The following are quotes from the surveys we sent to all of the women and trans people serving life sentences in PA that we know of. 55 people participated. We post these with permission from the authors. Read the full collection of excerpts from the survey’s here.

“Good people make bad decisions or choices that they would never make or do again. Don’t let the worst thing you’ve done define who you are.” — Tricia Muff

“Timeframe, if denied letting us know why we were denied. At the level you were denied—that is, where you should start the next time you file. Also, feel like no elected official should sit on the commutation board. Our life should not depend on an election year.” —Tricia Muff, on what could change about the commutation process 

“How I want to give back is take the knowledge that I maintained while incarcerated and apply it to my community. I would like to volunteer at shelters and give them a spa day. Cut and fix their hair, nails, makeup, and an outfit. People that feel good about themselves and look good might be able to go to a job interview, etc.” — Tricia Muff

“Live everyday to the fullest and never forget… the people who make a difference in our lives are the ones who truly care for us.” –– Anonymous

“Advocate for abused women and children, get involved with organizations that will benefit these causes and raise money to advance this from happening to other women and children.”–Anonymous,  on what you would do when you get out 

“Life is precious. Do not sabotage your life because of all the abuse. Keep asking for help. Never give up.” — Andi Muffley, message to younger self 

 “There is no excuse for violence. The pain that it causes can last a lifetime. I can say I’m remorseful a thousand times over but it could never make up for the suffering.”–Sarita Miller

“Rehabilitation can have many meanings in prison but for me rehabilitation is a transformation from old to a work in progress because I believe that the new doesn’t take place in a person until you truly work the process in all sincerity.” —Sarita Miller

“First I plan on finding a strong church because if it wasn’t for God none of this could even be possible then I plan on spending every second that is available with my family. I’m going to smother them with love, the rest of my time will be dedicated to taking care of myself. I want to cater working in food service and going back into the county jails sharing my testimony working with the addicted.” — Sarita Miller, on what she would do after release

Please do not be afraid of all the Lifers returning to your communities. Majority of us coming home have done decades in prison. We are men and women rehabilitated and our penitence makes us the best leaders and mentors to this war against our young and our communities. Please give us a chance. We are not monsters just people who have made some very poor choices. We have lived the consequences of our actions and know what awaits those who choose to follow in our footsteps. I believe people such as myself can really make a difference when the reality comes home” — Sarita Miller


“What a difference a day can make. We are more than our worst day.” —Avis Lee

“Please allow me to show you that I can be a leader in my community mentoring to the youth. Second chances should be determined by an offenders actions and rehabilitation only. How can one move forward if they are always looking back.” — Brittany Williams

Love yourself always and never let someone else’s perception of you determine what your life will be.”

Brittany Williams, message to young girls 

 “I would like to apologize for not trusting my community to help me when I was younger. I became disconnected & didn’t think of putting the community in an unsafe condition. It caused many parts of the community to be affected by my actions. Including the police, courts, jurors & all the students at Point Park College that had to deal with his death. I hope that I can be given a second chance to come back to the community to serve as a citizen again, I have been giving back for years, but I would like to do more & be socially responsible.” — Charmaine Pfender

“The psychological and emotional effects of abuse and human sex trafficking need to be understood. Most women commit their crimes out of fear or passion and many are influenced by a man in their lives. Women are nurturers they will protect their young at all costs. We do many things out of the need to survive.” —Cyd Berger

“The key, thought or mental slogan for people to think about while incarcerated is this: “Surround yourself with people who celebrate you and that education is a key to success. Faith is a road that leads to hope. It is a journey worth taking.” —Cyd Berger

“Be yourself and when life hurts, learn how to forgive and move forward. Unforgiveness keeps us stuck. People will hurt you and let you down, but don’t stay in that place. Like an eagle learn how to soar above your circumstances. Remember that failures are just an opportunity to try something another way. Lastly, life may be unkind but it is still a beautiful thing. Enjoy your life to the fullest. You were born with greatness in you. Reach for the stars. The sky is the limit!” — Cyd Berger, message to young people

“Life means Life…. and the state sentences people to life who have not committed murder, all lifers are not murders.” —Danielle Hadley

