February 15, 2004 - The Denver Post (CO)

The Hardest Labor

When a Pregnant Woman Is Imprisoned, She Encounters a Bureaucracy Designed to Incarcerate Men, Not Serve the Needs of Women and Children. the Post Has Chronicled the Story of an Addict, a Pregnancy, and a System Struggling to Adjust.

By Amy Herder, Denver Post staff writer.

Lying on a table in Platte Valley Medical Center, her orange Adams County jail uniform parted to reveal her belly, Shelby Mattson felt her resolve slipping away.

"So, you're going to terminate?" the technician asked as he studied the ultrasound screen.

"I'm not sure," said Mattson, 27, her long brown hair pulled back to expose her high forehead and bulb nose, her hazel eyes open wide.

"Do you want to know what it is?" the man asked. With her nod, he turned the monitor toward her. As Mattson stared at the blurry image of tiny limbs and pulsing heart, she changed her mind.

A few months later, inmate No. 110116 became one of 50 women to deliver a child last year while in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections - 10 more than the year before.

The growth of the women's prison population and the increase in the number of babies born to those inmates have prompted debate and concern about how a system designed for men can be better molded to the needs of women and children.

Throughout her pregnancy, Mattson experienced nearly daily battles against both the prison bureaucracy and herself. She recognized her mistakes, then repeated them. She wept for the fetus growing inside her but refused opportunities to ensure her future with the child.

It's a story without heroes. There's a woman with an addiction and a tendency toward self-destruction, a system designed to hold, not help, and a baby she once called Chance.

One of Mattson's earliest childhood memories is of drinking her father's schnapps and replacing it with Listermint and water.

Born Shelby Hardenbrook, Mattson and her older sister grew up between the Lakewood and Denver homes of their parents, who divorced when Mattson was 6 months old. When she was 3, her father, Jay Hardenbrook, a postal manager, adopted his sister's three daughters.

"So there were five girls in that house, and my dad," Mattson recalled. "He didn't know what to do. He worked, he came home, he went bowling. We ran wild. I don't blame him - he did the best he could."

Mattson said she was 8 when her sisters gave her a drink for the first time. She began smoking pot at 11. In sixth grade, she had sex for the first time. Beforehand, she drank brandy and ate Cheetos. The boy was in the eighth grade.

"All I remember is he said, 'Do you want to get under the covers?"' Mattson recalled. "I said, 'I can't. I have my shoes on."'

From there, as Mattson recalls it, the pattern continued:

Seventh grade: She started taking LSD, and was charged with shoplifting. It was her first arrest.

Age 13: Mattson's parents put her in a drug rehabilitation program. She was addicted to crack cocaine. A 27-year-old neighbor had introduced her to it. Within two days of leaving the program, she says, she began using drugs again.

Age 14: Mattson gave up cocaine after she discovered methamphetamine. That year, she wrecked a friend's truck into a house, and was charged with possession of alcohol.

Age 15: She was charged with assault as a result of a fight at school and was sentenced to probation and community service. She quit high school.

At 17 she moved into an apartment with a friend, and at 18 she became pregnant.

She decided to have an abortion but discovered at the clinic that she was having a miscarriage because her blood type was RH negative, which was incompatible with the fetus.

That same year, she met the man who would become her husband, Duane "D.J." Mattson, while partying with friends at a motel. He was wearing a long-sleeve flannel shirt, and Mattson remembers thinking it was probably to cover needle tracks on his arms, because it was warm outside. She found out later she was right.

In May 1996, they married. She was pregnant. On Oct. 6, 1996, Mattson delivered a son, and they named him Darian.

When Darian was a little more than a year old, Mattson said, she developed a drug habit with her husband. "I let myself go," she said. "Trying to save him, our marriage, I don't know. I just let myself go downhill with him."

It took social services officials just six months to take Darian away from Mattson. Her husband had been arrested for robbery, and she was a drug addict. Her husband is now serving a life sentence for killing a fellow inmate. Her mother-in-law was given custody of their son.

"I've written her, but she hasn't written back," Mattson said. "I tried to be the bigger person. I'd send her a Mother's Day card. I am thankful he's with family."

