Anyone who has spent time behind bars will probably tell you the same thing: “You don’t want to go to prison.” Any woman who has been pregnant will likely tell you that growing a human is not all fun and games. Combine these two tough things and wowza, you’ve got yourself a doozy of a situation to get through.
Fun celeb fact for you: former Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester has a bright future with her acting career and happy family life with her husband, Adam Brody and toddler daughter, Arlo. But could you have guessed the starlet who played rich princess Blair Waldorf was born in a women’s prison? True story! Leighton’s mother, Connie was arrested for her part in smuggling twelve hundred pound shipments of marijuana from Jamaica in the early 80’s along with Leighton’s dad, Doug and Connie’s sister, Judy. After Leighton was born, Connie had to spend sixteen months behind bars.
Soon after little Leighton was brought into this world, her aunt Judy broke out of the slammer and became the first U.S. woman to get on the U.S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted List. Wow! Who knew Leighton come from a line of such wild women? We’ll have to wait to find out if any of these babes delivered behind bars turn out to lead rich and famous lives as well.
15. ‘I Chose To Wait In Prison To Save The Bail Money For My Baby. My Baby Didn’t Wait.’
A young woman named Jessica was arrested for a driving offense. She so happened to be pregnant. Jessica was offered the choice to pay around one thousand dollars for bail to avoid jail but since neither she nor her family had the available funds and even if they did, Jessica admitted, she would have rather saved the money for the baby and just dealt with her time in jail since she was due to be out before the baby was expected anyway.
“We were about to have a baby,” Jessica said. “So as much as it was gonna suck, I said I’d wait.”
But things did not go according to plan. She began to experience contractions five days after being locked up. She told staff immediately when she felt the pains but the staff accused her of faking it. They even threatened her with additional charges for lying. When she finally was sent to the medical ward, she was bleeding and instead of taking care of her, staff thought that she would be fine in a dirty cell in a medical monitoring ward.
14. Talking About Children Is A Sore Subject In Prison
There are a lot of hangups when it comes to pregnant women in prison. One is that inmates are allowed, in some states, to be with their newborns for one hour per day if the newborn’s legal guardian will bring the baby to the prison. Officials say that rarely happens and mothers are not able to pump breastmilk for their baby to be fed at a later time because it is against prison rules to store bodily fluids on the premises. There are other social issues as well. Just talking about babies and children can be difficult.
“It’s more of a sore subject,” one female inmate said. “I don’t bring it up, necessarily, because a lot of women, of course, are very torn that they’re not with their kids and some take it very hard.”
13. A Place No Pregnant Woman Would Ever Want To Be
“I don’t know any pregnant woman that would want to be here,” one female prisoner said in an interview.
After an inmate has given birth, a mother is allowed twenty-four to forty-eight hours with her baby before the baby is taken away and the mother is brought back to jail or prison. A prison worker who specializes in helping new mothers said, “They’re sad. I see a lot of tears immediately when they come back. I’m the first person that sees them, after medical, so I have them start journals, writing letters to their babies.”
While it’s true that exercises like these can help provide some small sense of comfort to the heartbroken mothers, being away from their babies creates a feeling of helplessness and can psychologically damage the mothers. The babies, of course, endure their own suffering, the kind that we won’t know the full effects of until they’re a bit older.
12. ‘Why Should My Baby Suffer For My Crime?’
The moment a baby is born to an incarcerated woman, a clock begins ticking. Most states allow just twenty-four hours for the mother to create a bond with her baby. In some states, lucky mothers and babies get forty-eight hours to spend together. Many female prisoners describe “the separation process” as the most painful part of giving birth. Mothers are encouraged to make as much skin-to-skin contact as possible with their babies and to breastfeed as much as the infant will accept. Breastfeeding is a tricky issue with prisoners and most times, it isn’t feasible with the rules and regulations that most jails and prisons have in place currently. It is heart-wrenching for incarcerated mothers to hand their newborns over to hospital staff, especially if they do not have a family member in place who has been pre-appointed as a legal caregiver for the newborn. This usually means that the fate of the child is largely unknown and will be up to the foster care system.
