LINCOLN, Neb. — Some men serving long sentences in a Nebraska state prison have gathered for Juneteenth, a day dedicated to celebrating freedom from slavery.

The Lincoln Correctional Center’s Harambee Afrikan Cultural Society, correctional staff and Warden Fred Britten attended the two-hour event Saturday in a locked cavernous room in the prison. Speakers at the event have been serving long sentences, some of them in for life, the Lincoln Journal Star ( ) reported.

The Harambee group is a self-betterment club dedicated to violence prevention, keeping youth from gang activity and learning about their history and culture.

Speaker Brandon Woodruff said that what was slavery is now mass incarceration. But he said inmates don’t have to let prison define them, and that they can use it to improve themselves.

“If you develop each day with a purpose, you will never serve another day of your sentence,” Woodruff said. “You can allow this time to mold you, strengthen you, develop a better you.”

Another speaker, Terrell Thorpe, said that although inmates’ bodies are confined, their minds are free.

“Suffering produces perseverance — the motivation and determination to hold on and keep going,” he said. “From perseverance we get to character.”

Rashad Washington, who is serving his life in prison, hopes that Juneteenth celebrations like this one help others to focus so they’re ready to go back to their lives.

“Everyone makes mistakes. But the things that we learn from, a lot of us have learned from. A lot of us have grown as men,” he said. “I’ve found my purpose in life. I’m living free. I’m living in prison but I’m still living free.”

Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery throughout the Confederate South.

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,