“We’re not the same people we were 25- 30- 40- years ago. We’re capable of helping, doing positive things, we want to be part of the community. We want to break the chains of violence and move on with our lives to live a productive life and be an asset to our community.” — Dorothy Farbo

Break the chains of violence. Begin with life sentences. Move forward to help others. —Dorothy Farbo

“My experience obtaining medical treatment as a 69 year old with disabilities has been a constant legal battle. “ — Janet Martin

“Most laws are geared to men because they mess up and women get harsh treatment with them. Women with life sentences are the least likely to reoffend” — Cynthia Gonzales 

“Rehabilitation is remembering who I am and using my strengths to become all that I am meant to be” — Cynthia Gonzales

“Do not to be so in love with a man that you’ll do anything they say. Just because you believed him.” –-Geraldine El 

“At Muncy, the visiting room has been the same size since I got here in 1979, when the population was approx. 275 inmates, there are more than 13 hundred now. Visits are short because of the lack of space to accommodate everyone, the visiting room is opened 4 times a week 1/2 of the year. Mothers and children don’t have enough time or space to have a really good bonding visit, you’re packed in so close to the next visitors, they can hear all of your conversation, no privacy. The medical care is horrible, I’ve watched my peers/close friends be misdiagnosed and later die, the mental health care is nothing like people may be lead to believe. If you have a loved one incarcerated, I ask you to listen to them when they write or call with issues of being ignored when they seek help.” —Henrietta Harris

“I’m a flawed woman first. I’m a human prisoner second. And a lifer lastly. These things don’t define me. There’s just my circumstance at the moment.”–Janeskie Vargas

“I can never forget the anger and fear I created in my neighborhood in May 1991 and your reactions. I was 18, old enough to know right from wrong but not mature enough to understand the ramifications of my actions. Those actions contributed to an already crime infested community. Instead of me doing my part to make it better, I made it progressively worst and I feel like a hypocrite whenever I say anything about the senseless violence plaguing Philadelphia. If I am ever given the chance to right the wrongs in my community, I’ll spend the rest of my life doing that. I am so sorry for hurting and angering you and taking from instead of giving to.”--Sheena’ King, message to community

Sheena’ King thinks the general public needs to be educated on the truth of life sentences. 

They need to know that:

• Life in PA means natural life and “Life With Parole” doesn’t actually exist

• If parole was a possibility, it would be extremely difficult and most people would never be granted

• Many people were offered plea bargains and opted not to take them because they weren’t guilty of murder. They could have taken that plea and been living next door to you many years ago so how evil were they?

• Life sentences have been offered to serialist and those considered the most dangerous, to avoid a trial so we are all lumped together under one sentence and regrettable viewed in the same category by society.

•Our degree of guilt is also determined by the whim of judges and juries. For instance, two people can commit identical crimes and one will be sentenced to Life for First Degree but the other one will be found guilty of Third Degree and granted an opportunity to present their remorse and rehabilitation to the Parole Board.

•What motivates women to commit violent crimes. Society understands or accepts violence from men but women are seen as angry men-hating Eileen Wuornos’

•How 2nd chances can benefit not harm society

“We are not what we’ve done. We are who we have become.”– Sheena’ King

“I may have made a horrendous mistake, but I am not a mistake! And once I’m given a second chance my life will show it, my name will live on as a blessing and so will my life.” –Jennifer Rhodes

“Our heartaches and our mistakes will now be a testimony, a story to uplift those who feel there is no hope, no future and want to give up.”--Jennifer Rhodes

“Life sentencing – should be on an individual basis, not across the board” – anonymous

“Not everyone with a life sentence is guilty of the crime they were sentenced on. The justice system is messed up because every crime and person is different. “ —Kawania McIntosh

“After so many years in prison a person is not the same as they were at the time of the crime.” —Kawania McIntosh

“Everyone deserves a chance to be free especially after so many years.” —Kawania McIntosh

“The most important issues I think the general public needs to know about is that I feel that the media gives false impression that we are all inhumane and incapable of change.  When in fact for a majority of us that is not the case at all. People really do change. Most of us are no longer the women and men who walked through those gates so many years ago.  We will never forget our circumstances that brought us to prison and we certainly do not forget all the people we hurt by our choices. We can never take back what we have done; however we learn, grow, and change our behaviors and thoughts to become better individuals and more empathetic humans.  We truly are good people.” — Kristin Edmundsen

