Leaving the Life: Portraits of Former Gang Members

1 minute read

The people I’ve photographed in this series are all former gang members—many of whom spent time incarcerated—before walking through the doors of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention organization in Los Angeles. It’s a place takes people in and sees the potential in them, when many others do not. In shooting and showing this project, I hope I can help everyone can see the subjects as humans trying to better themselves.

The style in which I’ve photographed them will draw comparisons to a mug shot. Almost all of these people have been arrested and had a mug shot taken. I’ve flipped that idea and made a more beautiful version of an ugly picture from their past. Just like what the subjects themselves are trying to do with their own lives.

Adam Amengual is a Los Angeles-based portrait photographer. For more information on Homeboy Industries click here.

Robert Trejo "People join the gangs because of love. We didn’t have the love. We didn’t have love from our families. We didn’t have love from our mothers, our fathers or anybody. It covers that hole, that love that you be searching for.”Adam Amengual
Raymond Slayton "I appreciate a lot of things now in my life and I think that’s what I didn’t do before. I took things for granted and now it's like I have to literally sit down and appreciate because now it's like I honestly feel like, man, I just wasted 39 years of my life and the cold part is I knew it. But I still chose to do what I did.”Adam Amengual
Lorenzo Smith Lorenzo was shot and killed in Hollywood, CA on April 22, 2011. Adam Amengual
Jessica Sandoval “I love my kids, they’re my world. Family is a really important part. My focus now is on my kids. With their father’s death, how am I going to serve them both as mom and dad? It's hard. Nobody knows what it's like 'till you're put in those shoes.”Adam Amengual
Jerry Montaque “The average person in the streets, they would take a job if they were blessed with one. I think every gang member in America would...get money the right way. Because ain’t nobody on this earth born with a dark heart. It’s the way they were brought up. They parents were on crack and living in the projects. They never had no food in the refrigerator. You see your mama stealing out the store, you going to grow up and steal out the store.“Adam Amengual
Carlos Nieto “I don’t knock the next man if they want to participate in that (the gang life). It's not for me anymore, it never was. I can’t judge the next man, I got my own issues. I can’t judge them.”Adam Amengual
Alvin Paez “Before you get into any gang you know you got to think about it, the consequences. You could end up in a wheel chair, you could end up with life in prison...you could be dead. There’s a lot of things that could happen. But I was a little kid, I didn’t think about it.”Adam Amengual
Adrien Caceres Adrien is currently incarcerated.Adam Amengual

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com