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Looking Inside: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences

Sara Bennett | New York, United States

LINDA, 70, in the rec room for the medically unemployed at Taconic Correctional Facility (2019)

Sentence: 30 years to life
Incarcerated at the age of 43 in 1992

“This is my 27th year being incarcerated. I’ve been scared, lonely, hurt, disappointed and forgotten. When I got here 11 months ago, I couldn’t believe all the women I had done time with were still here going to Board after Board, and never getting out. Will that happen to me? I do my hair and makeup every day. It makes me feel good. But on the inside, I’m breaking down. To name a few, I had a triple bypass, 2 strokes, major back surgery, and I take 30 pills a day. The bottom line is—I beg for forgiveness and a second chance. Will I ever see my freedom????? Will I die behind these walls??????????”

Looking Inside comprises portraits of 18 women who were all convicted of homicide and are serving sentences of anywhere from 15 to 50 years to life.

The images are 20” x 24” pigment prints. Below the images are reproductions of the subjects' handwritten statements, providing glimpses of their lives before and in prison, and their thoughts, hopes, and dreams.

More than 200,000 people in the United States are serving life sentences, a punishment that barely exists in most other western countries. Since the time I was a public defender, I’ve believed that if judges, prosecutors, and legislators could see lifers as real individual human beings, they would rethink the policies that lock them away forever.

Before I photographed each of these women—all convicted of homicide—I visited them, learning about their lives. It broke my heart to meet a young woman who had been sentenced as a 15-year-old to life in prison, to meet a 70-year-old who wonders whether she’ll die behind bars, and all the women in between. Each woman is 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 a meaningful life, to be worthy of our compassion.

Which leaves us as a society with the question:what do we do with a redeemed life?

Sara Bennett

Brooklyn, NY




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