With special guest Jahmil Eady
On this month’s episode of the Periodical Podcast, Asha Dahya speaks with the “The Bond” director
On this month’s episode of the Periodical Podcast, Asha Dahya speaks with the “The Bond” director
00:13 Asha Dahya
Hello friends! Welcome to another episode of the rePROFilm Podcast. I’m your host Asha Dahya and this month we are focusing on the topic of giving birth while incarcerated.
In this month’s repro periodical newsletter which you can subscribe to for free at reprofilm.org we are featuring director Jahmil Eady’s short film ‘The Bond’. Jahmil Eady is an award-winning writer, director and producer who blends genre with social impact storytelling. Jahmil was an Associate Producer on documentary projects for Oprah Winfrey Network Viceland and Discovery Networks. Her short films have played at over 50 film festivals worldwide.
‘The Bond’ documents the plight of lead character Aria, a young woman who is pregnant and incarcerated fighting for her most precious connection against a system designed to isolate her. She is hoping to secure a spot in the prison’s nursery program for her baby so that she does not have to be separated from her child after giving birth. Based on a true story this character-driven drama sheds light on a growing yet often invisible demographic; incarcerated pregnant women.
America is the most incarcerated nation on the planet. According to recent data 2.3 million people are confined in a U.S. correctional facility 231000 of which are women. Of these roughly half are women of color who are overrepresented in the incarcerated population. Among incarcerated women three out of four are of childbearing age more than half are mothers of minor children and up to one in 10 were pregnant when they entered incarceration.
Being incarcerated during pregnancy or childbirth exposes pregnant and birthing people to heightened risks to their and their infants’ health and well-being. One of the most hideous practices in the United States is shackling incarcerated women to the bed while they labor in childbirth. It is absurd and it is depicted in ‘The Bond’ where at one point we see a medical staffer say to the prison guard in the middle of one of Aria’s contractions where she is restrained by handcuffs “where is she going to go?!”
Shackling is the use of a device such as ankle cuffs, belly chains, soft restraint or hard metal handcuffs to limit a person’s movement and is supposedly necessary to prevent escape. Approximately 56 percent of prison facilities use restraints on women within hours after birth. These facilities also cuff women’s ankles or hands during labor. However (and this will come as no surprise to anyone) a 2011 report found that there was not a single reported case of escape by any incarcerated woman who was not restrained during labor. Additionally most incarcerated mothers are only allowed 24 hours with their newborns in the hospital after birth. This practice of separating mothers and newborns can be psychologically traumatizing for both the parent and infant. This is what we see in Aria’s story in ‘The Bond’.
It really was enlightening to talk with Jahmil about her film which is also very personal to her and her family. Shackling incarcerated women during labor and separating them from their newborns are horrendous practices. This is a reproductive justice issue that needs so much more action and awareness on a larger scale and I’m thankful for the opportunity Repro Film has to amplify the topic with our listeners.
03:55 Asha Dahya
Jahmil Eady it’s so lovely to be chatting with you today. Welcome to the rePROFilm Podcast.
04:00 Jahmil Eady
Thank you. I’m super excited to be here.
04:03 Asha Dahya
Well I’m so excited to be speaking with you about your film The Bond and there’s so many things that I want to ask you and dive into but first I’d love to hear where the idea for The Bond came from and what made you want to make this film?
04:17 Jahmil Eady
Sure. So the film is inspired by my mom’s experience giving birth to me and I wanted to make a film that dealt with what I think of as a pretty pressing issue: The shackling of incarcerated pregnant women in the United States learning myself that it hadn’t just happened to my mom or a few people back in the 80s. But it was still going on. And then watching sort of this rapid movement toward the criminal criminalization of reproductive rights and reproductive justice in this country. It was just sort of like wow this feels really urgent and I wanted to sort of add my voice to the conversation around reproductive justice. Because I think mass incarceration goes hand in hand with that conversation. So I mean that film. Yeah it’s been really really cool to think about it as sort of a tool for activism and doing that work.
05:27 Asha Dahya
And how was the conversation with your mum? Has she seen the film and when you learned about her story how did that impact you personally before making the film?
05:37 Jahmil Eady
So growing up my mom told me about this issue about her story when I was in my teens and I actually watched her try to end this practice in New York State and she was she worked with a lot of activists in New York State to end this practice of of shackling incarcerated women who were giving birth. They were all very successful and she actually took me with her up to Albany and we do this activism work together. But I didn’t really understand her experience until I got older and I went back to her and I sat with her and I interviewed her about her experience and then a few years later I decided to make this film. I did a lot of research because I also didn’t want this film to be a biographical sort of rehashing of her experience. I wanted this film to feel nuanced. I wanted it to feel healing and I also didn’t want it to be sort of this re-traumatization experience for her or people who experienced this issue. And so I did a lot of research on other representations of women who were giving birth behind bars. I found that often.
