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Life After Life in Prison: Karen

Sara Bennett | United States

Karen, who served 35 years, the day before her release from prison. Taconic Correctional Facility, Bedford Hills, NY ( 2017)

I met Karen on April 16, 2017, the day before she was released from prison after serving 35 years for a homicide conviction. When she left prison the next day and the only person to meet her was a taxi driver, I wondered where her journey would take her. I’ve been following her with my camera ever since to find out. From living in a homeless shelter and working as a paralegal, to learning how to use cellphones, joining a welcoming church community, and having a one-woman art show, Karen’s re-entry into society is an incredible story of optimism, resilience, and wonder.


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 for decades or even sometimes forever.

Through Karen, we meet one such individual. Her story illuminates many of the problems inherent in today’s criminal justice system, including over-incarceration, lengthy sentences, and the difficulty in getting parole. Convicted of murder in the second degree in 1982 for the death of her ex-husband, Karen was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Despite a stellar prison record, including working as the secretary to the prison superintendent, helping initiate a domestic violence awareness program, and helping her peers prepare for their parole hearings, she was denied parole 5 times and ended up serving 35 years in prison.



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