What is it like to give birth — and then be forced to say goodbye to your baby 24 hours later? This documentary short from FRONTLINE and The Marshall Project, offers a powerful and unforgettable window into the lives of incarcerated pregnant women — and what happens to their newborns.
(door closing, people chattering)
(lock buzzes, door creaks)
WOMAN: Come on.
SERGEANT ABBOTT: You got your seatbelt on?
ABBOTT: How far along are you now?
MISTY: Nine months.
Are you having a boy or a girl? MISTY: A boy.
First one, second one?
MISTY: It's my second boy.
My little boy's been getting in trouble at school.
ABBOTT: Yeah, how old is he?
Usually he's good.
ABBOTT: He's going through some stuff.
But don't let that be, like...
Don't pity him to the point that you just spoil him.
MISTY: I know I can't do that.
My husband passed away four years ago.
And I let them get away with a bunch.
MISTY: That's where I messed up at.
ABBOTT: Have they been able to come to visit at all?
MISTY: No, I wouldn't want to put them through that.
I just feel bad when kids come, because,
you know, they have to be searched too, and...
MISTY: When I was a little kid, I remember we went to prison
to see my dad, and it was crazy,
because I had Timberland boots that had little metal things
The metal thing kept going off. ABBOTT: Oh, mm-hmm.
And I had to take my shoes off.
ABBOTT: Do you have a doula? MISTY: Yeah. Mine's Sarah.
ABBOTT: Yeah, we're the only prison in the Southeast
that has that program.
MISTY: I know.
I mean, you're going to have someone there with you,
but we're complete strangers, you know what I mean?
And it's different-- they know you on a different level.
And they can interact with you differently than we can.
(door unlocking and opening)
GUARD: All right, y'all ready for dorm inspection?
What time is inspection?
GUARD: Okay, so we should be ready, right?
This is a non-smoking dorm.
We have pregnant females
in here-- I mean, come on.
So do not smoke in this dorm, ladies.
GROUP: Yes, ma'am.
I'm going to start at the end and work my way down.
Trim just a little.
You're running close on that hair-- pull it up.
And yours too, your nails.
That's the prenatal vitamin, Captain.
Prenatal vitamin do that.
GUARD: But you've still got to clip your nails.
Okay, good morning.
WENDY WILLIAMS: Tutwiler is the only women's prison
in the state of Alabama.
But on average we have between 45 to 50 pregnant women
in and out of Tutwiler in a year's time.
I know at one time we had three generations of women at Tutwiler
that were from the same family.
And, of course, we have that concern
every time a woman comes to us pregnant--
is this going to be another cycle?
GUARD: Shake, shake.
CAPTAIN SONJA ROSE: Captain Rose to... officer.
Get Misty up and send her to the shift office.
SARAH DOYLE: What is your current age?
DOYLE: How long have you been in this facility?
And what is the length of your current sentence?
MISTY: 36 months.
DOYLE: Not including your current incarceration,
have you been in jail or prison before?
DOYLE: What is your highest level of education?
DOYLE: In the month before your arrest, were you employed?
Were you raised by someone other than your biological
mother or father? - Yes.
Yes, and who was that?
Grandparents. - Grandparents.
As an adult, have you ever been
a victim of domestic violence? - Yes.
Do you have children? MISTY: Yeah, two.
DOYLE: Yeah, two. MISTY: Plus the baby.
And you're just wanting to do an epidural and then
whatever the doctor recommends,
just go with the flow, laying in bed, birthing on your back.
I want a big cup of Pepsi.
DOYLE: A big cup of Pepsi, okay.
Sometimes being a doula just means giving you your space,
so you're always welcome to kick me out.
MISTY: No, you're staying there with me.
Okay, sounds good.
I'm going to be around through this.
You're not doing this alone. - I know.
DOYLE: Anything else I can help with today?
No. DOYLE: All right.
Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee?
So this is the birthing care group.
We're the Alabama Prison Birth Project.
And we come weekly,
and we do childbirth education.
You'll get a healthy meal,
and then if you want to be matched with a doula,
you can be matched with a doula for your birth.
ASHLEY LOVELL: If it's all right,
we'll just go ahead and start the lesson.
To safely hold your baby,
the baby's head is close enough for you to kiss, right?
It's not just important for the baby, it's important for us,
because it's building that strong bond.
And you're more primed to bond to your baby at the moment
than any other time.
Again, if you're separated
from your baby for some reason, you can do this
as soon as your baby comes back to you.
Even if your baby's swaddled up in a little burrito, and asleep,
it's okay to undo the swaddle and put your baby skin to skin.
They will go right back to sleep here.
