Local program gives pregnant woman in prison new hope

Local program gives pregnant woman in prison new hope

There is a pervasive problem that is growing throughout the prison system.

According to Johns Hopkins University, about 58,000 pregnant people are incarcerated or imprisoned each year.

Florida lawmakers have fought to reform the way the prison system treats incarcerated mothers. In 2019, lawmakers tried to pass a bill to allow incarcerated mothers to visit their newborn children; Failed.

This year, lawmakers tried to pass two bills giving pregnant women the chance to defer sentencing until after delivery, but they also failed.

“I was going through a divorce, I was addicted to drugs, I was homeless and I needed help,” said Cody Garcia of Cape Coral. “Life was pretty hard back then, I was in jail a couple of times.”

While Garcia was in jail, he heard some news. She was pregnant.

“Honestly, I thought when they told me I was positive, I thought they were telling me I was positive for marijuana,” she said. “It was very hard being pregnant and in jail because you know you are hungry and you have a belly. It was in the town and then it was also in the shu”. Garcia gave birth while she was locked up and when she returned to her cell, her baby left with a local organization.

On a national scale, when it comes to organizations that help these women and provide resources, you won’t find many.

Amy Ard, executive director of Motherhood Beyond Bars, is an Atlanta-based organization that works with women like Garcia.

“Until we started this program in 2020, there was no organization or agency that could tell you where these babies lived or who they were with,” Ard said. “There is a child in every classroom statistically in the United States who has a parent in prison.”

The problem? It’s not specific enough. At this time there is no database that tells us how many women are pregnant in prison and jail across the country. Ard says that understanding how big the impact is is the first step in solving the problem.

Garcia found her way to Better Together, a local nonprofit organization in Southwest Florida. It is an organization laser-focused on keeping children out of foster care and keeping families together, which is why they were able to house Garcia’s daughter until she was released.

“They don’t have a support system and we connect them with vetted volunteers who will accompany and support them,” said Megan Rose, executive director of Better Together.

Garcia said: “They did everything for me like I can’t begin to tell them everything they’ve done for me.”

Better Together would collect Garcia’s breast milk and deliver it to her daughter every week.

But separation is extremely difficult for both mother and baby, especially as the mother goes through the postpartum period. “It’s really really bad, it’s like a sick feeling in my stomach, I had to go through psychological evaluations and a lot of things to get to where I am today.” Where he is today is thanks to resources like Better Together that help parents like Garcia become more confident and successful.

Better Together’s success rate speaks for itself. Says Rose, “We’ve been able to keep over 3,000 children out of the foster care system and 98% of those families are still together and thriving.”

As soon as Garcia was released, she went straight to treatment. Now, she is the mother that she wants and needs to be.

“Once you do good for yourself, good things will come, like, I’m living proof of that,” Garcia said.

To learn more about Better Together, click here. Or if you want to learn more about Motherhood Beyond Bars, click here.