In September 2001, Mattson was arrested for possession of meth and imprisoned at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility. The facility, at 10900 Smith Road, houses 770 minimum-restricted and minimum-security inmates.

The inmates at Denver Women's Correctional are part of the fastest-growing segment of the nation's prison population: women. From 1995 to 2002, the total number of male prisoners nationwide in state and federal prisons grew 27 percent, while the number of female prisoners increased 42 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In raw numbers, Colorado's female prison population more than doubled from 713 in 1995 to 1,566 in 2002. There are countless ramifications of the increase. They range from the need for more female corrections officers to the increased cost of health care.

Because of their medical needs, women cost more to treat in prison than men. In 2002, the average cost of care for a male inmate in Colorado was $76.36 per day, or $27,873 a year. The average cost for a female prisoner was $88.54, or $32,318 per year. Part of those increased costs are the result of challenges unique to women. Like babies.


Mattson spent three months in prison that first time. In January 2002, she was released to community corrections with a goal of making parole in six months. She was living at a halfway house in Denver and working at the Cottage Inn on Colfax when she began dating the cook, a Mexican immigrant who said his name was Edgar Fisher.

He started giving her rides home, and they would stop and talk. "He was nice," she said. "He was really good to me. He seemed like he cared. I usually am a caretaker, so it was kinda different. I guess it was nice that he wasn't full of problems. He said he was 25. But he had just turned 21."

In June, with days to go before her parole, she walked away from the halfway house. Why? "I still have no idea."

Mattson went to a bar.

"I had two or three Coronas," she said, "and then I said, 'Well, now I've really done it,' so I called a friend and got meth."

The next day, she had second thoughts and was allowed to return to the halfway house. The following week, she walked away again.

Why? Again? It's a question that comes up a lot around Mattson, and one she is rarely able to answer. Perhaps, she theorized, "I'm scared of failure so I don't allow myself to actually succeed. I self-sabotage my own good work."

Officially on the run, she called Fisher, and they stayed at motels. She lived off friends and what she could earn making or selling methamphetamine. She was using meth heavily. She also got pregnant.

She saw Fisher twice more. The first time, it was at a Denny's off Santa Fe. She chose a public place.

"I told him I was pregnant," she said. "He cried. He said he can't take care of a child and if I were to have him, he'd have to send him back to Mexico to live with relatives. And I would obviously be caught when I went to the hospital."

Fisher gave her $500 for an abortion. She gave $350 to a friend, she said, and spent the rest on junk food and scratch-off lottery tickets. On Oct. 29, 2002, Mattson was picked up on a traffic violation and arrested on the outstanding warrant from her escape from the halfway house. Her capture sealed the deal: Her baby would be born under guard.

Three years ago, the state finished four apartments at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility to be used for overnight visits among inmates and their children.

But while most experts assert that the early months of a child's life are critical to its emotional development, the Corrections Department also mandated that the apartments be used only with children at least 2 years old.

Most states, including Colorado, do not allow newborns to remain with their imprisoned mothers for any length of time after birth. Some states -- Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Utah -- allow the mother to keep the baby with her from delivery until discharge from the hospital. And a handful of states, including Nebraska, New York, Ohio and South Dakota, offer programs that allow the parent and child to remain together for anywhere from 30 days to 18 months.

In 2000, Congress allocated $4 million to the Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections to fund programs to help children of prisoners. Eleven sites were chosen throughout the country, none in Colorado.

The advantages of those programs, experts say, are that inmates with strong family ties have lower recidivism rates and are less likely to be disciplinary problems. In addition, the child is able to bond with the mother during a crucial time in development.

"There is evidence that if you maintain the mother-child relationship, the children are motivating factors for the mother to do well once they are released," said Barbara Bloom, author of "Gendered Justice: Addressing Female Offenders" and a criminal justice professor at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Maintaining contact is also crucial for the 1.3 million minor children whose mothers are under some kind of criminal justice supervision, Bloom said.

"Most women are nonviolent property and drug offenders," she said. "We are spending a huge amount of money to punish these women, and unfortunately we are also punishing their children. Anecdotal information tells us these children may be at greater risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system and, later, the adult criminal justice system."

