Sara Bennett: LOOKING INSIDE: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences
Sara Bennett is doing the important work of humanizing those behind prison walls. She has a legacy of considering subjects who have no voice, who have suffered at the hands of others, and those who have had their life change in a flash of bad choices. Her projects chronicle women during and after incarceration and the one that received the 2019 Critical Mass Top 50 nod was Looking Inside: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences. Her work asks us ” what do we do with a redeemed life?” that creates a space for understanding and sympathy.
Sara Bennett has been a public defender specializing in battered women and the wrongly convicted. She draws attention to the problems of mass incarceration through her photographs of women with life sentences. Her work has been featured in, among others, The New York Times, The New Yorker Photo Booth, PBS News Hour/Art Beat, PDN Photo of the Day, Variety & Rolling Stone’s online and print edition of American (In)Justice, and the Marshall Project, and hung in a variety of venues including the FENCE 2018, Photoville 2018 and 2019, the Davis Orton Gallery (2-person show), the Blue Sky Gallery (upcoming solo show), the 10th International Organ Vida Photography Festival in Croatia and the 2018 Indian Photography Festival. Bennett was a Top 50 finalist in the 2018 and 2019 Critical Mass competitions.
LOOKING INSIDE: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences
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 people who have been convicted of serious crimes as 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?
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