Thursday, 2 May 2013

Jail Baby: Stories about Children Born in Prison

This is a conversation with Hope McIntyre concerning her latest play Jail Baby co-written with Cairn Moore. It presents the life of character Jasmine, a composite fictional protagonist demonstrating the lives of women who are in prison and who have or who are about to give birth to children in prison. Jail Baby was created in partnership with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba after recognizing the need to share the stories of incarcerated women and women moving in and out of the justice system. Work and research was conducted over 3 years with actual women incarcerated in Alberta and Manitoba. Hope and Cairn held workshops with participants that allowed the research and discussion to be frank and worthy of presenting the stories of incarcerated women. 

While it is not just an Aboriginal story, 1/3 of all women in prison are Aboriginal and it is a too common experience in various segments of society. Activist Sel Burrow feels that prison should be the final answer to issues of poverty, racism and social conditions that too many of these women face. The interesting work of Hope and Cairn is the idea that while in prison rehabilitation needs to occur in order to break the negative support groups that congregate around these women, replacing them with positive support groups.  At the completion of the writing of the play the women who participated were given the chance to review the work, make comments, offer input and act out various scenes. During the production of the play (May 16-23, 2013) many of the women will be present, and there will be a chance to discuss directly with the actors and women afterwards.

Taken from Sarasvàti Productions
Jasmine bursts into the world unlike your typical new born child and is anointed a “jail baby.” Born in prison, raised by a mother who revolves in and out of the correctional system, tossed in and out of foster care, Jasmine is destined to become one of society’s monsters. When she finds herself pregnant and facing her most serious charge yet, Jasmine is horrified at the thought of having her unborn child repeat her life of despair.
Through a series of hilarious parodies, the myths of prison life for incarcerated women are presented and weaved together with Jasmine’s journey. From bad prison B movies to Kangaroo Court, the ensemble of characters turn common beliefs on their heads in order to make the audience question their preconceptions of criminalized women.

Jail Baby

World Premiere
by Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore
Nan Fewchuk and Marsha Knight
May 16-26, 2013
Asper Centre for Theatre and Film
(at the
University of Winnipeg, 400 Colony Street)
Directed by Ann Hodges
Set/Costume Design by Abigail Myers
Lighting Design by Dean Cowieson
Sound Design by Chris Coyne
Stage Manager Matthew Lagacé
Featuring: Ashley Chartrand, Melanie Dean, Shannon Guile, Daina Leitold, Megan McArton, Tracey Nepinak and Cory Wojcik.

To Learn More (Interview and Podcast) 


Ouellette, Robert-Falcon. (Director) (2013 May 02). At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research.Jail Baby; Stories about Children Born in Prison [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from 
Ouellette, Robert-Falcon, dir. "Jail Baby; Stories about Children Born in Prison." At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research.. N.p., 02 May 2013. web. 02 May 2013. <


  1. I have never seen this play, but the explanation of “Jail Baby” shows that the play does have some humor in it. I think that this movie is a good way to show what is going on with women in jail. I am not going to come to a firm conclusion of what should happen with pregnant women in jail, but this is honestly something that I have never thought about before. Although I would need to do a lot more research into this, I do believe that the babies in these situations, whether born or unborn, should be taken care of more than the typical prisoner usually is.

    I believe that the babies of these women in jail should have an appropriate birth. To me, this means that the women go to a hospital nearby and have the baby. There are two options that I can think of, and to my knowledge, one of them which already does exist. The first option could be to send the women home, or to a home like structure where they can take care of the baby in a ‘normal’ setting. Because it may not be possible for this incarcerated woman to return home to serve her time, maybe there could be another ‘jail-house’ where women can go that feels homely for the baby. Depending on what some women are in jail for, this may not be possible, and maybe the mother would not be able to take care of the child at all for a while.

