My article, “Raising Babies in Prison,” which appears in the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine, is now available online. The article begins:
Like most new moms, Erika Freeman is enchanted by her baby, nine-month-old daughter Riley. She decorated her daughter’s room in pink, with pictures of princesses and “Princess Riley” on the wall in block letters. Freeman grins when she talks about her daughter’s strong personality. “She wouldn’t eat for me. She would only eat if she could hold the spoon. It was everywhere.”
In other ways, Freeman has little in common with most new moms. She can’t take her daughter to the park or library. She can’t take Riley to her grandparents’ house, and at certain times of the day, she can’t even take Riley down the hall to the bathroom.
Freeman is in prison at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). She is one of 12 low-level, non-violent inmates who are parenting their infants for up to 30 months behind bars in WCCW’s Residential Parenting Program (RPP). They live in the J-Unit, a housing complex surrounded by razor-wire fences in the prison’s minimum-security wing.
The J-Unit is the sort of facility you’d expect in a prison—with gray walls, pay phones, and locked doors. But the mother-baby pairs have their own rooms, painted in bright colors and furnished with beds, cribs, and rocking chairs. There’s a shared kitchen and a cheerful playroom outfitted with couches and bins of toys.
You can read the rest of the article here.