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Ohio Mom Told to Breastfeed in Prison Bathroom

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

If there's anything grosser than a public restroom, it's probably a prison restroom. (Of course I'm only assuming this, having never been in a prison.) That's why Ohio mom Latosha S. McKenzie balked when an Alabama prison guard told her it was her only choice if she wanted to nurse her 8-month old son while she was visiting her husband.

The Huntsville Times has the story:

An Ohio woman said her civil rights were violated when a Limestone Correctional Facility guard directed her to the restroom to breast-feed her 8-month-old son during a recent visit with her husband.

During her most recent visit, July 14, when the guard told her to go into the restroom, McKenzie said she asked the guard if he would eat his lunch in the bathroom.

She said the guard told her that he would not eat in there, but that it was her only choice.

"The guard said, 'You wouldn't go into Hardee's or McDonald's to nurse your child, would you?' And I told him, 'Yes, I'll go anywhere and nurse my child,' " McKenzie said. "I was really humiliated and devastated."

Ok, while I am completely annoyed about this whole thing, I have to admit that the first two thoughts to cross my mind upon reading that were:

1.) Well I wouldn't go into a Hardee's PERIOD
2.) McDonald's? Sure! Let's have a little "Boobs, Folks and Fun!"

Seriously though, the guard's comment just floored me. Clearly the man has no concept of a woman's right to breastfeed in public if THAT was his defense for trying to send her off to a dirty bathroom stall.

Looks like the Alabama penal system needs to do a little educating of their employees about state laws.

To note, the Alabama law, which passed in the spring of 2006 reads:

A mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be present.

Despite this, the prison has responded in the usual "we think we were probably right" manner:

Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said the matter could be a public safety issue.

"I certainly respect and have empathy for her to breast-feed in a clean environment, but our priority is public safety," Corbett said.

He said the department will seek an attorney general's opinion on how the new breast-feeding law applies to prisons.

"We want to make sure we're following the law, and there is some question based on what the law says about whether it includes a prison visitation yard," Corbett said.

I must say, I am quite curious to know how McKenzie's need to breastfeed would cause a "public safety" issue. Were they worried she'd squirt someone in the eye?

McKenzie is trying to get in touch with the Limestone warden, but hasn't yet been able to speak with him. Alabama does have a Civil Rights Commission, so I'll be curious to hear if she moves forward with action against the prison system.

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  1. Blogger Heather Dudley | 12:52 PM |  

    Maybe the threat to safety is that if she breastfeeds in a prison visitation yard, maybe the other prisoners will be overcome by their own desire and attack her in a fit of uncontrollable lust...

    or something.

  2. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 1:07 PM |  

    That thought crossed my mind, but that pretty much takes us back to nursing as a sexual act, doesn't it?

    And I refuse to give credence to that theory unless flossing or tooth brushing is also a sexual act.

    You can do far more sexual things with your mouth than you can with breasts and yet I never hear this "but it will tempt people" argument about talking, eating or blowing bubbles...

  3. Blogger Eilat | 1:34 PM |  

    Here we go again...
    Every time you post these stories I am more and more baffled. I just cant beleive the ignorance out there. I wonder if they also tell women not to wear short skirts and high heels when they visit their husbands in jail.

    I have come to think that these cases of people mistreating breastfeeding moms is a very sinister form of power abuse. What is more vulnerable than a woman breastfeeding? I mean, we've got a partially exposed woman, with an even more vulnerable baby in her arms. And this is not the first time that a person with a relative position of power has turned and humiliated a nursing mother. Very similar to the immigration officers who abused the illigal workers in Ma.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:34 PM |  

    *I* don't see it as sexual and most reasonable people don't see it as sexual, but in a prison environment, where people are deprived of true sex and intimacy (not to mention the sight of real breasts), I could see where she may be in danger there.

