[ FUJIFILM/YOUNG TALENT AWARD 2015 WINNER ]
In South Florida, off the coast of Lake Okeechobee, lies a community called Miracle Village. It is home to over 150 sex offenders. The village was founded five years ago by a Christian ministry that seeks to help individuals that have no place to go when they leave prison. The residency restrictions in Florida make it so that sex offenders must live a minimum of 2,500 feet from any school, bus stop, or place where children congregate. In reality, this is a very difficult restriction to abide by. Before coming to the village many of Miracle Village’s residents were homeless.
The village is connected to the small town of Pahokee (population 8,000) and is 40 miles from the medium populated towns of Palm Beach County. The rectangular compound, made up of 52 duplexes, is surrounded by sugarcane and cornfields all around.
The village is almost always at capacity. There is also a screening process for those wanting to become residents, similar to other rental communities. In the village diagnosed pedophiles, violent offenders, rapists or people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are not accepted.
There are many misconceptions about what a sex crime is. In the state of Florida urinating in public is considered a sex offense. David, another young guy in the village, was in a consensual teenage relationship. He was 18 and she was 16.
Sex offenders must register on an online database that makes public the details of each offender such as their addresses, profile photos and crimes. In American society the label of sex offender is a symbol of terror.
My greatest attempt is to battle the taboo, to be open to seeing each individual as a complex human being. Before they were convicted, each of them thought the same way most people do about sex offenders: “Lock them up and throw away the keys.”
The village is not just a place for the residents to live, but also a place where they are accepted by each other because they all share the same label of “sex offender”.
“Miracle Village” has been produced while at a residency at the photography department of Fabrica in Treviso, Italy.
Sofia Valiente received her BFA in Art from Florida International University in Miami, Florida in 2012. She recently published her first photo book, Miracle Village, while at a one-year residency under the photography department of Fabrica in Treviso, Italy. She is currently based in South Florida, USA where she works simultaneously as a photographer at the Clewiston News and on her personal projects about the people of the Glades.
Sofia is represented by the Daniel Blau Gallery in London/Munich and has been exhibited in London in a semi-solo show, NYC solo show at the AIPAD fair and Miami in various museum group shows. She recently received a World Press Photo award for Miracle Village (1st prize, portraits, stories).
FujiFilm/EPF Young Talent Award is an additional grant for photographers under 25. Using David Alan Harvey’s words “A heart felt thank you also to FujiFilm for making it possible for the EPF to keep focus on the future generations, the young ones, the ones with a vision already making a mark now… and just might make another jump soon…”