The stories were sensationalized and sometimes even exploitative. I did a lot of reading of legislation and books by doctors who are working within the sector who were helping women who were incarcerated and boarding people who were incarcerated. I wanted to tell a story that I felt gave a snapshot of the entire system and the entire issue or that villainized individuals within the system right? Even officers and people like that because it really is a system right?
So my mom was very happy with it. We’ve actually had a really cool time with this film since it’s been made. We’ve gone to festivals together and film festivals together. We’ve spoken on panels together really because this film is meant to be a tool not just for talking about anti-shackling and the issues of Giving birth behind bars but it is also a way for people who have shame and and feel stigma to find one another and who have been sort of suffering in silence and having all this shame and silence. It’s a tool for connection and for us to find one another and the reality is In a country where millions of people Are impacted by the incarcerated system. There’s so many of us out there but we’re just not talking about it right? And these things happen in the dark and happen inherently. it’s hidden. And so having this film that we can use as a tool for outreach and community building has been really wonderful for our Friendship. My mother and me and als for the community as a whole.
09:01 Asha Dahya
And what a wonderful way to give your mother a voice to share her experience or be it adapted for the film and then by proxy giving voice to many other people have been through that. I love that it’s such a wonderful full circle Moment. Just hearing you speak about that. What have been some Of the most surprising or emotional Or reactions to The Bond from audiences as it’s been screening as you’ve shared it and as you’ve spoken to people about it?
09:29 Jahmil Eady
When I think about one of the more impactful experiences I’ve had, my mom and I screened the film and spoke on a panel at the Free Her Conference that is an abolition organization centered on ending the mass incarceration of women and girls. The organization brings women and their families and their children who’ve been impacted by the carceral system together for a weekend And that’s the community that we want to reach right? We want people to see themselves reflected on screen. We want to see Them humanized on-screen and so being able to Show this film. I think that was One of the most impactful experiences.
10:17 Asha Dahya
Making films about a personal issue like what you’ve done can require a certain level of vulnerability. How are you able to balance that while making this film where you’re constantly switching between thinking about your mother’s experience as well as your filmmaker hat on like how did you balance that?
10:33 Jahmil Eady
People are always vulnerable when they’re doing this work right? We’re putting ourselves in our work and I think of filmmaking. In particular as A tool for healing and as a Tool for sort of forging connection And so I think the vulnerability kind of comes with it. When I started to make the film I Knew that even though I was putting my mom’s story in there and I was putting myself in there I also wanted it to represent the larger issue. And so I was able to sort of depersonalize it a little bit. Because every person in the film, every character in the film including the officer including the doctor and her cellmate, they were all in there. In the process of making the film I was focusing on “how do I make these characters feel layered and nuanced?” I’m also working with a large team, right? I have these amazing collaborators who are putting themselves in the film in various ways and bringing their own gifts and talents and perspectives. Project becomes much larger than just me and my mom right? And then there’s also this concept of like The Bond as being this tool for Forging bonds for the larger community and so it very quickly didn’t Feel like it Was just me doing This really vulnerable thing. It’s a sort of a larger project.
12:04 Asha Dahya
I love the layers. In the term The Bond between a mother and the newborn but also The Bond between the community that you’re showing this film to and the connection that they’re able to make with more people and. Other people have been through that same system so I love that.
12:22 Jahmil Eady
Since making the film I’ve met so many people who have been impacted or who share my same experience and my mom’s same experience right? It’s been really wonderful to sort of chip away at stigma and shame. 80% of the women who will be jailed in the next year, our mothers right? 55,000 women will be pregnant when they’re arrested not convicted just arrested right? We’re talking about very large numbers of people and therefore we’re talking about many of us who is impacted in this in this country and so the more we can talk about it and the more we can sort of release shame or stigma? The faster we can do the work of ending these practices and healing people and building a more just and restorative system. And when I talk about restorative justice I’m talking about the system of true rehabilitation to make sure that people have what they need.
13:27 Asha Dahya
Well talking about making progress and change although this happened many years ago to your mum. You mentioned it is still happening today across America. I’d love to know. Has there been any change in the way pregnant incarcerated mothers are being treated? What are some of the laws that you’ve seen that have changed? I love that you mentioned that your mum was involved in changing legislation. Tell me about some of the others.