  5. Blogger JudyBright | 1:52 PM |  

    I think that breastfeeding in view of male prisoners is a legitimate concern. These are males that have not seen a real woman in quite awhile, and they are criminals. It would not matter if breastfeeding is a sexual act or not; the only thing you need for this to be a problem is for a prisoner to see an exposed breast as sexual and then respond inappropriately or aggressively. It is naive to think a male prisoner would not be sexually aroused whether you think he should be or not.

    I'm thinking letting her use an office or some other room that is off limits to the prisoners would be fine as long as it did not pose any other security concerns.

  6. Blogger Sarahbear | 2:22 PM |  

    Prison visitations are very strict.

    My sister-in-law use to have to put 3 diapers on her daughter when she was taking her to visit my brother-in-law because they did not allow diaper bags or her to carry in anything other than the baby.

    I guess that's the price you pay when you violate the laws.

    Though breastfeeding in itself is not a sexual act, there's a risk that they might be exposed. From what I understand a lot of prisons are very strict on the attire you can wear to visitation as well, to prevent anything from happening.

  7. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 2:41 PM |  

    Oh, I don't doubt that many prisons may have to have super strict dress codes and other such things.

    I don't even necessarily have a problem with stating that you cannot feed a baby in a certain location, just as you might not be able to wear certain types of clothing.

    However, I firmly believe that if there is THAT much danger to a mom nursing in a certain location, then the BABY shouldn't be in that location nursing or not. If breastfeeding has any chance of putting mom in harms way, then my bigger concern is why the baby is in that location.

    I guess I didn't envision this dyad strolling around the open prison yard. My thought was that this was a sequestered space where only inmates that were having visitors could be and where the area was heavily staffed by guards for the safety of those visitors.

    Again, never been to a prison, so no idea what the environment is.

    Even so, there is absolutely NO excuse for telling this mom she must nurse in a bathroom. Zero, zilch, nada. There are a million other places that would solve the "safety" issue without making this child eat on the toilet.

  8. Blogger Ms D | 2:50 PM |  

    Totally agree with you, Jennifer.

  9. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:58 PM |  

    UGH! I have been inside a prison bathroom - The bathroom for staff was JUST AS DISGUSTING as the bathroom for the inmates. Makes me shudder just thinking about having to breastfeed in there. I agree that if the environment is safe enough for a mother and baby to be present, then it is safe enough for the baby to be fed naturally at the mother's breast.

  10. Blogger Shay | 4:04 PM |  

    If he honestly felt for the safety of the mother and her nursing child, he could have asked her to leave and come back, offered the office. The whole you wouldn't nurse in Hardee's etc, proves, IMO that is was not about the safety of the mother or the baby but of the guards own feelings regarding breastfeeding.

    As for fits of horrible lust from other inmates. If they are that unable to control themselves should they be allowed to be where other non inmates are? I mean most low cut tops these days show off way more than the typical nursing mom.No, breastfeeding is not a sexual act. We do however live in a society which for the most part believes a breast's sole function is to be for sex. As sad as that is, which is why so many people don't breastfeed or don't like it when others do.

    I hope this mother takes it to the board, it would be interesting to see the outcome. I have family that works as Prison guards and I wonder if they are up to date on our State breastfeeding laws.

  11. Blogger Jaime and Mitch | 4:50 PM |  

    I am coming from someone that has worked in a prison and a mom that breastfeeds.

    It is a safety issue when it comes to breastfeeding at a prison. These are men that have no seen a woman's body in a LONG time. You would be surpirsed how they can react to a little bit ok skin.

    No breastfeeding is NOT a sexual act, but to a man that has not seen a breast in how long - they will make it a sexual act in their mind. This is not normal society within those walls. And it would be in her best interest to NOT show her skin there. Thats why they have such strict guidelines on what you can wear into visitation.

    As for his comments about breastfeeding and locations - he is just an ignorant person. PERIOD. That was wrong and that is not acceptable. There are otehr admin places in the prison that she could have been escorted to. He was wrong and he needs a hard flogging! LOL!

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:56 PM |  

    Who's going to lead the nurse-in for this one? Me - I think I'll pass!

