Life After Hate
When hatred has seeped into every nook and cranny of your interior; when it's been the cardinal ingredient in the composition of your makeup; when it's evolved into the unwavering embodiment of what you believe in - what you stand for... it's hard to imagine a life "After Hate".
This collection of portraits features four courageous individuals who risked their lives to claw their way out of registered hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood or any Neo-nazi group.
MEET SHANE JOHNSON. Shane was born into the KKK; his father was the Imperial Wizard (state leader) of Indiana. The unorthodox traditions of the Klan were bestowed upon him at 4 years old in the back woods of a trailer park in Kokoma, Indiana, a place he called home. Hatred and extreme prejudice were intricately sewn into his foundation - his family outings consisted of Klan activities and cross lightings. Shane moved up the Klan ranks to Imperial Wizard at age 21, after his father was executed - the youngest member in Klan history to receive such a rank, in large part because of his feared ferocious history and fluency in Christian Identity (KKK Bible). It wasn't until Shane was behind bars for a violent hate crime that he decided he wanted to flip the script and leave the Klan for good. He found, however, that his wholehearted embrace into the group was a far cry from his treacherous journey out: Shane was left for dead by a group of Klan members, including his own family. After a prolonged hospital stay, he hid in a trailer in a remote part of Peru, Indiana. Some would say that Shane has lost everything: at times separatedfrom his wife, Tiffany, battling a persistent meth addiction and always unemployed. But some would also say he has gained everything. A fresh outlook on life; a chance to start a new.
On assignment for the A&E Network in Indiana, I visited the trailer park of Shane’s childhood home in Kokoma,—a forbidding place to say the least, trailers adorned with Nazi symbols and swaying Rebel flags. I was determined to photograph Shane in front of the very place his father taught him the ways of the Ku Klux Klan. We spent a total of five minutes there before determining our safety was in jeopardy. I was determined to get Shane back inside his childhood home to show me where he learned to hate and hopefully help him work through his pain.
After devising a plan, months later I returned alone to Shane’s proclaimed “hate zone” to befriend the manager of the trailer park, Ray Bitner. Ray was dealing with a brain tumor and lived in poverty yet I didn’t see any trace of the overwhelming hatred or racism in Ray that once blanketed this trailor park. On the contrary, Ray cared deeply for everyone living in the community, breaking up domestic fights and making sure the children are cared for. I worked with Ray to create and opportunity whereby Shane would be an anonymous person playing the role of Santa Claus and hand out X-mass gifts to Ray’s family and other members of the community. Shane was desperate to get back inside his childhood bedroom and deal with his demons. As toys, quads, dolls, bicycles and more were handed out, Shane realized, to his delight, that he was no longer in the company of his past. Feeling safe, he disrobed and revealed his true self and his background to Ray and the rest of the residents, he finally felt a sense of relief. Once we got permission for Shane to enter his actual childhood trailer, I took a portrait of Shane inside his bedroom as well as the shed he was forced to live in for two years in the park. Once done Shane left Kokomo emotionally drained yet relieved that he was able to go back and see the rots of his learning to hate.
Shane tries hard to help others as he speaks out against hate groups nationally through media interviews, documentaries (A&E Network), does pod casts and offers one-on-one counseling for members of hate groups who also want to change their path. Despite the turnaround, Shane did try to kill himself by hanging in early 2019. After serving time in a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks, Shane made his way to the hills of Tennessee where he was baptized and ultimately became a Pentecostal Preacher.
MEET THOMAS ENGELMANN. A former Aryan Brotherhood drug lord from Mississippi, Thomas spent years in prison as a felon for selling drugs and committing violent acts. Unable to keep up with the all-consuming hatred and drug dealing, he decided he wanted out of the brotherhood-and was prepared to die for his decision. Traditionally, traitors of the Aryan Brotherhood are executed, and Thomas, who was shoot several times in the face while driving on the highway by members of the brotherhood, was no exception. In exchange for jail time, Thomas became an informant for the feds yet in August of 2019, Thomas received another criminal charge which meant returning to jail in Mississippi. Thomas panicked as he knew all too well that if he returns to the same prison as a defector of the Aryan Brotherhood his chances of survival would be less than slim. He had no choice but to hire a tattoo artist to cover his gang affiliated tattoos. Shane Johnson, now a Pentecostal Preacher living a new life in rural Tennessee, made the trip for his buddy and decided to offer his spiritual advice and prayers.
MEET DEREK, Derek was a high ranking member of the Aryan Nations prison gang, It is the largest white supremacist prison gang in Tennessee. The gang borrowed its title from the older neo-Nazi group of the same name, though the two are separate groups with few connections. The "gang" Aryan Nations is also far larger than the street "neo-Nazi" Aryan Nations. The prison gang also adopted the views of Christian Identity from the KKK as it's main belief system. According the Derek, he and his gang members committed horrendous crimes and did “every drug imaginable”.
While serving 12 years in prison, three of which were in solitary confinement, Derek gave his heart to God on a home made altar in his prison cell. He soon after renounced his gang tithes, and attempted to get his now former fellow gang members to also quit the gang, and convert to Christianity. By doing so, his life became endangered, and he was forced to cut all contact with them. Once released he began preaching at a small Pentecostal church about his transformation, where he still does so today.
MEET SCOTT SHEPARD. Scott was born into a family of alcoholics and subsequently raised by a kindhearted black women named Rebecca Hawkins in Indianola, Mississippi. Nonetheless, he still joined the KKK as a young man. Perhaps it was his feelings of abandonment and lack of self-worth that fueled Scott to do "lots of bad things" as a Klan member, including spreading hatred for Jews and Blacks. When his conscience caught up with him and he decided to leave the Klan, he went into hiding for 10 years to evade being murdered. After years of deep reflection, he returned to Indianola to ask Rebecca for forgiveness, which she granted him without hesitation. Scott remained one of Rebecca's caregivers until she died at age 103. He now lectures at high schools and major universities about hate groups.