Commercial photographer Trent Bell has created a series of powerful images that shows us what a group of U.S. Convicts would tell their past selves if they could turn back the hands of time. In the “Reflect” project, each inmate was first asked to pen a letter to their past selves. Bell then took their portraits and had the text of their letters edited into the images, serving as powerful testaments to their regrets, their mistakes, and their new-found wisdom.
The series is uncharacteristic for Bell, who is a successful architectural photographer. The idea arose in early 2013, when something unthinkable happened – his friend, an educated professional, husband and father of four, was sentenced to 36 years in prison. Bell was struck not only by his friend’s bad decisions and lass of freedom, but also by his new-found understanding of just how easily everything can go wrong.
“There were times when my son would look up and smile at me,” explained Bell, “and the finality of my friend’s situation would rush into my head and I would hear a cold thin voice say: ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I…’”
His series is perhaps most striking for its emotional and moral value; “Our bad choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret,” the photographer explains on his website, “but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable is we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.”
“Just know that people will always try and test you, and no matter what you think, only a real man can walk away.”
“If you think something might be a bad idea, believe it! Don’t do it.”
“Never lose the person you really are because it may be too late by the time you find yourself again.”
“You must be willing to forgive those that ask or deserve for forgiveness in order to be forgiven yourself.”
“I have spent most of my life behind bars and you are worth much more than that.”
“Life is far from over, Jamie. The mistakes we made in the past are the mistakes we will learn from.”
“We let drinking and drugs shatter our dreams and our potential future.”
“Be quick to smile, slow to anger, and treat all people with respect they deserve. That is how you will avoid becoming me.”
“Every decision you make affects everyone around you, most importantly your own future.”
“I believe in you, so many people do, you just have to believe in yourself.”
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