[Pnews] Voices from Solitary: Pregnant in Prison, Birth in Shackles

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 30 12:19:52 EDT 2015

October 30, 2015

  Voices from Solitary: Pregnant in Prison, Birth in Shackles

by Shannon Richardson with Victoria Law 

/In 2008, the federal Bureau of Prisons passed a //policy prohibiting 
the use of restraints/ 
women in custody who are in labor, delivery or postpartum recovery. In 
2009, Texas passed a law banning the use of shackles on incarcerated 
pregnant women during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. But, as 
both the //ACLU of Texas <http://www.aclutx.org/blog/?p=822> //and the 
//Texas Jail Project/ 
found, for women in the state’s jails, the law has not always been put 
into practice./

/Shannon Richardson was 22 weeks pregnant when she entered the Texas 
jail system. Richardson had been arrested on federal charges, but was 
held at the county jail while awaiting trial. Under the agreement 
between the U.S. Marshal Services (USMS) and the Gregg County Sheriff’s 
Office, the USMS pays the jail a fixed per diem rate of $43 for the 
“housing, safekeeping, and subsistence of federal prisoners, including 
guard/transportation services to medical facility.” Under the agreement, 
the county agrees to “provide for the secure custody, care and 
safekeeping of federal prisoners in accordance with federal, state, and 
local law.” The county also agrees to provide the federal prisoners 
“with the same level of health care and services inside the facility 
that are provided to local prisoners.”/

/But the level of health care provided to local prisoners leaves much to 
be desired. In 2012, Nicole Guerrero’s //complaints of pain and bleeding 
were ignored/ 
a jail nurse; her baby died shortly after being born in a holding cell. 
In 2014, //Shela Willliams/ 
two weeks for prenatal care despite telling jail staff that hers was a 
high-risk pregnancy. Weeks later, her fetus died in utero. Her labor was 
induced; despite the law, she was restrained. She requested a furlough 
to attend her baby’s funeral; instead, she was placed in lockdown./

/Starting September 1, 2015, a new law now requires Texas’s 247 jails to 
//record and report detailed information about its policies and 
Each jail will be required to report how it treats pregnant women in 
custody, including health care, mental health care, drug treatment, 
nutritional standards, housing and the use of solitary confinement. 
While the 2009 law required jails to report the number of pregnancies 
each month, the new one also requires each jail to report the number of 
miscarriages.  — Victoria Law/

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

What is solitary confinement? In a word, it is /hell/. It is a place 
overly used by jail and prison officials when they don’t know what to do 
with someone. You want to kill yourself? You’re going to seg. You even 
get your own “turtle suit.” If you weren’t serious about killing 
yourself before, after some time in seg, you will be coming up with ways 
to do it. Have a medical emergency? You’re going to seg for 
“observation.” Have a mental problem? Forget getting the help you 
need—you’re going to seg. Can’t “behave” or get along with others? 
You’re going to seg. That’ll teach you…

I was arrested on June 7, 2013. I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was placed in 
general population in Titus County (Texas) where I never had a strike 
against me. On June 12, 2013, I was taken to the hospital for 
contractions. I have a history of premature deliveries, but thankfully I 
received medical attention in time and this was avoided.

On June 21, 2013, I was transferred to Gregg County (Texas). By the time 
I got there, I was in pain and spotting. I informed the person at intake 
that I was a high-risk pregnancy, had just been in the hospital and was 
now bleeding and in pain. I was placed in a holding cell with “detox” on 
the door. The cell had vomit on the toilet, sink, floor and wall. There 
was also feces and urine surrounding the toilet, sink and wall. I was 
instructed to sit on the floor. When I asked the guard for water, I was 
told there was a sink in the cell. With tears in my eyes and my stomach 
churning from the sight of human waste surrounding me, I told the guard 
it wasn’t sanitary. The guard simply shrugged and walked away.

A few hours later, a guard forced me to carry my mat and all issued 
property on my own, despite my complaint of bleeding and pain. She said 
I should drag it because she wasn’t carrying my “shit” for me.

I was then placed in a segregation cell. The cell was contaminated with 
blood, urine and feces. Open piles of trash surrounded me. When I again 
asked for water, I was once again told I had a sink in my cell. The 
guard instructed me to use the sink and toilet combo—the one that was 
covered in human waste. Anyone in their right mind would understand this 
was a hazard to my baby and me.

