Life For Toddlers Growing Up In Mexican Women’s Prison Is Anything But Normal.

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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.

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. 

But many question not only the wisdom, but the morality of the choice. 

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Written by Dennis Matthew Livesey

Matt is a writer, designer, and native New Yorker. He has worked in film, where he enjoyed a brief career as a stand-in for Ian Holm; finance, where he pretended to understand his job, and real estate, where nothing remarkable happened. He writes about science, technology, and media. His work includes magazine articles, one published book, and the looming inevitability of the second.