Artist: Sofia Valiente
Project: Miracle Village
Description: Buried in the sugarcane fields of southern Florida, on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee, lies a small community called Miracle Village. Here, fifty-two off-white duplexes once housed migrant workers that would labor in the surrounding fields. Now they house over one hundred convicted sex offenders.
Miracle Village was founded four years ago by a Christian ministry aiming to help post-prison sex offenders reintegrate into society and settle down. Among the lifelong, nationwide restrictions that inevitably follow former sex offenders, finding a home can seem the hardest: they must live at least one thousand feet away from any bus stop, school, or place where children congregate. Therefore, Miracle Village is isolated: five miles from the closest town (population 8,000) and forty miles from the nearest city.
For over a year and a half, Sofia Valiente has befriended, lived among and photographed the residents of Miracle Village. All but one are men, and all are in a process of coming to terms with the lifelong label of “sex offender.” Miracle Village recounts their stories of solitude, estrangement and rehabilitation through a collaborative process that involves personal writing by subjects in response to Valiente’s questions. By combining portraits, vernacular texts and photos of personal objects from the past, Miracle Village considers the daily life as well as the emotional life of its subjects, addressing trust issues, desire for intimacy, fear, psychological isolation, stigmatization, families lost and families gained, and an overwhelming gratitude to have found a home.