I’m sure you’ve heard someone say “it takes a village to raise a child.” Before Hillary Clinton used the phrase, it was a proverb present in many African cultures. I won’t debate Bob Dole on the truth of this proverb as it pertains to actual children, but I know from personal experience that it takes a village, or two, or ten, to raise a nonprofit.
When I first set out to do something for incarcerated pregnant women and new moms, I had no concept of an organization, or really any plan other than to whip up some halfway decent programs to help these women and their babies succeed against all odds. What I didn’t count on was the immediate reaction and commitment from so many diverse individuals and organizations and the incredible strength and determination of the prison administrators and chaplains who had worked for decades to better the lives of those in prison.
Motherhood Beyond Bars started with one person who believed in me and believed in the idea. This incredible woman had worked tirelessly for over thirty years, sometimes for nothing and always for very little, to help incarcerated women. She is truly a mother and a mentor, not only to Motherhood Beyond Bars, but to the thousands of women who have passed through the system over the years.
An idea is something, but how would someone even know where to start with such a complicated problem? Luckily, the universe sent me Janice Banther, a doula and childbirth educator who has been working with pregnant women in jail for almost 20 years. Her tell-it-like-it-is advice and loving support midwifed Motherhood Beyond Bars into the world.
Before I knew it Emory University graduate students were lining up to work with incarcerated women. These students wrote our curricula, taught our classes, and spearheaded our fundraising during Motherhood Beyond Bar’s first year of life. Faculty from Rollins School of Public Health, Emory School of Medicine, and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing weren’t far behind. Dr. Carol Hogue, Dr. Amy Girard, Dr. Silke von Esenwein, Dr. Anne Dunlop, and Dr. Joyce King are just some of many faculty members who have coached me and our volunteers through academic conferences, papers, and the wonderful world of behavioral science.
Soon after its conception, Motherhood Beyond Bars burst out into the greater community. As our programs expanded we quickly formed new partnerships. The Urban Health Initiative works with us to recruit students, refer formerly incarcerated women to low-cost health services, and brainstorm through any administrative challenges. Centering Youth heads up our prenatal yoga initiative. Doulas, childbirth educators, wellness coaches, yoga teachers, and maternal mental health experts help teach both our volunteers and the women we serve to lead healthier lives.
So many people, all of them volunteers, come together to make Motherhood Beyond Bars happen. I thank each and every volunteer and donor who have made these programs possible and hope that as we continue to grow towards better supporting pregnant and postpartum incarcerated women, our village will keep expanding!