Image courtesy of Sara Bennett Image courtesy of Sara Bennett
By Laura Lee Flanagan



At any given time, on any given day, someone around you, maybe even you, is lamenting how rough they have it. As a species, humans whine a lot about bullshit. When you think about it, most of us here in New York have it pretty damn good, and if we are struggling to make it here, it is usually by choice; nobody forces us to live in the most challenging city in the world. Nobody.

Sara Bennett doesn’t whine. She makes shit happen.

Sara is a Brooklynite, a criminal appeals attorney by trade, co-author of The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It, and currently the pro bono attorney for Judith Clark, who is serving a 75-year-to-life sentence in New York State for her role as a getaway driver in a famous 1981 Brinks robbery/murder.

When you experience the passion she has for her work, it comes as little surprise that Sara has focused her attention recently on the lives of some other women who don’t waste time lamenting while making their lives happen under some of the most difficult circumstances.

Evelyn Carrying the Boy 628x419 Offbeat: Sara Bennett’s<br>Life After Life in Prison
Image courtesy of Sara Bennett

Sara’s current work, “Life After Life in Prison,” is a photo essay on exhibit at The Passage Gallery, Purchase College, SUNY from September 8 – October 18. In Sara’s words:

“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 New York State maximum security prison.

Once released, these women came home to a society that had moved along without them.”

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

Having spent hundreds of hours with Tracy, Keila, Evelyn, and Carol, Sara has watched them re-enter the world — from halfway houses in Long Island City to 5:30AM subway rides from Flushing to the World Trade Center — Sara’s commitment is matched by an equally committed group of women whose lives she documents.

Carol on Steps with Two Boys DSF2508 628x419 Offbeat: Sara Bennett’s<br>Life After Life in Prison
Image courtesy of Sara Bennett

Life After Life in Prison” asks the viewer to reflect on the countless prisoners who, like these women, have worked tirelessly inside prison to improve themselves and their futures, sometimes for decades, and still remain in the system.

Tracy as Salvation Army Ringer DSF3943 628x419 Offbeat: Sara Bennett’s<br>Life After Life in Prison
Image courtesy of Sara Bennett

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics tells us that 6,899,000 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2013 – about 2.8% of adults (1 in 35) in the U.S. resident population.* That’s just nuts.

The US correctional system was devised to “rehabilitate” as well as punish. Sadly, so many people remain in the system that have clearly “rehabilitated” and should be returned to their lives and families. But instead, their lives are ruined and we the people pay 50k plus a year for each prisoner “to live in the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed” inside prison.

It’s a lose-lose situation. And it’s an easy situation to ignore — out of site out of mind.

Life After Life in Prison” makes visible what we don’t see; the people who sit next to us on the bus, beside us in line at Duane Reade, preparing our lunch at the diner around the corner. They are the tip of the iceberg and represent the thousands still inside.

Keila on the Subway DSF1778 628x419 Offbeat: Sara Bennett’s<br>Life After Life in Prison
Image courtesy of Sara Bennett

 


*Correctional Populations in the United States, 2013 (NCJ 248479). Published December 2014 by U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). By Lauren E. Glaze and Danielle Kaeble, BJS statisticians.