ERIN BROWN: Well, let's go on and... yes?
I just was... how many of us have had babies before?
How many of you? Raise your hands.
WOMAN: I've had lots of babies.
THERESA: What I think would be good is talk about
how we're going to raise these babies.
A lot of us go back and we're like,
I think the focus should be, like, your baby,
and how you're going to raise your baby
and keep them and be a good mother
and not have to go through what you went through.
This is Antonio Ja'bar, and he's in a shower.
This me and him...
me and him kissing, but he's still paying attention
to the lady that took the picture of us.
But that's my sugar boo.
KIM: Look like she was praying right here.
These are the last pictures I got, but I look at them
over and over.
Then I take them out and look at them again
and cry and hide them again.
This is me and Tylan.
This is the day that I was with him in the NICU.
I was just praying with him here, you know,
praying that he would get better.
He had swallowed some of my amniotic fluid
whenever he came out, so he got an infection.
So he's got to take a full seven-day round of antibiotics.
but this is that day.
It was devastating,
especially finding out that he was sick the night before,
and the very next day knowing
that I had to come back to prison.
It just really broke my heart,
knowing that I was leaving him there, you know?
Um... it's very hard.
Well, this is Romeo.
You got it.
He's a week and one day today,
and, um, I guess he's still with DHR.
So I don't know where he at right now.
So, I don't know.
I don't want to talk about it.
PATRICIA: We're all rooting for him either way.
KIM: Yeah, we talk about him already.
It's all right.
You going to get some answers here in a little while.
NEWS ANCHOR: The Department of Justice is telling Alabama
steps must be taken to curb sexual abuse
at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.
The report called Tutwiler
"a toxic, sexualized environment."
The facility in Wetumpka houses about a thousand inmates.
WILLIAMS: We had a lot of concerns at that time
A lot of what we were hearing from the inmates
was the fact that they weren't feeling safe.
So what we had to do, and we're still working on this,
is change the culture.
WILLIAMS: I'm Wendy Williams, if you haven't met me already,
and I'm the Deputy Commissioner for Women's Services,
and just super excited
that we have committed stakeholders
that want to have a voice in our process.
And I know Warden Wright and Warden McClane and I
share a similar vision.
When we build a new women's prison,
there will be an area where the mothers and babies
can actually stay together from six months to a year
We have made a lot of great progress,
but we still have a long way to go.
We're just now entering our fourth year of implementation
with the DOJ settlement involving Tutwiler.
We were compliant with 40 of 44 provisions,
and the court report that will be filed
by the 28th of this month will reflect
that we are now compliant with 41.
Those three are going to take a little bit more time.
One of them will be accomplished with the help
of University of Alabama
and Auburn, hopefully.
And then, of course, the other two are staffing,
and that is a big challenge for us right now.
We'll look at some data behind that in just a moment.
What about the doula program?
ASHLEY LOVELL: There's been a lot of interest
in the lactation room.
I have two emails now from other facilities
wanting very specific details
on how we implemented the program here,
which is exactly what we'd hoped to see--
Tutwiler doing something that caught on,
and is giving this opportunity...
WILLIAMS: Who would have ever thought, right?
...to all of these babies in the country-- yes.
WILLIAMS: Can you say that one more time? (laughter)
LOVELL: I will, because we hear that.
The hospital breastfeeding initiation rate
where these women give birth is about 20 percent.
And since we opened the lactation room in June,
we have about a 50 percent initiation rate.
So we've surpassed the hospital initiation rate,
which is exciting.
CHRISTY: I'm currently on the breast feeding program.
Every day I'm over there multiple times a day pumping.
It's very quiet over there,
and this place is never quiet.
And I read my Bible, and I pray,
and just kind of create my own little bubble,
and bless the milk so when it does get to her, you know...
It keeps you connected with your child,
keeps you focused on where you need to be
to change ourselves so we can get home to our children.
It is much harder to pump than it is to breast feed,
so I usually only produce about two ounces,
two to three ounces at a time.
I store it until they can ship it to her.
A lot of us have been abused our entire lives,
and we enter into relationships of abuse,
and then DHR wants to step in and say we can't
have our children because they're going to enter into
relationships of abuse.
Well, help us, you know?
Don't just throw us off in prison or take our children.
Actually help us.
CHRISTY: All this wasted time.
KIM: The one bad decision that I made...
it affected everything.
JENNIFER: "Mama, when you coming home?"
My child tell me that, "Mama, you come home
and stop doing the things that you were doing."
To hear my child tell me that,
you gotta get your life together.
HARRIET: I just look at...
I'm so mad at myself and angry.
to think about how angry that I am at me.
