Regina Zodiacal walks with friends at the California Institution for Women in Chino, Calif. on March 12th, 2013. Zodiacal learned she was pregnant when she was awaiting trial in the Santa Ana county jail. In this photo she is seven months pregnant.
Children are allowed to see their mothers at the visitation center at the prison in Chino. After Regina Zodiacal gave birth to her son Jayden on May 18th, 2013 she did not see him for at least a month because the guardianship paperwork was not complete and he was not an “approved” visitor under prison rules.
Between 2011 and 2012, over two hundred inmates gave birth while incarcerated in the state of California alone. Many of these women were back behind bars only two days later, their infants sent away to live with relatives or in foster care. Photojournalist Mae Ryan set out to document the lives of these pregnant women and new mothers for her series Pregnant in Prison.
Regina Zodiacal is one of these women. Sentenced to prison while five months pregnant, she represents less than one percent of female inmates. Despite their small numbers, they still pose a difficult question for guards and rights advocates: how to balance what’s best for the community with what’s best for the babies born to felons? The solution right now is to have the children raised by someone in the outside world. Though, studies have shown trauma to both mother and baby when they are separated at birth.
While pregnant, inmates get regular visits with a resident gynaecologist, but the post-partum care is limited. It’s prison policy to transport inmates to a nearby hospital to delivery their child, costing taxpayers anywhere between $6,500 to $14,000 per birth.
Some states have introduced prison nurseries, allowing incarcerated mothers to live with their young children. There is one for low-level offenders currently operating in Pomona, California called the Community Prisoner Mother Program. The complex looks nothing like a prison; instead, groups of dorms surround a large playground. Inside there is a nursery, toddler care room and kindergarten classes. No bars, no barbed wire, no armed guards. Life at a facility such as this lies somewhere between prison life and regular life. While it may seem like a practical solution, facilities like this one also begs the question, is it right to raise a child behind bars?
Regina Zodiacal attends a meeting at the Women’s Institution for Women in Chino, Calif. on March 12th, 2013 while she is seven months pregnant. Zodiacal is incarcerated due to shoplifting from a Kohl’s department store and making threatening motions to an employee. She was also previously convicted for burglary and grand theft auto.
Brittany Bass, 23, sits in the waiting room at California’s Women Institution on May 1st, 2013. 12 days earlier she had given birth to a daughter, Alexandra Rose.
Dr. Corazon Navarro gives advice to Brittany Bass about post-partum depression. Dr. Navarro is the sole gynecoloist assigned to the health clinic at the women’s prison in San Bernardino County. For 25 years, she has measured bellies, prescribed prenatal vitamins and seen more than a few women in the throes of post-partum depression.
Regina Zodiacal’s tattoo reads “Trust No Bitch Fear No Man.” Regina’s tattoos may have caught the eye of an undercover security agent, Cynthia Hardman., at Kohl’s Department Store. Hardman watched Zodiacal enter a fitting room with two garments and leave empty handed. Hardman sent a male collegue to confront Zodiacal and according to court records Zodiacal made threatening gestures at him with a pocket knife.
Regina Zodiacal touches her stomach during a recovery class at the women’s prison in Chino, Calif. At seven months, Zodiacal worried that she could go into labor in her room and her corrections officer assigned to her cellblock wouldn’t hear her. “I’ll be trapped in my room going through labor,” she said. Zodiacal’s labor ended up going smoothly.
A playroom at The Community Prisoner Mother Program stores unused cribs. There are a total of 24 spots available in the Prototypes program, which allows inmates to live with their children under six years old.
Children spend their free time during lunch on the playground in the center courtyard at The Community Prisoner Mother Program. Kids and their mothers are usually enrolled in classes during the day and spend mornings, lunch and nighttime together.
Christina Bray walks up stairs at the Community Prisoner Mother Program in Pomona, Calif. with her daughter Lola Mae. Bray is serving time for stealing over $1 million dollars from a 96-year-old while she worked as a bank manager at a local JP Morgan Chase bank in San Jose.
Denise Bussel and her son Justice sit in a courtyard at The Community Prisoner Mother Program in Pomona, Calif. Denise was incarcerated for three DUIs within ten years and enter prison when Justice was nine-months old. He joined Denise in the prison system when he was about 20-months old.
Denise Bussel takes her son Justice to summer class. The Pomona School District runs a Headstart preschool program for four-and-five year olds and a Kindergarten on the grounds.
Christina Bray looks at her daughter Lola Mae as she tries to call her family in Northern California.
All images © Mae Ryan