11. ‘My Due Date Was A Mystery’
While it’s true that sometimes mothers who are living “on the outside” may be given incorrect due dates by their doctors, the chances of being given a correct or even semi-correct due date for incarcerated mothers is dramatically low. We discovered that even if a mother is having a planned C-section, she will not be given the exact date to prepare until the day of the procedure. A Department of Corrections spokesperson said that the restrictions exist to prevent women from getting help from non-incarcerated friends to plan an escape. The same thing goes for the prisoner’s family members and even the father of the baby. The exact details of the delivery day are kept from them and most families find out that their new addition has arrived after the prisoner has returned to her cell.
10. ‘Nobody Would Tell Me Where My Baby Was Going’
It’s unfortunate luck for babies to be born to incarcerated mothers on late Friday afternoons. Why, you ask? Because welfare offices are typically closed late Friday afternoons and like most businesses, they do not re-open until Monday morning. For a newborn baby, these government office hours are more than just a major inconvenience.
“He was going to stay in the hospital with nobody holding him, nobody knows where he’s going, nobody’s even going to tell me where he’s going,” an incarcerated mother tearfully said in an interview.
This mother didn’t learn the fate of her newborn son until the next week. The next time she saw him was also the very last during a prison visit a year later. The small boy was put up for adoption soon afterward. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act says that if a child is in foster care for fifteen out of twenty-two months, the state has to begin proceedings to terminate parental rights. She tried to fight for custody of her child but was told by officials that she was in for a world of emotional hurt if she did.
9. ‘I Was Shackled In Leg Irons While I Gave Birth’
It might seem like a ridiculous idea that in 2017, women are still shackled in leg irons while giving birth. It almost seems as if it is some form of cruel and unusual punishment for female prisoners to be forced to give birth while wearing leg shackles but in some part of the United States, it is protocol. Currently, there are twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia which have an anti-shackling policy. Female inmates in Connecticut, however, can be placed in leg shackles until their last trimester of pregnancy. There are human rights group who have argued that forcing women to give birth while in leg shackles is a violation of their human rights and there are currently people at work trying to change this policy in the states where it is not only allowed but enforced.
8. ‘As Someone Born In A Women’s Prison, I Suffered Trauma From Broken Attachments’
“I know from experience,” an adult confessed in an interview. “As someone born in a women’s prison, I long suffered trauma from broken attachments.” It is interesting to get the take from a baby born in a prison who has since grown up considering that as of this writing, it’s known that up to thirteen thousand women a year are pregnant at the time of sentencing.
There are some prisons who allow the baby to stay with the mother in prison. These specialized prisons are usually equipped with prison nurseries. This might not be a bad idea. A study showed that the likelihood of women who have their babies in nurseries with them are less likely to re-offend with a recidivism rate of just three percent compared to seventy percent which is the national average.
7. It’s Hard To Comfort A Newborn In Handcuffs
Washington is one state who has a ban on shackling incarcerated women during childbirth. But one mother learned the hard way that bans like this aren’t always followed through with. She was able to give birth sans shackles but immediately after her baby was born, she was cuffed to the bed and had a hard time comforting the newborn who was placed in a cradle next to her bed.
“I just had to lean over to get him out but it’s harder when you can’t move that far,” she said.
The Washington state DOC stated, “a post-incident review determined she was not supposed to be cuffed.”
6. ‘The Jail Didn’t Care About Adequate Nutrition For My Baby’
In 2010, a twenty-three-year-old woman was pregnant with twins when she entered the Clark County jail in Washington state. Due to her pregnancy, she was slated to receive an extra eight-ounce carton of milk with all three meals. But according to her, this did not happen.
