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The Problem Of Getting A Period In Prison

Katherine Barner

Posted on August 19 2016

Getting your period is not the most pleasant experience. Womanhood can be beautiful, but also sometimes comes with cramps, bloating, mood swings, and in some cases, excessive bleeding. Luckily, in the 21st century, we have products to make these things easier on us. We have thin sanitary napkins and tampons that move with our bodies. We have pain medications specifically designed for menstrual cramps. Modern technology has even brought us period tracking apps. Unless, of course, you’re on your period in prison. There you may not even receive the most basic necessities. Menstruation can turn into more than an inconvenience: it can be a nightmare.

The products women are receiving when they have their period in prison are low in quality and quantity. The extremely low number of pads provided to these women, assuming the prisons provide them, causes women to have to wear a single pad for multiple days. As a woman who goes through multiple pads on a single heavy day, one can only imagine uncomfortable this can get.

Beyond comfort, this can lead to serious bacterial infections. Former inmate Chandra Bozelko told The Guardian for an opinion piece, “I have seen pads fly right out of an inmate’s pants: prison maxi pads don’t have wings and they have only average adhesive so, when a woman wears the same pad for several days because she can’t find a fresh one, that pad often fails to stick to her underwear and the pad falls out.” Yes, pads are often available in commissary, but that’s only for those who can afford them.

Then there’s the humiliation. “It is an experience that either intentionally works to degrade inmates, or degrades us as a result of cost-saving measures; either way, the results are the same,” Bozelko writes. “Prison makes us hate a part of our selves; it turns us against our own bodies.” Bleeding through clothing is a something every person with ovaries fears in their lifetime, and doing so in a position where one is already powerless adds to the shame. These women are serving their sentences, and deserve to be treated like humans. And unfortunately, this inhuman treatment of women in prison goes beyond periods.

Recently, a woman in Louisville appeared in court and appeared to not be wearing pants. She was not given hygiene products or pants for three days. According to The Guardian, the judge’s response was, “Is this for real? Am I in the Twilight Zone?” One could only imagine how the woman felt during this ordeal. She was arrested for failure to complete a diversion program, which would have cleared a shoplifting charge from her record. Her original sentence was 75 days in prison, and was reduced to a $100 fine and time served. A photo of the woman was later released and revealed her to be wearing athletic shorts that were mostly covered by a T-shirt.

The lack of hygienic products and forced humiliation some women encounter in prison settings is upsetting to say the least; change is crucial. There are non-profits like Women’s Prisons Association working to provide these individuals with the tools they need to succeed, both while they are in prison and when they are released.

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