West Virginia Uncovered Home

A house with 20 sisters

A look inside a facility where federal inmates learn to become mothers

Video Multimedia. Click here for an inside look at the Greenbrier Birthing Center.
An inside look at the Greenbrier Birthing Center.

Click to hear an inmate’s story.
Hear an inmate’s story.

Click to meet the director.
Meet the director.

Click here to meet the newborn.
The previously pregnant inmate introduces us to her week-old baby.

Photo Gallery Multimedia. Click for a photo gallery of the birthing center.
Photo gallery of the birthing center.




Offenses of Inmates Interviewed:

-Possession with Intent to Distribute 168 grams of crack cocaine -Conspiracy with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamines -Conspiracy with Intent to Distribute Cocaine

05/07/2009

By Erin Wooddell and Megan Bowers

Hillsboro, W.Va.—Wednesday is class day. Everyone is awake and gathered in the lobby of the Greenbrier Birthing Center, where two toddler boys are squealing and playing on a pile of boxes. Their mothers, dressed in sweats, watch with smiles while three little girls dressed in pink sit in their high chairs looking annoyed.

One inmate starts to fix a girl’s hair.

“Why don’t you do this with it?” she asks, as she scoops the toddler’s hair up and tries to fasten it with a pink bow.

The mother groans, “She’s having an awful hair day.”

These women are federal inmates, incarcerated at a Federal Bureau of Prison’s birthing center. The center gives them time to nurture their children and learn to be mothers.

The Greenbrier Birthing Center was founded by James Clowser in 1994 as a part of the Federal Bureau of Prison’s national MINT program. MINT, which stands for Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together, was created to provide community settings for pregnant federal inmates who wish to keep their babies.

The center provides the opportunity to give birth outside of prison with the option of staying to bond with the child. Most MINT programs allow the inmates to stay anywhere from three to six months, but the Greenbrier Birthing Center lets the girls stay up to 18 months.

“We can’t give them what they need in three months to be successful,” said Martha Barnett, director of the Greenbrier Birthing Center.

The center houses 20 girls and 20 babies and is meant for inmates that present a low-risk of escape.

The chosen inmates tend to come from regional jails with a federal charge and the charges range in offense and time, Barnett said. Common sentences include conspiracy to distribute drugs, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud.

Pregnant federal inmates can join the MINT program by being sentenced to the birthing center instead of prison, making their attendance mandatory.

“I didn’t want to come here,” said one inmate, who was sentenced to the center after being charged with possession and intent to distribute cocaine. (For security reasons, the birthing center asked that no inmates’ names be used.) “But it gives [us] a second chance and it’s not a long program.”

Women can also be evaluated for the program if they want to keep their child and present a low risk for violence or escape. These women are institutional transfers from regional federal prisons.

Two pregnant inmates served time for separate conspiracy charges at Alderson in West Virginia before transferring to the Greenbrier Birthing Center together. The other inmates’ hospitality surprised them.

“The girls, they took us in… We got settled in pretty quickly and we’re all pretty close,” the 20-year-old said.

Although the Greenbrier Birthing Center is in West Virginia, most participants come from all over the United States and occasionally from overseas, including Cuba, Canada, England and Mexico, Barnett said.

“I’ve met a lot of women I never thought would be in prison,” said one West Virginia inmate who was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines. “But I never in a million years thought I’d be here either.”

Barnett prefers to get new inmates two weeks before they give birth. This enables them to acclimate to the staff and center before the baby arrives.

At the time of a recent interview, one inmate still had a month before her baby was due.

“It’s going to be a boy,” she said. “I’m really excited. Kind of nervous. I’m ready though.“

When the inmates are finished with their 18 months at the center, they can return home on a full-term release, move to a halfway house, or go back to prison if they have a remaining sentence to serve.

If the inmate isn’t going to be released after leaving the birthing center, the child goes home with a family member, friend or to a state service.

It is important that families are supportive and involved with the inmates, Barnett said.

After being incarcerated, one inmate realized that she could count only on her family.

