Abigail Attix was serving her time in prison when she listened to the emotional experiences her fellow pregnant inmates went through in the incarceration system.
“It was really difficult for them being away from their kids in prison,” she said. “Some of them didn’t know if they would get their kids back or where they were going.”
Attix spoke with her mom, Susan Henson, about the conflicts inmates with children experience, and Henson decided to do something about it. Henson founded Pharaoh's Daughter in 2011 as a nonprofit that cares for babies of incarcerated women until they are released from prison. The program teaches the mothers how to care for their child and plan for the future, Henson said.
It's estimated that 4 percent of women incarcerated in state prisons across the country are pregnant, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Henson was further inspired to found the nonprofit when she discovered that in North Carolina, incarcerated pregnant mothers have only two choices.
“One of which is foster care with the Department of Social Services, and under that, you sort of relinquish your parental right, that child becomes a ward of the state and then the child may or may not be there when you get back,” she said. “The other choice is to go to a relative, which in many, many cases is not a safe place either.”
Pharaoh's Daughter takes the babies to see their mothers every week and regularly send mothers pictures of their child. She said there’s a primary prison in the state that pregnant women are sent to: the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.
“They have my personal cell phone so they can call me at any time to hear their baby, talk to their baby, know the latest milestones that are happening that day or that week, if they’re particularly worried,” she said. “They just have that instant ‘pick up the phone’ and make sure everything is okay.”
Henson holds the organization at her home and is with the babies 24/7.
“In the future, we’re looking for a bigger place, because right now we have a two bedroom apartment. So it’s not really great for moms to come back and live with us,” Attix said.
Pharaoh’s Daughter partners with organizations such as TajTalk, Chatham Community Church, the North Carolina Alliance for Women Re-entrants and their Children and Safe Families for Children.
Pharaoh's Daughter is only allowed to have two babies at a time, which led to their partnership with Safe Families for Children-Raleigh. That organization's mission is to aid families that need support, whether that’s because they’re homeless, don’t have secure housing or employment or are just overwhelmed.
“Because of limitations in the housing situation with assertions from the Department of Health and Human Services, she asked if Safe Families might partner in terms of offering a hosting to babies until moms get out of prison,” said Kimberly Curlin, the director of Safe Families for Children-Raleigh.
The organization is trying to break the cycle of former inmates returning to prison by giving mothers the resources and emotional support to re-enter into society. They also want to end the strong generational tie where children who grow up with one or more incarcerated parent(s) will wind up in prison themselves, Henson said.
“They are the true victims, they didn’t do anything to be put in the position that they’re in,” she said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.