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I Gave Birth While Incarcerated During a Pandemic

“It got to the point where us pregnant females were denying our medical treatment. It was almost like a boycott.”


I got to Bedford Hills in the beginning of February, but I was hearing a little bit about coronavirus beforehand. It really didn’t seem to be that major. It had been a good week or so that I was in Bedford Hills before I was hearing other female inmates talking about it, because they were the most concerned, being so close to one another. Trying to take the extra precaution to keep ourselves safe and keep each other safe, it was almost becoming a battle. Toward the end of April, maybe early May, we were getting access to masks. We were restricted on how many gloves we could grab each day. The only time we had access to hand sanitizer was when we were leaving the unit we were housed in—for pregnant women—to go to general population and get medical care.

When we got moved to that unit for pregnant women, they weren’t set up for anything. There was a night, a pouring-down rainstorm, when they pulled all the pregnant women out from each unit that they were in and took us to a new building. The plumbing didn’t work. Everything backed up if you flushed a toilet. The showers weren’t working. Nothing was set up. There was no phone access. There was no kiosk to email or to receive any type of pictures from our family.

For our meals, they would bring our trays to us, but there were times when trays were being forgotten. Sometimes it was just a cheese sandwich that they were giving us—two pieces of bread and maybe one or two pieces of cheese and an outdated juice that was already all fermented.

Seeing the medical staff, it was more nerve-wracking and—I would say—more harmful to a pregnant woman than anything, because it was the same medical staff that was seeing the general population, including individuals that were diagnosed with Covid, coming into our unit or making us go to the medical building. (They always would tell us if we went there that they had everything bleached down and cleaned, but there were a lot of times that you would go and you wouldn’t even catch a hint of the smell of bleach.) Between the hospital or through the corrections officers who would take us, there was fear of being exposed. There were something like 40 cases already.

It got to the point where us pregnant females were denying our medical treatment. It was almost like a boycott. We came together as a unit and we discussed our fears. We only had each other. We had nobody else. We had no access to the news. We all came together, and every time one of us was told that we had an appointment, we were like, “Nope. Not going.” The officers would almost make us feel guilty and try to talk us into it. We stood by our decisions, and we didn’t go. Me, personally, before I made my decision, I spoke to my fiancé about it because it’s his daughter, too. Plus, he has access to the media and the public knowledge of the coronavirus, where we didn’t. I mean, we knew about it. We knew it was severe. We knew it was getting bad, but without having the news or access to really the radio, we were going off of what family was telling us.

Some of the pregnant women were scared to even deny the medical care because they didn’t want that used against them. Because, in some people’s eyes, it’s like, “OK, you are already neglecting your child because you’re not going to medical.” But, in our eyes, in our hearts, we are actually protecting our child by not exposing them to the dangerous facility.

They kind of left us in the dark about what would happen when we gave birth. They tried to let us know what would happen afterward. Like, you would go to the hospital, give birth, be there for about 48 to 72 hours, and then be put in quarantine with your newborn for 72 hours. Which, I thought, “If you’re going to be quarantined, it should be longer than 72 hours before you expose the nursery.”

After I gave birth, on Mother’s Day, I was quarantined in a trailer by myself with my newborn daughter, Halley. It was nerve-wracking. All of these different officers are coming into the trailer, not always keeping the six feet social distance, especially when they’re checking on my daughter. There were definitely times when I told them that they had to back up.

You rely on the officers to know what is happening hour by hour, day to day. You really have no knowledge of what is going on around you. You are isolated. There is no phone in the trailer. They don’t have anything provided for an individual inside the trailer. It is almost solitary confinement, but at least you are not in a dark-holed cell.

I found out two days after I gave birth to Halley that the Bedford facility was now allowing the pregnant females to have somebody in the delivery room. Nobody should have to give birth alone.

At the quarantine trailer, if I went outside to walk around, I could see the other girls, even from far away. We were able to scream back and forth to one another, and they were all so excited and screamed to me that they were able to have somebody there with them now if they were still there to give birth. I’ve never seen pregnant women so happy in my entire stay there.

When I got released, about a week after giving birth, it was my fiancé that was there waiting for me. I almost had a parade of people that walked me out. There were probably about four different officers that walked with me. I don’t know if they thought I was going to try and run with a stroller and a baby, but that wasn’t going to happen. It was very emotional. It did not feel real.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision declined The New Republic’s request to comment on this story on the record.