“My mom is trying to help me get my life together,” she said. “She told me that the first time she starts seeing signs of me partying, she is going for custody. And I have that hanging over my head… It’s going to be a big change, but a change for good.”

Barnett encourages family visits, and many families are able to visit regularly. But for girls who aren’t from the area, family visits may be more difficult and less frequent.

“A lot of the girls get scared,” said Jamie Vaughn, the counselor Aid and fitness instructor at the center. “Mostly because it’s their first baby and they’re alone, without their family.”

When families can’t come to visit, the community steps in.

“We have overwhelming community support, not only locally but nationwide” Barnett said.

The Greenbrier Birthing Center is the mission project for the local Huntersville First Baptist Church, led by Pastor Jerry Moore. The church members call to check on the inmates, hold fellowships and make donations to the center.




 





















“They are responsible for the luxuries,” Barnett said of the community’s donations of products like diapers, toys, bedding, formula and clothing.

Inmates use food stamps once their baby is born to pay for food and everyday items and the donations give the inmates more money to spend on the baby, Barnett said.

Many other church and youth groups around the nation come to visit the center, equaling over 1,000 visitors a year, Barnett said. They often help with projects. The center’s deck, porch and sidewalk are all products of these visits.

When there aren’t visitors, the inmates keep busy through the center’s many programs. Education courses, counseling sessions and fitness classes all take place within the walls of the birthing center.

These programs, along with TV nights and an occasional Karaoke session, are the center’s way of making the days less monotonous, Barnett said.

“Imagine living in a house with 20 sisters, each with a different personality,” Barnett said. “It’s really interesting.”

In the future, Barnett hopes to get the girls access to more college classes or educational programs.

A major part of the program at the Greenbrier Birthing Center is being a mother all day, every day. Wherever an inmate goes while at the center—to the store, the doctors or to class—and whatever they do, they do with their babies.

The staff does not babysit, Barnett said, and as classes progress on Wednesday, the babies tend to grow restless.

The toddler boys continue to run around, knocking occasionally on the door where the Drug and Alcohol class is meeting.

When class ends, an inmate comes into the lobby and asks teasingly, “Who was that knocking on the door?”

Everyone answers in unison, naming one of the toddlers.

The inmate smiles, “I knew it!”




Programming:

College Prep: 99 Days and a Get Up
-Life Skills Program: reentry into society, job-seeking information, resume, college prep
-Mandatory for inmates who will be released into the community

Adult Basic Education Classes
-In-house instruction for Adult Basic Education, GED preparation pre-testing, GED testing

Anger Management: Cage Your Rage for Women
-7-week program
-In-depth study into one’s past, present and future, designed to identify anger triggers, one-on-one meetings for each chapter

Bi-Monthly Program Plans
-Meet with inmate bi-monthly to assess needs and identify problems

Drug and Alcohol Classes
-Identification of users based on PSI or court order
-Addiction prevention—celebrate recovery
-12 step programs. NA. AA. GA.
-Women empowerment, deals with past sexual, physical and emotional abuse

Drug and Alcohol Prevention
-GBC has zero tolerance for drug/alcohol use in facility
-Weekly testing—mandatory for inmates with drug/alcohol history—urine screening, Breathalyzer
-Inspection of items brought into facility—items from family.
-Monitor medications prescribed by doctors, non-narcotics IBU or Tylenol only—monitored through FBOP formulary and Regional Medical Director

Lamaze, Mental Health, Mother Infant Bonding classes

Physical Training:

-Baby reps—exercise with infant in arms

-Dance Baby Dance—exercise with baby once able to sit up

-Fit kids—for the kids, when able to walk.

-Inmate required to complete 60 minutes of time with staff participation and 120 minutes doing videos, dance, extra outside walking, stretching

Life Skills:
Single Parenting (Christian based), Volunteer Program, Super Moms-Any subject that can be found or any subject that is identified as a need i.e. Stranger Safety, Tammy the Tool Girl and Snakes in the Environment – poisonous vs. non-poisonous snakes

The Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism
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Phone: 304-293-3505 | Fax: 304-293-3072 | Contact Us

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