Amplified Voices

Brittany LaMarr: A Mother's Story Part 2 of 2. Season 4 Episode 8

December 12, 2023 Amber & Jason - Criminal Legal Reform Advocates with Lived Experience Season 4 Episode 8
Amplified Voices
Brittany LaMarr: A Mother's Story Part 2 of 2. Season 4 Episode 8
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When we think of motherhood, the images that typically come to mind are those of joy, love, and celebration. But what happens when the journey to motherhood unfolds in a place designed for punishment, not nurturing? Our guest, Brittany, exposes the stark and heartbreaking realities of becoming a mother in prison. We journey with her through the heartache of pregnancy behind bars, the profound isolation, and the harsh judgment of society.
 
Is it possible to find healing and self-discovery in such a bleak environment? Brittany's story says yes. She recounts the harrowing experience of giving birth shackled to a hospital bed, waking up to a corrections officer in the room, and then embarking on a journey toward self-discovery and healing. Her story peels back the layers of the prison system, highlighting the importance of understanding and addressing the underlying issues that lead to incarceration.
 
Finally, we delve into Brittany's life post-incarceration and the impact it had on her relationships and personal development. Brittany's story is not just one of struggle and hardship, but also one of resilience, self-reflection, and determination. This episode underscores the importance of looking beyond assumptions and recognizing the potential and humanity of individuals impacted by the criminal legal system. Brittany's story is a testament to the power of hope and the human capacity for change.
 
 About Brittany:
 
 Brittany is a determined advocate for human rights, youth justice, and legal policy reforms at the state, national, and international level. She has worked as a Justice Advisor for CTJA since 2021. 

She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, and she is currently pursuing a J.D and Masters in Public Policy at UConn. Brittany personifies the power of education as an alum of Yale Law School’s Access to Law Fellowship and a Frederic Bastiat Fellow of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. 

Brittany brings her unique blend of lived experience and scholarship to her many leadership roles; she serves as Project Manager of the Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee with the Tow Youth Justice Institute, Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut, International Justice Exchange Project lead with the Institute of Municipal and Regional Policy, a member of the New England Commission on the Future of Higher Education in Prison, and Assistant Director of the National Prison Debate League.

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Intro Voice:

Everyone has a voice, a story to tell. Some are marginalized and muted. What if there were a way to amplify those stories, to have conversations with real people in real communities, a way to help them step into the power of their lived experience? Welcome to Amplified Voices, a podcast lifting the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. Together, we can create positive change for everyone.

Amber:

Hello and welcome to another episode of Amplified Voices. I'm Amber, your co-host, here to reintroduce our conversation with guest Brittany Lamar. This is part two of a two-part story. If you have not listened to part one, please go to season four, episode seven, of the podcast. When we left off with Brittany, she had just found out that she was going to have a child and would soon be sentenced. Join us as we delve further into her experience with the criminal legal system and all of the things that she has done since to help change the narrative.

Brittany:

I struggled. During that time. I got into a relationship with what they tell you not to do with somebody in rehab, and so well, I was on the bracelet. And so when I got out of that six-month program and I was living in an apartment with that person for six months up until my sentencing with the bracelet on and it was I found out I was pregnant during that time, and then by the time I was sentenced for the crimes that had occurred a year and a half before then, I was seven months pregnant, and so at my sentencing, when I got sentenced to four and a half years, I was seven months pregnant.

Jason:

So you were between seven and eight months when you went, when you were incarcerated, how long was the sentence?

Brittany:

Four and a half years.

Jason:

Four and a half years. So you know on the day you're walking in that this baby is coming out while you're behind bars.

Amber:

Right, and so was there any attempt at mitigation because of that.

Jason:

Yeah, they could have delayed it for a few months, right, correct.

Brittany:

My lawyer tried that he also. We went in and my mom and I very much had an expectation and my child's father at the time that this would maybe be a year and a half at most. And then when the judge was able to give up to a maximum of five years in the plea deal and my attorney had, you know, we all I thought that this was maybe a year and a half. And then in my head, after learning out some things, I'm like OK, maybe if I do half of that, that's nine months. So I was still trying to like come to terms with like, ok, how old will my child be? Ok, only six months, only eight months, right. And then I just sort of blacked out when I heard four and a half years, like I just stopped hearing anything else. The judge said I mean I came home not even knowing how much probation I had or restitution, because I just I heard that and I heard nothing else.

Amber:

So I just want to take a minute to acknowledge you know what you just said and say that I am really sorry that that happened to you, because, of course, as a mother myself, I can't even begin to imagine. You know what that meant for you, and so I know that we're getting to a part of your story that can be a little bit painful. So I want you to take the space that you need and only talk about whatever it is that you'd like to talk about. But I do want to highlight, for the people who are listening to this conversation, sort of the harshness of a system that could have done things differently, regardless of what somebody has or hasn't done. When we think about humanity and what real accountability looks like. For me it doesn't look like any of this. Again, I just want to say that I'm really sorry that, because I can only imagine, like thinking it would be one thing being there after everything that you had already been through.

Jason:

Amber, I have a question for you.

Amber:

Yeah.

