LOOKING INSIDE: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences
This article is published in collaboration with the Harvard Journal of African American Policy, which will be publishing Sara Bennett’s work in its 2021 print edition.
More than 200,000 people in the United States are serving life sentences, a punishment that barely exists in other western countries. I’ve long believed that if judges, prosecutors, and legislators could see people convicted of serious crimes as individual human beings, they would rethink the policies that lock them away forever.
Before I photographed 20 women in New York state prisons in 2018 and 2019—all convicted of homicide—I visited them to learn about their lives. I asked them about themselves, and each woman responded to a question I posed, “What do you want to say to the outside world?” (You can see the entire series and the women’s handwritten statements at lifeafterlifeinprison.com.)
Each woman was so much more than the one act that sent her to prison for life. They are all hard-working, resilient, dignified, introspective, and remorseful. They strive to live meaningful lives. I wanted viewers to ask themselves, “what do we do with a redeemed life?” For this Journal, I reached out to 5 of those same women and asked them how the pandemic affected them. What follows are their responses.
© Sara Bennett, TRINITY, 23, outside one of the housing units at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2019)
Sentence: 25 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 17 in 2012
© Sara Bennett, TAYLOR, 36, in the fire and safety office at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2018)
Sentence: 22-1/3 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 24 in 2006
© Sara Bennett, ASSIA, 35, in the storeroom for baby clothes at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2018)
Sentence: 18 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 19 in 2003
© Sara Bennett, SAHIAH, 23, in the college library at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2019)
Sentence: 20 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 16 in 2011
© Sara Bennett, TIANA, 25, in the library at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (2019)
Sentence: 15 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 15 in 2008