Hope, Then Frustration

Once Mattson decided to continue her pregnancy, the fear of having the baby taken from her by authorities loomed in Mattson's mind. She entered a drug intervention program called Therapeutic Communities. If she successfully completed it, she could get out of prison soon after giving birth and be reunited with her baby. She also might have a chance at staying sober on the outside.

There is no recidivism data on the Therapeutic Communities program at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility, corrections officials say, though data have shown it is effective with male inmates.

Since its inception in 1999, 374 female inmates have been admitted to the program, run by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center's addiction treatment and research services unit. Just 132 of the female inmates have completed it.

Adding to the long odds Mattson faced were questions about whether the unique stresses of pregnancy complicate an inmate's chances for success.

The schedule was grueling. At 5 a.m., she woke up in order to sign out by 5:30 and make breakfast at 6. Groups started at 8 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m., on such topics as anger management and relapse prevention. As part of the program, Mattson kept a journal of her thoughts:

Jan. 7, 2003: "I just got out of group and a couple of the women up here waved me over to watch something on TV It was a lady giving birth to a baby boy. I had a lot of emotions all at once and couldn't help but to cry .. I guess I feel like I already failed him cause I have to have somebody else take care of him for a while and it should be me. I guess the closer I get to my due date, the harder it becomes."

As the weeks passed, Mattson found herself increasingly exhausted. The needs of a pregnant woman and the rules of prison clashed repeatedly. She was required to work in the laundry, which meant eight hours on her feet. Her iron pills were briefly confiscated during a sweep of the cells. Literature she got during her doctor visits was taken from her on her return to prison. She was handcuffed when she traveled. Her roommate was loud. She hated the food.

She dreaded delivery: "I don't want him to come out, because he can be with me this way."

Though she professed her love for the unborn child she called Chance, in May Mattson increased the odds that the baby would be taken away from her when she decided to drop out of her prison drug treatment program.

"For what you go through, I'm not getting that much out of it," she said.

Separation Called 'Tragic'

Pam Spry is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Nursing, where she teaches nurse-midwife students. At any given time, she has a caseload of 10 to 15 pregnant women who visit her from Denver Women's Correctional. One of them is Mattson.

Spry thinks the fact that moms are separated from their babies is "tragic." The physical results, she said, are depression, breast engorgement, cramping. And there is not much one can do in prison to relieve any of it, she says.

"They can't order breast pads here," she says. "I tell them to cut up old rags. And to dry up their milk, they get cabbage leaves."

Some women are shackled during labor.

"I hate it; they hate it," Spry says. "Their security risk is determined by a number of points. ... Prisons are built by men and run by men. I don't know if they've actually looked at a woman in labor and seen if they have ever escaped."

After birth, Spry says, inmates are supposed to get anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours with their babies, but sometimes that period is cut short.

The hospital moves inmates back into Corrections Department custody in a locked hospital ward as soon as they are medically cleared. Babies aren't allowed to visit the locked ward since it is for adults only.

A spokeswoman for the department says the agency does not restrict the time mothers and babies spend together immediately after birth.

"The amount of time is mandated by hospital policy, not by DOC policy," says Alison Morgan. "We don't have a policy on mothers in the hospital -- that's a medical care issue."

'It's A Girl!'

On the morning of June 2, Mattson awakens with cramps and a feeling that it might be the day.

"I'm sad to let him go," she says. "But I'm excited. I'm ready to hold him and see him."

She walks in circles, pacing in a visiting room, revisiting her decision to quit drug treatment and fretting about the future.

"I think about my leaving the program - was that a selfish move?" she wonders aloud.

In the next instant, she rationalizes: "Maybe I wouldn't be ready to get out there just yet."

A little after noon, she visits the prison clinic, where a nurse determines her water has broken. An ambulance is called, and Mattson is handcuffed. A guard will be going with her to the hospital.

At Denver Health, formerly Denver General, guard Heather Davis accompanies Mattson with every step. It is Davis' first labor with an inmate. She carries a black duffel bag labeled "Corrections" that contains extra cuffs, shackles and Mattson's paperwork.

Davis pushes Mattson in a wheelchair to the labor and delivery room.

For the next nine hours, Mattson progresses through labor - absent-mindedly watching television shows such as "Dharma & Greg" and "Fear Factor" while chewing on ice or Popsicles.