Jason:

What kind of society takes a woman who's seven and a half months pregnant, when an average, you know, typically you deliver it nine months and you have a month and a half to go? Who's been out in the community, even if it's in an ankle? We could talk about the GPS monitoring all that, you know another time. But what type of a society takes a woman who's about to give birth and puts her behind bars?

Amber:

One that is monstrous. I don't know that. That's the only question I mean, that's the only answer that I have. So, brittany, did you have any indication of like how that would go? Did you know anything about like what health care looks like in the system?

Brittany:

Oh, no, I had no idea about what I was. You know what was happening to me from down out and so I don't know what point to go here I could talk about from my entry into the facility, if that makes sense. And so, and I would also note that for all of my courts there was nobody else at the court with me my mother, as much as she's always been someone always there. I would not be where I am today without my mother, but I can imagine for her and who she is like, this wasn't something that she could be there for or support or any of those things. So she was very hands-off but a support system. So I also had nobody there the day of sentencing. You know my friend who I've been speaking about. My mom had dropped me off at the courthouse. My friend had met me there and so we sort of hung out he was using at that time. I went into court by myself. So this was also a very big shock to my mom, but I hadn't talked to her. I don't know when she found out. This was very much different than what we had planned and expected and the room that was set up for the baby and those sorts of things. So my goal then was to just talk to my mom, and so that was hard. I got the one phone call when I got there, but I called my mom. But then it's like, ok, what can you call my child's father at the time? Or have you talked to my lawyer? Who do you talk to for those three minutes? And so I talked to her. I went again through that whole process. You get put into the medical unit.

Jason:

What month was it?

Brittany:

October, October, 31st Halloween.

Jason:

So it's at least. At least it's not as hot as the hottest days of the year right going in. Okay, so I.

Amber:

Gas for a minute, because October 31st was also the same day of my husband's arraignment, so it's a. It's a. It's a different kind of Halloween in our lives. Yeah, for sure.

Jason:

So, so you're in, and I mean, was it were you able to make any friends? Were there people who had been through what you're going through that could Talk with you? Is there, was there any type of you know, any type of support available for you? Or were you once? You, once you're inside, was it very much an isolating, continues to be an isolating experience?

Brittany:

It definitely continues to be an isolating experience, but I think that's also just part of who I am and I'm not one to go out and Try and befriend people or talk to people. I don't know where I am and I've always sort of been one who internalizes. So this was just sort of more of what has always been for me is just sort of this internal journey and I Sort of wasn't interested in what anyone else had to say, because this was my life. I had to figure out and you know you'll hear people had stories this way and that way and you don't know what's. I just knew my Journey and didn't want to hear about the horror stories of other people who were pregnant. Experience Like that wasn't something that was helpful to me. So, right, I often limited my exposure to other people because I, just as much as I, as much as like you know, maybe it was their way of expressing like empathy or understanding, you know, and I wasn't the only one there was. Eventually, you know, I am put in like the, you know regular housing units, like the same mattress, same food, all that sort of stuff. So there's nothing sort of specialized there. I don't know at what point. Right, because you know, I don't have direct access to a A doctor, so you just wait and hope that a doctor reaches out to you for like an appointment or something which you know ends up happening, I believe, a month in and so. But there was a at the time, a Pre. It was like a, a group for before pregnancy. So there was about eight of us in there in a group with one social worker and but you, we got a pamphlet on like what giving birth is like, because I again, these aren't conversations I've ever had with anyone, so I don't know like what to expect. So we get a pamphlet and it's like about birth and so I try and like read this in my unit and figure out, like Physically, what's gonna happen to me, like what to expect, like the process, those sorts of things. But the group Consisted of a lot of women who were still just trying to figure out where their kids were gonna go, and that's hard, I know my situation was. I was Very lucky to be able to plan out, to have, you know, my mom be there, like you have to. What it's very tricky in which, like my mom, while I'm in the hospital for the three days that you get Needs to be at court and given, like the, the guardianship and those sorts of things within the three days right or there's. You know these like DCF involvement and the child goes somewhere and then to my mom. So it was very like a timely situation in which, like we needed to time it but I had somebody I would. I would say at least half of those women that was not the case in that group. So the time of that group very much consisted on Support for them, this one social worker trying to figure it out.

Jason:

Yes, so I mean you're. What you're describing, though, is that, in your particular case, that was one stressor that was taken off. I mean, you were, you knew you were gonna be parted from your baby, right, but but your baby was gonna go to to your, to your mother, and be taken care of in your family. You know, this is something that you had, but what you're describing is that there are women that that don't have that privilege, right, and that they they not only are they in the situation that you were in, where they're about to Get birth, but they also have no idea what's gonna happen, whether they're gonna be separated forever from their child and that they'll never get to see the baby ever again. Because I was actually. Isn't that a thing where, if you you know, if you're if you're incarcerated for certain length of time and the babies Not with you, you lose parental rights?

Brittany:

So that's yeah. There's a yeah In getting into that. Once you know you're sort of put into like the postpartum group. I mean the story just get worse after someone gives birth. You know it's six months and the mom still has no idea where the kids are and nobody's gotten in contact with somebody. It's yeah. I mean, the compounded trauma of that experience is, you know, entirely opposite of you know how someone should be put in a place to succeed when they leave Six, six months from their release. After going through all of this, I don't think it's reasonable to expect someone to come out and Be better off For sure right for sure.

