Life after Life in Prison by Sara Bennett


“For the thirty years I’ve been a criminal defense attorney, I have wished the rest of the world could meet my clients—women and men who may have committed terrible acts in the past and are in prison for decades or even the rest of their lives, but who are also thoughtful, compassionate and hard-working. I believe that if judges, prosecutors and legislators could see lifers as real individuals, they would rethink the policies that lock them away forever.

I decided to photograph the four women here to give a face to long-termers, whether they’re inside or outside of prison. They were each convicted of murder and spent anywhere from 17 to 35 years in a New York State maximum security prison. During their incarcerations, they worked at trades, earned college degrees, and had excellent disciplinary records. But despite who they’d worked hard to become, all of them were denied parole, sometimes repeatedly.

Once released, these women came home to a society that had moved along without them. And they found it to be a society that puts up a series of hurdles. As former prisoners, they are required to attend state-mandated programs, barred from inexpensive public housing and banned from voting. In addition, they face travel limitations and curfews that make visiting family and working more difficult. When they eventually become eligible to be released from parole, they are often denied without explanation.

Despite all the hardships they face, these women tell me that they appreciate their freedom every single day.

I have spent hundreds of hours with the four women here, at work, in their homes, and with their friends and family. Watching them go about rebuilding their lives with dignity and patience is eye-opening and inspiring. I would like the stories of these four women to remind us of the countless people still in prison who deserve that same chance to build a life on the outside.”

-Sara Bennett