Marsha Banks is the founder of Amiracle4sure, a ministry that mentors current and former offenders. She recently completed her Master’s Degree in Social Services and works as a Family Involvement Specialist for the Pennsylvania System of Care Partnership. With the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Marsha was also involved in a coalition that advocated for the passage of Pennsylvania’s Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act.
On Monday, Act 45, the Pennsylvania law that bans the practice of shackling pregnant inmates during labor, went into effect. This shackling ban is a godsend. It is long overdue, and I am so grateful that supporters had not given up the fight for this cause.
I acknowledge that in the past I have made many mistakes, but never would you hear me say that bringing a child into this world was a “mistake.” I am a proud mother of eight beautiful children, and while I can recall many proud moments of giving birth to all of my children, there is one delivery that shakes my spirit every time I think about it.
I have a handsome 16-year-old at home, but some days when I look at him, I just want to cry. At times I can’t help but to think back to where my life was heading just 16 years ago. I was struggling with a substance abuse problem and I was trying to find my way out of a very abusive marriage. The end of this tragic period of my life was soon to come, or so I thought. It was a cold winter in January when I had come to what we term in recovery as “a bottom.” I was facing criminal charges for neglect and I was being held in custody at Montgomery County Prison. At that time, I was about four months pregnant with my seventh child.
I stayed in the county facility for several months before sentencing. I was hoping to leave soon, but instead was sentenced to serve time at Muncy State Correctional Institute. According to corrections policy, I was not permitted to serve my state time until after having my baby. I had five long months to go in a county facility that I didn’t feel was suitable for living, let alone giving birth to a child. Prenatal appointments were nightmares, and the diet plans were unacceptable (noodles and chips, oh, and lots of chocolate). The regular visits to the medical clinic were not welcomed, nor were the unexpected premature labor experiences along the way.
I dreaded having to leave the facility to go to hospital, but the stress and pressure of being in the county facility caused me to enter into premature labor several times. I was shackled from head to toe every time I left the county facility for court and hospital visits. The many pleas for loosening the belt on my waist or the chains on my ankles fell on deaf ears. “It’s corrections policy,” they would say. I was pregnant; where did they think I was I going to go? My final visit to the hospital came on an early day in May, the day when I knew this was it, this soon-to-be-proud mother wasn’t too eager to go to the hospital at all.
With shackled ankles, the belt strap in place and a wrist cuff on the pole of the gurney, they transported me to Lancaster County General Hospital. I spent hours in labor with my ankle cuffed to the end of the bed post. There was one correctional officer outside of my door and another at my bedside. On that day, the 18th of May, I gave birth to a very handsome and healthy baby boy, whom I named Christian. He is my miracle child; when I look at him in the morning and at night I just smile. However, the memory of how he came into this world stays fresh in my mind.
Years have passed and times have changed; and still seeing this change to the shackling policy come about has brought tears to my eyes. This is indeed an answer to my prayers.
For the mothers who share in this pain, I applaud you. For those advocates and supporters who did not give up, congratulations, job well done.
Only 10 states have laws that restrict the use of restraints on women prisoners during labor and delivery. To learn more about how your state treats pregnant women in prison, see our map on state standards for pregnancy-related heath care in prison.