This Eye-Opening Project Shows Us What A Murderer Looks Like

Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Sara Bennett has been a criminal defense lawyer in New York for 30 years. She has represented men and women who have committed terrible acts; many have spent decades in prison, some have died there.

“The longer you’re an attorney, the more serious your cases are,” she said, recalling a 16-year-old client who was sentenced to life without parole for murder. “I never forgot him.”

“When you send people away for life,’’ she says, “you’re saying there’s no hope. That they’ll never be rehabilitated.” And yet, she adds, “People are more than their worst act. People are complicated.”

It was after completing a photography project a couple of years ago that Bennett, now 59, realized that her images could reveal what judges and juries could not: a more complete picture of ordinary lives upended by extraordinary circumstances.

Each of her subjects was convicted of murder, she said, “I want people to think, ‘So this is what a murderer looks like.’”

For a continuing project she calls Life After Life Inside, Bennett photographed four women — Carol, Evelyn, Keila, and Tracy — who reentered society after serving sentences between 17 and 35 years at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York’s maximum security prison for women.
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Related: Do You Age Faster In Prison?

All had been sentenced to terms of up to life in prison, and all had been denied parole at least once, sometimes repeatedly. “There’s a different quality to the way you serve your time,” said Bennett, speaking about a potential life sentence. “You’re hoping [to get out], but you don’t know if you’re ever going to get out.”

But the women did get out, and in 2014, Bennett followed them through the new routines of their lives — on the subway, at their jobs, in counseling sessions, at home.

Bennett spent 18 years at The Legal Aid Society in New York. Then, in 2004, began representing individual clients pro bono. For the past eight years, she has been the sole legal representative for Judith Clark, an inmate at Bedford Hills serving 75 years-to-life for her role in the 1981 Brinks robbery that left three people dead.

It was Clark who put Bennett in touch with the women who eventually became the subjects of her photographs. But it was her work as a litigator that made introductions even easier. In a meeting with Keila and other former prisoners in 2014, Bennett said, “I explained my project and somebody was like, ‘Hey, wait a minute you were so-and-so’s attorney.’"

“Every photographer figures out their own way of getting access and gaining trust," Bennett says. “I think I already came with a reputation.”
Life After Life Inside is on view at The Passage Gallery at the State University of New York, Purchase, until October 18, 2015.

Next: Why Jails Have More Suicides Than Prison
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Tracy, 49, living in a three-quarter house in the South Bronx, one of five residences she's had since her release from prison.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Keila, 40, almost a month after her release, on her first subway ride in 20 years.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Keila at her cousin's home on Long Island, where she lived after her release from prison.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Keila at a religious retreat with other former prisoners in Brooklyn.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Keila meets with the board of directors of Healing Communities Network, a non-profit ministry, that ran a program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facilities that she participated in.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Tracy waits to meet with her counselor in Brooklyn.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Tracy works during the night shift at a Burger King in Midtown Manhattan.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Tracy has her makeup applied by a family friend at her daughter’s home in Bergenfield, NJ.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Six months after her release, Tracy lives at an apartment of a relative in Harlem.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Tracy attends Mount Olive Baptist Church in Englewood, NJ.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Carol, 65, attends a communal dinner at her transitional housing in Long Island City.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Carol, one year after her release on March 18, 2014, with Cecil and Darjay, the children of a neighbor. They all live in housing provided by Hour Children, an organization that provides services to formerly incarcerated women.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Carol takes the bus to her cardiologist's office.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Carol had two heart attacks in prison. Her friends, Kelly, left, and Tina visit her at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Long Island City, where she receives treatment for heart disease.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Evelyn at home in Flushing.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Evelyn at work in the cafeteria of the World Financial Center in Manhattan.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Evelyn meets with Sister Elaine Roulet, a nun who worked at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, at a spiritual retreat for formerly incarcerated women in Brooklyn.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sara Bennett/The Marshall Project.
Evelyn in Brooklyn.
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