In prisons across Mexico, for almost 2000 children born on the inside, a home behind bars is the only one they've ever know.
The age varies by state, but under current Mexican law women who give birth in prison are allowed to keep their children with them up until the age of six.
Among the inmates the children are seen as a blessing, a calming influence, bringing out the maternal instincts in prisoners and guards alike, but many wonder if prison is really a place for children.
Melissa is 18 months old, and she lives in the Aquiles Serdán female state prison in Chihuahua City, Mexico. Her mother, inmate Barbara Sánchez, says she’s “the strength that God sent” her to ”keep her going while in prison.” (1/6) https://t.co/80rYKdxSTV— HuffPost (@HuffPost) April 28, 2018
Brenda Armenta, in prison for theft, shares her cell with her 2-month-old son, Justin.
“It is the best thing that can happen to you in here. You share with a child, and life becomes lighter. It becomes lighter for the other women, too. Everyone wants to support the babies,”
Although having her son with her makes serving her sentence more bearable for Brenda, she worries how a childhood spent in prison might affect him.
“This is not a place for babies. This is a place for us, for us to be thinking about what we did.”
For children, prison life has a different set of rules. Unlike their mothers they're allowed to leave on weekends to spend time with other family. They're given access to pediatricians and schooling, but beyond that the children are largely invisible to the prison system.
Children aren't accounted for in prison budgets, and often don't have their own beds or food allocations. So mothers rely on family and charities to provide cribs, baby food, and clothing.
Unfortunately growing up in prison isn't the only obstacle for many of these children.
When they age out of the system many experience trauma after being separated from their mothers and have difficulty adjusting to the outside world.
In the meantime the debate continues as to whether or not staying with their mothers is in the children's best interest.
Some believe that separating a child from their mother during their formative years has a more drastic impact than the time spent in prison.
Mexico is “family first”. So, yes this is upsetting. However, it could be worse. Much worse.— Ursula Koenig (@ursulakoenig) April 28, 2018
Have you seen what our schools look like? Same architects used. There is a school to prison pipeline. And here, its in reverse – the toddler is with her mother: the most important thing for both.— Ursula Koenig (@ursulakoenig) April 28, 2018
But many question not only the wisdom, but the morality of the choice.
This is morally wrong. What the hell is wrong with Mexico. This story needs to go viral. It is morally wrong. No child should be born or spend their life in prison. Come on Twitter folk let's get this story some coverage.— benjamin zac (@benjamin4peace) April 28, 2018
Kid will not know the meaning of living a normal life. Talk about becoming institutionalized— gk williams (@gdub520) April 26, 2018
I can understand the desire to keep mother & child together but I am uncomfortable with children in prison— Stephanie Whinthrop (@SWhinthrop) April 26, 2018