  13. Blogger Anna | 8:49 PM |  

    I'm also curious to see how this all pans out.

    When I spoke to Latosha, she made it very clear that she was not asking to - nor did she want to - nurse her son in the visitation area. She was perfectly happy to go to another area to nurse him... any area besides the toilet.

    While I agree that a prison might be in a different category than other "public places," that guard was completely out of line.

    I think she has an uphill battle ahead of her, but I'm glad she's fighting it.

  14. Anonymous Anonymous | 5:31 AM |  

    Prisons are operated by the state in which they are located. Thus, they are an agency of the state (in Ohio they are part of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections), and as such are a place of public accomodation and of course have to abide by the law.

  15. Blogger Melissa | 5:37 AM |  

    I am going to hell for this, but I laughed at the Hardee's/McDonald's comment. In my head, the guard sounded the same as if he were saying, "You wouldn't breastfeed at Tavern on the Green or Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, would you?"

  16. Blogger Sarahbear | 7:30 AM |  

    I wonder if they also tell women not to wear short skirts and high heels when they visit their husbands in jail.

    Not trying to pick a fight, but yes they will ask women to not wear provacative clothing, especially skirts. Not only might the other inmates create a problem but different prisons have different visitation areas. Some are open courtyards, some are cafeteria type rooms, some are like phone booths, some have large fences that you have to talk to people through and you don't actually get to go inside.

    While my step father was locked up we went for visitation and there was a woman who came to visit her boyfriend. She was wearing a skirt and they went away from the main crowd to somewhere I guess they figured they would have a little privacy and he hiked up her skirt and went to town. She got locked up accross the street at the women's detention center for that.

    In this particular situation it's not just about some more thinking breastfeeding = sex and it's okay to walk around topless otherwise. It's a legitimate concern for the mother's safety.

    While she shouldn't have been asked to nurse in the restroom, it was perfectly okay to ask her to find somewhere else to go. The only thing that stinks about it, is that visitation is only for an hour or so and she'd have to miss out on spending the few minutes she gets to see her husband every week.

  17. Anonymous Anonymous | 3:07 PM |  

    Georgia State Prison is literally in my back yard. I can see the guard line from the front door of the house I grew up in and my parent's ranch boarders the prison reservation. This is GA's max lock down. Let me tell you a little about how things go there. You do not pass thru the front gate in a skirt, in shorts, in jeans, a sleeveless shirt, or open toe/heel shoes. Period. Doesn't matter if you are just going into the administrative building and won't go anywhere near the dorms or the yard. Doesn't matter if you are an employee or a visitor. Doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman. It does NOT happen. No exceptions. End of story. The only place flesh other than your arms, neck, and face are allowed to be exposed is... in the restroom when you drop your drawers to pee.

    These inmates get their Sunday visitation once a month thru plexiglass where contact is prohibited. Take the danger factor for the woman out of the picture. Think about what a sexually aroused inmate could/would do to another inmate. It happens regardless of any possible glimpse of flesh they may get. But makeing it so their is the slightest possibility an inmate could see a flash of flesh puts the safety of other inmates at risk. Think about what a jealous inmate may do to the husband of that woman/father of that baby simply because he was the one getting visited by the object of sexual desire. It is not rational. But neither is the population of your typical prison. I'm not saying that BFing is sexual. I totally disagree with that. But just because you and I do not see it as a sexual thing, that does not mean that the very violent and dangerous people inside that building don't and wouldn't act on it.

    As for offering an office to nurse in - well, that is another securtiy violation. Visitors are only allowed into visitor areas - not the administrative areas. The only areas availble to visitors are the public waiting room, the visitations rooms, and the rest room. The rest of the prison is NOT a place the mother has the legal right to be, as it is strictly off limits to all visitors. There for it is NOT up to the staff to provide her with a location to nurse outside of those areas where she is legally allowed to be.

