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A life sentence 

For some, Mother's Day is about loss, not celebration

The ongoing tragedy of gun violence is one of the biggest social issues in the Triangle. The purpose of this project was to put a face on the mothers left behind in the wake of homicides. Every year more and more young people become statistics, and these photos are meant to break the impersonal nature of the issue. The story these Durham women share has become all too common—murder and grief turns their lives upside down, and they are left to navigate a complicated judicial system that they often know little about. It makes little difference if their children have been gang-bangers, drug dealers, addicts or even bystanders—our youth are not disposable.

Goldie Outen - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Goldie Outen

Since Curtis died, "I sleep with my hand over my heart.... I just need that extra protection," says Goldie Outen, who stands with her daughter, Nina, on Kent Street in the West End neighborhood of Durham, where Goldie lost her son, Curtis, 24, to gunfire on March 8, 2003. Curtis was killed while leaving a party at the duplex in the background. With her only financial support gone, Goldie had to file for bankruptcy. Nina dropped a four-year college scholarship and is studying medical coding at Durham Tech while working at a salon to support her mother, who is confined to a wheelchair and goes through kidney dialysis multiple times a week. Goldie and Nina live happily with each other regardless of life's difficulties.

Joslin Simms - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Joslin Simms

"Since Ray been murdered, I have nightmares; I dream of him in the morgue, and when they are cutting his body I wake up because I can feel the knife cutting me," says Joslin Simms, who weeps at the corner of Broad and Leon streets in Durham, where her son Rayburn, 30, was shot to death on May 21, 2005. Ray was stopped at the intersection when a car rear-ended him. He was shot once as he talked to the occupants of the other vehicle, and they continued to shoot at him as he tried to get into his car and drive away. He crashed down an embankment just up Broad Street and died from a gunshot to the abdomen. Ray left behind four kids and a mother destroyed by his absence. The shooter has never been caught.

Isabelle Perry - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Isabelle Perry

"When I pass by this spot I feel peace ... it's the last place he was alive," says Isabelle Perry, who stands where her son, George, 23, died at the baseball field behind the Durham Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club near Liberty Street and Hyde Park Avenue on Jan. 27, 2005. George was shot in the parking lot and fled but didn't get far before he collapsed and died on the hillside. Police labeled the crime as gang-related, citing evidence they believed linked him with the Crips. Although she knew her son had troubles with the law, Isabelle knows that George was a good person, and that she misses him constantly.

Diane Peak Jones - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Diane Peak Jones

Her son's head was swollen to the size of a pumpkin, he barely clung to this world—and her hand—as he lay in a hospital bed, but Diane Peak Jones said the 23rd Psalm to give herself strength, and his grip tightened. Diane quietly recites the 23rd Psalm on Queen Street near an abandoned boarding house where her son, David Bullock, 24, was shot in the head on March 25, 1997. A motive and suspect still elude authorities, but the homicide is believed to be drug related. Diane struggled for years to come to terms with the stigma of David's drug addiction and death. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her son's death, Diane is one of a growing number of mothers in Durham experiencing a permanent pain, a life sentence they would never wish on anyone. As a volunteer and chair of the Durham chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, she has channeled her grief with courage and conviction to help other mothers with her same plight as they navigate a frustrating judicial system.

Betty Davis - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Betty Davis

Betty Davis stands outside the townhouse off Seaton Road in Durham County where her son, Ian, was shot to death during a burglary. "They told him to get down, and he said 'I'm down,' and then they said 'You think this is a joke?' and they shot him in the back with a shotgun." Ian was 18 when he was murdered in October 2002, and his killers remain at large. Betty recalls dancing with Ian at her daughter's wedding about a month before his death and regrets that was their first and last dance together.

Sheryl Smith - PHOTO BY JUSTIN COOK

Sheryl Smith

Sheryl Smith lost her son, 18-year-old Todd Antonio Douglas, on Nov. 5, 2005. Douglas was shot in the chest during a drive-by shooting at the corner of Bacon and Cooper streets, a location that is known Blood territory. Smith lost a two-year fight with Durham Public Schools and the police department after they labeled him a Crip gang member. The former Hillside High School student was later expelled and transferred to Lakeview, a school for troubled teenagers. Active in protesting the label before and after his death, Sheryl contends that the label led to his death and that no one deserves to be shot on Durham's streets.

Justin Cook is a 2006 journalism graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and has interned at The St. Petersburg Times and the Dallas Morning News. He is currently freelancing and can be reached at cook.justin@gmail.com. The Durham chapter of Parents of Murdered Children is a nonprofit organization that needs volunteers. Contact Diane Jones at 491-0821 or tdianejones@yahoo.com for more information.

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