BAMBI program allows mothers and babies to bond behind bars

It looks like any other "mommy and me" playdate, with stroller, moms and babies in the park.

But it isn't your typical park. It's a prison yard.  And the mothers here are inmates.

This prison is part of the Baby And Mother Bonding Initiative (BAMBI).

It's the brainchild of state Sen. John Whitmire that allows female inmates to form a healthy attachment to their babies in a secure setting. 

The program is a partnership between the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, UTMB, and Santa Maria Hostel.

It gives mothers like Laura Kilgore, 28, a chance.

"I was on drugs," Kilgore says. "And I overdosed and I thought I have to stop using or I'm going to die."

A probation violation landed Kilgore back in the system.

But a strict selection process for pregnant, non-violent offenders gave her a shot at BAMBI.

"When I heard of BAMBI, I thought it was going to be a cell with a baby bed of metal and like I really didn't know," Kilgore remembers.

There are no cells at this facilty. No metal beds.

Inmate mothers and their babies share apartment style housing, chores and counseling sessions -- with rules and reminders that this is still prison.

Their backgrounds are as varied as their convictions -- from possession to identity fraud to DWIs.

But the one thing these offenders have in common: they're moms to new babies. And sometimes other children left behind.

Dominique Scott is a mother to six..

"I am a mother of 6, just to be torn away from them is a big toll on me because they're all I have and I'm all they have as far as a mother," she says. "And I wouldn't recommend no one going to jail pregnant."

Liz Moore is the BAMBI Program Liason.

She says people shouldn't assume being a good mother comes naturally to women.

"I think sometimes it's taken for granted that because you've had other children then you know what to do and when to do it, and that's not necessarily the case," Moore says. "Nor is it the case if this is your first child, someone should assume it's innate to be a mother, to be a good mother and to meet the needs of a child. I don't necessairly think that's innate. I think it comes with a lot of education and a lot of caring."

The education and the support at BAMBI ranges from training for the daily life with a newborn, to drug rehabilitation, to basic life skills.

Kilgore says the program is like a full scale curriculum, "as if we were in college fulltime and we have our babies."

Portia Cumby, who is the peer coordinator for this group of women, says she's learned to react differently.

"Being here has helped me change my attitude and the way I react to things," Cumby says.

The skills for life after prison can keep them from returning.

"These moms are getting out of prison and these babies could possibly be the next offender coming in if we dont break the cycle," Moore says. "These children are at high risk, as are their children who are still in the community. And so I think that any time that someone can be given the oppportunity to change their lives particularly at this vulnerable time in their life when it's a very teachable moment that it becomes profitable for all of us and definitely beneficial to them."

Scott says it's an opportunity to shut down the naysayers who think offenders have no future.

"People usually judge you: "Oh you're not gonna be nothing. You're in prison. You're always going to be a failure. You're never going to amount to anything." But you can prove them wrong."

And for people like Kilgore, the team behind BAMBI are inspirational.

"All they want is to pull us where they are. And that's great. It's their passion. I think there's a lot of girls here at BAMBI that are starting to see that maybe that's their passion too."

Right now there are 70 women in Texas prisons who are pregnant behind bars. Only about 20% of them are admitted into the BAMBI program.

To learn more about the initiative click here.

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