My 10 year old daughter Madeline has an amazing teacher. He is very gentle, peaceful, and encouraging, and fosters a sense of power and autonomy in his classroom. He encourages his students to vote on big things, like the way they want the classroom to work, student government, and small things, like the type of party they want. He won’t step in unless something is unjust or excluding to a student. He currently has them really interested in our country’s election process.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Steinke talked to his students about women’s rights and suffrage. Then he said there was something going on right now. Oregon doesn’t have prison nurseries as some (very few) states do, so women stay with their newborn babies only until they are released from the doctor’s care after birth–typically 48 hours or fewer. Mr.Steinke mentioned that this is 48 hours at most in which to breastfeed the infant.
Madi was outraged to hear this. She has seen two babies born. She saw me labor without medication and push her little brother and sister out of my body. She watched me extended breastfeed them both, as I also did for her and her older sister. She knows very well that babies need their mommies, and mommies need their babies. She told Mr. Steinke that she wanted to call the Oregon Supreme Court and express her displeasure with this.
And here comes the amazing part- Mr. Steinke said okay, as long as you have planned out what you want to say. He gave her time to sit down and write out her thoughts, and she used a classroom Chromebook to Google the phone number. Right there in her classroom, surrounded by her classmates and teacher, my ten year old called the Oregon Supreme Court and left a voicemail about babies needing their mothers, their mothers’ milk, and the need for mercy and humanity, even in the prison system. She hotly demanded that they call her school and ask for Madeline Weaver when they return the call (if they have called back, I have not heard about it).
I am embarrassed to say I had not really thought about this issue before. I have done a little googling since then. An estimated 4% of women entering prison are pregnant (pg. 5, first link). This isn’t a huge number. Surely each state could have a facility set aside for this purpose. The women who do get to live with their children in special prison facilities have a significantly lower rate of recidivism, and positive developmental results are also reported for the children able to live with their mothers. My link above even states “the costs incurred to house an infant with his or her mother are less than placing the child in foster care while paying for the parent’s incarceration” (pg. 10, first link).
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Small children need their mothers and the mothers need their children and a reason to overcome the things in their lives that led to prison. Bonding after the mother being released would be very difficult. The child would have been in foster care, if the mother didn’t have to give her up for adoption. Mr. Steinke didn’t discuss this next part, or Madi didn’t hear if he did; my second link says that the mothers must give birth while shackled.This is very inhumane. A laboring woman is not a flight risk. It makes my blood boil to think of it.
So, this blog post is to say thank you, Mr. Steinke. Thank you for recognizing something not many people seem to–children are a part of this country before they are teenagers; they have a voice and can play a part in our justice system.Thanks for empowering Madeline to feel confident that she could call and expect someone to listen.