reentry is a big challenge in the judicial system. Women’s issues are different. Many women are single parents who will be reunited with their children. Their criminal behavior was associated with negative self-esteem from their complicated histories. I gave them hope. I made them smile.

Michele Zousmer

Michele Zousmer is a humanitarian fine art photographer who uses her camera as an instrument to amplify the voices of marginalized individuals and communities, conveying curiosity, love, and the enduring hope within humanity. Through cultivating genuine connections, the soul of her images emerges — a poignant reflection of shared humanity. She aims to offer solace, empowerment, and a dignified healing process by exposing the innate strength and resilience of the human spirit within each person she captures.

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