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‘Protective Custody’: Project Shows Women Rebuilding Their Lives

An invisible population is Cheryl Hanna-Truscott’s calling. Since 2003, the certified nurse midwife and photographer has portrayed to the public what it’s like to be an incarcerated pregnant woman. Through her photographs of mothers and babies participating in a prison nursery program, Hanna-Truscott, RN, MSN, CNM, ARNP, aims to convey a sense of personhood to these typically invisible people and increase awareness of the importance of residential parenting programs. She calls her body of work: Protective Custody.

“I believe being pregnant and incarcerated is just about as vulnerable as it gets,” Hanna-Truscott said. “Prison nursery programs, where the special needs of pregnant incarcerated women are cared for, are few in our nation.”

Autumn takes care of daughter Alexia in the center’s J Unit (nursery) playground.

Photography Opens the Door

Hanna-Truscott became involved with the prison nursery program at Washington State Correctional Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Wash., by offering to take portraits of inmates and their families one holiday season. She soon asked the prison administrator’s permission to use photography to explore issues of incarcerated women and their babies within the prison nursery program.

“I think it was my midwifery and nursing credentials that got me into the prison,” she said.

Quickly she realized how invisible this group of people is to the general public. “These women will spend up to 2.5 years in prison, usually for nonviolent crimes often related to substance abuse issues. Seeing them with their babies, I knew that interventions could be made at this very important time, that these women and children were vulnerable and open to change.”

But Hanna-Truscott was appalled that at the paucity of research and information about a setting where there’s great opportunity to help people turn their lives around.

“A lot of these women remind me of children who have been through the pediatric abuse clinic where I work,” said Hanna-Truscott, who works at Mary Bridge Child Abuse Intervention Department in Tacoma, Wash. “They often tell stories of traumatized childhoods.”

Increasing Visibility

Besides demonstrating to the women through her portraiture skills they are valued, Hanna-Truscott’s documentary photography project has been in shows in Oregon and featured in various media. She also developed her own website, which is linked to the Washington Department of Corrections informational site.

“I want increased awareness by healthcare and other professionals about the issues of incarcerated women,” Hanna-Truscott said. “These women often want to turn their lives around.”

Hanna-Truscott relishes the success stories that demonstrate how having a child often motivates a woman to change direction. One young mom she photographed and befriended was concerned about her release back into her old neighborhood. Hanna-Truscott said she realized the woman would be reconnecting with the same people who brought her down [through drugs]. She worked with a prison volunteer who got the mother into a halfway house and helped her find work. Her child began attending Head Start while the young woman attended community college.

“We need more therapeutic programs for incarcerated women,” Hanna-Truscott said. “More attention should be given to the opportunity that pregnancy presents to help people rethink their lives.” She said women in residential parenting programs have a decreased recidivism rate. “Women who qualify for RPP realize what a gift they’ve been given, a place where they can rebuild and redirect their lives.”

By | 2020-04-15T13:30:29-04:00 April 4th, 2011|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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