Each woman experiences pregnancy differently. It’s a time of physiological changes and months of anticipation, planning, and preparation. However, for women who are serving time behind bars, it can be a very isolating experience. There is a stigma around women who have been convicted of crimes, and their needs are often overlooked while they are serving a sentence. Luckily, women of the Minnesota Prison Doula Project are here to advocate for and support this underserved population.
The Minnesota Prison Doula Project started in 2008 with a mission to provide pregnancy and parenting support for incarcerated women. Trained doulas provide birth support as well as group-based and individual education to pregnant women and mothers. The goal is to nurture healthy mother-child relationships and increase parenting confidence and skills. Currently the project is operating in seven facilities in Minnesota. They have been working under the University of Minnesota Foundation, but will soon be launching their own independent nonprofit organization called The Ostara Initiative.
NMF granted the Minnesota Prison Doula Project $20,000 to partner with the Beltrami County Jail and Beltrami County Health and Human Services to create pregnancy and parenting education and support for incarcerated women and girls. The program offers weekly individual and group-based learning opportunities that are evidence-informed and have been proven effective with incarcerated mothers in other regions of Minnesota.
Doula Emily Lindell partners with the Prison Doula Project in Beltrami County. She visits the Beltrami County Jail every Monday and Friday with Jenny Greenleaf, a mentor with the Prison Doula Project. On Mondays, Emily and Jenny hold one-on-one meetings with inmates, and on Fridays they lead a small group about parenting. Although they only see two to four inmates at a time, these women show up weekly and look forward to sharing their feelings and experiences with the community they are creating together. “This is a starting point to support women and break the cycle of addiction,” says Jenny. “I don’t think these women realize that we are just as grateful for them as they are for us.”
Every inmate’s experience is unique and complex. Many incarcerated women are victims of their circumstances, which may include abuse, poverty, and addiction. To uplift these women and help create a new path for themselves and their children, it’s important to meet them where they are and provide them with resources and a sense of hope. What happens in the home makes a dramatic impact on the trajectory of a child’s life, and the Minnesota Prison Doula Project believes healthy children who become responsible adults are raised by empowered mothers.
“We are so proud of the work Emily and Jenny are doing with this group at the Beltrami County Jail,” says founder of the Minnesota Prison Doula Project, Erica Gerrity. “We will be directing more resources to their program because their work in this region is so needed.”
For more information or to make a donation to the Minnesota Prison Doula project, follow this link to their website!