It makes me angry.
I'm just angry at myself for not making the right decisions.
KRISTA: We're all angry because we've put ourselves
here, you know what I'm saying?
It's not the kids' fault that we took ourself away from them.
It's helped me talk, to learn that I have to forgive myself
for the mistakes that I've made.
CHRISTY: You know, a common saying
for being incarcerated is, "I came in here by myself,
I'm going to leave by myself."
We all had little riders with us.
And I've actually named my daughter Ariana Angel Rider.
All right, so you guys ready?
So we're celebrating baby Elijah, right?
He'll be here Thursday.
JANEE ROBINSON: And will be here Thursday, by the way,
so it's a good thing that we are celebrating early, yes.
INMATE: Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
eating her blank and blank.
INMATE: Curds and whey.
INMATE: Yeah, that's what I thought it was, curds and whey.
INMATE: Ice cream and cake.
INMATE: Peter Peter pumpkin eater
had a wife but couldn't... GROUP: Keep her!
INMATE: He couldn't what? GROUP: Keep her!
INMATE: Show them your belly!
INMATE: You ready?
INMATE: You got it.
Turn around, let us see.
INMATE: All right.
(cheers and applause)
I know you so good. - I know.
You got it! - She got it too!
We've been in here right at an hour, believe it or not.
How many people actually thought about using drugs or alcohol
while we were doing?
Is it possible for you to have activities like this
and laugh and to celebrate without using?
ALL: Yes. ROBINSON: It is.
And that's what recovery is about, seriously.
I'm happy for her. ROBINSON: I am, too.
I am, too. I am, too.
CAPTAIN SONJA ROSE: I hope that you tap into what you get here.
You're at the lowest. you're at the bottom.
And so if you can make it at that level,
you can always make it. That's the thing.
I think you misunderstand who you are, with the power
and the strength that you actually have,
and you don't need someone else to confirm who you are.
You have to confirm yourself, okay?
Let's move around, because I've got a little gap here.
There you go, there you go.
Everybody say cheese.
INMATE: Make it so pretty. (laughter)
INMATE: You can Photoshop it.
ROSE: All right-- baby!
INMATE: So what's been going on?
BRITTANY: Nothing much.
My baby's almost a month old now.
- Really? - Yeah.
- Do you have a boy or girl? - A little boy.
- A boy? - Yeah.
- What's his name? - Tylan Denver.
- That's a pretty name. - Yeah.
BRITTANY: When I was eight, it was the first time
I smoked marijuana.
By the time I was a 13 or 14 I was a full-fledged addict,
used every day.
The first time I got locked up, I was 14.
I've been having, I guess, a little bit of depression
and anxiety and just everything knowing, okay,
I just had a baby in prison, and now I'm fixing
to get back out to him, and what do I do from here?
You know, how do I... how do I go forward?
How do I stop making those... some of those same mistakes?
It's really hard in here.
There's drugs everywhere.
We can't even go to the bathroom, you know?
You know, if you want to try and change your life,
and you're an addict, how do you say no
when it's all in your face, you know?
They just threw us behind bars, you know,
behind the fence, basically just to live
with a whole bunch of addicts.
WOMAN: There's some peach crisp for dessert.
At this hospital, I've seen them give IV narcotics
right after the baby was born, which is something
I've never seen at another hospital.
And I've seen them offer Percocet
even to a mom post-vaginal birth.
So if you want to stay away from narcotics
for your recovering, you have to say that to them.
You'd have to say, "I'd like to try not using that."
And when we talk about fear, tension, pain,
when you relax your body, it doesn't hurt as bad
when it's contracting.
But when you're tense, and you have a contraction,
it hurts worse.
It's a poor pillow, I know.
CHAUNTEL NORRIS: As we're starting to have contractions,
the first thing your doula's going to walk you through
is breathing through it-- like, that's really important.
Because when you're in pain, we're all "Ow!"
You know, you tense up, and you stop breathing--
that's the first thing you do, right?
Take a deep breath in, relax your shoulders,
and breathe it out.
You know, where you like to be, what makes you feel relaxed.
For some of us it's the beach--
we're feeling that sunlight on our face.
And we'll close our eyes
and just relax.
In through your nose and out through the mouth.
Very good-- in through your nose, out through your mouth.
NORRIA: So what are some things, when you get home
that you plan to do differently
so you don't have to be back?
Not to be back here?
My goal, when I go home, I don't want to come outside for a year.
But... okay, so...
JENNIFER: But taking my baby to the doctor,
that's totally different. - Right.
So you're going to have to come out at some point.
You're going to have to take your kid somewhere.
You're going to have to go to the store.
