With child, behind bars

I used to wonder how I would tell my child that she spent much of her in-utero time inside a jail. I first felt her move while waiting to be buzzed into unit 1-9-2. Later that day I sat through a counseling session with a client, trying not to get too distracted from the woman’s words as I felt my daughter’s tiny twitches inside me.

When I took the job, I thought a jail would not be a nice place to be pregnant  — stressful, dangerous, cruel. In a place where boundaries are paramount, I thought my clients might be rude about it.  Most of them are parents, and I thought some would feel hurt to be reminded of their own absent children.

But the reaction has been a pleasant surprise. My coworkers are thrilled and the inmates are, if possible, even more so.

One of my favorite clients came into the office in angry tears. She vented about one thing and another until I got up from my chair to shut the office door. She caught a glimpse of my bulge and her whole face changed. “You’re pregnant?” I nodded. A smile came over her. “That made my day.”

One of the jail’s most difficult residents, a woman decidedly not all there, delightedly announced my pregnancy to the rest of her unit the first day she saw me in a maternity blouse. “You’re having a baby!” she sang over and over. When I make my weekly rounds to check on the women in solitary confinement, they peer down through the window-slits in the doors to see how much my belly has grown during the week.

Men smile and congratulate me.  Some of them rhapsodize about watching the birth of their children — “There’s nothing like it.” “You never forget that moment.”  The women are not so circumspect — they’re more likely to squeal, “Oh my God, look at you!  Hey, preggo, your belly’s so cute!”

As for safety, I’m probably safer than I was before.  Male inmates are already protective of women visiting their units, but now I have 1,200 bodyguards.  The inmates are extra-eager to open doors for me now. After storms, they tell me not to slip on the ice. (Except one who advised me to slip “just enough for a good lawsuit, get some nice money for the baby, not enough to hurt you.” Which was her way of being kind.)

I’m sure some of them do feel hurt, especially the ones who have lost pregnancies or who have lost their babies to the state.  But they are almost uniformly kind to me.  Many of them end sessions by saying, “Good luck.” Or “God bless your baby.” One man always ends by saying, “Drink a lot of milk. It’s good for the baby.”

I’m grateful to be pregnant here, among people whose days need brightening.

And I know now what I will tell my daughter about her early stint in jail: “They loved you. They were so happy for us.”

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