13:49 Jahmil Eady
As a teen I watched my mom doing this work but I didn’t really understand the importance of it. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve sort of started looking back and doing my own research I see that this is a sort of a state by state issue. So yeah in the last few years though there have been some movement. There have been some really powerful anti-shackling legislation that’s come out in recent years. There’s Georgia, Minnesota, and currently Wisconsin is working to pass the Dignity For Incarcerated Women and Girls bill. What’s really cool about this bill That’s being passed in Wisconsin is that it’s a restorative justice bill. It’s not just working to And the practice of shackling but it’s also adding all these programs and support systems for people so there’s so little program for pre and postpartum care. There’s information and education around pregnancy and labor and there’s healthcare services for new moms. There’s addiction and mental health services and So essentially it’s resources for people Who are transitioning out Of the parcel system. This programming Wisconsin would be sort of modeled off of an earlier program that was created in Minnesota Minnesota has something called the Minnesota Prison dual program. It’s this kind of restorative justice work that we think is really important. It’s creating systems that work to help people And support people and make sure that we lower the recidivism rates and that we keep families together and that we help people become self-sustaining and thriving members of their community right. And not just this current system that we have, that’s penal. Just punitive and punishing. It’s how do we create something that is Holistic? There is some really amazing work being done across the United States and across the anti shackling movement. even when the Legislation is passed. There’s also an issue of making sure that it’s enforced right and making sure that the officers And healthcare providers know about this and know the proper way of caring for incarcerated individuals.
16:28 Asha Dahya
Yeah like having that accountability built in. It reminded me just as you’re talking, it reminds me of that quote. I think it’s —— to it instead of just pulling the bodies out of the river. We’ve got to go upstream and see Why they’re falling in?
16:40 Jahmil Eady
That’s absolutely right and what you’re getting at is sort of the intersectionality of it right the prisons and jails have become sort of just this catch-all solution where our country put people that they consider undesirable in prison. Labor is become sort of woven into our economic system and it’s so cheap that It’s free and then we have sort of this the issues of criminalizing Poverty and criminalizing mental illness and criminalizing addiction, homelessness, and now more and more reproductive justice. People who dare claim and own their bodily autonomy are being criminalized. I think when we talk about that phrase that
“None of us get free until all of us are free” and we talk about the importance of restorative justice. Once we can help the people who are most dehumanized in our system because these people are often falling through the cracks. You have to think about taking a holistic approach because it is interconnected.
18:02 Asha Dahya
I mean you mentioned that this is the most incarcerated country on the planet and that should be enough for people to stop in their tracks and be. Like we’re all connected to these issues in some way and other through the people that we know and so it’s almost a responsibility for us to be aware and take action however we can there’s definitely an increase in awareness. There’s action being taken state by state how the prison system impacts mothers pregnant folks and predominantly women of color and low income folks. So I’d love to Know how films like yours can Reach into the void where there is little to no education or awareness about this. where mainstream media is not covering these stories. How can a film like The Bond be Connecting those people and perhaps sparking some change or motivation in them.
18:52 Jahmil Eady
It helps people very quickly understand the issue and it builds empathy. It’s something that people can share with the people in their lives or they can share it with their members of Congress and people Who are doing legislative work and to find one Another to build community.
That’s why I love film And television so much because it really just connects people so quickly and so effectively And it allows us To tell our stories.
I’m really excited to see all these programs popping up in higher-ed and and colleges and universities that are carceral studies programs and things like That and I Think there’s a lot of work being done at Harvard. There’s work being done at UCLA all around carceral studies. I would love toSee it In our education system so yeah I think it’s a really really awesome tool.
19:52 Asha Dahya
Yeah so powerful. I mean storytelling really can be a powerful and magical tool to spark an idea that you never had come across or heard about before and now it’s like oh wait this is insane. Being pregnant incarcerated mothers. Two they are not going to escape.
20:13 Jahmil Eady
Yeah. It’s like where are they going right?
20:15 Asha Dahya
I mean that’s one of the lines in the film. Like where is she going to go? I have given birth twice in a hospital setting and I can tell you we ain’t going nowhere during that time.
20:28 Jahmil Eady
Absolutely not! I kind of feel like if you’re badass enough to get out of there, okay, you’ve earned it like you have at it.
20:40 Asha Dahya
How far are you going to go? You’re probably just going to go to the bathroom and that’s why you’ll collapse because that’s as far as I made it.
20:46 Jahmil Eady
It’s just needlessly… like what you’re getting at…is that it’s just needless and it’s dangerous to boot. You can interfere with appropriate health medical care. People can fall…As they’re being shackled their ankles or their wrist shackled they can fall. There’s just a lot of needless danger involved in this practice. It’s really great to see that more and more people are talking about it across the United States. The anti-shackling movement is getting even more attention and and and then on top of that people are also thinking about it. And in a more sort of holistic way as well: How do we stop it before people before we get to this point?
