Gianna changed my life forever. I had given birth many times before, but this time was different. I was incarcerated in the Indiana Women’s Prison. Being pregnant and incarcerated may sound like the worst thing that could ever happen, but it was my blessing in disguise.
I was a part of the Wee Ones Program. The program allowed me to keep my child with me while I was incarcerated for the first year of her life. This was the first time I was able to build a bond with my child. It was the first time I felt the need to provide for, and protect my child. I was able to care for my daughter, without struggling to survive. The struggle to survive affected the choices I made as a mother to my other children. With my other children, I was out hustling, scamming and conning just to get the bare basics to live life. I put my children at risk daily just trying to survive.
Outside of prison, I left my children in unsafe neglectful situations. I usually left them with people that were unable to care for them adequately, while I tried to work. The lack of affordable childcare, and inadequate transportation forced me to make choices to sacrifice their safety for survival. I passed down the cycle of a neglectful lifestyle to my children, along with a lack of parenting skills.
I now know the importance of having support during and after pregnancy. The Wee Ones Program, and the Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Leadership Initiative taught me this. I learned about safe sleep, and the causes of infant mortality and prevention through these programs.
I was given the opportunity to parent for the first time with the support of the Wee Ones Program. I learned about child development and gained parenting skills. I broke this cycle for Gianna.
We can do this by creating policies that ensure that previously incarcerated mothers are eligible for housing assistance in a safe community, have access to affordable childcare, educational opportunities that prevent infant mortality and decrease incarceration. To prevent the cycle of survival versus neglect we must alleviate these barriers. By doing this, we create the opportunity for mothers to build maternal attachments and break the cycle I have now broken for my children.