In 1989, Gwen was arrested and held at the Rice Street Jail in Atlanta, Georgia for two weeks. Gwen remembers that the conditions at the jail were overcrowded. The women stayed in a large holding cell during the day. They were supposed to be moved to cells for the night, but the jail was so full that women like Gwen spent the nights sleeping on the floor of the holding cell.
During one of these nights of sleeping on the floor, Gwen began to feel pain in her stomach. She realized that she was bleeding heavily. Gwen did not know what was wrong, but she sensed that she was hemorrhaging and that she needed to get to a hospital.
Another inmate placed a call to the guards using a callbox located in the holding cell. Once the guards responded and saw her bleeding, they took Gwen to the infirmary where she waited for at least an hour to be transported to the hospital.
Gwen, tired, scared and bleeding, was transported to the hospital in shackles. She remembers that she was “running hot and cold with chills,” but despite her obvious physical and mental distress, her ankles and wrists remained shackled. The guards kept her shackled as she was admitted to the hospital and as she was moved to the labor and delivery area.
Once Gwen was in a hospital bed, guards removed the shackles from her arms, but left her leg shackled to the bed. Gwen recalls that she lay in the bed for a long time, waiting for a doctor. When the doctor arrived, he told Gwen that she was having a miscarriage. He then asked the guards to remove shackles from Gwen’s leg while he performed a procedure to remove the remains of her pregnancy.
Once the procedure was over, the guards replaced Gwen’s shackles and she was moved into a recovery room. No one at the hospital gave Gwen any information about the cause of the miscarriage, but Gwen believes that it may have been triggered by the circumstances of her arrest, when guards pinned her, face down, to the ground. The pressure on her body may have been too much.
Gwen remembers that she felt numb after the miscarriage. She told herself at the time that it may have been for the best. She thought, perhaps, that baby was never meant to live.
Today, she wonders about the baby she lost. She prays about it, saying “I know my baby is in heaven.”
Gwen describes the treatment she received at the Rice Street Jail as “inhumane.” She says, “No matter what anyone does to end up in jail, they don’t deserve to be treated like that. No one deserves that. There should be a law so that no women have to go through what I did.”
In September 2006, the state of Ohio sentenced Michelle to forty-two months at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for a probation violation linked to her nonviolent felony offense of larceny. Shortly after arriving in prison, Michelle learned that she was pregnant.
The reality of being pregnant scared Michelle because she “did not want the state taking the child” and she “did not know what the other options, outside of an abortion, were.”
The only information given to Michelle by staff, including medical, was the single option of having an abortion. The staff presented no other options to Michelle. Thus, Michelle completed the necessary paperwork needed for an abortion. Her repeated requests to the staff concerning the date of her abortion were ignored. Six months later, Michelle was awoken in the middle of the night, handcuffed and shackled, and put into a van that shuttled her to a local abortion clinic. At the clinic, still shackled and handcuffed, she was given twenty-four hours to decide whether or not she wanted to still have the abortion. She remained shackled for the entire twenty-four hour waiting period.
Michelle remained in shackles during the abortion. During the entire procedure, Michelle’s right leg had a metal shackle on it, which was chained to her bed. In her own words, Michelle states:
“No one ever told me I was going to be shackled. I felt like I was an animal. I kept on thinking, ‘where do they think I am going to run to?’ Being shackled like that made me feel like I was a caged animal. I felt like a caged animal in a very emotional moment, and no one even cared. And when I was in the position for the abortion, I could not move my right leg and I was scared that I would not be able to lessen the pain of the procedure because my leg was shackled to the bed.”
Not a single member of either the prison or hospital staff questioned why Michelle was shackled during the abortion.
Today at the age of forty, Michelle, is reunited with her children and in recovery from substance abuse. Michelle was fortunate to enter into Amethyst, a long-term family-based substance abuse treatment program in Columbus, Ohio that provides effective intervention services to the whole family—both the substance abusing parent and her children through services, including but not limited to mental health counseling, vocational preparation and job training, parenting classes, relapse prevention, supportive housing, therapeutic childcare, family therapy, and child-focused academic tutoring and assistance.