Jason:

So we just read that was. I'm sorry.

Amber:

That's all right. So so, brittany, you described sort of being in those groups and you know, any person who has gone through the process of childbirth knows that it's a. It's a process where, particularly the first time it happens to you you're, you don't know what to expect in Just out in the world, right, if you haven't talked about it or you haven't had support services. So the idea that somebody would be handed a pamphlet while you know Having already lost their freedom and be surrounded by people that you know for support, with one social worker, that that just seems Really overwhelming. And then, on the flip side, one of the things that I found as a woman after giving birth to my first child was I wish I would have known what happens after, what happens to my body after, what happens to my emotions after, and that in a regular situation is challenging, much less in a situation like you found yourself in. So you, my point is how were you feeling like with all of those things, sort of coalescing and converging?

Brittany:

You know, amber, I, I still. You know, there's like that driving force in me, that's like, and I hear my mother's voice. It's like just keep putting one foot in front of the other. So I don't know that I was sitting and feeling these things, are thinking about these things is like, alright, just this is what you have to do. It's you. You had to. What choice did you? Yeah, and so that has it's. You know it's a double-edged sword, but that's sort of how I got Through that, you know. But my time in there I was, you know, I, yeah, it was very use. It's visible and obvious. The way that corrections officers had treated other incarcerated people where any sort of issues that were brought up or I'm not feeling well or I think I'm having contractions, those sort of things where they're not taken seriously and because you're a woman, you're dramatic or you're exaggerating, like you're just trying to get out of your unit, and I mean, you see, those sort of scoffed at issues led to the lawsuit which changed the laws here in Connecticut in 2018, in which the you know, officers didn't take seriously someone's concerns that they were having contractions, which led to the individual giving birth and their cell, and so I was very you know, it was visible to me like, and I also don't trust the system, didn't trust any of the people there because of how dehumanizing at which the environment is. Like you know, these people are not your allies. So I remember to not speak to any officer if I did not have to, and so I. That was also something where I'm like, okay, how do I know if I'm having contractions and at what point, like don't I very much did not want to have to say anything if I wasn't sure, and which led me to being, you know, very dilated by the time that I said anything, because in the middle of the night, because I wanted to be sure, I was like counting it for hours before I said anything and I think, would also help do is I was like a week overdue. So when the officer asked when I was due, I guess to sort of make their own decision as to whether I was in contractions clearly they were a clinical individual that needed to make that decision. Maybe that's what also pushed the need on getting me over to the medical unit. But there were times, you know, where, if there were fights or there was issues, there was. You know, it's a prison facility, not everyone gets along. And so those sort of loud things where I'm like, you know, in it, if I was home, right, I wouldn't be putting myself in situations where there's chaos, where there's a stress inducing anxiety, and so I was also aware of, like, the effects that that would have on my child and being a mother where, like, that's not right, the ideal situation to to be in, and so those sort of things would also, you know, compound the stress of like, how do I ensure because at that point I'm like, okay, how do I just make sure that my child does not grow up with any sort of like internal, like issues because of me, like, how can I ensure that from like birth there he's on a path to success? And I know it starts in the womb and I know it starts with, like prenatal health and those sort of things. And I'm like, am I already, you know, am I already fucking up here? And I can't control it, I can't do better, I can't remove myself from the situation.

Jason:

So you had, you had a layer of guilt, that to yourself, a lot of pressure on yourself because of a situation that you couldn't control at that point. And then you started describing, before you're having these contractions, you you in a normal circumstance you would have said, hey, I think I'm pregnant, let's go to the hospital, or you know, and get it checked out. You're you're saying, well, I just have to really be sure. So you've probably endured a little extra pain along the way just because of the circumstances. And then finally it gets to the point where you can't ignore it anymore and the officer says this, it's time, so what? So a couple questions, like can we talk a little bit about the experience? And also, given your your your past with with substance abuse, what's what about in terms of things that they could potentially give you to ease some of your discomfort and pain? How does what's going on? You know where? Where are you physically when you give birth? Do they take you to a hospital? Is it in the prison? Like, give us a picture of that experience?

Brittany:

Yeah. So I go over to the medical unit. They, you know, a firm right. You are in labor. So at that point I'm shackled, I am put in a van and taken over to the hospital.

Jason:

And the van that you're and just to pause you there. So we had had Tracy Bernardi on the talking about going to the medical facility in the bus. You called it a van, but but being you're saying shackled, but being shackled in in an unsafe cage as you're being driven over, I mean that was yours because at the same time frame had to have been the same experience.

Brittany:

Okay yeah, you're pregnant. Yeah, and so it really sucked every like bump we hit and not being able to like cushion myself because my hands are shackled and so I'm just sort of like sitting there like taking everything. It was a very uncomfortable ride and then you're quick. No, and then you have the, the shame of being pushed into a hospital with shackles on with you know you're out in public and now you're just this pregnant person. Like what does society think of? Like how horrible does somebody have to be to you know what horrible person to be a mother with, like you know, in shackles? Like you must be like a monster, and so those are. You know, that sort of shame and ostracization like that you feel in a situation like that. And so I only have, like this, one corrections officer next to me who I hadn't seen before.

