So, for those of you that don’t know, I work in a prison. I am a corrections officer in Washington State. I love my job, and I don’t mind being a woman doing it. In fact there are many benefits to being a woman in an all male facility, and we bring a lot to the table that the men don’t.
Just for the sake of examples: We don’t have to do strip searches or UA tests. <benefit for me! We bring a softer side to corrections, which is great for negotiating with an inmate that is out of control. We also tend to think before we jump in to a situation, such as a fight, which is what they struggle to teach the men to do. It’s just our instinct. <benefit for them.
So, now that you know a little bit about how I feel about my job, try to add being pregnant to that equation. It does happen, it has happened, and it’s still a fairly touchy subject for people. Some people are of the mindset that a woman in law enforcement should immediately be moved to a desk job for the duration of the pregnancy. Others are ok with it. This is not an article about that. In fact I know your opinion, and am not seeking approval from anyone. This is about my experiences throughout my pregnancy, as a woman working in prison.
To start: We were trying to get pregant, it was intentional, and planned for. Both my husband and I work in the prison, and are experiencing this together, for the first time. As soon as we knew, we wanted to tell everyone. Afterall, we’re in our 30’s and our families have been waiting!! We told our families right away and it was just as we expected. Awesome.
At around 8 weeks (yes, that early) we told some friends at work. Ever since then, I’ve been the pregnant one. For those of you who don’t know, you have to have a strange sense of humor, or at least accepting of the odd things that people will say if you work in prison. Being ‘the pregnant one’ there’s a whole world of jokes and comments that are opened up to everyone. Of course, it’s a blast, and I jump right in! If you can’t laugh in prison, you don’t belong there.
I will say, one of the biggest worries I have about waddling around the cell blocks (now called tiers) is the inmates knowing my personal information. I work very hard to keep anything about me – private. I mean, I don’t even tell them what kind of coffee I like. Seriously. I’ve had that question pop up, and all I could say was, “I bet you’d like to know.” LOL When I start showing, and I’m on the brink of it, they will know automatically. They won’t have to ask. But then, they will ask. They will want to naturally make conversation about it. They’ll have suggestions about it. They’ll want to relate to me in some way. That is what I fight every day.
Protecting myself from inmates is not just physical, it’s mental. The whole thing is a mind game. Some of the inmates in there are the greatest manipulators in the country. They will take something like the flavor of your coffee as a conversation starter later, and slowly but surely get you to let your guard down. This is how people end up compromised, as we call it. It can literally go from coffee to bringing in cell phones and weed. It happens all the time.
So that is why my biggest fear of being pregnant in prison, is the knowledge that the inmates will obtain about me. I won’t be able to deny it, and I’ve been waiting for so long that I will want to talk about it. Just not with them.
There was one coworker, who had no discretion, and was talking about my pregnancy near an inmate in the hallway. That inmate approached me, and asked about it. This inmate later came to me and told me that he would not tell anyone, because it is my own business. I told him that I appreciated it, but in the back of my mind I was saying things like, ‘yeah right!’ and ‘this guy is going to use this to try and be my friend’. I suppose I’m going to have to get used to thoughts like that accompanying what the inmates have to say about my pregnancy.
The biggest question that I’ve come across is: “When will you quit working?” I generally tell people, “When I can’t work anymore.” Isn’t that the answer for anyone? The implication is that prison is not a place for a pregnant lady. I’m not offended by the question, nor the implication. It’s something that you MUST think about to be an effective officer whose got a security mindset. The guys (officers) are protective over me, and it’s nice. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but when the guys who make jokes at my expense also want to protect me and my baby from harm, I’m completely flattered. I appreciate them. We’ve talked and formed a take-it-as-we-go plan. At some point, I’ll be in the booth, every day. That is a fully encased, protected from inmates, control center for the unit. It’s what I will be able to do to keep working and contribute safely to the function of our prison. I’m not looking forward to it, my back will hurt daily, but I will be safe. And so will the guys that I work with. We all need each other to be focused and able to respond in an incident.
To close: The best part of being pregnant in prison: My husband is right there with me. If I need him, he can be there. Keith is an amazing support to me, and is so strong. He’s protective of our baby and I, but he knows that I will be ok. Since he works there too, he understands that I am not just standing there alone and pregnant. I’ve got people. We can discuss the plan for us that’s right, and safe. I love my husband, and I love that we work together in prison.