Toddlers live behind prison bars / In Mexico City, female inmates can keep their children with them up to age 6
The increased activity of women participating in drug dealing has increased dramaticaly in the last
two decades and so has the percentage of young children living with them in jail.
Victoria Jaramillo, 40, holding her 3-month-old daughter, Frida,
They lack proper pediatric, nutricion and psychological attention besides the adecuate conditions for their physical,
mental, spiritual, moral and social growth.
I had the opportunity to visit the prison in the city of La Paz and meet and visit four women living inside
a small cell with 4 bunkbeds, a stove and kitchen utenlils all crowded together with their personal belongings,
in this case with 2 small children.
The motive of my visit was to assist my friend Dr. Lourdez Gonzalez Aleman who was doing medical volunteer
work there at the time.
(01-01) 04:00 PST Mexico City --
Beyond the high concrete walls and menacing guard towers of the Santa Martha Acatitla prison, past the barbed wire, past the iron gates, past the armed guards in black commando garb, sits a nursery school with brightly painted walls, piles of toys and a jungle gym.
Fifty-three children under the age of 6 live inside the prison with their mothers, who are serving sentences for crimes from drug dealing to kidnapping to homicide. Mothers dressed in prison blue, many with tattoos, carry babies on their hips around the exercise yard. Others lead toddlers and kindergartners by the hand, play with them in the dust or bounce them on their knees on prison benches.
Karina Rendon, a 23-year-old serving time for drug dealing, said her 2-year-old daughter thought of the 144-square-foot cell she shared with two other mothers and their children as home.
"She doesn't know it is a prison," she said. "She thinks it's her house."
While a prison may seem an unhealthy place for a child, in the early 1990s, the Mexico City government decided it was better for children born in prison to stay with their mothers until they were 6 rather than to be turned over to relatives or foster parents. The children are allowed to leave on weekends and holidays to visit relatives.
A debate continues among Mexican academics over whether spending one's early years in a jail causes mental problems later in life, but for the moment the law says babies must stay with their mothers. So the prison has a school with three teachers.
The warden, Margarita Malo, said the children had a calming effect on the rest of the inmates. The presence of children also inspires the mothers to learn skills or, in many cases, to kick drug habits that landed them in trouble in the first place.
And even though the prison is full of women capable of violence, the children walk safely among them, as if protected by an invisible shield. It is as though they tap the collective maternal instinct of the 1,680 women locked up here.
a child in prison presents a tough set of problems, mothers said in
recent interviews. Those serving long sentences dread the day when they
must be separated from their child because he or she has turned 6.
Others who lack financial help from relatives struggle to earn
enough money in prison to care for a child. Several said they waged a
constant struggle to keep their children from getting sick in the damp,
drafty cells. They often have no money for the prescriptions the prison
doctor gives them.
Yet, few want to give up their bright-eyed offspring to relatives on
the outside. They say the children are like a breath of normal life
inside the stuffy, deadening confines of the prison. “It’s beautiful,”
said Victoria Jaramillo, as she held her 3-month-old daughter on her
lap. “It keeps one busy.”
Ms. Jaramillo, who is 40, is serving a 20-year sentence on a
drug-dealing conviction. She maintains that she was only ironing
clothes in a house when the police burst in and discovered a cache of
drugs. Whatever the truth, she faces the certainty that she will have
to give up her daughter, Frida, in six years.
“The only thing that bothers me is I will have to lose her,” she
said. Dressed in a pink fleece jumpsuit, the baby looked up at her
mother with dark, innocent eyes.
A mother’s crime plays no role in the decision to let her keep a
baby born in jail, the warden said. Cecilia Nava López, 25, has served
two years of a 27 ˝-year sentence after being convicted of causing her
stepchild’s death, a charge she denies. She was pregnant with her
fourth child when the death occurred, and she was incarcerated based on
the testimony of the father of her children
Mexican Prison Information
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