At 6:40 p.m., while watching "Dharma & Greg," Mattson tells the nurse she's ready for an epidural. An hour passes before Dr. Michelle Chen, the obstetrician on duty, checks Mattson, who has dilated only 4 centimeters.

Shortly before 8 p.m., an anesthesiologist takes Mattson's history. She waves her hand at him in irritation. "Just give it to me!" she demands.

A few minutes later, the epidural is threaded in and pain medication begins to flow. Mattson's face is shining, and her hair is upswept. She looks like a teenager.

At 9:50 p.m., she has dilated to 7 centimeters and is nauseated. During the last three contractions, the baby's heart rate drops. The baby is face-up, which is not good for delivery.

At 10:25 Chen checks Mattson. She's at 10 centimeters, and the baby's face has turned. It's time to push. Chen puts on a blue gown over her greens. "Push!" she instructs Mattson. "Now blow it out and do it again. It would help if somebody held her leg."

Linda Rister, a corrections officer who has arrived for the night shift to oversee Mattson, stands up, walks over and holds Mattson's leg awkwardly, patting it.

In a rush, the baby emerges at exactly 10:38 p.m.

"It's a girl!" Chen says, and everyone in the room cheers. The baby immediately cries a thin, shaky wail. Mattson, who for months had believed she was to have a boy she had already named Chance, claps her hands over her eyes.

A Bond Is Born ...

For a moment, Mattson holds her baby, gently tracing her cheek. The baby is pale, though, and too still, so a pediatric resident takes her. "They'll bring her back when she pinkens up," nurse Susan Raines tells Mattson.

At 12:10 a.m., the baby girl is back. Mattson buries her face in her baby's neck, sniffing her daughter.

"Do you think she's hungry?" she asks no one in particular. The corrections officer, Rister, prepares a bottle.

"What do you think?" Mattson coos. She holds the baby on her knees, bending over her. Cradling her in her left arm, Mattson feeds her the bottle. The baby makes small sucking sounds.

There is no camera in the room. "I won't have a picture," Mattson frets. She holds the baby against her, puts her head on top of the baby's and rocks from side to side. The baby's brows are knit together.

Mattson looks utterly at peace. She murmurs names. "Ashley? Amber? Paige?"

She has asked for and gotten pizza, Papa John's pepperoni and mushroom. She eats with one hand and cradles the baby with the other.

Nurse Linda Milner comes in and says matter of factly, "We're going to take baby back to the nursery - and take you to the bathroom. You might want to give kisses and hugs."

The baby purses her lips. Mattson purses her lips back at her.

Mattson begins to hand the baby to a nurse, and the infant starts to wail furiously. Mattson turns her head. The nurse holds the baby out for one last kiss before she is put in a bassinet. She wails as she is wheeled out.

Mattson has had her baby for 20 minutes. Her face is set. She begins to eat her pizza. Then walks to the bathroom.

Packing up her belongings, she asks, "Is that pink card mine? With the footprints?"

A wheelchair arrives. A nurse says, "Congratulations," and Mattson doesn't reply.

The nurse tries again. "Good luck," she says to Mattson, who says, "Thank you." The nurse pats Mattson on the arm, and Mattson looks away.

The nurse says, "You gonna be OK?" Mattson doesn't reply. As she is wheeled out, her jaw is set.

In the elevator, she tries to smile and her eyes fill.

"I was mad that nurse took my baby," she said later.

Someone also took her pizza.

Mattson remained in the hospital's locked ward for inmates for the next two days. Though she asked repeatedly and complained, she did not see her baby again in the hospital.

She chose a name: Destiny. When she was wheeled out to a prison van for the trip back to Denver Women's Correctional, she left Destiny behind. Mattson dreams about her.

Her dad, Jay Hardenbrook, brought Destiny for a visit to the prison a few days after her birth. Since Mattson was not allowed by Corrections Department rules to change Destiny's diaper, Hardenbrook had to do it, and by the time he was done, Mattson recalled, smiling, Destiny was screaming.

Mattson knows where she will be at every moment. Her daily routine - cell to shower, cell to chow hall, cell to recreation - virtually never changes.