Michelle is a proud mother of four healthy and thriving children, and she is currently employed as a customer service associate at the Columbus Metro Library. Despite her accomplishments and progress, Michelle still remembers the humiliation of being shackled, during one of the most emotional moments of her life.
In September 2000, the state of Ohio sentenced Arnita to sixty months at the Franklin County Correctional Center in Columbus, Ohio for conspiracy to distribute a nonviolent drug offense. During her incarceration, Arnita gave birth to her son, Waki. Waki was born in shackles.
Due to conversations she had with other inmates, Arnita was aware that she would most likely be shackled during childbirth. However, no staff member, including medical, informed Arnita that she would be shackled during childbirth. US Marshals placed shackles on Arnita when she left her cell to travel to the hospital, and these shackles were not removed until she returned to the correctional facility two days later.
During Arnita’s C-section, her leg was in metal shackles, chained to the bed. Arnita remembers the attending physician asking the marshal, “Do you really have to keep these shackles on?” The marshal’s response, “Yes, it’s procedure.” In addition, Arnita stated “during her two-day stay at the hospital, the handcuffs were always on, even when I went to the bathroom.”
Arnita states that the “same stuff is still going on, this same thing happened to my niece,” but, up until this interview, Arnita had not shared this experience with anyone, because in her own words, “I didn’t think anyone cared.”
Arnita is now in a long-term family-based substance abuse treatment program in Columbus, Ohio that provides effective intervention services to the whole family. Arnita is reunified with her son, Waki, and she is raising him as a clean and sober mother.
Tessa was twenty-five years old when she gave birth to her son, Chance, in April 2006. Tessa gave birth to Chance in shackles.
Serving four years for a federal violation of probation, due to her drug addiction, Tessa was in the custody of the state of Florida in 2002 and incarcerated at the Hillsboro County jail during the last two months of her pregnancy. While Tessa acknowledges the poor choices she has made in the past, she is adamant about the state not punishing her son for her mistakes. In Tessa words, “it wasn’t my son’s fault that I was in prison.”
During her pregnancy Tessa was transported twice by the US marshals, in shackles. In April 2006, Tessa went into labor and was transported to the Tampa General Teaching Hospital. The guard placed metal ankle shackles on Tessa as soon as she arrived to the delivery room. Consequently, Tessa could not sit up or stretch in an effort to relieve herself of the physical discomfort of laboring with an eight-pound baby.
Tessa labored for sixteen hours, in shackles. During the birthing of her son, as Chance’s head started to crown, the physician demanded that the guard take off the shackles. The prison guard, while citing protocol, listened to the physician’s demands and took the shackles off after Chance’s head surfaced. The guard took off the shackles, however as soon as the baby fully emerged, he placed the shackles back on Tessa.
After giving birth to Chance, Tessa developed a uterus infection, possibly as a result of being shackled.
Tessa now celebrates sixteen months clean and sober from her addiction. Tessa is the proud mother of Chance, whom she regained custody of after her incarceration. While Chance is in child daycare, Tessa is gainfully employed at “Doggy Day Care,” and continues to work on her sobriety and raising her son in a safe, stable and healthy home. Tessa shares her story in the hopes that “no one else will have to go through what I have had to go through.”
Stephanie, who is legally blind, gave birth to her son, Diamond in shackles during her incarceration in 1993.
Serving time for possession and direct sale of an illegal substance, due to her drug addiction, Stephanie was in the custody of the state of California in 1992, and incarcerated at the Los Angeles County jail during her pregnancy. She received prenatal care only once every three months.
After going into labor, the police transported Stephanie to the local hospital. Stephanie was placed in shackles from the time she left the jail to deliver Diamond until her return to the jail forty-eight hours later. Specifically, the local sheriff placed both metal belly-waist and ankle shackles on Stephanie during her transport to the jail. During the delivery itself, the doctor and nurse asked the police to remove the ankle and belly-waist shackles. The sheriff removed only belly-waist shackles, “to prevent a possible escape.” Stephanie, as a result, gave birth to Diamond, with her ankles shackled to the bed.
Stephanie now celebrates four years clean and sober from her addiction. She is the proud mother of four children, ranging from twenty-five to eight-years old. She is also attending school part-time to become a peer counselor.