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The Mastermind Behind First Step Act HB345: The Prisoner Who Became Voice of Incarcerated Pregnant Women in the U.S

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Incarcerated pregnant ladies are especially defenseless against pregnancy complications identified with substance use disorders, poor nourishment, and sexually transmitted infection since they frequently reside in tricky social and financial conditions that worsen these risk factors. Their pregnancies are regularly assigned as “high risk,” requiring managed care treatment to guarantee their infants are conceived healthy. What adds fuel to the fire is that federal BOP and 22 states previously had no legislative framework to manage ‘high risk’ pregnancies.

Notwithstanding, these concerns were never brought in to the spotlight until a brave soul came at the front to create awareness about the brutality that befalls behind bars. Pamela Winn reveals the story of her life that led to bringing forth the Dignity Bill in Georgia and ‘The First Step Act.’ She is the founder of RestoreHER, the policy advocacy organization which spearheaded the Dignity campaign in Georgia.

RestoreHER, under Winn’s leadership, is working on bolstering the Dignity bill. However, the inspiration behind her organization was not struck in sympathy for women but is based on her extreme life happening that left a deep scar on her heart. Yet, she kept that scar as an indication of her breakdown that made her bounce back stronger, changing the world for the better.

Pamela Winn suffered through the greatest grief of losing her baby to miscarriage at the hands of inadequate medical care and inhumane behavior of authorities in jails. When imprisoned for 78-months in federal prison for a ‘white-collar’ crime, the surgical nurse by profession, Pamela Winn, was pregnant. Something that was bound to be bliss for any mother soon ended up being a trauma, when Winn tumbled and fell, being unable to manage her balance, for her hands and legs were shackled. “The agony of losing an unborn child is above all pain and it is something that no one can comprehend if they haven’t experienced it. I still tremble to sweat reminiscing those moments, the worst time of my life,” says Pamela Winn.

The night Winn had her miscarriage, she woke up to extreme pain and felt a ‘gush’; however, due to dark, she was uncertain what the fluid was, and become instantly terrified with fear of her unborn baby’s life. Her fear and pain caused her to yell out for help from her cellmate who screamed out for help from the other women to get the attention of the officers. Yet the pitiless authorities paid no heed to the women’s yell. “My prison mate could see my pain and scream at the top of lungs, banged door to grab the attention of the guard, but nobody cared,” she says.

It was after 2.A.M. the next morning, and the authorities found Winn collapsed in the pool of blood around her. The unfortunate night had passed, yet the impact was to last life-long.

“What disgusted me as a nurse was that even though I was hemorrhaging and I was in pain, the jail staff were arguing whether they could call 911 for help or call marshals for permission. I literally begged them to save my baby as well as my own life, take me to hospital, but all my pleas were in vain,” says Pamela Winn.

However, the worst was yet to come for Winn; throughout the medical procedure for miscarriage, she was shackled to the hospital bed and remained under the surveillance of two men, depriving her of her privacy. “The doctors told me that I had passed my baby, they requested the linen I bled on, for my baby would have been on it, and we wanted to make sure the baby had completely passed to prevent further complications as well as I wanted to see my baby,” says Pamela Winn. Unfortunately to Winn’s dismay, she was told that ‘they threw it in the trash.’ “These words just pierced through my heart, making me incapable of breathing, and in a split second, I was all numb, lifeless and empty inside. Yet, they had the audacity to say it so casually. They threw my baby in the trash. How cruel and heartless one had to be to do such torture to a mother,” she adds.

Pamela Winn elucidated that it is vague what number of pregnant ladies are at present detained; however, it’s assessed that around 2,000 ladies conceive an offspring in imprisonment every year. “The quantity of ladies in jail has taken off as of late, because of an expansion in drug sentences and—sometimes—a failure to make bail,” she says.

Bureau of Justice Statistics highlighted that between 1980 and 2016, the quantity of imprisoned ladies expanded by more than 700 percent, and so would have been the rate of births happening in jail. This had concerned Winn to make a change; as being a nurse, she wished no mother to be ever deprived of her fundamental right: access to healthcare.

Pamela Winn was determined not to let another mother suffer through this, and thus, consulted on the federal legislation (First Step Act) and Georgia House bill (HB345), to improve conditions of confinement, bring dignity, ban shackling and solitary confinement, protect women’s reproductive health, and restore directly impacted women of color in the south to become leaders in their communities.

“I am glad that the issue is getting public consideration,” says Pamela Winn. She further underscored the significance of data collection on pregnant detainees, which is right now patchy and hard to access. The greatest danger to pregnant detainees, she stated, is that they are basically ignored.

“Who realizes what number of ladies are in there, and might be experiencing something more lamentable than what I experienced, and no one even knows they’re there,” she said. “But, I wish and desire that I was the last individual to who had to endure a horrific event like that, and I will keep on working to make it happen until my last breath,” she says.

Nonetheless, where Pamela Winn has been victorious in making a change in her home-state Georgia, there is a lot to be done across the nation. The 22 states must be held accountable for proper healthcare facilities for incarcerated pregnant women. Yet, people like Winn serve to be the beacon of hope, that change is possible. May no mother ever go through the endless ache that Winn was made to suffer. Today, Pamela Winn has become the voice of the screams gone unheard behind bars, that ill-fated night of her miscarriage.



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