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The Birth of her Baby in Bexar County Jail

Jun 13th, 2012 | Category: Bexar County, Stories, Women and Jails
Melinda spent 17 months in the Bexar County Jail, while suffering from severe mental illness resulting in delusions. Melinda is not her real name; we are protecting her and her family’s privacy.

I panicked one day when the police came knocking on my door.  I pretended not to be home, but they knew that I was.  I decided that this was it; my life was a mess and I couldn’t trust anyone.  So, hoping to die, I turned on my stove, placed an unused aerosol can into the flames and waited for it to explode, thinking that I would explode along with it.  It did explode, but instead of killing me, it ignited my cabinets.  I ran out of the apartment unharmed, but the entire apartment burned down.  I told God that I was sorry and that I would never try anything like that again.  Soon the police carried me away by my arms and pushed me into an EMS vehicle.  They asked me if I needed medical attention to which I shook my head, “no.”  I did not trust these people and I did not want them to touch me in any way.

After trying to get some response out of me, they forced me onto my stomach and handcuffed my wrists together.  I had remembered that any response from me could be used against me in court, which is why I refused to answer any questions that they had for me.  The officer in the vehicle asked me, “So, how does it feel to have made all of these families homeless?”

An officer put me in a cell all by myself.  I was barefoot and pregnant and the cell was filthy.  There were brown stains all along the walls and floors and a stench came from the toilet, which was also filthy and looked as if it had been used for a wastebasket.  The officers kept coming in, flashing a light in my eyes, and telling me to open my mouth.  I kept trying to shrug them away from me, afraid that they were going to harm me in some way.  Then, finally, one of the officers commanded me to come out of the cell, then the officer crumpled several areas of my left hand, manipulating it somehow, and left it temporarily crippled and in agonizing pain.

He then led me to an area where he commanded me to stay still while he took a picture of my tear-stained face. There, I waited another two to three hours before they led me to another cell where I was fully processed.  After trading my personal clothing for some scrubs, I was given a bedroll and taken once again in handcuffs, as well as ankle chains, to a waiting area with other newly imprisoned inmates.  It was about three in the afternoon, and I had yet to be given anything to eat.  We waited there for about another hour before anything was brought over from the kitchen.  We were then offered a sack lunch, which consisted of one roll, a thin slice of bologna, and two vanilla-filled cream cookies.  To drink, we each had a small 4 oz. container of an orange-flavored beverage. We waited in a row of wooden benches, shackled and cuffed.

Three hours later each of us was assigned a card with a pod number.  I was placed in a medical/mental pod, which is a pod consisting only of inmates with medical or mental problems.  The mental patients were the ones doing trustee work, because the medical patients were unable to do the work.  Of the inmates who were able to do trustee work, only a few of us were willing.  Against my wishes, I was told to do the dirty work for an extra tray of food.  I had problems with other inmates due to my mental illness, making me think bizarre thoughts.  Because of this, I was made to go into the infirmary.

Once in the infirmary, I was put on a “special” diet, as all of the pregnant women in Bexar County are forced to do.  To say the diet was inadequate is an understatement! Usually it consisted only of an apple, some plain white rice, and a small portion of meat.  No salt was used or spice of any kind.  We usually had a small carton of milk or an orange-flavored beverage, and for snacks we received a half sandwich with peanut butter, and another apple before bedtime.  You can imagine how much I weighed when I gave birth on this diet: a total of 115 pounds! You are always hungry there. I wrote several grievances and I think one was about the food. Several pregnant women wrote grievances about the lack of food. I didn’t think they took grievances very seriously.

The showers in our pods did not have curtains at all.  Anybody passing by to use the toilets or sinks could see us fully naked. The entire jail was intolerably cold** and we were not given anything other than a woolen blanket infested with biting insects.  Many of us would wake up with bumps or rashes on our bodies.  There were no thermals to be purchased, even for those who did have money.

The way I was treated during labor was horrific.  After about fifteen agonizing minutes of screaming at the top of my lungs, I was asked, by way of the speaker in the wall, “What’s wrong?”  I replied, “I don’t know!” because in my enormously stressed and bizarre thinking, I had thought that my baby had died within my womb, and I didn’t know what labor was. About another ten to fifteen minutes later, a team of paramedics and nurses came into my cell and checked me.  I had leaked water all over the floor. They had me climb onto the stretcher and wheeled me outside.

Yelling “I can’t; I can’t!” I gave birth to a baby girl in the moving vehicle without any painkillers, and I suffered an excruciating third degree tear.  After holding my newborn baby for a few seconds, she was taken from me and I was sewn up, injected with morphine and shackled once again.  They asked me if I wanted to go to see her in ICU; she was underweight at four pounds.

I was pushed in a wheelchair to a very small room and was not even allowed to have my shackles removed to change my disposable underwear.  I had to literally tear the mesh material off of my body and request disposable “diapers” to wear.  Even my request to take a shower was denied because this would require the removal of my shackles.  The day that I came back to Bexar County jail, I was given more food than I had previously been given.  I was allowed to take a shower, though the curtains were see-through and often times, male staff would come through the area.

The same day that I had gone to the mental/medical pod, directly following my return from the hospital, I was volunteered by the guard on duty to do trustee work, which involved sweeping and mopping, even though I had been hemorrhaging while going into labor and had just given birth two days before.

During my 17 months there, I saw physical and verbal abuse and witnessed several violent attacks by guards. On one occasion, I witnessed two guards restraining a handcuffed female inmate on the floor, while one of them kicked her repeatedly in her side.

All in all, they treat pregnant people and people with mental conditions very badly. They really didn’t seem to understand why we acted out, that we were mentally ill. They seemed to think we were being bad on purpose, being mischievous on purpose, and since they demand respect, that is unacceptable.

I haven’t told my family much of anything about my experiences; in the past, whenever I’ve complained I never got much sympathy, and so I try not to complain about stuff.

Being in Bexar County jail was horrible. There is no reason for staff to treat inmates that way.

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**TJP notes: The freezing cold cells are miserable for all, but female inmates seem to feel it more than the males. They are not allowed extra clothing and it is thought that being constantly cold with no respite contributes to the depression, which is also more common among incarcerated women, according to many recognized studies.

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1 Comment
10 years ago

that is horrifying. i am so sorry. my heart and prayers go out to you and your baby, and the inmates in bexar county. I love you all and hope that the light and love of the great spirit flow freely into your lives.