a woman sitting on a blue yoga mat part of the series Women Serving Life Sentences

Looking Inside: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences

22 Jul 2019 CONTAINERS
a portrait of an older woman with purple hair sitting on a chair with green inmate uniform part of the series Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences,

Featuring: Sara Bennett

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 fifteen-year-old to life in prison, to meet a seventy-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 would like to thank these generous donors for making this exhibition possible:

Sarah Baratti – In memory of Barton Biggs – Agnes Burke – Harriet Clark – Regina Clarkin – Brett Dignam -Julia Goggin Gardiner – Patricia Lay-Dorsey – Emily Jane Goodman – Suzanne Kessler – Susan Ohanian – Elizabeth Palombo – Sandra Peguero – Providence House – Richard Rothman – Schloss family – Nancy Shapiro -Sue Shapiro – Sheinfeld/Gaffney family – Nancy and David Solomon – Jesse Sposato – Think Outside the Cell -Susan Xenarios – Fury Young


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, PBS News Hour/Art Beat, PDN Photo of the Day, Variety and Rolling Stone’s online and print edition of American (In)Justice, and hung in a variety of venues including The FENCE 2018, the 10th International ORGAN VIDA Photography Festival in Croatia, and the 2018 Indian Photography Festival. Bennett was a Top 50 finalist in the 2018 Critical Mass competition.

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