I first encountered her in the main entrance of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, where a group of us were waiting for the place to open. She was obviously an outgoing type of person, as she struck up several conversations with different people, myself included. I found out that she had just walked from her hotel, and had a few hours to kill before her flight back home to California. She told me she was in town for a conference, and had to check out the famous prison before returning home.

Steph at Eastern State Penitentiary, Philladelphia, PA

The gates opened and the dozen or so of us filtered into the prison. About 15 minutes later I was shooting away, when she came upon me. She asked about my gear and it came out that she has a background in commercial photography. She wished me good shooting and off she went.

Sometime later, we crossed paths again and this time found out she had recently been for a ride on the Goodyear blimp. I thought, I know enough about her for my project, so the next time I see her I will bring it up.

It was a very hot and humid day, and as usual I wasn’t doing so well with the heat. On top of that I could feel a dreaded panic attack starting. I seem to get these now out of nowhere, and they are not all that pleasant to deal with, especially in public. I decided to head to the gift shop (air conditioned) to get water and try to calm down. This was when I bumped into her once again.

Now I had a problem. I had told myself that if I saw her again I would engage her, but I was now also in the midst of a panic attack. Persuading myself to take care of my issue first, I decided to ignore the project, focus on relaxing, and retreat.

One of the reasons for doing this project is to help restore stability to my mental health. It has been a struggle for years, but more so in the last year and a half. The project is partially aimed at putting me in uncomfortable situations, and forcing myself to deal with them. So with that in mind, I told myself that I just need to do it. I approached her told her about the project and said that considering what I already know about her, I just had to ask.

She enthusiastically said yes, and introduced herself as Steph. She then suggested a little room she had seen with some natural light. We chatted further and I found out that she has recently lost over 70lbs, and that she has a Keto themed Instagram page for inspiration to others to do the same.

As this point, I was becoming overwhelmed with my nerves, and I had trouble speaking, so I wished her a safe flight back home to California. We exchanged Instagram details and I scurried away to a dark, quiet place to relax. A few days later, she posted about being at the prison, and was nice enough to make mention of running into me. I don’t often get contact from my subjects afterwards, so I was happy to see that.