Jayla Currie with her son Jayden, whose first birthday was spent in prison. Photos courtesy of Jayla Currie.
Jayla Currie never quite pictured her son Jayden’s first birthday party the way it happened on March 27: in a small guarded room at the Indiana Women’s Prison, with donated presents and a sheet cake for the guests, who were prison staffers. But she was grateful for it, too, because as an inmate of the WeeOnes Nursery Program, Currie is able to spend not only milestones with her son, but every single day.
“I spent my whole pregnancy thinking I couldn’t keep my son because of the amount of time I had to serve my sentence,” Currie, 23, tells Yahoo Parenting, who is nearly three months into serving 10 months (part of a reduced 6-year sentence) for drug charges. “To be able to have him here with me is wonderful.”
Through the unique program, created in 2008, incarcerated mothers sharetheir rooms with their babies. To qualify, moms must have no more than 30 months of a sentence remaining after their due date. “We don’t sleep on metal bunkbeds and weactually have furniture,” Currie says. “There’s a bed, crib, dresser, closet, and a chair in our room. They try to make it as homey as possible for the babies.” By living together, the inmate moms gets to bond with their children and form a connection that couldn’t be made during visitations in a cold family room.
“I’ve gotten to see Jayden reach all of his milestones,” Jayla says. “The most amazing one was watching him take his first steps. It still scares me to death.”
One in 25 women in state prisons are pregnant, and in federal prisons that number is one in 33 women, according to the Sentencing Project, a national prison-reform advocate organization. And Wee Ones, modeled after a similar program in Ohio, is paving the way by aiming to provide a better solution for pregnant inmates. Since the program began, 145 babies have come through and, at any given time, there are 10 moms and infants, all of whom receive help from “nannies” — other inmates who qualify by not having any violent offenses on their records.
Inmate moms who get to live with their babies doesn’t only have benefits during the time behind bars: According to a study from the University of Indianapolis’ Community Research Center, such moms were more likely to retain custody of their children after release, and were also less likely to be arrested again.
Currie says she never imagined she’d one day be a new mom living behind bars. “I lost my way,” she says, explaining the decisions she made when she was 19: dropping out of cosmetology school in her hometown of Berne, Ind.; abusing pharmaceutical drugs; and getting involved with a guy who manufactured meth. She joined him in manufacturing, using, and selling it. “Everything started falling apart by the time I turned 20,” Currie says. “I was using more, I quit my job, stopped paying my bills, and, when I started manufacturing meth when I was 21, I was spending every waking minute trying to get high.”
She was arrested right before she turned 22, charged with two counts of meth manufacturing and possession and sentenced to six years in prison. For 30 days, she sat in a county jail cell until her family posted bond. Then, during her 60-day release, she got pregnant. “This wasn’t something I planned,” she says. “I always wanted to be a mom, but this was very bad timing.”
At her pretrial hearing, Currie was sent back to the county jail, where she served a six-month sentence. Then, after signing a plea bargain in March 2014, she was transferred to Indiana Women’s Prison. By that point, she was seven months pregnant. When she eventually went into labor at a doctor’s appointment a few months later, the new mom found herself alone and scared.
“I never imagined I would have a baby with just a doctor and a female officer in the room with me,” she says. “I would never have seen my life ending up where it did. But I wouldn’t change it. Everything that happened and everything I did led me to Jayden.”
While she finishes out her sentence, Currie spends her days with her son, goes to substance-abuse counseling, and takes classes in business technology. And she’s as protective as any new mother. “The first time I went to school, I was very upset to leave Jayden with one of the nannies, even though I was right across the yard,” she says.
But her good grades have led to a reduced sentence, and now Currie expects to be released by October. “I’ve come a long way since I walked in a little over two years ago,” she says. “I’m stronger than I ever was before.”
Still, she’s nervous to leave, noting, “You start all over.” Her plans include moving in with her mom and working at the family business, a recycling factory that’s in Currie’s hometown. “I’ve never lived with my baby in a regular house, but I will always think of Jayden first and make sure he has whatever he wants and needs,” she says.
Currie worries that leaving jail may be hardest for Jayden, because even though he’s gotten to know his father, grandmothers, sisters, and stepdad through video chats, emails, and visits, he’s never spent extended periods of time with any of them. “He’ll get to go home with family, but he is leaving a family right here that he has known his whole life,” she says. “There are 38 women on our unit, and he has attention from them continuously.”
Someday, when Jayden is older, Currie says she’ll tell her son all about his early life spent in prison with her. “I’m sure he’ll want to know why he wasn’t born where we’re from or why I’m always wearing khaki in most of the pictures,” she says quietly. “I’ll tell him. I’m not ashamed, because I’m proud of who I’ve become.”