When the gender-specific jail opened in Chicopee in 2008, co-founders Lisa Andrews and Marianne Bullock understood that incarcerated women are not offered the full spectrum of reproductive options, healthcare, and support available to women on the outside given the social, economic, and political oppression that accompanies the carceral system. Thus, they co-founded the Prison Birth Project (PBP) to go beyond support. In particular, PBP works within a reproductive justice framework to provide support, education, advocacy, and leadership training with people at the intersection of the criminal justice system and motherhood.
Since 2008, organizational meetings have evolved from front-yard get-togethers to strategic planning meetings with fellow reproductive justice organizers. Nearly all PBP staff have experience with incarceration or feeder systems including DCF, court stipulated programs, juvenile programs, personally and/or through loved ones. Women in our programs can receive services such as doula support, personal advocacy, education in childbirth, and breastfeeding support. We also offer curriculum that begins to undo oppression and teaches organizing methods. Members attend conferences and organize for legislative change on policies directly affecting incarcerated women and families.
In 2011, we transitioned from co-directors to a collective model as our decision-making body. The Leadership Circle (LC) was formalized as the center of visioning, logistics, and management of all organizational spheres. Each sphere manages an aspect of the organization (i.e., Operations, Programs, Fundraising). Sphere members make decisions by consensus and at least one is a voting member of the LC. To plan our future, we conduct the same visioning process on the outside and inside to ensure we incorporate ideas from all members into our strategic plan. Our next steps will be to create a committee of currently incarcerated leaders, and to mentor released Mothers Among Us and The Doula Project participants to take LC positions.