A&E's 'Behind Bars: Women Inside' Episode 1 shows why pregnancy in prison could be detrimental for both mother and child
As 27-year old Vannessa is ready to give birth, she walks us through her life and reveals her fears of losing her child if she gives birth in prison
The reality show about women's lives in prison exposes us to women from all walks of lives — gangbangers, smugglers, addicts, alcoholics, and more.
The very first season opened with some of the most ostracized women of the society, currently serving term at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center. Vanessa Walters is one of them, whose story is not only heart-wrenching but also calls for a revisit of some of our current social perceptions.
The 27-year old woman from Massachusetts is a heroin addict and had been in and out of prison for a while. Currently, she is serving her term, after being incarcerated for violence and assault.
She is also a mother of two, and now pregnant with her third child. Vanessa might be on tough luck with her imprisonment, but she has not gotten over her sentiments as a mother. She is a mother to two young daughters, each of whom are either being raised in foster care or welfare homes.
She doesn't want her third child to have the same life or upbringing. That is why she is trying hard to find an option where she can give birth outside the correctional center. Otherwise, she is afraid that like her other two kids, she will also lose custody of her third one.
And as luck would have it, her addiction has gotten the better of her unborn. It’s her eight-month pregnancy, and she needs to enter a detox program for five days.
Also, if she can convince her case worker and parole officer to help her enroll in a treatment program and shift her to a supervised rehab facility, then Vanessa can save her third child from being born in the prison.
Now, here's the message that Vanessa's story drives. In the United States, more than 50% of female inmates were pregnant while serving term (as of 2017).
Of these, about 10% end in miscarriages (owing to the prison life, stress, assault, lack of medical care, etc.) and 18% end in abortion (self-inflicted or medical), while the rest manage to survive the birth process.
Even the 90% of the live births that happen do not result in any healthy outcome, either for the mother, or the child. More than most newborns of inmates are transferred to foster care and welfare homes unless there are claims from family members to take custody of the child.
No matter where they are put, the mothers lose custody of their children, at least until they are exonerated or on parole. And even after they are back in society, it becomes difficult for the women to go back to being a mother and reconnect with the children they had let go of.
These numbers are not only shocking but also prove that prison pregnancy can ruin the lives of both mother and child.
Without going into the debate of being pro-life or pro-choice, we can conclude that female inmates could be given the option of giving birth in a normal facility and perhaps considered for parole as they near childbirth.
As far as Vanessa's story is concerned, we are yet to see if she will get the opportunity to enroll in her treatment program and give her third child a different life!
Watch what happens with Vanessa Walters, next on 'Behind Bars: Women Inside', Tuesdays at 9 pm only on A&E.