Visions of Confinement: A Lens on Women in the United States Prison System

Tracy in East Harlem, N.Y., six months after her release. “This is my third home in six months,” she said. “I was at Providence House [a halfway house in Brooklyn] for four months. But my time was up after four months and I ended up at a three-quarter house. It was horrible, unsafe, and a drug-violation environment. Then the uncle of my grandchildren, not related to me, took me in.”     (Photo courtesy of NYTimes)

Tracy in East Harlem, N.Y., six months after her release. “This is my third home in six months,” she said. “I was at Providence House [a halfway house in Brooklyn] for four months. But my time was up after four months and I ended up at a three-quarter house. It was horrible, unsafe, and a drug-violation environment. Then the uncle of my grandchildren, not related to me, took me in.”     (Photo courtesy of NYTimes)

Organized by Isaac Scott of The Confined Arts and Arden Sherman, Curator,

Hunter East Harlem Gallery with Alana Hernandez, Lazarus Exhibition Fellow.

"Hunter East Harlem Gallery is pleased to present Visions of Confinement: A Lens on Women in the United States Prison System, a summer exhibition project that focuses on experiences of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their families."

This group show feels genuine and poignant. I was confronted with incarceration statistics and conflicting feelings of loss and hope for the women operating in these confined spaces. You feel hopeful when you see the images of women released, wonder what choices they made to get there. You ask yourself, what if this was me? how would I fare? 

Artist Brittany Knapp's pieces activate true feelings of imposed restraint, vulnerability, and isolation. The anguish captured in her woodburnings is palpable and arresting (you can see more of those images on her website here.

I spent the most time with Sara Bennett's photographs of women convicted of murder, serving between 17 and 35 years. There were long captions next to a series of six photographs detailing the sentence, time served, release date, and crimes committed by Evelyn and Tracy. The captions aid in contextualizing the images and allow us to share in the challenges these women face. I wondered what Bennett's relationship was like with these women. Was there a bond between them, now that she defended and captured them during a trying time in their lives? Keila, who wasn't in the photographs in this particular exhibition but is one of the women Bennett followed in her transition back to life outside of prison, said that she was happy and grateful to have her story be part of something positive. She was accustomed to hear her story in the mouths of strangers in court rooms and easily searchable public records. The photographs return control of a story back  to the hands of its rightful owner.  Bennett's intervention reads as minimal. The women are depicted in their homes, at work, church, and intimate moments with family.  Through the photos, Bennett tells a powerful story of transformation and resilience despite the reality of successive closed doors. 

Sara Bennett's photos were featured in the Metropolitan section of this Sunday's New York Times. The full series is available in her self-published photographic essay "Life After Life in Prison"

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"Hunter East Harlem Gallery se complace en presentar Visiones de Confinamiento: Sobre la Mujer en el sistema penitenciario de Estados Unidos, un proyecto de exposición de verano que se centra en las experiencias de las mujeres en prisión y anteriormente encarceladas y sus familias."

Esta muestra colectiva se siente genuina y conmovedora. Me encontré con las estadísticas de encarcelamiento y sentimientos conflictivos de pérdida y esperanza para las mujeres que operan en estos espacios reducidos. Uno se siente esperanzada cuando ve las imágenes de las mujeres liberadas, se pregunta qué deciciones tomaron para llegar allí? ¿cómo me iría si fuera yo? 

Las imagenes de artista Brittany Knapp activan sentimientos de la moderación, la vulnerabilidad y el aislamiento impuesto. La angustia capturada en sus woodburnings es palpable (pueden ver más de

esas imágenes en su página web.

Pasé la mayor parte de mi tiempo estudiando las fotografías de Sara Bennett. Son mujeres condenadas a largas sentencias por asesinato, sirviendo entre 17 y 35 años. Había largas leyendas junto a una serie de seis fotografías que detallan la condena, el tiempo cumplido, fecha de liberamiento y los crímenes cometidos por Evelyn y Tracy. Los subtítulos ayudan a contextualizar las imágenes y nos permiten compartir en las dificultades que enfrentan estas mujeres. Me preguntaba como es la relación de Bennett con estas mujeres. ¿Había un vínculo entre ellos, ahora que Bennett las defendió y capturó sus vidas durante un período de prueba? Keila, que no estaba en las fotografías de esta exposición en particular, pero es una de las mujeres que Bennett siguió en su transición a la vida fuera de la prisión, dijo que estaba feliz y agradecido de que su historia sea parte de algo positivo. Estaba acostumbrada a escuchar su historia en boca de extraños en las salas de los tribunales y los registros públicos fácilmente investigables. Las fotografías le devuelven control propio de su historia. La intervención de Bennett lee como mínima. Las mujeres se representan en sus hogares, en el trabajo, la iglesia y momentos íntimos con la familia. A través de las fotos, Bennett cuenta una historia de gran transformación y la resistencia a pesar de la realidad de las sucesivas puertas cerradas que encuentran en su nueva vida fuera de la prision.

Las fotos de Sara Bennett se presentaron en la sección metropolitana de el New York Times de este domingo.

La serie completa está disponible en su composición fotográfica "La vida después de la vida en la prisión"