    I'm normally with you 100% on ALL these BF in public issues. But inside a prison is where I have to stop. I see that as putting more people in danger unnecessarily - both herself, her baby, her husband, the staff, and other inmates. And here, the bigger picture - the safety of many - outweighs the baby's need to eat right then, right there. She could leave the prison building, go to the parking lot, nurse her child outside the view of any inmate, then come back in to continue visitation or nurse before visitation. This is just where I, as someone very familier with prisons, their occupants, and what they are capable of within those walls, see the baby's right to eat as secondary to everyone else's right to safety.

    But then again, I have a friend (former guard) that is blind now from a bleach/urine mix thrown in his face thru a food slot by an inmate that thought he had been disrespected by not getting his desert the night before.

  18. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 5:02 PM |  

    "The only areas availble to visitors are the public waiting room, the visitations rooms, and the rest room."

    But two of those locations are NOT bathrooms.

    Is there a security reason why the mother could not breastfeed in either of them? I would assume that prisons are not allowed in the public waiting room?

  19. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:10 AM |  

    Several years back, while on my way home on a Sunday morning after a very long night of excessive partying, I had to pull over at this little picnic area across the road from the prison to, um, empty some of the acohol out of my stomach. 2 little girls were sitting there on top of one of the tables alone. One looked to be about 6 and the other maybe 8 or 9. And they were sitting there alone with no adult in this place that I know they did not belong. I asked them what they were doing there and the older one told me that they had come with their grandma to see their grandpa who was in the prison acrorss the road. They could not go inside because the youngest had on a sleevless shirt. Not a tube top, not a spaghetti strapped shirt, just your normal to the edge of the shoulder sleeveless shirt. They were not even allowed thru the visitors gate into the visitors waiting room because of it. So grandma left the oldest to watch the youngest while she went in to visit.

    I did not feel good about them being there, so I drove the 3 miles to my house, got an old tshirt from my drawer, and took it back to them. I put them in my car and drove them back to the gate where I walked them to the door and told the guard what had happened. I knew the guard from high school and he remembered the girls and took them in to the waiting room and notified their grandmother as to where they were.

    I tell this story to say this - if they will not let a 6 year old in a sleevless shirt wait for her grandmother in the waiting room because of her clothing, they are not going to let a woman even give the illusion (and sometimes is it about perception, not actuallity) of exposing her breast in that same room. And visitation rooms ARE where the inmates are - for visitation. So that is 200% out of the question. Is my reasoning making any sense?

  20. Blogger Unknown | 11:54 AM |  

    In a Texas Courthouse it doesn't matter if you HAVE permission, and ARE in a private office -

    " It was Thursday, and the mother of three was at the Collin County Courts and Probation building in McKinney with her 10-day-old son, Noah.

    Arthur said she received permission to go into an office to nurse the baby. Minutes later, the two women employees confronted her.

    "They were like standing in the doorway and they told me I needed to go to the bathroom to feed my baby," Arthur said. "They said, 'You know what? If you don't get up, we'll call security.'" "

    The whole story is here -

  21. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 5:57 PM |  

    It makes sense on the visitation room, but if there is a family waiting room where the inmates are not allowed to go, I don't understand what the problem is.

    Now that said, when I originally wrote the post, I wasn't aware that it was a maximum security prison. That really does make a big difference in my mind. (In terms of how necessesary it is to be crazy strict.)

    On the other hand, the mom says that she was allowed to nurse in places other than a bathroom the first few times she went to visit. It appears that it was this one guard that caused the rukus. I would think if she had been allowed to nurse (maybe in the waiting room? I'm not sure where it was) somewhere other than the rest room in the past, she probably should have been able to this time as well.

  22. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:33 AM |  

    I'm not sure if that was a maximum security or not where this incident took place. I'm just telling you how it is at the prisons here. Prisons are big business here. We have 4 in this county alone, including the state's super max, 2 medium security, and one lower security facility that houses the trustees that serve as farm labor on the state farm. The strict dress code is the same for all 4 facilities.