21:38 Asha Dahya
Maybe we need more people who have given birth to be writing these laws so that the system isn’t just designed for by white men for white men and everyone else just kind of falls through the cracks so That’s another whole other issue that is a whole other thing right?
21:54 Jahmil Eady
That’s one thing but that reminds me that the dignity for Incarcerated women and girls both. That’s in Wisconsin. Jerry Branham is working with Senator Lena Taylor and representative Subeck and she actually gave birth while she was incarcerated and had this really traumatizing experience. After she was released decided to become a Doula and so there’s also all of these programs that are these sort of dual training programs for incarcerated women so that they Also come out with Skills that they could then use to sustain themselves. And give back to their communities so People who have had these experiences who Like my mom. who comes out and she’s now Professor. And at John J and she does a lot of work around helping people who are transitioning out of being incarcerated. It’s this giving back and sort of this taking Evaluate the the experiences of people who have had these experiences and their Voices as we work to heal this system and reshape our current system.
23:13 Asha Dahya
So as we kind of wrap up here I want to ask you. Jahmil in the current era we’re going into an election year in 2024. Everything’s going to be heated. All the issues are going to come up as they do we’re seeing a steady rollback of reproductive rights. state by state ever since Roe fell in 2022. There’s so much going on and reproductive justice is of course at the center of this because how do you control the population? You take away their rights, take away their rights. Their right to make decisions about our bodies. So amidst this climate what do you hope The Bond will symbolize? What do you hope audiences will think about and be spurred to do after watching The Bond?
24:07 Jahmil Eady
Going forward we should all think of these issues as intersectional. And you start wherever you are, get in where you fit in If you’re doing the work of mental health, advocacy, if you’re working within the realm of reproductive rights and reproductive justice and poverty or family separation – You are helping others. You’re helping people that you don’t even realize that you’re helping because it’s also layered and intersectional. I like to just say get in where you fit in.
24:37 Asha Dahya
I think that’s really important. I mean that’s one of the things that we value here at rePRO. It’s so many issues that can feel so overwhelming but you get in where you fit in and there are small bite sized ways that we can all take action in our communities.
24:52 Jahmil Eady
You are not in a silo right? You might feel alone and there’s all this stuff happening. But it’s like we are all doing our part to chip away at this larger system. If you find something that you’re Passionate about whether it’s reproductive justice and rights or food and making sure that people aren’t living in deserts Food Deserts. You are not alone and you’re doing beautifully, baby. So just keep going.
25:19 Asha Dahya
Well I know I’m grateful for your work Jahmil. And I want to know what you’re working on next. How can people follow you? Support you? Tell us. Tell us all the things. What can we look forward to in your world?
25:31 Jahmil Eady
So The Bond is a very straightforward drama. I generally love to genre-blend so I tend to work in genres like sci-fi fantasy horror. I like to say that I tell genre stories for social impact. So currently I’m developing what I think of as a universe. It’s a short. It’s a feature. and they all take place in the Gullah community. In that community is the Sea Islands and off the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. It’s a very distinct African American culture with the distinct language color Creole and has inspired a lot of what we think of the Southern cuisine. Some people might know about the Gullah community from Gullah Gullah Island that TV show but my projects all sort of take place in this realm and I use sci-fi and fantasy and all these other elements to explore issues of displacement and environmental issues. I’m just really excited to release these projects and you can follow me at @Jdirects on Instagram and Twitter.
26:51 Asha Dahya
And where can people follow The Bond online?
26:54 Jahmil Eady
So you can find The Bond at @TheBond_film on both Twitter and Instagram or find out more information at my website JahmilEady.com.
27:07 Asha Dahya
Also we would definitely be doing that definitely be keeping up with all your amazing work and thank you so much for joining me today.
27:14 Jahmil Eady
Thank you for having me.
27:17 Asha Dahya
As Jahmil said, get in where you fit in. Start somewhere! There are ways each of us can take action on pushing for change to stop the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women and to ensure that the all-important bond is allowed with their newborn. For resources on how you can get involved visit reprofilm.org where we’ve shared a list of organizations recommended by Jahmil.
Be sure to share this episode with a friend and help us spread the repro film message and mission by subscribing to our Periodical at rePROFilm.org.
The Repro Film podcast is executive produced by mama.film
Hosted and produced by me Asha Dahya
Edited by Kylie Brown
With original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony.
The periodical is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen
Alex Sgambati is our Social Media Manager
You can find us on social media @reprofilm on Instagram watch our additional video content on our YouTube channel @reprofilmorg where you can catch the replay of all our recent IG lives with Alex as well as filmmaker screenings and panel discussions with yours truly! Bye for now!