Shackling and Separation- Motherhood in Prison

Impact of mental health of an incarcerated mother and her children well-being

By Costance Ndeleko

The mental stability of a mother is momentously important to a child’s development most especially in their early years. When a mother is mentally disturbed it changes the stability of their child’s lives and changes the balance of their relationship with their child.

This month as we raise awareness on mental health issues in Africa, we conducted an up-close and personal feature story on the mental state of incarcerated mother and their children.

Unfortunately, children are at a greater risk of developing mental illnesses over the course of their lives if they are not provided with the right health care mechanism. Imprisonment itself is already a brain drain and for a mother it has a double impact on their wellbeing and that of their children.

We gathered rich insights from “Pamela” a mother of two in her homestead in Kajiado County who was imprisoned at Lang’ata Women Prison in Nairobi Kenya. “Pamela” who deeply regrets her acts that led to her imprisonment states the mental torment that she went through was not a walk in the park. She still struggles with coming to term on having to raise a child while serving her term in prison and the other one she left behind at home under the care of her mother.

‘I cannot over emphasize how tired and drained I felt when I found out that I was pregnant a few weeks after I was socially restricted. I was worried sick and shocked in disbelief that I will be carrying my pregnancy in here and I have to raise my child in prison as well, says “Pamela.

‘I had mixed emotions of whether to be happy about my next baby or beat myself up for having to bring her into this world under these circumstances. I couldn’t turn things around but accept my situation. I felt defeated and my world was tumbling down. I was distressed and anxious throughout my pregnancy and sometimes I couldn’t eat. The survival niches in prison was not easy.’

The mother of two further elaborated that being pregnant in prison cannot be compared with being at home. Sometimes you crave things that are impossible to get in there. She remembers that when her court hearing dates were approaching she was nauseous with fear of each verdict. She recalls the sleepless nights and having to make a sober decision if she wanted to save the life of her unborn baby. This dawned to her during her sentencing.

“Pamela” narrates that, after talking to someone,’ I realized that I was not doing any good to my unborn baby when I was stressing and not eating. I was just harming my child and putting her through a difficult time and that she could develop some short comings if I was not cautious.’

In retrospect, “Pamela” says with a smile on her face that she is happy that even amidst all the commotion and confusion in her head the baby turned out ok and healthy. As much as she wanted to give her child the best of what she had it was only limited to the perimeter walls of the prison.

Luckily, at Lang’ata women prisons children had day cares and they were given enough food to survive and thrive however it was only challenging that as mother she couldn’t give her the world which was terribly emotionally consuming.

According to resent statement from our local dailies, Interior Chief Administrative secretary Winnie Guchu mentioned that there’s a move that aims to develop children born in correctional institutions day cares to improve living standards in prison.

“Pamela’s” mental state was wanting even when she strived to raise her daughter in prison. She mentioned having some tough emotional torment when she remembered the situation back at home where her older son was and it was wreaking havoc in her mind. She couldn’t help the situation regardless of them being given some visiting hours. It was not enough to warm up her son who kept asking when she will go home.

The controlling situation made her mind wonder into the dark corners, to such endeavors she was forbidding herself. ‘I wanted to be there for my son but how could I. I had to serve my jail term. I knew deep down that I had to do my best to full fill my role as their mother even when all this was over. For all the wrong reasons I thought of the worst that could happen to my child even when he was under my mother’s hands. Not that I doubted her but I couldn’t get this emotional derails out of my head.’

I was their mother and father but again I was in prison. It has been a long disturbing journey. When it comes to raising a child while serving jail term I would say it is a no gone zone. I watched my child sit, crawl and walk but it always scared me; what if she picks out some the things that were happening there? What if she was traumatized by some of the circumstances? It was a devastating moment for me but I am glad that I served my time and I have a different focus.

‘Unfortunately, when I was released from prison I found out my mother had passed on. It was again a roller-coaster of emotion, I was in denial for a while as no one had informed me. My children were just there with a mother physically there but who couldn’t warm up to them. I was in deep grief. My son was now living with my sister who also had her own fair share of struggles.’

It has taken me some time to accept my situation and my unstable emotional being had a toll on my children wellbeing as well. It is a journey and a long process to know that when you’re not okay as a mother your children are also not okay.

I am grateful that Clean start enrolled me into this support system initiatives that keeps me in check and it has given me a new start. It is a gradual process but I will eventually get there so that I can be the best mother to my children. I am starting on a clean slate.

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