Jason:

but man or woman?

Brittany:

a woman, and so at that point they give the the whatever fluids. I'm not quite sure. I know I needed to do what you do at a hospital where you walk, or maybe I was walking around, maybe that happened after, I'm not sure, but I know for a couple hours I was trying to do it without the epidural because at that point I just I wanted nothing to do with anything that would ever lead me to to a relapse or like trigger that part of me. I was very aware of like how my addictive behavior and that tendency and how it was with everything. It was like that with with soccer, where it was never good enough and I did it 1000% and it's just to I am, and I have to accept that and so, but nonetheless, two hours in, I did, I agreed to that, but Dura, and I guess within minutes, like my heart rate dropped, the baby's heart rate dropped, and then all of a sudden I'm being told I need to have an emergency C section. I had never read anything in that pamphlet about a C section, so I have no idea what that means. I'm extremely squeamish in general, so I like start getting very ill and I just remember like my body shaking, like on the bed, and they're like here, you have to sign this paper so we can do the surgery. And all I wanted to do was like talk to my mom, who's a doctor, and be like what does this mean? Like what's going to happen to me? Like what's the C section? Like what is what am I signing? And so I signed X. I have nobody to like sort of consult on this. And I remember getting, as I'm about to be taken to the, to the operating room, the corrections officer says like I have to go with her, and the doctors like well, no, this is a operating room like we, you can't be in there. And so there was like a little back and forth and then I was able to go to the operating room without the corrections officer, or maybe I don't know where she was, but I know at that point I was very scared and just so I just start like it's gonna get a little crap I just was like shaking and vomiting during the surgery. I wish they had to like put me out, I guess. No, no, during the surgery, during the C section, I was not shuffled because I think it was just it all had to happen. But when I woke up I was so, I remember, because I was just getting like so ill and I was in my own head. I mean, this was just a level of anxiety that I just like was physically ill from. I remember hearing my son cry, and then I was put out. And then when I woke up in the room and I guess that's just sort of the turning point of where I am today and I wake up and I see a corrections officer in the corner of a room and I hear a baby like in the next to me and I see a shackle on my foot and I just like look. I just remember like looking up and being like what the fuck am I supposed to do? Like where am I? Like? What do I do now? Like what am I supposed to do with this kid? Like I don't, there's nothing I can do here. And I remember like very vividly, like that's the bottom, that it hit where it's like you either give up and like die because I can't get worse, or you do like whatever it takes to to never come here again, to never be in a position like this again. And that's when I started doing like the my journey of like deep inquiry. Okay, so, like what does this stem from? Like what is what? What drove me Like how do I fix these things? That led to this? Because the surface level, I tried that surface level stuff I'm just like not using. And so that's when, like my three years long of connection to Buddhism, connection to higher power, connection to like I said that that sort of deep exploration of of self, where I was just so vested into into myself, getting to understand myself, like after acceptance of what my situation was, and and a lot of the, the depression that I guess you know should be assumed that comes with it, that situation, a point you know. Upon return back to the facility, it's just like okay, so like, let's start doing the work. I started doing the steps with my sponsor. I started reading on Buddhism, meditating every morning, getting getting you know, working there, attending all the groups, and it was really a very independent journey in which I a discovery of self and which I had never done before, which is why I said, when you asked what I was interested in, I had no interest, I didn't know myself, and this was, you know, the time at which I like knew it was like get to know yourself or get comfortable with, like coming back, like in and out of prison.

Jason:

It seems like the year it seems like the year before you were incarcerated you already were starting the work that you're describing and then, and then this was a reaffirming, like the moment that you became you know, your child was born it. You just had this almost like a ha epiphany, like this is my life now and things, things got real for you.

Brittany:

Like now I've got a reality that this punch me in the face and it was like but it was affirming.

Jason:

It just said this is what we're going to do now.

Brittany:

Yeah, I mean you have no, because really I saw no other option. It's like or just like don't live because, like it can't get worse from here. I mean, you know, it was just.

Jason:

So we're going to talk a little bit about some of the things that that led to and what you're doing now, but before we get there, I want to just stay for a moment. I mean, first of all, I want to find out, like, did you hold the baby? And that sort of thing. But before we get there, you know, just a comment to reemphasize where we just were, I mean I was drawn into the story. I mean I felt like I was in the room with you and I saw Amber's face. I know that she was in the room with you. So I hope that when people are listening, that they get that experience like that they're with you, that they were there. It's just a very emotional story. You know, we've told the numbers. We've had a number of guests on over the years now and this is, you know it's, it's, it's one of the most emotional stories that we've heard. You know there's nothing like giving birth and the story that you told about, about, about being in that room and what you went through and and and how scared you must have been with the C section. I mean it's just such a powerful moment and experience that you've had and and, and. There's some things that you could do that are so good with that right. Just just telling your story. So thank you for being here, absolutely. You know we'll thank you again at the end. I know it's very difficult and emotional to go through and that and you and you were living it again. So I want to acknowledge that. So you're, you're, you're now you're, you're reshackled. You wake up from the C section, the babies in the room. How quickly do they hand you your, is it you said, son, the hand you your son.

