I was having a completely unrelated email conversation with author Pamela Clare this past week when I learned something rather amazing that she did, and I wanted to share this with you. Here’s another answer to anyone who says that romances are all the same, and they are all meaningless fluff.
Romance novels can and have had an impact on the real world, and Ms. Clare’s an example of that. A journalist by profession, she’s the author of the I-Team romantic suspense series. Last year, she wrote a law that passed in Colorado last year banning use of shackles on female inmates giving birth while imprisoned.
This story is amazing. Seriously, my jaw hit my desk. But please be aware, before you click for more, that there are some brutal stories in Clare’s account about women in labor in prisons in the US. Unflinchingly brutal. Be warned.
Clare: The law I wrote bans the use of shackles on inmates during labor and delivery. (Yes, women giving birth are chained to their beds WHILE being kept under guard.) I’ve covered women’s prison/jail issues extensively for more than 15 years and broke a number of sickening — truly sickening — stories regarding the abuse of inmates.
Some of the highlights were folded into UNLAWFUL CONTACT, one of my I-Team books. There are four real investigative stories folded into that plotline. One of them involved the neglect of a pregnant inmate, who went into labor a month prematurely and was ignored, made fun of, and left alone in her cell IN LABOR for about 24 hours. It wasn’t until the next day when a guard noticed that she was in distress that she was taken to the hospital, where her perfectly healthy baby girl was stillborn.
To add insult to this woman’s profound injury — she was in prison on drug charges — she was kept chained to her hospital bed during labor and delivery. So imagine giving birth to an unnecessarily dead baby while chained to the bed like an animal and getting no pain relief. She gave birth, her baby was put on a slab (where she remained for a few months as the inmate couldn’t pay for a funeral), and the inmate was taken back to prison. (I cannot fathom dealing with the scope of that loss locked in a 9×9 cell while bleeding from giving birth.)
I learned that the practice of chaining women in labor to beds is commonplace. Last year, only 8 states banned the practice. Although some states had Department of Corrections that had policies regulating the use of shackles, all jurisdictions in a state have their own policies (city police, county sheriff, etc.) UNLESS there’s a state policy governing the practice throughout the state.
I wrote UNLAWFUL CONTACT and included a fictional happy ending where the senator hero from EXTREME EXPOSURE gets a law passed banning the shackling of inmates in labor and during childbirth. I took all my research to my favorite pet lawmaker, a man, who said he didn’t see what the big deal was. He was no longer my favorite lawmaker. Ptttth.
Then I did nothing for a while.
But it ate at me so very much and that pretend catharsis from the end of UNLAWFUL CONTACT really made me want to make it happen.
So… Last year, I came up with a pretext for visiting the prison midwife and interviewed a bunch of pregnant and postpartum inmates. The story I wrote was supposed to be about their cool new prenatal program, but really I was sneaking around doing research on the shackling issue. I uncovered MORE hideous stories.
This shit haunted me at night. Truly, I had nights where I felt sick. You’re getting a vague outline; I had faces, names, whole stories.
I wrote an article about it, then took that article and all my research to the Senate President. Within 5 minutes of listening to me plead with him to do something to stop this, I had his permission to craft a bill, which he agreed to give late-bill status despite having told lawmakers that no new bills would be introduced.
I’m not a lawmaker, obviously, but once I had his guarantee of late-bill status, I found a WOMAN senator (yes, thank you) who took the bill I wrote, introduced it into the Senate, and carried it through. I wrote all her talking points. I also testified as the expert witness at all the hearings on the subject.
When the bill cleared the final hurdle in the last House committee, I was sitting next to several inmates whose stories I had covered. One of them was the woman who’d lost her baby. She reached over, took my hand, gave it a squeeze, and there were tears pouring down her face. (And now I’m getting teary-eyed remembering it.)
I cannot tell you what that meant to me.
SB 193 passed late in the session with a single NO vote from an asshat from Colorado Springs. Colorado became the 9th state to ban the shackling of pregnant inmates.
Our law contains a few unique things that I wrote in based on inmates’ experiences. It requires the prison/jail to allow a member of the medical staff to be on hand when a post-partum inmate is strip searched on her return to the facility. The horror stories of women with stitches in their vaginas being made to squat and cough while guards told them they didn’t care how much it hurt are hideous to hear.
Also, the law requires the state to make a public record of it every time they use some excuse to shackle an inmate during labor — and that provision is to allow nosy bitch journlists like me to check and see how often they’re making use of the “but she’s really dangerous” clause to ensure they don’t abuse it.
And that is the nutshell version of it. The bill passed.
I’ve been sharing what I did with women in other states in hopes of getting laws in all 50 states. We’ve jumped up to 12 now I think that ban it. Pennsylvania followed Colorado.
So it’s a case of real life going into my book, the book offering a happy ending I wanted in real life, and then I went out and (it still amazes me) made that happen. As a result, I was awarded the Society for Professional Journalists “Keeper of the Flame” Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
The complete account of the bill, and the before and after of what its passage means for women inmates in Colorado can be found at the Boulder Weekly site.
I am struck by the fact that writing a fictional happy ending wasn’t enough. Clare not only wrote a happy ending into her books, but went on to write the bill that banned ankle shackles on pregnant inmates. That is amazing. High fives to you, ma’am.