© Sofia Valiente from "Miracle Village", 2015.

Sofia Valiente: Miracle Village

Sofia Valiente (USA): Miracle Village
Inge Morath Award Finalist, 2015

Gallery offline – updating soon

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 off-white duplexes on six streets and two roads, is surrounded by sugarcane and cornfields.

The village is almost always at capacity. There is also a screening process for those wanting to become residents. In the village diagnosed pedophiles, violent offenders, rapists or people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are not accepted.

In my book I chose 12 individuals who tell the story of what it’s like living in the village, with the label, and the sort of things they look forward to in the future. The writing that’s featured is entirely by them.

Everything in the village is transparent: everyone knows the worst of each other. It is not only 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”.