The Struggles Of A Woman Re-entering Society After Decades Of Incarceration

Tracy waiting for a meeting with her counselor.
Brooklyn, NY (2014)

 

Public Defender and Photographer Sara Bennett is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography.  From the ‘Life after life in prison’ project.  To see Sara’s body of work, click on any image.

 

 “I have to go to three state-mandated programs. I like my individual counselor but all those programs is a lot of time. I feel most of it is a waste.”

 

As part of an ongoing series, Life After Life in Prison, I photograph formerly incarcerated women, all of whom were convicted of homicide. I met Tracy four and a half years ago, just two months after she’d been released from prison at the age of 49. She had served 24 years in prison and came home to a society that had moved along without her—a society that puts up a series of hurdles to the formerly incarcerated.  She had to attend state-mandated programs, was barred from inexpensive public housing, faced travel limitations and curfews that made visiting family and working more difficult. Since her release, Tracy has lived in five different places in Brooklyn, Harlem, the Bronx, and Queens, and has had three different jobs. She is currently on disability after a work-related accident at McDonald’s. Despite following all the rules and although she is eligible, Tracy has not yet been released from parole supervision. This year, after the governor of the state of New York restored voting rights to people on parole, Tracy voted for the first time in her life. Like me, Tracy and the other formerly incarcerated women I’ve photographed, hope this work will shed light on the pointlessness of extremely long sentences and arbitrary parole denials, and thus help their friends still in prison: women (and men) like them who deserve a chance at freedom.

 

Tracy on the night shift at Burger King on 42nd Street.
New York City (2014)

 

 “I was glad to get the graveyard shift because it makes it easier for me to get to my programs without being late to work. Being late to work means I could lose my job. Being late to program means I could go back to prison. This way I won’t be late.”

 

Tracy out on delivery for McDonalds.
New York, NY (2016)

 

Tracy working as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
New York City (2014)

 

 “First, Salvation Army told me I could have this job. Then they called me and told me they did a background check and said I couldn’t have it after all. I asked them when will I get my second chance. If they won’t give me a job, who will? So then they said I could have the job.”

 

Tracy six months after her release.
East Harlem, NY (2014)

 

 “This is my third home in six months. I was at Providence House [a halfway house]. But my time was up after four months and I ended up at a three-quarter house. It was horrible. Then the uncle of my grandchildren, not related to me, took me in.”

 

Tracy living back in the three-quarter house for a few months before she moved to a friend’s apartment.
Bronx, NY (2015)

 

 “The hardest part out here is the housing. A lot of places don’t take public assistance and rent is just so expensive.”

 

Tracy with her grandson, Jo-shia.
Bergenfield, NJ (2015)

 

Tracy at Mount Olive Baptist Church.
Englewood, NJ (2015)

 

Tracy performing a prayer dance. Church of Gethsemane,
Brooklyn, NY (2017)

 

All images © Sara Bennett

 

 

See also:

The Bedroom Project

By Sara Bennett

 

 

 

 

 

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