Brittany:

Yeah yeah. I sort of I would say like within the hour, so I have no words with the office, I told you I have no interest in being acquainted, or I'm, yeah, I have no interest in befriending any of these people. And so the nurse comes in and was changing the baby's diaper and asked if I wanted to hold him or handed him to me. I think she just handed him to me and I just didn't know what to do with that. I'm, I know I'm going back to prison in three days, sure. So I tried, and I also it was a lot of work to allow myself to to be vulnerable, to like that natural connection to my son. One, because, like my walls were up to something I already knew I was getting disconnected from, sure, but two, also, not having experience and emotional connection. Like that, growing up was like how do I now do it differently, like with my son? How do I? I need to show affection, has never been affectionate person. How do I go out of my comfort zone and be a different person and have a different relationship with my son? So, like these are feelings that aren't unknown to him. And so there was it was a very sort of complex a lot of emotions going on there and so, yeah, I was able to feed him and hold him, but I would say, having been from a surgery, I couldn't move much. I still had these things on my legs that I kept them from swelling, or these compression things right in the shackle, which I was still trying to understand. Like I can't sit up and walk, why am I shackled to a bed? I can't even sit up, I can't even, like, move my body sideways. It's like I'm not running anywhere.

Jason:

The why. The why is for humiliation has nothing to do with security.

Brittany:

Yeah, no, there was, there's no, you know. And so so there were times at which I had to ask for help to get my son back into the, but I would just hold on to it till the nurse came in and asked them, you know, for for help or to feed. I did not sleep those entire three days. I just didn't want to miss a minute, and so I would. Yeah, I just spent as much quality time just holding him and looking at him, and and then, like the third day, my mom was able to come the last day.

Jason:

Did you get extra time because it was a C-section.

Brittany:

If you had, if you had had a there was one extra day only because of, like I told you, that excursion in the operating room where I lost a lot of blood because of what my body was doing while I'm co-opened, so where I needed to stay an extra day before. I was like okay to go back. So I did get three full days instead of like the two, given a regular delivery, and so my mom was able to come that day, which, also, having those three days and because I went on I believe it was a Friday or Saturday it's like okay, now we have one day where our court is open, so, like my mom can get the custody and everything that she needs while I'm still in the hospital. So that worked out. And so then it was like the time to go back and you're very much made to just hand your child over to strangers. They were. I handed them over to the nurses and the CO's just push you up.

Amber:

And so you knew at that point that you know it was going to be some time before you saw your child again, and so that you're going in the same sort of transport van back to the facility.

Brittany:

Yeah.

Jason:

Yeah, without the baby, and you've had the baby with you for nine months and now you don't.

Amber:

Yeah.

Jason:

And you must have felt that separation.

Brittany:

Yeah, I mean my arms felt like a million pounds, like once he was out of them. I give it's just like the whole the emptiness was like that weight was insurmountable.

Amber:

Thank you so much for sharing to so people can understand the humanity that is erased, ignored behind the walls, and I know that you know this is a difficult process and we're so thankful for for you sharing this with us. You talked a little bit about this internal decision making and how you had started that journey before you were incarcerated after the birth of your son. You know are really thinking about this more and I think what I heard you say was this was a journey that you embarked upon, with decisions that you made, because a lot of people say you know things like well, that's what that person needed was prison. So can you sort of address that line of thinking?

Brittany:

Yeah, and 100%, because prisons are not a place of healing. They are only a place that exasperates that, the trauma and the pain and the barriers to someone ever successfully leading a life at which they would like to live and that is beneficial to society, to a family, to a child. So, 100%, a prison is not a place at which someone is not a place or someone learns to thrive. I would say that what was needed for me was like the space to one like feel like it was okay, at which to to sit and take time for myself. The system chose a prison facility, but that's something that can be provided to someone in any sort of form, at which they're not feeling the pressures of survival at the time. So what a prison provides is is meals, a bed and a roof, with with all dehumanization and strip of identity that comes with it and all the collateral consequences. At the end, I mean it's, it's not the place, but what was sort of always a little bit of a barrier was like the external forces of you know, needing, needing to pay bills and needing to like just survive, and so you never fully, I never fully, allowed myself the space at which to just sit with myself and not feel like I needed to do more. And that's also, like I said, the double-edged sword of growing up, feeling like I need to be so much more. So I always felt guilty if I said I did anything for myself or or with myself. And so having a space at which, like I, anyone can, can recover and sit and take the time without feeling the, the and that's because all of that was just erased from like being possible for me but no I. The conditions of confinement and end of a prison facility I know for for myself, hindered many things. It clearly still has a lot of impact on the pain that I carry day to day and so and that's wait. I wanna.

Jason:

I wanna stay there for a second. I mean so the. The one thing that's really important that you just said is that that the, that the punishment inflicted by the state is not just the time that they say it is, that you're that that you know, you you have, you're never gonna get back that time that you lost with your son. You, you have this and, and I'm sure there's some sort of PTSD, certain interactions with different when you encounter different situations out in the world. Plus, you know all the other collateral consequences, but the. But it's really important for everybody to understand that the, that the punishment, when you say, you know, don't do the crime if you can't do the time, the time is a lot more than the time that people think it is, and that's what you're starting to get at.

