Imagine being an educated professional, spouse, and parent of four children. You have a successful career and a beautiful family that you would do anything for. Now imagine that your past comes back to haunt you and you are faced with the realization that you will spend the next 36 years of your life behind bars. You will never watch your children grow up.
Recently, Boston-based architectural and interior photographer Trent Bell received news that this had happened to one of his friends. Trent found himself haunted, not only by his friend’s poor decisions and loss of freedom but by the fact that his own life could have just as easily taken a bad turn. Through this, the “Reflect” project was born. In this series, Trent overlays large-scale portraits of inmates in the Maine prison system on top of handwritten letters by the convicts, penned to their younger selves. After getting permission from the prison, Trent had 12 inmates interested in the idea. Below are four of the 12, along with excerpts from their letters.
I’m reaching out to you today and I pray that the words of my heart are encouraging enough to keep you from making bad choices that could change your life forever. Spending your life in prison is no fun at all. You lose your freedom and people in time forget where you are. It becomes a lonely world in a very short time. There is so much more to life than drugs and alcohol and the life of crime doesn’t pay…
It hurts to be sitting here writing you this letter. Our journey has been tough, it has been filled with pain, tears and heartache. I made a lot of mistakes. I write this letter now in order to caution you of what may lay on the road ahead if you don’t open your eyes, and also to tell you what has become important in life as a result of where I have been. The year is 2013, and you have been in prison for four years now…
Dear younger self,
I think we really need to have this heart-to-heart conversation for your sake to prevent you from ending up with a 29 year prison sentence as projected. The penitentiary is a place you grew up fearing similarly to the graveyard because it was always referenced for the sole purpose to scare you. … It is not where you want to be! Ever! Why? It is emasculating, full of suffering, restrictive, populated with the worst people, there’s no females, you have no true friends, your family can only visit or write you, the food is sub-par, and you will diminish as a person unconsciously if you don’t guard your mind, heart and psyche…
…You were not smart enough to appreciate all the good things you had in life until it was too late. You lived for tomorrow and not for today…as a result I’m here doing 55 years. After 27 years in here I now know when chasing friends, whether it be family or other be careful of those choices… We let drinking and drugs shatter our dreams and our potential future.
Trent’s favorite part about this project was seeing a raw idea come to life and in turn seeng its impact on people:
“The realization that even though these men are convicts and have done terrible things, they are still part of our social fabric and extended family, part of us. Creating the connection and between people and giving them compassion and inspiration to reach out to others and help, to get people to realize that we all have the ability in hard times, in split seconds to be these men. To inspire more empathy, nothing could be better than that.”