I have been teaching nutrition classes to pregnant inmates for about four years. I felt a bit anxious during the first series of lessons. I had never been inside a prison and was unsure of what to expect. However, the prison educator in charge of the group helped me through the entry/exit process and stayed by my side to ensure I felt comfortable and safe. It also helped to know that there were security guards everywhere. Soon, I felt very comfortable coming to teach and able to build trust with my participants.
I began offering nutrition education at the Medical Center on Harmon Avenue educating pregnant and new moms participating in the GRADS (Graduation, Reality, and Dual-Role Skills) Program about the importance of making healthy food and physical activity choices. It has been a positive experience for me and the inmates. They appreciate and look forward to me coming each week to learn healthy tips and to participate in the hands-on cooking demonstrations. Sampling of the recipes was a favorite part of each session.
In December of 2019, the pregnant inmates from the Harmon Avenue location moved to the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) located in Marysville to participate in the GRADS Program. After getting approval to cross county lines, I started planning with the prison educator to make the transition to the new location. This required a trip to the ORW campus and a tour of the facilities. Which included the new nursey building called Hope House that opened in September of 2019.
The Hope House has a full kitchen, laundry room, private living space, a program and meeting room, and a medical office for pediatricians to meet regularly with mom and baby. To be eligible to live in this facility, moms-to-be must be approved for the Achieving Baby Care Success (ABC’s) Program. To qualify, they must be nonviolent offenders whose crimes do not involve children, sentenced no longer than three years, follow prison rules, and should be expecting no earlier than 30 days of incarceration. The ABC’s Program allows incarcerated pregnant inmates to maintain custody of their infants after they are born.
Covid-19 put a hold on my plan to start in-person programming in April of 2020. After several meetings and compromises, I was able to start a Live Zoom virtual class in January 2021 for three groups. In the beginning, we had to deal with minor computer and internet issues and eliminate the cooking demonstrations and hands-on activities. Overall, the pregnant and new mothers looked forward to each week. They enjoyed the physical activity part of the lessons and continued using the walking video in-between lessons. Included on the exit survey were comments about continuing physical activity goals and trying to drink more water every day.
I look forward to teaching another Live Zoom virtual group soon. I like that I do not need to travel to Marysville and to deal with the security process at the facility, but I do miss the in-person participation. I am looking forward to the day that I can use the kitchen in the Hope House for cooking demonstrations. By having them be an active participant and learn by doing, can have a positive impact on these pregnant and new mom inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. I am happy to be a part of their journey to change and make positive choices for themselves and their children once they are released.