    But since we do not know what type of facility this woman's husband was in, and we do not know the security level, and we also do not know they layout of the visitation areas, we can not automatically assume that the guard was out of line or targeting her simply because she was a breastfeeding mother. He could be a closeminded @** doing it simply because he could. Or he could have just been enforcing strict safety policy. From what I have read here, I can't say 100% one way or the other.

    I'm not arguing that he was 100% correct in his request. He could have very well been WAY out of line in his request. I am simply arguing this point to show that there ARE some lines that do not need to be crossed in some very special situations. There ARE times and places, certain prison situations for instance, where the rights (read 'safety') of others outweigh the baby's right to eat right that moment right there in that location. I'm am arguing this point because there are times and places where a strict no breastfeeding here policy IS appropriate. Sort of a 'the world is not black and white' argument. Women do have the right to BF any time, any place. I support it 100%! But this is an area of grey where I see the other side. It is not about shame or embarassment or a gross out factor. It is not about not understanding or 'not wanting to see that'. This is a situation where safety is at stake. And that is where I have to step to the other side of the argument. And I feel that if we can not see a reason for the other side to exist, then we have become extremist rather than activists and have allowed our reasoning to be clouded and our minds to become closed, same as 'them'. I refuse to adopt so hard-nosed of a stance on ANY topic that I can not bend when there is just cause for it.

  23. Blogger Jennifer Laycock | 11:20 AM |  

    "I refuse to adopt so hard-nosed of a stance on ANY topic that I can not bend when there is just cause for it."

    No arguments there! :)

  24. Blogger Julie | 1:08 PM |  

    Hi, I found your blog a couple of weeks ago, but this is the first time I've had time to post.

    My first reaction was to be appalled. But after I thought about it for a while, I can see reasons why they would not allow a woman to breastfeed inside a prison. So many everyday actions that we consider normal and wholesome are restricted or banned inside of prisons, that I can see nursing as just one of the many, rather than something singled out.

    However, the response of the guard in question was completely inappropriate and does NOT indicate that he was stopping her from breastfeeding because he was following policy or for any other valid reason. He was letting his own ignorance and close-mindedness determine his actions. This is clear by his comments about McDonalds or Hardees. He didn't tell her that she couldn't nurse because it was against prison policy and suggest that she leave the prison to nurse and come back when she was finished.

    In this situation, I think they should clarify their policies and the guard should be required to take some kind of sensitivity training and make a public apology to the woman.

  25. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:42 AM |  

    I have been in this situation when I visited my dad in a prison camp(This prison had a large visiting room and a restroom with several guards on duty). It is very upsetting and frustrating. The first time things went well. There was a female guard who actually let me go to the car to feed which is what I asked to do. The problem is once you leave you cannot return but she was okay to let me back in. The next time the guard was male (and much more of a stickler) and I made the same request and he said I could NOT leave and come back but I could go to the restroom. Not only was I not going to nurse my child in the restroom but I wasn't going to tie up the only restroom for 30+ minutes. I was absolutely furious. I am very discreet and most people probably wouldn't have even noticed that I was nursing. After the guard refused my request I sat back down to try and soak in what just happened. That's when the guard motioned me back up to the front and told me I could go out to nurse this one time but to make other arrangements next time. Believe me I had already tried other arrangements. I fed him before getting there or gave him bottles when he would take them and then I didn't visit very long but these fews time just didn't work out that way. Looking back I wished that I would have at least done some research to find out how this should have been handled.

  26. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:12 AM |  

    I was just told today to leave my son's lunchroom because I was not allowed to breastfeed my 3 month old baby "in front of the children." They told me that there was a restroom available to use. I was so offended. My baby had just as much a right to eat as all of the other children in the cafeteria. And, by the way, I was being discreet and using a blanket to cover up.

  27. Anonymous Anonymous | 6:14 AM |  

    I'm confused. Why wouldn't someone bring a bottle of breast milk in a prison environment? This woman sounds like an exibitionist.

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