Here are some of the demeaning choices you face as a woman in prison: Do you spend the little money you have on calling home to tell your baby you love them or on tampons to get you through this month’s cycle? Do you risk toxic shock syndrome by using a homemade tampon, or do you turn a t-shirt into a makeshift pad? If you start spotting while pregnant, do you use your “ask” to see the doctor right away, or do you wait and see whether it gets worse?
For women behind bars in Missouri, dignity for their bodies can be unaffordable and that is why the Missouri legislature must pass HB 318 that requires all jails and prisons to provide free quality tampons and pads to women in custody.
For many, buying a $6 box of tampons from the prison canteen is out of the question. Instead, you make do with paper-thin liners and rationed-out toilet paper, while male guards joke or ask humiliating questions: “You’re bleeding again?” “You sure need a lot of these.” “Why aren’t two or three tampons a month enough for you?”
I found out I was pregnant three months into a 20-month sentence. Despite the hardships of pregnancy in prison without adequate medical care, despite the trauma of seeing my baby taken away the day after I gave birth to him, being pregnant in prison sometimes felt like a blessing, because at least I did not get my period. I saw women humiliated by guards who tracked their pads supply on a chart. I saw women bleeding through shirts and towels as they waited for someone “higher up” to sign off on their use of a few more supplies. The dehumanization took place daily.
I started The Help (KC) when I got out of prison to help women transition to life beyond four cell walls. For most of the women I work with, these dehumanizing prison experiences stay with them long after their release, impacting their ability to reunite with family and friends, confidently perform in jobs, care for loved ones, and move on with their lives.
Rates of women behind bars have skyrocketed in Missouri over the last two decades, but prisons and jails weren’t designed for female bodies. As a result, these institutions can rob women of basic human dignity. We can’t go on like this.
Since 2019, the Missouri Department of Corrections and several local jails have been providing free pads and tampons to women in their custody, but many jails do not. HB 318 would change that. The bill, introduced by Missouri Rep. Bruce DeGroot, would protect women’s dignity in all Missouri facilities by ensuring free access to an adequate supply of feminine hygiene products.
This is a commonsense bill with bipartisan support. The Missouri House Corrections and Institutions Committee voted it out 11 to 0 on March 10, and the Rules – Legislative Oversight committee voted it out 9 to 0 on March 25. Soon the entire Missouri House of Representatives will vote to decide whether it passes.
Join me in urging all members of the Missouri House of Representatives to vote yes on Rep. DeGroot’s absolutely necessary HB 318. The women of Missouri are watching.
Candance Wesson is an entrepreneur and founder of The Help in Kansas City, a reentry program exclusively for women.