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Protective Custody

Photo Essay: Prison moms, in their own words.

Protective Custody play button

In the mid-1990s, I first heard about a new program at Washington Corrections Center for Women that would allow non-violent, incarcerated pregnant women to maintain custody of their infants while serving short prison sentences. I was intrigued, never having given much thought to women convicts, let alone pregnant ones. Healthy maternal-infant attachment could be promoted during this critical time in a protective, supportive, and safe environment.

The program began in 1999, and in 2003, I asked if I could do a portrait photography project about the prison nursery. Even with my professional background as a nurse-midwife and expertise in child sexual abuse evaluations, I was surprised that administrators and mothers welcomed me. Prison is a closed, off-limits, censored, and locked-up environment. Prisoners are unseen, disenfranchised, and voiceless.

When I began this work, I expected to find the unit crawling with researchers interested in promoting maternal-infant health in such a vulnerable population and was aghast at the paucity of available information.

There is a great need to focus more attention and resources to maternal-infant health issues among this growing population. We midwives like to say that we change the world one baby at a time.  There is a powerful ripple effect when sending formerly incarcerated mothers back into the world after participating in a prison nursery program: healthier moms raising securely attached babies, who have the foundation to grow into healthy adults.

To view the photo essay, click here.

Photos by Cheryl Hanna-Truscott

Note: Quotations are not attributed in order to protect the identities of incarcerated mothers.

Cheryl Hanna-Truscott is a certified nurse-midwife with almost a decade of experience at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma, WA as a midwife. She has worked at the Mary Bridge Child Abuse Intervention Department in Tacoma, WA in addition to studying photography.

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