Destiny's life is considerably less predictable. She spends the week with a distant relative - Mattson's uncle's wife. On Friday, Mattson's mother picks up the baby and brings her to the prison for a visit. On either Saturday or Sunday, Mattson's father makes the one-hour trip from his home to pick up Destiny and bring her to visit her mother.

The confusion led to Destiny's missing her checkup with a doctor at six weeks. She'd already been hospitalized with an infection. It all unnerved Mattson.

"Mostly I thought, 'I should be there,"' Mattson said.

Over the summer, the visits between Mattson and Destiny take on a strange quality. The baby is growing up -- with others -- and Mattson knows it. Though Mattson holds, hugs and rocks Destiny, they don't make eye contact.

"Right now I feel like she doesn't know who I am," Mattson said in late July. "She doesn't really look at me very much. She looks around. I don't see recognition when she looks at me. Makes me kind of sad. I don't feel like there's a love bond.

"I mean, I don't love her any less. ... And it may change as she gets older. Or I may just have to wait till I get out."

In New York, Mattson would be able to have Destiny with her for a year. But in Colorado, and most other states, the longest visit she can have with the baby is a few hours.

Morgan, the Corrections Department spokeswoman, said the state's prison system is not geared toward providing for infants.

"There are states that keep mothers and babies together. It is steeped in liability and security issues. It is not something we have discussed as an option," Morgan said. "Mothers and babies and bonding is important, but our primary mission is public safety, and this is a prison, and we have a primary responsibility of keeping staff and inmates and families safe.

"A baby in prison is a serious liability that we're not prepared to accept."

A Bad Showing

On Nov. 13, Mattson walks into her parole hearing. She could have been in a green prison uniform, but, because she quit drug treatment, prison rules require that she wear orange.

The hearing is oddly situated in the children's visitation center at the prison. The black pants and gray shirt worn by hearing officer Curtis Devin provide a deep contrast.

He begins to read her charges.

"Theft ... possession ... trespass ... escape," Devin reads. Held on a relative's hip, 5-month-old Destiny is hearing for the first time the crimes that keep her from her mother. The baby sneezes.

What were you doing? Devin asks, and Mattson begins to explain her charges.

"That's not telling me why," he says.

"I wasn't caring about myself, and I wasn't thinking about the people involved," she replies, "or my family."

"Were you drugging'?" Devin asks. "Yeah," Mattson answers softly.

With one week to go in community corrections, he asks her, why did you walk away? It's a question she remains unable to answer. She is starting to believe she is afraid to be free of the restrictions of prison. As much as she hates them, she finds them comfortable.

Then Devin comes to the question Mattson dreads: Why leave drug treatment? She shrugs. Looks away. "I don't agree with a lot of what the TC program is about," she says.

Wrong answer.

"You're saying to the system, 'I like it here,"' Devin tells her.

"No," Mattson says, sounding unconvinced herself.

"Well, it could be interpreted that way," Devin says as she walks out of the room.

The hearing has gone badly. In addition to the problems she knew she had created for herself, Mattson had to listen to testimony from her family members on the topic of her irresponsibility. As she leaves, Mattson has little to say to her family. She makes no attempt to touch Destiny.

Later, Mattson learns the parole officer has offered to cut her sentence if she completes the drug treatment program. She turns him down.

Freedom Brings Fears

In October, the state of Colorado will have to let Shelby Mattson go.

Destiny will be 17 months old. Mattson will miss her first steps. Her first word. Destiny will know her mother only through a series of weekend visits typically totaling four hours.

Mattson realizes that her separation from Destiny is entirely her fault. She says she refused the parole offer because she would have been required to repeat drug treatment from the start. That wouldn't have gotten her out of prison any sooner. She asked for an alternative - shorter drug treatment - - and was denied.

So she looks forward with some apprehension to her release. Her thoughts about getting out are scattered and mostly dark. She and Destiny will live at her mother's. She worries about employment.

"Getting a job with seven felonies just doesn't look good. ... I'm going to go to school. Without that, I don't see myself getting a decent job," she says.

One moment, she does not allow the idea of failure. The next, she acknowledges the possibility.

"I think there's no way I'll ever come back."

"I know that I'm not going to be back."


"'Cause I feel tired. Tired of doing this, tired of doing it to my family."

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