YAPHANK, N.Y. -- An exhibition featuring photography by inmates serving time for nonviolent substance abuse offenses is on display on Long Island.
Men and women incarcerated at the Suffolk correctional facility in Yaphank said learning photography in special classes instilled pride and self-worth.
Shannon Bera said she now sees herself, her family and the world in a whole new way.
"I learned what dignity meant to me, self-respect. I'm going to start crying," she said.
Bera is among 14 women and 20 men who were invited to join the unique photography workshop.
Photojournalist and counselor Saskia Keeley personally led the group for four weeks of classes.
"I want to be a catalyst for social justice, for restorative justice," said Keeley.
Inmates ultimately developed revealing self-portraits.
"We were in class, we weren't actually in jail. We were outside, we were taking pictures, we actually had equipment. And it just seemed that everybody was more elated, just happier," one inmate said.
Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. brought artistry into the jail.
"My father taught me at a very young age when he was warden on Rikers Island and I asked him what did he do for a living. He said we rehabilitate men and women inside jail," said Toulon.
That's Toulon's goal now.
Psychologists say there are five steps to incarceration: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
These inmates say acceptance led them on a path of self-respect.
"This program has made me such a stronger woman. I am a lot more independent," said Bera.
Lessons learned. They're putting their jailtime behind them and reentering society with a renewed sense of self.
The inmates we interviewed have served their time. As they're released, they said they never expected jail would be so transformative.
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