Pamela Clare, Romance, State Law, and Women’s Rights

Pamela Clare's Unlawful ContactI 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. 

 

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  1. 1
    Lillie says:

    High fives indeed.

    I don’t often comment, but now I just have to, though… I don’t have words. This story brought tears to my eyes. You rock, Ms. Clare.

  2. 2

    Pamela rocks!  She shared some of her “investigations” with a small group of readers during a pre-con dinner at RomCon 2010. 

    The fact that she immerses herself into life gives credit to her books, especially the Romantic Suspense!

  3. 3
    Ros says:

    I’m weeping as I read this.  I love a happy ending in a book, but in real life it’s truly extraordinary.  Well done indeed, Pamela Clare.

  4. 4
    Bronte says:

    Wow, I know I’m probably naive but it always astounds me the depths to which humanity can sink. Congrats Pamela Clare on not looking the other way and doing something positive for change. You’ve inspired me.

  5. 5
    Suze in CO says:

    Why am I not surprised that the asshat who voted “no” was from Colorado Springs?  Of course he was.  Probably one of our lovely Focus on the Family supporters. 

    Aaarrrgh!  Just…don’t get me started.

    Great post, and let’s hear it for Ms. Clare!!  We need more “nosy bitch journalists” like her!

  6. 6
    Sarah W says:

    Pamela Clare is my new hero.

  7. 7
    Karmyn M. Crabb says:

    What purpose would shackling them during childbirth serve? They’re in labor, it’s not like they can run away.
    Glad she did something about it.

    Word is still72. I hope this bill prevents more stillbirths than that.

  8. 8
    azteclady says:

    I’m in awe to the power of determination and what one person can accomplish, despite rather large obstacles—but I’m not surprised that it Ms Clare we are talking about. When reading her books, her passion for justice and her empathy for the women inmates she’s met come clearly through.

    And I’m still trying not to cry. Thank you, Ms Clare.

  9. 9

    Part of being a member of Amnesty International is writing polite letters to the governments of countries who hold prisoners of conscience. You are given a list of prisoners, their cases and why they qualify, and it’s up to you who you write to, although they always ask you to be polite. Being rude and obnoxious isn’t going to get the job done. You do not write letters on behalf of AI to your own country.
    Unfortunately, the US features frequently on that list. The issue of chaining down women in labour is one example, so is executing prisoners who are under age at the time they committed the crime. Both are against the Geneva Convention, which the USA is signatory to, and both are regularly broken.
    AI campaigns work. The letters tell the governments that people all over the world are watching, know the names of the people involved and will notice if those people are mistreated or they disappear. It is apolitical.
    These issues aren’t for people to cry over and then throw money at, they require action, such as Ms Clare took, and kudos to her for doing it.
    Sadly, sometimes my government also appears in the lists from time to time, too. Nobody is immune.

  10. 10

    What a sobering—but also inspiring—story. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  11. 11
    Melissa says:

    Thank you Pamela for having the courage and fortitude to see an injustice toward women and do everything you can to make it better! Congrats on getting the law passed and thanks for all your hard work for women who don’t usually have a voice.

  12. 12
    quichepup says:

    My jaw hit the floor, it’s horrible to imagine what these women have had to endure. I cringed as I read this and got seriously pissed off at the DOC who challenged this law and I am glad they finally backed Ms.Clare’s efforts. She is amazing and a worthy recipient of the SPJ’s award. Sens. Hudak and Levy deserve praise for helping her turn this bill into law. I am glad she named the asshat who had the gall to vote against this bill. Hurting babies and mothers? See how well that goes over with the pro-life crowd, pal.

    I have to give a recommendation to Naked Edge, another Clare book. Her Navajo characters were well rounded, real people and not the cheesy stereotypes found in most books by non-Native authors. Good story and hot sex too.

  13. 13
    Patty H. says:

    I heart you Pamela Clare.

  14. 14
    Ana says:

    That is really amazing. Just to prove that even one single person can make a lasting impression. Keep fighting the good fight!

  15. 15

    This is an excellent story that should get wider play.  Sarah, do you have any contacts at Oprah’s network after your appearance there?

    And congrats to Pamela for stepping up to the plate.  I’m a former SPJ local chapter president and I know how prestigious that award is.  Well done!

  16. 16
    Jodi says:

    Oh, goodness. I’m losing it first thing this morning. Thanks for sharing this, Sarah.

  17. 17
    JK Coi says:

    I don’t know that I’ve ever actually commented here, although I like to lurk.

    But this time I just had to. This is such a profound story, and it makes me so happy to hear about wonderful people stepping up to bring about change. Thank you so much.

  18. 18

    Kudos to Ms. Clare for taking action!

    My captcha code: bed52. Um… after reading the horrors that Ms. Clare has seen, I can’t even go there.

  19. 19

    It is waaaay too early to be crying.

    Thanks for sharing, Sarah. And bravo, Ms. Clare for seeing a problem and having both the courage and fortitude to do something about it.

  20. 20
    Lil says:

    Wow.

    Can you give the list of the states that have banned this? (It will be shorter than the list of states that haven’t.) I feel a compulsion to write letters coming on.

  21. 21
    Maili says:

    I remember reading about that at the BBC News site last year (it’s certainly not an article to forget easily) and I didn’t realise Clare was involved. How fantastic is that? Thanks, Clare, for doing what was deserved doing. 

    (The article I was referring to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8449215.stm)

  22. 22
    Pamela Clare says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind words. And thank you, SB Sarah, for taking an interest in this topic. You’d be surprised how many people say, “Well, they’re in prison. It should be miserable.”

    I’m on my way in to the paper, but really quickly…

    @Lil, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but states that have banned it include: Texas, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, New York and, I believe, D.C., though that’s not a state. Obviously, there are some I’m missing there. I’ll see if i can find my notes about it today.

    @Darlene — A former SPJ pres? Too cool! When they called to tell me I was getting the award, I said, “Isn’t that the award you give to dead people?” And they said, “Yes.” I’ve mostly just seen it handed out posthumously, so it was a real honor to get it while I’m still breathing and under the age of 80.

    Seriously, thank you all so much. And please don’t hesitate to get a group of your friends together and look into this locally. I’d be happy to help talk people through the process of rabble rousing on this issue, if they’re committed to changing the law in their own state.

  23. 23
    Lara says:

    God bless you, Ms. Clare.

  24. 24
    snarkhunter says:

    Thank you so much for your work, Ms. Clare. I don’t know your books, but I’m definitely going to check them out.

    I knew about this practice, but it’s another thing entirely to hear the real stories.

  25. 25
    Terrie says:

    I live in Colorado and had no idea this was happening.  I am so impressed by your tackling this issue.  Like so many of the other commentators here have note, I was moved to tears reading this.

  26. 26
    Diane Dooley says:

    Well done, Ms. Clare. Well done!

  27. 27

    WOW. Ms. Clare, I am buying your novel. Because I must subsidize your clear and present awesome.

    Also, I just linked the hell out of this post.

  28. 28
    Mayweed says:

    Thanks for this fantastic post!  Ms. Clare you rock.  I don’t know what the regulations are in Canada, but I will now be looking into it.

  29. 29
    Lori says:

    Kudos to Ms Clare for all her hard work and determination to make a positive difference.

  30. 30
    Karmyn says:

    @Pamela I live in Texas. In fact, I live in Huntsville where the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is located. I literally grew up next to death row. I am glad my home state has banned this practice.
    Yes, these women have made mistakes, which is why they’re in prison. But their children are innocent and deserve a chance to break that cycle. They deserve a chance to not suffer coming into this world. Some of these women, all they have to live for is that new life.

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