Through My Eye - The Humanize The Numbers Experience, Inside & Out.

by Adolfo Cruz

I remember the flier being posted about the upcoming classes and projects. I spoke to my roommate and a fellow participant, Corey Scales, and said let’s do this and we did. I told him about my photography experience and he was excited to see what I could do.

Walking into the classroom not knowing what to expect and being able to create something new for the first time in so many years was an awe-inspiring experience. My anticipation built as I was going to be able to touch a real camera again after 9 years. I was going to be able to produce something beautiful after all that time. I was going to be able to freeze a moment in time, a memory, again. This was something I looked forward to with excitement.

The first session was a blur as we all walked in and saw the backdrops, the cameras, tripods and students. Issac set the tone and allowed us to touch and explore the equipment. Some of us knew nothing, while others had some experience. I was of the latter as I had taken a class in high school and been actively taking pictures up until my incarceration.

I watched people do the “I’m hard” poses and the basic prison squatting poses (lol) and I just studied the equipment and familiarized myself with it. Shutter, aperture, iso, my old friends.. let’s do this.. Looking through that glass, seeing my world again, I escaped.

I have spoken to Corey a few times since getting out and have even helped him with his camera and how to shoot in certain situations. We discussed his travels after prison and his experience with talking about the program across the United States. I asked how the class impacted his incarceration, and he paused and stated that “it opened his world to a new outlet for creativity.”

I have now met several other inmates at events and we all talk about our experiences. We all come up with the same… it was amazing and an escape from the daily routine. We all felt Human again and not just a Number. The Number we all are issued.

A year after the class ended, I was transferred to another facility and several people had no clue what I was talking about or that a program like that even existed. I showed them the pictures we took and explained how we all came together, leaving all the prison politics behind, and just wanted to create art. Every person I spoke to said the same, I wish I could have taken that class.

I had a nice talk with a fellow participant, José Burgos, and he also stated the same. He felt alive, like reliving his 16 year old self running around taking pictures. He felt normal, because none of the students or Issac questioned him or wondered what his past was about. He was just a person, trying to capture what his voice had wanted to say for years through the lens.

I’ve been out of prison for 3 years now, and have continued to pursue my photography endeavors. I’ve gone to several events, not only as a photographer but as an inconspicuous observer. I’ve seen my art and my fellow brothers on the walls. I’ve watched people stop and read our snippets and look into our eyes. I’ve heard the comments from “yes, powerful stuff”, to the complete opposite. Everyone takes something away from our exhibit, and that is the key. Yes, we made mistakes, but we are just like you, human.

At the last exhibition [at the Ann Arbor Art Fair], I stood next to my images and my daughter took my picture. She asked what I was thinking at that moment, and I told her I was thinking about all the time that had passed, and how much I missed her and her sister. I could see her face change and she smiled. We continued along the exhibit and I pointed out other images that I had either taken or helped create. She smiled, hugged me close and said


I own a small photography company and am a photographer for the PCAP program. My name is Adolfo Cruz. I was incarcerated for 12 years in the MDOC and I am a photographer.

Article is made possible by the Linkage Community Journalism Initiative.

Photography by Adolfo Cruz Jr. @

Release Date: 09/11/2023
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project