    The other option that I can think of is to have a day care-like system in the jail for the babies. This would allow the babies to interact with other babies. In New York, there is a correctional facility that does this. Included with this program, the new mothers need to take mothering courses to teach them how to be parents (Kisa Mlela Santiago (2013), I think this is a really interesting program and think that it will go a long way because it teaches these women how to be good mothers.

    To conclude, I don’t believe that it is a good thing at all to have newborn babies in jails, but there are some programs that can take place to make the best of these situations.

  2. Having also read an article titled “‘Jail Baby’ a harrowing look at the roots of the prison system” by Joff Schmidt of CBC I really would have liked to have seen this play! The article explains that Jasmine (the main character who gives birth to a jail baby) is a jail baby herself, and thus the play is presenting the circular pattern of women who have been incarcerated.

    The Elizabeth Fry society has a page packed full of facts about women in prison, many of which were extremely surprising to me. It says that Aboriginal peoples are 9 times more likely to go to prison than the majority of the non-Aboriginal population in Canada. Aboriginal women make up 45% of the over all prison population (90-99% in some provincial jails) despite the fact that Aboriginal women only make up 1-2% of the Canadian population. This, to me, is alarming! If so many Aboriginal women are being convicted, there must be a source to this problem; or even more likely; multiple sources.

    As Schmidt quotes the play in his article he says that the character Jasmine explains: “I’m just fulfilling my destiny” (being pregnant in prison). If young girls grow up thinking that this is the inevitable future, what power does that give them to make their own change? If I never thought I would go to University, I probably would not be here writing this today, but I grew up knowing that somehow, even if getting the money for tuition would be hard, I would one day attend University. Not only do many young Aboriginal girls believe that University is a dream beyond their means, but many also probably believe that one day they will grow up to be pregnant at a young age, addicted to drugs, living in poverty or incarcerated because it is what many Aboriginal girls are surrounded by as they are growing up.

    This isn’t just one problem, it’s many problems and there isn’t just one cause, there are millions of causes, but the state that many Aboriginal women are in (incarcerated or not) is not one that can continue to slide under the rug and it is plays like “Jail Baby” which will hopefully continue to bring attention to these problems so that we can start to work together to find a solution.

    CBC Article:

    Elizabeth Fry Society Fact Sheet (facts from this post under heading: “Aboriginal Women”)

  3. Robert Ouellette interviews the authors of the play Jail Baby, Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore, a locally produced play about women in the penitentiary system and their children born into lives of inferiority and suffering. Jail Baby depicts the impossibility to transcend a life of crime once born into it. This play is a stark representation of the realities many Aboriginal women face such as poverty, crime and lastly prison.

    Prison is too common a reality for Aboriginal women. Robert Ouellette identifies that ⅓ of all women incarcerated are Aboriginal. Common also, is the prevalence of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) among incarcerated women. (2013, Power, Brown, Usher). These women experience trauma both within the jail system and in their previous experiences, which causes them to devalue their self-worth and potentially develop mental illness.

    The play Jail Baby wishes to expose that Aboriginal women have been systematically oppressed, a tradition stemming back even before the era of Residential Schools in Canada. The article Stolen Sisters Second Class Citizens, Poor Health: The Legacy of Colonization in Canada confirms this notion of systemic oppression and identifies the need for long term solutions such as societal reforms to “address the elimination of poverty among Aboriginal women while simultaneously revaluing Aboriginal women and their culture” (2009, p.18).

    Unless Canadians identify the importance of supporting and rehabilitating these disadvantaged Aboriginal Women the cycle of abuse, foster care and ultimately incarceration will be continually perpetuated.

    Jenelle Power, Shelley L. Brown and Amelia M. Usher. Prevalence and Incidence of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Among Federally Sentenced Women in Canada. Sage: 2013. pp. 302-319.
    Kubik, Wendee ; Bourassa, Carrie ; Hampton, Mary, Stolen Sisters, Second Class Citizens, Poor Health: The Legacy of Colonization in Canada. Humanity & Society: 2009 Vol.33(1-2), pp.18-34.