Thursday, June 1, 2017

Babies Behind Bars

The most recent documentary I've watched:

I found this one by browsing around on Netflix. This documentary focuses on a women's maximum security prison in Indiana, where a new program called Wee Ones allows some pregnant inmates to retain custody of their babies by living in a special dormitory with them. Only about a quarter of the pregnant inmates will be admitted to the program at any time due to space, and the women who are selected cannot have any records of violence; most of them have been incarcerated due to drugs, theft or public nuisance crimes.

Although the subject is grim, the film is inspiring to watch. Women who give birth in prison face a set of circumstances I cannot even fathom: no loved ones to help support them, leg irons on their hospital beds, and saying goodbye to their babies just 24 hours after giving birth. Obviously these people have made poor decisions in their past, but the Wee Ones program allows them to reclaim a part of their life and their personal identity, and gives them an opportunity to reflect on their past while committing themselves to parenthood.

Critics of the program question why these women should be allowed this privilege since they are supposed to be being punished, but the babies in the Wee Ones program thrive, so there shouldn't need to be further justification. Many mothers, especially ones from the working class, are only given eight weeks to bond with their newborns before they must return to work; obviously, the prisoners are denied most freedoms, but they receive months, or years of uninterrupted time with their babies. With all the attention from their mothers, the nannies (a privileged position that is filled by other inmates with excellent records) and even the guards and staff, the babies inside the prison have a more extensive support system than some other babies.

I'm a big fan of Orange is the New Black (who isn't?); my husband complains that the show has become too predictable because almost every episode focuses on one inmate's experiences prior to her arrest and incarceration. Personally, I prefer those parts of the show. I don't think those parts are included so that we feel bad for jailing the women, and decide to be more lenient in our justice system; those parts are necessary in order to humanize them. Criminals should be punished for offenses, but should they be completely dehumanized- stripped of their experiences and past memories just so that we find it easier to  see them the way we want to see them?

This documentary, and the women who share their stories in it, reaffirm that everyone has a story.

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