Last night, I was invited to the screening of The Redemption Project, led by Van Jones, who is a CNN commentator, activist and attorney. He’s piqued my interest not only for the work that he’s done with Kim Kardashian’s latest efforts in prison reform, but also because of how successful he’s been with having meaningful and transformative conversations with President Donald Trump.
Last night’s event was life changing. It was one of those moments that made me stand still and listen. Pamela Winn was on the panel, she is a tiny woman with a soft voice and passive demeanor. I attended Spelman College, she said. I stared at her, ready to relate because I attended Spelman College too. She spoke about growing up without a mom, enduring sexual abuse from an early age and persevering through the trappings of growing up without a stable background. As a ward of New York State growing up, I digested every word she said.
I made it, she said. I studied Biology at Spelman and earned three post-secondary degrees in nursing. Pamela was a successful entrepreneur and worked as a registered nurse for over 10 years specializing in OB/GYN, gynecological oncology, and surgery.
She also served a 78 month federal sentence for a white collar crime.
She was pregnant when she went to prison. They shackled my feet, she said. One day, I fell. They wouldn’t let me see a doctor until I had permission from the warden. I gave birth, she said, tethered to a hospital bed. There was a sheriff in the room, he wouldn’t leave. He just stared between my legs.
As a mom, my soul felt crushed in this moment. How did she get here? I asked myself. How do you go from the illustrious gates of Spelman College to serving a 78 month federal sentence?
But I wasn’t there to judge. She was preaching and I was thankful to witness her testimony.
I gave birth, she said. They took my baby. Because I fell when I was shackled, I lost the baby. I asked them where my baby was. I wanted to see my baby, she said fighting through tears. They told me they threw my baby in the trash can. I never got to see my baby.
Hearing Pamela’s story was a pivotal moment in my life. It’s too easy to forget about people once they have been institutionalized. No woman deserves to be shackled while she’s pregnant. No mother should ever be told her child was thrown away like trash. Every human deserves dignity and respect. How can there be redemption after prison if you relegate a whole population of people to second class citizens?
Pamela Winn is a fighter. She turned tragedy to triumph and became an activist, starting her own non-for-profit RestoreHer, a reentry advocacy, leadership organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of women who have been incarcerated. She also fights for pregnant incarcerated women’s rights.
If I took away anything from yesterday’s conversation, it’s the need for activism in our own communities. There are a whole lot of “Pamelas” in the world. This is why I have so much respect for the KIPP Network of schools who fight everyday to mold the minds of young “Pamelas” so they can prevent the types of ugliness that women like Pamela have to go through. It’s so important to pour into children and even more important to protect our own so they can be redeemed once they have made a mistake.
No one deserves to have their child thrown in the trash. I hope Pamela’s story inspires you to do more in your communities and most importantly, to love and inspire the children around you. Life is precious and the bonds we create and nurture can be life changing.
Don’t forget to check out the Redemption Project with Van Jones on CNN Sundays at 9.
Also, if you want to learn more about Pamela’s story and her activism, please visit her website http://www.restoreher.us