“ Second chances are first choices for Redemption.” —Kristin Edmundsen

“We are still your family – But we are changed, better, stronger and wiser.” —Lori-Ann Lassiter

“Two wrongs – don’t make a right – Death on top of Death just hurts more people and creates more bitterness and anger” –-Lori-Ann Lassiter

“We are denied adequate medical care and compassionate release is rare” — Martina Wescott

“People are getting sick and dying in here. We deserve a second chance.”--Mildred Strickland

“Help us to have a second chance at life!” —Niegra Egerton

“In the 1990s, I thought NOTHING of our system or the people in prison! They committed a crime, not my concern. 22 years later, I’ve learned the cost of this ignorance! $40,000-120,000+ a year; innocent people executed or in prison; people can AND DO change as they mature; prison is a business! Wake up, research, it is your money! If your taxes separated how much went to your state & county prisons, would you care more?”–Patricia Rorrer

“They sometimes serve us molded food, along with bread that is bitten by rats.” —Rose Marie Boyd-Tolver

Is there anything I can do to show you how sorry I am?” — Sherry Blair

“The prison I am currently housed at has very little as far as programming and opportunity in general. Even the inmate employment here is very limited and hard to excel in because there’s no ladder to climb nothing to work towards, it’s like they keep us at the bottom here at sci- cambridge springs compared to other prisons.”–Zakeeyah Harper

“I want to own a restaurant that teaches classes and mentors. I want to share my 50 year old self and beliefs born of change from 28 years inside.” —Terri Harper

“The medical treatment here is no good at all. They take your money for every little thing, and they don’t do nothing. God forbid if you’re really sick.” —Paula Johnson

“They do the bare minimum until you turn seriously ill. They do not take any preventive measures to help you”- Latosha Gross

“Go live with my oldest daughter and her children and help her with raising them. Volunteering in the community as much as possible and working in the social work field.” – Janet Crawford, if she got released she would…

 “In the eyes of someone I’m mentoring when I see that something I’ve said affects them and watching them walk it out.” —Janet Crawford, where she finds hope

“I lived in hell my entire life, so dealing with it here, is the same. I have been jumped by 5 individuals, CO’s consistently have an issue with me just being near them. I’ve been denied Medical care, been profiled, bullied, isolated and wrongfully punished.”–Dominic Barber, Dom identifies as a Trans- Male – in response to gender impacting your experience. 

“This was my first arrest and I didn’t kill anyone. There were three of us, we all got life. The one who did the shooting got out.”–Sylvia Boykin, who has served 28 years from the time she was 33 She is now 61 years old. 

“Having dignity in jail is the simple things you think that officers would give us. for example It is very difficult to get dressed on my unit the third shift officer won’t even allow us to cover the windows slightly without screaming and threatening although he knows we are trying to wash and get ready for work just using the toilet and trying to have a little privacy to use the toilet becomes a battle. A lot of these officers aren’t even fit to work around females.” —Sarita Miller

“Medical is horrible. They are more quick to give you psychotropic medicine for a mere headache but won’t even offer you a decent vitamin regiment. The problem with a lot of women in prison is menopausal symptoms and they are way more serious than just mere hot flashes. Women lose a lot of vital nutrients within their bodies and that causes all kinds of physical ailments. Hormone changes also have mental effects, it’s serious.“ — Sarita Miller

“I can get off this life sentence today or tomorrow and go out into society and do everything and more to help prevent others from being my story but it will never be enough when it is all said and done nothing that I could do could ever wipe away the remorse I will always feel for my victim.” —Sarita Miller

“Medical treatment isn’t always immediate. They don’t take medical complaints 100% seriously right away. We have to complain or put in sick calls a few times to see any results. We have to stay on top of them and be very active in getting our treatment, sometimes getting family involved.” —Rebecca Young

“Don’t throw people away. A mistake doesn’t determine a lifetime and shouldn’t. Give us the opportunity to invest in our communities” — Rebecca Young