Brittany:

Yeah, I mean 100% it. It has had a permanent effect on the bond that's developed between a mother and child in those very critical first years where, like that's where, like the baby learns who to trust their connection right, and there's very much, you see that, with that natural sort of that natural connection between my mom and my son and that's, you know, and we're in a very good place now. But you can, his grandma is, you know, everything to him, and so this is those developmental years that doesn't, you can't change that, that creates like the building blocks of somebody's life, and so that's just, you know, in sort of that connection that I also wasn't able to develop. You know, I have a amazing mom who would come up twice a week and bring him to see him, and I am very lucky to have had that and create those times. I would the shirts that he would come up, like when he was a baby, and throw up during the. I mean I would sleep with those shirts for like weeks and to be able to like smell him, like hop in, and then the shirts that I would wear, like I would, you know, send to the visiting room. My mom was able to take them home and she'd take them in the crib with them, like those sort of things to try and build, maintain, and I had a supportive mom in trying to do that. But no, it's very much changed. Yeah, the punishment is on sort of how the forever relationship between me and myself.

Amber:

And so, brittany, I know that you know we talked about the spark that was created. You did a lot of internal work, and so what was the time that you ended up spending? And then I would really I know that you have done a lot of really amazing work, so I really would like to make sure, because you know of limited time that we talk about that. So let's sort of talk about how much time did you spend and then move on to sort of what happens next.

Brittany:

Right I did. I found out that the time that I had to do one of my burglary charges due to the amount of money is considered a violent charge. Thus I had to do 85% of my time, not 50. So although there was no physical violence, there was no interaction among people it was a charge that I had to do 85% of my time for, which also became a shock to me during my incarceration and something I wasn't aware of until I was incarcerated and somebody with the same charge notified me and then confirmation from the administrative department. So that added a whole another year and a half on to the time that I was expecting to do. So I ended up doing three and a half years about, but I had to do the remainder of my time in a halfway house. So the only way for me to because the way that the system is set up, my halfway house date was before my parole day and so I my only chance was to go to a halfway house. My parole date was way too close to my end of sentence that I. The only way for me to get out sooner was to go to a halfway house. I went to a halfway house and had to finish. Like I said, because of just how close my parole date was to my end of sentence, I just had to finish the remainder of my time in the halfway house, which was a little over a year. In that time I worked multiple jobs. I had done higher education in prison and so I had also made connections for years, writing correspondence letters to universities and departments of areas which I found interesting to me it's human rights so got connected to Yukon prior to my release for a couple of years at the Human Rights Institute and then so, once I got into the halfway house, I connected with those people at which I was only doing written correspondence and they helped me formulate my application to Yukon when I got home and I was in the halfway house, so that following semester I started attending Yukon. I completed my bachelor's, I was working several jobs just doing anything to make money and save money while I was in the halfway house, so serving tables, and I was a personal trainer at a gym and I had found my way back into exercise and at the gym while incarcerated, to try to, like you know, write that elegantly on my resume. I had to get a personal training job when I got home. But I worked in a gym for a couple of years, right For the state of Connecticut and so, and then the last worked a couple of those jobs like staining log cabins, doing really anything, just working as many hours as I could, saving as much money as I could. So then I, ultimately I came home. I it took a lot to get an apartment. I had to sit there and get letters of recommendations. You know, explain myself again, right? I mean I've already had to do this in court, but now, for everything I have to do in life, I have to explain and recount why I should be, why I am qualified or why I am worthy of any of the things I'm asking for, why I'm worth even my waitressing job, you know I'm, why I shouldn't be judged or being an addict in the past, like how can they trust me? Now you know how you're not gonna steal from all these things that I have to. Every single time getting into college, I mean I have to check the box and say, yeah, I'm this, but like this is who I am, I had to sit there and relive my story again for all these strangers. And so you know, when is it enough? Like when? When have you told yourself enough, or like you don't have to do it anymore. It's not a thing when you're formerly incarcerated, no matter what, like you always have to justify your worthiness of anything of opportunity, of credibility, right. So it took a lot where I got a studio apartment I mean I had a year and a half of denials right as a planning and a halfway house, because that happens. I mean it's impossible to get apartment with a criminal conviction and so nonetheless I find one. The idea was to just really be as close to my mom as possible. So I was like a seven minute drive from then because my mom had been, you know, doing some. She had to get to work, to have more. So like she was doing a lot of things to just like manage my son. So now I was able to go over in the morning at 5.30, she could go to work instead of her dropping off with my sisters. Like the village was raising right Son. So now I was close enough to be able to do these things and be there, and so he would wake up and I, you know, be at my mom's house. So I was slowly just like inserting myself into his daily life, bringing him to school, these sort of things that I thought would be difficult for my mom to allow trust for, but she very much just saw who I was in my actions. I know my mom's not in the world, right, is they? Very much, don't? Words are sort of taken with a grain of salt. So it's all through action that I needed to just prove, prove who I was. And so, within that time of pursuing education, I got accepted into Yale Law School's Access to Law Program. And that's the first time and this was through a professor from one of my higher education and prison courses had reached out and said hey, why don't you apply for this? And I was not expecting to get in. I got interviewed and I got in and like I the whole like year and a half I mean you guys are aware that I have like I don't even know how many. I think there's like seven, I don't know what actually I kind of charged with. I know right now, in producing like my part of application and getting my rap sheet, I'm like, okay, it's part of the plea deal, like okay, this didn't go, like I had no idea what actually happened in court, as I told you, and so nonetheless, I get, like you're aware, like no, like you can do it, you can go to law school. And I'm like, okay, these people believe, like in me, like I'm gonna do it. You know, at doors I keep, I just keep working hard and I keep leaning into education. I keep finding like these, you know, these couple of people that believe in me. I'm gonna lean on it and I'm gonna do my best and I'm going to, you know, really show up for myself and prove to myself like these are things and then prove to the world that people with criminal convictions are not their past, they're not their worst stake and that anybody could change. Just give in like an open door, just give someone an opportunity, right, and so that's a, you know, ultimately went through that process with the Access to Law Fellowship, got into Yukon Law. I started my masters in the process. So I'm finishing my masters in public policy and going into my second year of law school at Yukon Law. And then, through the process, you know, continued my professional experience right now managing Connecticut's juvenile justice policy and oversight committee at the state legislature. The assistant director of the National Prison Debate League, a visiting fellow at Yale Law School in the Shell Center for International Human Rights and I can't keep up.

