In Mexico, incarceration rates for women have been on the rise in recent years, especially for drug-related crimes. And that’s led to an increase in another phenomenon known as Prison parenthood.
CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock reports on how having kids can make life in the Big House a little easier.
Eliannys Marcano never wanted children. It was only after her conviction for armed robbery that her mothering instinct kicked in.
Last year, half-way through her 11-year sentence, she gave birth to her daughter, who now lives with her behind bars in one of Mexico City’s high-security prisons.
“It makes you think that a baby is a big responsibility, and even more when you have it in prison,” says Marcano. “But it’s also a big help. It helps you to change, to get better living standards, to live with different people, to get help from the authorities. Who wouldn’t want to have a baby here, right.”
Her case is not unusual. Marcano says a lot of her fellow convicts are either expecting or actively trying to conceive.
Inmates who are pregnant receive good benefits. They can’t be moved to other penitentiaries and they are afforded better living conditions and regular medical checkups.
This is well known to the inmates here at Santa Martha Acatitla penitentiary, where 56 mothers currently live behind bars with the children they gave birth to during their prison sentences.
But these aren’t co-ed prisons. These inmates get pregnant during conjugal visits, making the most of the right afforded to married couples separated by prison sentences.
The penitentiary director Gloria Hernandez says while prison parenthood can be challenging, both mother and child can benefit from the process.
“It’s important for a baby to live with its mother because it’s the first opportunity at solid formation for a healthy life. So the fact that some mothers here may find parenthood difficult, it’s also due to their lack of knowledge, and abandonment issues that they themselves carry,” says Hernandez, the director of Santa Martha Acatitla Penitentiary.
Yet for prison moms, there is a downside. Mexican law states that at three-years-old, a child can no longer live in the prison.
And sometimes younger children are removed, when health issues are involved. That’s what happened to the son of Arcelia Sanchez, serving 24 years for murder.
“It has been so painful. When he walked for the first time or used the bathroom by himself, I wasn’t there to see it. I couldn’t enjoy him, I didn’t see him grow, I haven’t been with him. I missed everything. But in here, it’s us that are paying for our crimes, not them,” says Sanchez.
Eliannys knows her time with her baby daughter is limited but says that the new perspective motherhood has brought her, has been a far more effective rehabilitation than any prison stretch.