Award-winning photographer helps Suffolk County inmates restore their dignity through portraits

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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Formerly incarcerated men and women receive portraits restoring their dignity
Chantee Lans has the latest on this report.

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- It took hours of intense hands-on time with a camera - and then came the stunning portraits.

Incredibly detailed photos of men and women incarcerated in a drug treatment program.

While their faces convey their troubled past, something much more profound appears in the shots that photographer Saskia Keely hopes will tell a story and restore their dignity.

The award-winning photojournalist volunteered to lead a four-week long Dignity Photography Program in Suffolk County Sheriff's Addiction Treatment Program.

That program has provided a boost to many.

Joe, originally from Glen Head in Nassau County, was arrested for DWI several years ago, and enrolled in the program.

That's when he and 24 others discovered the 4-week long experience.

"It made us just feel human," said Shannon, a nurse from Shirley, who violated her probation on a previous DWI charge. "You didn't feel like you were in jail for that hour that we were outside taking pictures."

Their photos have launched an exhibit in the lobby of the Suffolk County Jail.

"They're just not men and women who are in jail who are downtrodden or beaten up," said Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon. "You can see that there is some life and there is some hope in these pictures."

"If you knew their upbringing, you'd understand at least partially why they did the things they did," said Joe.

Shannon describes her experience as liberating.

"I learned to love myself and put myself first," she said.

This exhibit will remain in Sheriff's Office lobby until the end of this month.

The sheriff has also announced that the program will expand to the jail in Riverhead.

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