This article was first published on December 16, 2015
What happens to women who are pregnant in prison? Where do they give birth? What happens to their babies? Orange Is the New Black offered one version, but in reality the answers to these questions can vary widely depending on where a woman is serving her sentence. For some women at the Washington Correctional Centre for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, it's simple: They get to stay with their children.
"Women are generally the primary caretakers of children and families, and women get pregnant," Cheryl Hanna-Truscott told Refinery29. Hanna-Truscott has spent more than a decade photographing members of the Residential Parenting Programme for her project Protective Custody. "Pregnant inmates have specific needs based on the recognition that at least two people — both mother and baby — are vitally affected."
Hanna-Truscott has been a photographer since she was a child, but as an adult she's spent years working as a midwife and evaluating cases of possible child sexual abuse. Hanna-Truscott's background in women's health and child development is what interested her in a programme that took the welfare of women and children so seriously in such an inhumane setting.
Twelve years of working in the penitentiary has made it easy for her to develop a rapport with the women in WCCW's prison nursery. "The mothers are very eager to have their picture taken — and I never press for personal information — but there’s just so much kind of sharing that seems to come out in a safe outlet. Some share what they’re going through."
Hanna-Truscott does other projects in her work as a photographer, but Protective Custody has been a window into how much the U.S. needs to change. According to a report from the Prison Policy Initiative, only 5% of the world's women live in The United States, but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of the world's incarcerated women. "About a decade ago, there were about 14 prison nursery programmes, and I don’t know how many there are now, but I don’t think the concept has grown exponentially like I thought it might," she said.
The photos in this series provide a look inside one prison ward, into the lives of women trying to do the best for their families under difficult circumstances.