Jason:

I mean, I'm like I'm like, my mind is like, wow, like.

Amber:

I can't keep up either.

Jason:

Here's what we'll do you give us all these things later and we'll put it in the show notes.

Amber:

Yeah.

Jason:

You'll have the whole resume for the. You know this is Brittany's this who's who of everything she's done. Yeah.

Amber:

So, brittany, I know you've done some things at the legislature in terms of public testimony, things like that. Was that something that, like you, knew how to do, or how did you get into that?

Brittany:

No, so that was not something I knew how to do. You know being, you know being ultimately stripped of all sort of fundamental rights while you're incarcerated. I wasn't attuned to how to promote them or uphold them for myself. So, upon my release, and given my personal journey that I've told you, it was very much a passion of mine to ensure that the system changes, in which humanity is upheld, human rights are preserved and no woman who's incarcerated, who's going to go through what I've gone through, and so I tell my story in a way that I don't want this to ever happen to somebody else. And so, given the opportunity with the ACLU of Connecticut and the tools of the Connecticut Justice Alliance and introduction to public policy and laws, and seeing the conversations that are being had that are so sort of misguided by opinion and lack of fact or personal testimony, I mean like wait, this is like we need to like ground this in something real. And so that's where I very much find my draw to connection or personal experience, but also the data and research that supports all the policies at which we talk about. None of these are just like opinions that say like these sort of things don't happen. I mean all of which the policies in which reform is pushed and addressed is because they lie in like international fundamental human rights, or like the data shows that, like our system sucks and it's failing everyone Right, like when you spend 60 billion, like in the United States, a year on a system of like an 80% failure rate, like this was any other industry, like you'd be pulling the plug. So like we need to sort of ground it and like no, acknowledge that like this is wrong and there are better ways and we have other models. And that's sort of the work I do with the international justice exchange in my most recent ventures to Norway and Germany looking at their system. We have bottles, it's just we're so grounded in like the need to maintain what's always been and that's a system that was, you know, sort of that's grounded in and fundamentally driven by the criminalization of race, the criminalization of poverty, the sort of the classism, the racism that plagues the system right, which allows us to cast off certain people and we've been doing it for.

Jason:

So we've been doing it for so long, sorry, we've been doing it for so long that it's that you know, in so many decades now that it's hard for people to even envision, like you're saying, another, another system, because it's you know, the first go to is maximum punishment. You know, and this and this, if one person does one thing, then the response is we have to equal it out by causing them harm. Right, we have to punish, right, we have to punish, and that's just well and we're not even looking for equaling anything.

Amber:

We're looking for complete decimation, like the proportionality of the responses is astounding, particularly as compared to like other responses that are possible. And, brittany, I'm glad that you mentioned your exploration of like other ways and other systems, because I was really inspired when I saw the Connecticut Public documentary of the recent trip to Norway and enjoyed your participation in that, so we'll definitely throw that in the show notes. Could you just briefly talk really quickly about what that trip was about?

Brittany:

