There are currently fifty-three children who are under the age of six that live inside this prison with their mothers. The mothers are serving sentences for crimes relating to dealing drugs, drug possession, kidnapping, to homicide. Dressed in their prison uniforms and wearing many tattoos, these mothers carry their children on their hips around the exercise yard.
Other mothers lead children by hand, play with them, or bounce them on their knees on the prison benches. One of these prison mothers is twenty-three year old Karina Rendon who is serving time for drug dealing. Karina’s daughter is only two years old.
Her daughter doesn’t know that it’s a prison. Karina states: “She thinks it’s her house.” The mother explained with a sad smile.
In most cases, a prison environment is very unhealthy for children. But Mexico City’s government felt it was better for children born in prison to stay with their mothers. This move was enacted during the 1990s. The children would stay with their mothers until the age of six before being turned over to either relatives or foster parents.
Currently, the children are allowed to leave on weekends and holidays to visit their relatives.
However, Mexico’s academia continues to debate if children that spend their early years in a jail will cause mental problems later in life. Regardless of how many or how long the debates have gone on, the law is simple: children must stay with their mothers until the age of six.
According to Margarito Malo, the warden, the children have a calming effect on the rest of the inmates. She also adds that the presence of children inspires mothers to learn skills and in many cases to kick drug habits that landed them in jail in the first place.
While the prison is full of dangerous women, the children walk safely among them like an invisible barrier. The material instinct looks to be the factor that is keeping the children safe.
Ms. Malo said: “The fact we have children here creates a mind-set of solidarity. I have never seen aggression on part of the inmates toward the children. Everyone acts as if they could be their children, and they don’t want anything to happen to them.”
But there is still one big problem according to the mothers. This one affects those who are serving long sentences. They fear the day that they have to be separated from their children upon turning six.
There are others that lack financial help from relatives. They struggle to earn money in prison to care for a child. Mothers in that case try to keep their children from getting sick in the damp and drafty cells. They too often have no money for the prescriptions the doctor gives them.
At the same time, few would want to give up their children to their relatives on the outside.
While the children give the prison population a calming effect, there are still problems that need to be addressed.
I would also like to thank David Silverberg for pointing me in the direction of this article.