You're going to have to, you know,
become a part of society again.
And so you need to have something in place
you know, to keep you out of trouble.
I want us to
come up with a good plan.
"When I think I want to do this, this is what I'll do instead."
And then, you know,
we'll set bigger goals, you know?
Yeah, you're right. NORRIS: Set bigger goals.
Like, when we talk about goals, our goal is to be available
to our kids, you know what I mean?
To be able to be a good mom to them, you know?
And to be present with them, you know?
AMY: So I picked out this book.
It's called "I Love You Animally"
and it's just going to tell you how much that I love y'all,
It says, "I love you hugely, like a whale.
"I love you shyly
like a quail."
PATRICIA: "I'll float around
"inside my space shuttle.
"I'll eat all my food and special gadgets.
"Could I be any of those things when I grow up?
"But I don't need to decide just yet.
I can just dream of having big adventures."
Leah, I love you.
We're almost to the end of this.
So I'll see you soon.
INMATE: "Anne thought Gilbert was cheeky."
JENNIFER: Rodriguez, Mama wanted to talk to you today
to let you know I'm so sorry that I had to go.
I hope you come see me September the 8th, baby.
Mama loves you so much, and be good to your grandma.
Stop being bad, baby, okay?
And be good in school and make good grades, Rodriguez.
CHRISTY: I want them to know that not a day goes by
that I don't think of you; I think of you every day.
I just pray to God that one day it can all be made right.
TORI: We're scared.
We're scared because we don't know what's going on
outside of these walls.
KIM: I wonder how much she weighs,
what she's doing.
ASHLEY: What is she doing? Does she sleep good?
KIM: Does she sleep good? ASHLEY: Is she happy?
KIM: Do she cry a lot?
ASHLEY: Does... is she calling somebody else "Mom"?
KIM: What does she like to eat?
I think about all them... them questions.
This is her mom right here.
I can relate to the kids a lot
because I was born drug-addicted to crack cocaine.
My mom did drugs,
like, most of her life.
And so society says that they're throwaways,
and that there's no hope for them, or they're going to end up
in the system, or they're going to end up on drugs
just like their parents.
You know, show them the love that I didn't get as a baby--
being held, you know, being talked to.
I didn't have that, you know?
So for me to be able to do that for these children
has been like a healing for me.
When I look at her I think of me, like, when I was a baby.
And I look at me and I see her future.
Like there's hope for her.
(traffic rumbles, birds chirping)
(door slams, lock buzzes)
ABBOTT: Thank you.
(indistinct chatter) Excuse me.
INMATE: You going to have your baby?
INMATE: You going to have your baby?
INMATE: Which way are we going, Miss Mims?
You having a girl?
Boy. INMATE: Boy.
(bus engine rumbles)
CHRISTY: You don't want to give birth,
because you want to be able to at least feel them
and have them with you.
KIM: You feel so empty.
Your heart just stop.
KRISTA: It still hurts deep down inside,
because you had that bond.
24 hours to bond with a baby is not really much.
TORI: When you were locked up your whole pregnancy
and it was just you and that baby,
and then to walk away from the person
that's been there with you,
it makes the strongest person break.
ABBOTT: I know, I'm sorry.
LOUDSPEAKER: Last call for (indecipherable)...
(doors slam shut)
ABBOTT: We have Sergeant Abbott, Lieutenant Nelson
out with J3 Misty en route to Baptist South Hospital.
What are you naming him?
Elijah. ABBOTT: That's right.
The little labor suite or whatever is way nicer
than the room they're going to put you in for postpartum.
I'm just letting you know.
Don't get attached.
They're only going to leave you in there for like
an hour after the baby's born. - An hour?
And you go back to them little rooms again?
ABBOTT: Yes, Lord.
- Thank you. - Mm-hmm.
KIM: I always tell them,
I say, "Y'all go and prepare yourself,
"because, you know,
"you're talking about you're ready to go in labor,
"well, when you have your baby and spend time with him or her
"and it's over, that's, like, the hardest thing that ever done
happened in the world."
(tires on gravel)
(door closing) (door opening)
GUARD: I have 315115.
Thank y'all for taking such good care of my little buddy.
You are so alert.
Look at you.
Okay, all right, almost got it.
NAOMI HELLUMS: I want to get a picture.
BRITTANY GENTRY: He's so tiny. Look at that.
Everybody's waiting to see you.
Oh, okay, let's see.
There we go.
There we go.
ANGELA SPACKMAN: He is beautiful.
Look at those cheeks.
Well, welcome home.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my goodness.
GUARD: Welcome back.
- I'm going to change in here. - Okay.
- Is it bad? - I can't tell...