21 Photos Show A Completely Different Side Of Mothers In Prison

Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
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 Center 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 Program 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 program 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 programs, 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.

Go here for more information into Cheryl Hanna-Truscott's work and here for more information on Protective Custody.
1 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"In the mid-1990s, I heard about the beginnings of this nursery idea through the grapevine, and I only live 10 minutes away from the state prison," Hanna-Truscott told Refinery29 about how she found this project. "In about 2003, I asked if I could do a photography project on the prison nursery, and I was welcomed in….I wanted to do it for a year before I had the courage to send a letter and ask for permission."

Strolling with baby in the minimum security yard.
2 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
Despite the successes of the program at Washington Corrections Center, Hanna-Truscott says she still encounters skepticism. "With all the research that has been done supporting concepts relating to prison nurseries, people still make harsh judgments," she told Refinery29. "They’ll say, 'Babies don’t belong in prisons,' just point-blank. But, no. Babies belong with their mothers, in a safe, protective environment. So I think some people miss the point, and they just hear the notion of this, of 'babies in prisons.'"

Mandi and Gabriel (3 days old).
3 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Prison systems have sort of been built around the incarceration of men, and, typically, women are the caretakers of the family," she said. Women are the fastest-growing part of the U.S. prison population. "The explosion of the number of women that are becoming incarcerated is having a huge effect on pregnant women and families."

Samantha and Gabriel (1 year old).
4 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Even though my project is pretty much limited to pregnant women and mothers of the toddlers, it’s a select population that I feel like really important things are happening at this critical time of development — for babies, especially," Hanna-Truscott said.

Stacy (38 weeks' pregnant).
5 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Babies don’t know they’re in prison," she added. "They just know they’re safe and secure in a loving environment with their mothers."

Osha (seven months' pregnant with twins).
6 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"As a nurse-midwife, I was really excited to hear about such an innovative concept as keeping newborns with their incarcerated mothers," Hanna-Truscott told Refinery29 in an email. "I thought that not only could I learn a lot from the mothers going through pregnancy and childbirth while incarcerated, but that I would be able to educate people about the worth of investing in this type of corrections program."

Newborn (5 days).
7 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Because I set myself up professionally as a listener — and as someone in health care — when I introduce myself, they can respond to me on some level. Most of them have midwifery care."

Amanda and Dionicio (9 months old).
8 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"They have a bulletin board, and each room is sort of pastel-painted, and there’s a window facing the outside. It’s not like a typical prison room that people imagine."

Mandy and Hallynn (1 week old).
9 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"I have worked there long enough to where they have decorated some of the walls with some of my framed work. Some of the moms that are new to me are like, 'Oh, did you take that picture? I love that picture!'"

Kquan and ZeyShaune (2 days old).
10 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"As a former midwife and child sexual-abuse specialist, I am absolutely convinced about the scientific support for prison nursery programs. Neuroscientists talk about age 0-to-3 being a critical window for brain development," she said.

Penny and Jasmine (3 months old).
11 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"The rooms are small; they’re very small — like dorm rooms — and they have a standard-issue single-bed cot, and a crib or a bassinet, and they have a storage locker for their belongings, and they have desktop, a rocking chair, and a desk chair," Hanna-Truscott said, but the women personalize them a surprising amount, given the prison's regulations.

Let people love you back.”
12 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"There is good research on early brain development, maternal-infant attachment, breastfeeding benefits, the effects of childhood trauma on adult health, Early Head Start, and decreased recidivism rates to support prison nursery programs," she said. "All these protective factors are available in the prison nursery at Washington Corrections Center for Women. These are reasons I named my work Protective Custody."

Csenya and Lane (11 months old).
13 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"The babies and toddlers are well-loved and cared for, so being around them is fun," Hanna-Truscott emailed Refinery29. "Observing the mothers trying hard to be competent caregivers is rewarding. Most often, deep conversations occur as the inmates struggle with the issues that led them to incarceration."

Dawnica, a caregiver.
14 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"I’ve been hearing a lot in the news about how we are the world's number-one country with highest amount of incarcerated people. So what does that say about us? We’re not doing something right here," Hanna-Truscott said.

Susan (eight months' pregnant).
15 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Our rate of incarceration is staggering — I hope people don’t give it a gloss over. It’s not the babies' fault, we’re there for the babies. If you can't have sympathy for some of the mothers, what about the babies?"

Amber (eight months' pregnant).
16 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"In a best world, criminal behavior will be held accountable, but there would be a more therapeutic approach to holding people accountable and ensuring public safety. Also, a way for people to work through their issues and get out on the other side, and be healthier than they were when they came in."

17 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"At this time, criminal-justice scholars speak of the 'revolving door' of recidivism and 'intergenerational criminal behavior.' We can do better than that. We need to do better than that."

Amber and Ryan (8 days).
18 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
For many nonviolent offenders, which includes the women allowed to participate in the prison nursery program, alternatives to incarceration may include community-based confinement with access to substance abuse programs, educational opportunities, job-skills-acquisitions programs, and therapeutic parenting support — so that on release, a woman has hope of being able to connect with a community, make better decisions, and be a “good enough” mom," said Hanna-Truscott.

Danyielle and Zoe (9 months).
19 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"Since these mothers are serving relatively short sentences, their babies don’t have to go through the trauma of early separation and then reunification with an essential stranger when their mothers are released."

20 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
I'm basically going in every month to do photographs, so I’m not doing much advocacy work. But what I’m finding out is that this project is — since I started it in 2003 — it’s still reaching people," Hanna-Truscott said.

Sheriann and Quincy (7 months).
21 of 21
Photo: Cheryl Hanna-Truscott
"I think I lucked out because the main staff at the time were very, very proactive about trying to promote this program," Hanna-Truscott said. Her background in midwifery and child-abuse evaluation ended up being an asset for her. "So they didn’t have to second-guess too much about me, because I was a known entity in the community."

Viola and Eugene (13 days old).

More from Culture


R29 Original Series