Yeah, so about two years ago now I like lose track of time because some, but so it's about two years now I was on a panel with the Institute of Municipal and Regional Policy regarding, you know, some data and policies on youth car theft as, and so from that connection, I was introduced to the executive director, andrew Clark, who just just met with me. Their institute is also out of UConn and so we were talking about, you know, we shared. He was aware of my lived experience through other work that I had done, but also I was trying to talk about, like my academic aspirations right, because it's really to get to a point in which you know I can also like I also have like the academic credentials to like be taken seriously and heard that like it's not just the digs room but like I can ground myself in in a way at which you know the those in positions of power would take seriously. And so I was reading a white paper that they had produced back in 2021 on the. It was a white paper on international human rights and the crossroads that Connecticut was at because, given the pandemic, we had reached a turning point in which our system was, we had a very a lower prison population. And so it was like, okay, we can tell that, like through COVID, we changed policies, we let people out and we're still okay, like so we're at it, we can continue this downward trend. Here's like where international human rights comes to play. Like we're at this crossroads, how do we sustain this trajectory of lowering, lowering the prison rates? And so I, like I said my interest is in the intersection of human rights and the criminal legal system and economics. Oddly and now you can understand that, but not I. I sort of it was like, yeah, like let's, let's do something with this. And I was like, okay, I'm just gonna start reaching out to people. And so I started exploring international models. I started reaching out to people from from Norway and the Norwegian Correctional System to inquire that we made some connections with people in Norway the international director of the Norwegian Correctional Service we like explored these conversations, held webinars, and then we're able to take a delegation from Connecticut over to Norway to visit the Norwegian prisons, different parts of their system etc. And sort of get that visceral experience and be able to like to take sort of these, have these conversations with incarcerated people in Norway, because it's one thing to read a paper that may be a publication or the correctional department is putting out about their agency. But, like, it's really important to have the conversations of people who are incarcerated, no matter like in the United States and in Norway and in Germany, right to be able to say, like, what is your experience? Like, is it what we're reading? I don't want to sit there and promote a system at which like is saying that it's the best, but the people are really impressed, right, that's not what I want to be doing. And so we were able to go there and just there was no sort of barrier until like, who we could talk to, anybody passing down the hall like we could sit and have a conversation with, and so there was. It was great to sort of be able to have that open access to their facilities. And then we went to just recently, as a continuation of this our most recent trip in June was to Germany a new delegation so this is the chief state's attorney, the chief public defender, executive director, the judicial branch to go over and see their probation services, their their prison system as well. This was all about like sentencing, so a lot of members of connecticut sentencing commission went over to germany, nice, and so we learned about their, their bail system, right, there's a lot of other pieces outside of conditions of confinement that lead to the high rates of imprisonment here in the united states and connecticut, and that goes into sentencing, that goes into our free trial bail system, all that stuff that compounds and yeah, so, so, yeah, that's, that's the work. We're in the process, myself and the university of network of human rights, the institute municipal and regional policy, of updating that white paper with some lay of the land now here in connecticut and then, um, you know, still we, if we don't take action now like we, we see like the upward trend again.

Jason:

So so amber britney knows way too much we could probably keep yeah, and I'm looking at the time and I know that we did have some time constraints today, so can you ask your final question?

Amber:

sure so. So, britney, I know that you know your journey has been long and winding and I know that even myself, even though I've never been incarcerated, I'm, you know, affected by the system. Through a family member, I found myself like in the story. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is experiencing something that connects with your journey, what would you tell them as words of encouragement? I?

Brittany:

would say, to take themselves seriously and allow themselves a self a chance. I would also encourage that, although there may be compounded guilt and shame for things that, uh, someone has been doing in their life for a while that they're not proud of, there's always a chance to turn it around, and there's always a chance to make those things right, whether it's directly or indirectly to others, and make an impact. I I think that's something that I very much am driven by is that, if I was able to do this in where I once saw myself, to where I am today, I know that anyone can do it, and so I would urge anyone to not cast themselves off and to to to take themselves seriously enough to give themselves a chance to to sit and say I am worth it and I can do it, and yeah, it may suck, and yeah, it's gonna be hard, and yeah, I can't even see how I'm going to do it or what it's going to lead to, but I just need to. I just need to try and take that first step and then take the next step, and you know the pieces will fall in line and just trust the process, but to not give up in in the process of doing that britney, thank you so much for being with us today.

Amber:

We've covered a lot and we're so thankful for you taking the time. Jason, did you have any last thoughts?

Jason:

I'll just say that you know, britney, hearing you're. We gave a lot of time at the beginning of this discussion to the early trauma in your life and the things that you went through, and then, of course, the whole experience of giving birth and and separation from your child. We didn't give nearly enough time to all the wonderful things that you've done after and what you're doing now. It's incredible. Your journey is incredible. You're still young. You've got a whole life ahead of you with wonderful things. I hope that you and your family and everybody just has just just continues on this positive journey from here on out. So thank you so much for being here, for being so open with us, and I know it's going to touch many, many people when they listen to what you have to say today.

Brittany:

So thank you no, thank you all. What you're doing is is extremely important in that we're able to open the doors back up and say, no, there are human beings inside of there. Like maybe if you would take the time to look past what a headline says, or what the media says, or what a prosecutor said, or like what's just put on a piece of paper on, like running a background check, you would see the human being and you would see the potential and then maybe you could empathize and give opportunity to and these podcasts and these sort of things are the way in which we need to do that and give voice, and in face and in space, to demonstrating that they're all human beings and worthy of you know, a second chance absolutely.

Jason:

Thank you, brittany.

Outro Voice:

Until next time, amber we'll see you next time you've been listening to amplified voices, a podcast listening the experiences of people and families impacted by the criminal legal system. For more information, episodes and podcast notes, visit amplified voices dot show.

Amplified Voices
The Challenges of Incarcerated Pregnant Women
Pregnant Woman's Traumatic Experience in Prison
Giving Birth in Prison
Rebuilding Life After Incarceration
Criminal Justice Reform and International Models
International Prison Systems and Human Rights
Amplified Voices