Prison mothers speak
Half a decade ago, Reuters photographer Carolina Camps photographed inmates in a women’s prison in Argentina, where prisoners with young children were allowed to raise them in jail until the age of four. Last year Camps tracked down four of these mothers, and documented what had become of them and their families. Now, three of the mothers themselves describe their experiences in a Reuters video, published here along with Camps' 2012 story.
Forty-year-old Sandra Valdez spent two years in prison for drug trafficking, but is now free and living with her family and her new boyfriend in a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
She has nine children from three different relationships, including five-year-old Nicole, who she raised for two years in prison until they both left together. Sandra was pregnant with Nicole when she was convicted in 2006 of selling drugs that she had stolen from her sister in law – something she says was a huge mistake, driven by economic necessity.
When Sandra left prison she had to move to another neighbourhood, recover custody of her children and beg to provide food for them. She currently receives state subsidies to help feed her three youngest.
Twenty-eight-year-old Valeria Cigara is in jail awaiting trial for her fourth case of robbery. She has two daughters: four-year old Milagros, who was born in prison and lived there with her mother until the age of two, and 18-month-old Lola.
The girls have different fathers, both of whom are prisoners; Valeria met Lola's father while taking Milagros to see Milagros' father in prison. Now both daughters live with their respective paternal grandmothers.
Back in jail, Valeria has problems with drug addiction, and has requested treatment from the prison system. She suffers from Hepatitis C, something that she passed on to her younger daughter.
Forty-two-year-old Julia Romero is serving the last 11 years of her 18-year prison sentence under house arrest. She was pregnant with her son Lautaro in 2005 when she was convicted of homicide involving the death of a minor – a crime she insists she did not commit.
Now that her sentence has been commuted to house arrest, Julia makes her living by selling food and household items out of the window of her home in Buenos Aires. She lives there with Lautaro, who is now six years old, and who spent the first four years of his life with her in prison.
Last year, doctors detected a tumour in Julia’s uterus that they deemed a high risk to remove, and Julia never went back for treatment because she was afraid of the operation. She does not know what will happen to her son Lautaro if she were to die, and even asked the photographer to take care of him if something were to happen to her.
Twenty-five-year-old Silvia Rodas is serving out a 15-year sentence for robbery and attempted homicide, after being convicted at the age of 19. She has been moved around all the prisons in Buenos Aires province for bad behaviour and now she is being held in the last prison that would take her - Bahia Blanca.
This leaves Silvia some 350 miles from her nine-year-old daughter Anahi, who lives with her grandparents close to Buenos Aires. Anahi was three years old when Silvia was convicted, and lived with her mother in jail until the age of five – one year longer than children are usually allowed to stay with their imprisoned mothers in Argentina. She rarely gets to see Silvia now, because the bus fare for the long journey to Bahia Blanca is expensive.
As well as being separated from her daughter, Silva’s life in jail has had another significant development over the last five years. She is now in a relationship with a fellow female inmate named Yesica, and the two live together as a couple in the same cell.
Prison Mothers in 2007
All four mothers’ lives have changed – some more dramatically, some less – since Carolina first photographed them in October 2007, when they were imprisoned in the Unidad 33 jail in Los Hornos near La Plata.
At the time, the medium-security prison held 273 female inmates along with 63 of their children, most of whom were born in jail.
In most cases, these children’s lives were entirely confined within the prison’s walls until the age of four.