“There were countless times the milk was expired and sour and I couldn’t drink it,” she said. Her pregnancy also caused her to feel revulsion toward many of the foods served. During her four months in jail, she consumed only milk, fruit, cold cereal plus the items she bought at the commissary such as donuts, candy, trail mix, meat, cheese sticks, and flavored popcorn.
Most jails and prisons are not places that are willing and ready to accommodate their pregnant prisoners. Nutrition and medical care are usually not adequate and things like the standard policy in U.S. jails and prisons to strip-search prisoners upon entering and exiting using the squat and cough method does not make exceptions for pregnant or postpartum women.
5. Constantly Hungry For Two
You would think it would be safe to assume that we all have a basic understanding that if fetuses do not get adequate nutrition, there can be serious consequences. But it would seem that officials in jails and prisons do not understand this, lack the resources to provide proper nutrition or just do not care to offer the food that pregnant women need for their growing babies. Lacking in a proper diet can increase the risk of diabetes for the mother and the baby later in life as well as a whole host of other problems. But in jails and prisons, food is limited. Portion control is tight. Even meal times and seating in the cafeterias is a tough problem to navigate in today’s overcrowded jails and prisons. In a study, more than half of a dozen pregnant women behind bars interviewed complained of an overwhelming, unrelenting hunger.
4. Left To Suffer All Alone
Taking a moment to shine a spotlight on the women’s federal jail in Brooklyn, New York will show a wealth of problems when it comes to pregnant inmates. Issues such as an abnormally high rate of miscarriages, unhealthy weight loss, and jail officials ignoring inmate’s medical problems or not taking them seriously enough have all been reported. A U.S. judge named Eric N. Vitaliano said that citizens should be ashamed of the way their government treats pregnant women who happen to be locked up. If all of that were not bad enough, mothers-to-be locked up in overcrowded and understaffed prisons across the country have been left all alone to give birth to their babies without assistance and as a result, some of those babies have died or nearly died without proper medical care.
3. ‘Being Separated In Prison From My Week-Old Baby Was Hell’
A woman named Olgita told the Associated Press that she was just twenty-four when she was arrested and her youngest child was barely a week old. “I was so worried about my kids,” she said. “They depend on me. They asked for me every day.”
There have been many horror stories about babies born to incarcerated mothers who later grow up to exhibit emotional problems that can be traced back to the trauma of not bonding properly with their mothers. The studies that have been done with mothers who are allowed to raise their babies in jail with them show that the babies thrive alongside their mothers whereas, in traditional scenarios, the baby is either raised by a family member or enters the foster care system while the heartbroken mother languishes in her cell.
2. A Double Tragedy For An Inmate Mother
One prisoner named Bridgette said that she told the jail staff that she was pregnant with twins and had a history of miscarriages but still received no medical care for two entire months during her stay at the Westchester County jail located in New York. Early into her second trimester, Bridgette went into labor. While in labor, she was strip-searched and shackled before being taken to the hospital. She was handcuffed to the bed while she gave birth and still handcuffed when she was given the tragic news that both of her premature twins had passed away due to an infection. The other tragic part of this story is that the hospital staff informed her that the infection was treatable and if only she had been treated sooner, the twins probably would have made it. The Westchester DOC had no comment when questioned about this story, only to say that they no longer had Bridgette’s record.
1. Giving Birth Under The Careful Watch Of Prison Guards
Giving birth is supposed to be one of the happiest days in a woman’s life; seeing the life that was created and growing in her belly for nine long months finally emerge. Getting to meet the baby who she planned for and waited for so long should bring instant tears of joy to a new mother’s face, not tears of sadness. But for a female prisoner, this is the experience that most will endure. Despite the fact that they are surrounded and being closely watched, the isolation is almost too much to take. Because instead of being surrounded by caring faces of loved ones, the new mothers have only cold, unsympathetic glances shot to them by the prison guards. Family members and close friends are not allowed in the room with the imprisoned mother and even birthing coaches may not be able to stay for very long, according to some state regulations.
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