Once I was in my cell, I was given pads for my bleeding while the guards 
spoke publicly about my case and laughed at me. They taunted my crying 
and nicknamed me “Star Diva.”

The next day, I was given a TB test. A nurse instructed me to place my 
arm through the food hole in the door—not the most sanitary way of doing 
things, but considering the fact that I was surrounded by human waste 
and trash, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I knelt down to 
the hole in the door, pouring my heart out and begging the nurse for 
help. The nurse told me to “fill out a form,” and closed the slot in my 

I filled out forms requesting medical care and attention, still 
complaining to each and every guard about my increasing bleeding and 
pain. I even showed them my bloody pads for proof of my bleeding. I 
continued to be laughed at and more pads were literally thrown through 
the slot in the door.

My time in segregation was extremely stressful and unnecessary. To the 
left of me was a woman coming off of drugs. I know this because the 
guards were also laughing at and making fun of her. She was delusional 
and would scream and bang on walls and the door literally all day and 
night. To the right of me was a woman who was labeled suicidal. She 
screamed and cried all day and night as well. In addition to my noisy 
neighbors, there was /constant/ screaming in the vents. This is the way 
people communicate in seg.

After six days of complaining about bleeding, hurting and a fever, my 
water broke. It took several hours to be moved to the hospital. I was 
told I had an infection (not surprising considering my living 
conditions) that caused my water to break, which could have easily been 
treated had I received medical care when I first reported the bleeding 
and pain.

I lay chained and shackled to a hospital bed with two guards staring at 
me day and night for a week. My infection continued to get worse and 
they were having a hard time keeping my contractions away. At the end of 
the week, my baby’s heart rate started going down dangerously low each 
time I had a contraction. At one point, my contractions were so bad, I 
could barely breathe through the pain. Apparently, I was holding my 
breath through one (not on purpose, but anyone who has had a baby, or 
who has had a sudden burst of pain knows that it knocks the breath right 
out of you—hence the need for Lamaze classes!). I suddenly had a nurse 
and a guard in my face /screaming/ at me! They said I was pushing 
because my face was red! I tried to explain that I simply hurt and it 
was hard to breathe, but I was crying too hard at that point. I was all 
alone and feeling afraid, hopeless, and I was terrified my baby was 
going to die. Not to mention the fact that I was handcuffed and shackled 
to a bed , and now I had people in my face screaming at me. I wouldn’t 
wish all of that on Satan himself. Words could not possibly do justice 
to the way I was feeling then.

My son was born via c-section on July 4, 2013. I woke up chained and 
shackled to a bed…without my baby. No one would tell me if he was even 
alive until later that night. They let me go several hours believing my 
baby had died. The next day, I was visited by a U.S. marshal who assured 
me I would see my son before I left the hospital.

On July 8^th , the same marshal and a Gregg County guard took me from 
the hospital—without allowing me to see my baby. I was crying 
uncontrollably. The marshal screamed at me for crying.

I was then placed in a small metal cage that only took up half of the 
back of a van; it was a dog kennel for humans, only smaller. I am five 
foot, nine inches tall, so I had to sit with my knees twisted to the 
side and with my back hunched over. I was forced to ride this way for 
over three hours without a break—after having my stomach cut open only 
four days before.

When I arrived at the next institution [Federal Medical Center at 
Carswell], I was in so much pain, I couldn’t think straight. I saw a 
doctor who told me that because of the way I had been positioned for so 
long, blood clots had formed in my c-section. A large needed had to be 
placed in my incision to drain the blood clot.

On August 13, 2013, I was transferred back to the Gregg County Jail. 
Within a couple of days, I began to run a fever, have chills, was 
vomiting, and had a horrible headache. I began submitting medical 
requests, which were once again ignored. On August 17, 2013, a nurse 
came in to check on another inmate’s blood pressure. The women around me 
told her I needed to be seen. She took my temperature; it was almost 104 
degrees the first time and higher the next. At this point, I was in and 
out of consciousness. I was taken to the hospital where I was admitted. 
It was determined I had a bad infection—again.

When I was released from the hospital, my transporting guards (one of 
which was a lieutenant) said, ‘We need to get this bitch out of here. 
She could have two lawsuits on us by now.” Their bedside manner was 
clearly lacking.

I was transferred to Smith County (Texas) the next day. I was taken 
straight to segregation. A guard told me it was because Gregg County 
warned them that they would end up with a lawsuit if they didn’t watch 
me. It wasn’t like I gave myself infections, or even could, but I was 
being blamed anyway.

