She’s a daughter, mother, a sister. She loves, she laughs, she cries. She is a person. She doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

Sara Bennett, a former criminal defense attorney found a way to humanize women who are serving life in prison. After taking a pro bono case for a woman with a 75-year sentence, she started an advocacy project to help her. She created a book called ‘Spirits from the inside’, with photographs of fifteen women who had been released that her client had influenced. She sent that book to anyone that could impact her clemency. The woman gained her freedom, Sara discovered a new passion.

Sara Bennett sitting on a stool

The incarcerated are typically viewed as just another criminal, another statistic. They are treated less than human, the barest of their needs met. No one to witness their struggle or the way they are often mistreated. Unless a person has a tie to an incarcerated individual, they rarely think about the millions of men and women who are locked up across the U.S.

Out of sight, out of mind. 

Sara Bennett’s been doing several photography projects revolving around women serving life sentences.  She chose to focus on women because they are the least thought about among the incarcerated. 

Her first project involved women who were released from their life sentences. Over six years she followed them through their reentry process. Her exhibit shows their journey to rebuild their life. After prison, it’s a struggle to find work. If they do, they have to schedule their jobs around curfews, meetings, drug tests, appointments, all the requirements that are agreed upon their release. 

Her second project is The Bedroom Project. It follows twenty-one New York women who have been released from their life sentences. She photographed these women sitting in their bedrooms. She chose the bedroom because of the intimacy of that space. Living in apartments, shelters, or communal housing, it’s often the only space they have. They wrote about how they felt in this space. Sara turned these photos into a beautiful exhibit. 

a formerly incarcerated woman sitting on her bed

Her portraits evoke an emotional response. Touching people and showing that these women are just like them. They shouldn’t be defined by their mistakes.

During an interview on our podcast, she stated

“I met so many amazing women, some of whom have done really horrible things. It doesn’t mean they’re horrible people. They’re actually really interesting people who we all could learn an awful lot from.”

Sara lives in a state that offers parole but many states don’t. Thousands of people who are sentenced to die in prison will never get that second chance unless the laws change. Nothing can change if society isn’t aware of who people are behind those walls. The host of our podcast is one of those people. People with life sentences deserve to earn a second chance, not die in prison.

Sara Bennet has a book available titled, Looking Inside Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences. You can view her photography at sarabennett.org

To learn more check out this interview with Taylor Conley and Sara Bennett discussing her projects and our incarcerated nation.

See the animated version on YouTube. 

If you prefer the audio version hear it on Apple Music, Spotify, or any of your favorite podcast platforms. 

Enjoyed this interview? Check out more of our guest interviews like Lizzie Kommes from Love after Lock Up. https://www.lifeofalifer.com/2020/08/22/lizzie-kommes-journey/