Segregation in Smith County was similar to Gregg County. I wasn’t 
surrounded by human waste and trash, but I did have a little mouse 
family who lived in the big hole under my shower. Have you ever seen 
/The Green Mile? /I tried to convince myself that the critters under my 
shower were super cool like the mouse in the movie. I failed miserably 
every time they came out to visit. I ended up standing on my bed or desk 
screaming. Apparently, the jail had an infestation problem. They had the 
nice human tape traps everywhere…then some sadistic officers would stomp 
them and all you could hear was CRUNCH. The sound made me literally 
vomit a couple of times.

Again, my neighbors were less than idea. To the left, there was “MSB.” 
The poor woman was delusional and had to face her demons all day (and 
night!). She relived things in her past and would scream and curse until 
she couldn’t walk—until a couple of hours later when she was recharged 
and ready to go again. While I wanted to scream and cry after listening 
to her day and night (I admit I gave in to that urge more than once), my 
heart also went out to her. I tried talking to her, but most of the 
time, she wouldn’t acknowledge me. The guards loved messing with her. 
They would talk on her speaker in her cell, making fun of her. On 
several occasions, they would say, “This is Pizza Hut (apparently her 
favorite restaurant—the lady has good taste!).Place your order please.” 
She would place her order and then scream at the “delivery guy” for 
hours because he didn’t show up. But the worst was when they would throw 
a dead mouse into her slot in her door. They laughed as she screamed and 
cried with everything she had in her. They would leave it for several hours.

To the right of me, I had a lifeline for a couple of days. I couldn’t 
see her face, but we became friends. It’s amazing how quickly you come 
to rely on and need a person in such a desperate situation. She was 
there on suicide watch for swallowing a blade. She said she was rocking 
a turtle suit! We laughed together. We cried together. We sang together. 
We talked for hours. Then, she was gone. I cried. I missed my friend.

Her cell wasn’t empty long. They moved an elderly lady in there. She was 
unable to hold her bladder or bowels, so that earned her a trip to seg! 
She would have an accident, push the button, and wait. One day she sat 
around naked /all day/ before a guard opened the door. She was gagging 
and started screaming at the lady. Another time, she had an accident, 
but didn’t have clothes or even a towel, so she yelled for me to call 
someone. I pushed the button and told them she was in the shower and 
didn’t have a towel or a change of clothes. I pushed the button over and 
over for several hours to get help for her as she sat cold and naked in 
the shower crying. Segregation should /not/ be used as a nursing home!

Add to this the constant yelling in the vents and banging on doors. It 
was enough to make the sanest person go insane! The next time I was 
taken to court, I asked the Marshals why I was once again placed in 
segregation. They were honestly surprised that I was in seg (or they 
deserve an Emmy for their performance). They told Smith County to place 
me in general population, but they refused. I was once again moved.

I have filed a lawsuit against two U.S. Marshals and various staff 
members of the Gregg County Jail. It is my hope that, with this lawsuit 
and publicity, we can take a step toward preventing this type of abuse 
in the future. My fear is that without bringing public awareness, this 
will all continue to be hidden and nothing will change. I’m doing this 
for my son, for every single inmate, for their families, and for those 
who didn’t survive the neglect and abuse of jails and prisons. If I win 
this case, it will create a precedent that will mandate not only the 
medical treatment of inmates, but it will also limit the use of solitary 
confinement and mandate livable conditions for all prisoners.

Shannon Guess Richardson, #21213-078, FCI Aliceville, PO Box 
4000, Aliceville, AL 35442

/Note: In December 2013, Richardson was sentenced to 18 years in federal 
prison. She filed suit in the United States District Court for the 
Eastern District of Texas in March 2015./

/In response to Richardson’s suit, both U.S. Marshals stated that they 
“are not involved in and do not exercise control over or supervise the 
day-to-day decisions regarding a federal detainees’ confinement while 
housed at a contract jail such as Gregg County Jail.” They also stated 
that the U.S. Marshals do not have “control over the particular cell 
that Ms. Richardson was detained in while at Gregg County Jail,” 
“similarly had no control over the cleanliness or sanitation over the 
cell that Gregg County housed Ms. Richardson in,” and “are not involved 
in the day-to-day decisions regarding a Federal Prisoner’s medical care 
while housed in a contract jail.”/

/On September 25, 2015, the federal court agreed with the Marshals and 
dismissed Richardson’s suit against them.  —V.L./


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