CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s been 12 years since Kristie Puckett Williams lived behind the walls of the Mecklenburg County Jail.
“Women are generally on the other side, or that’s the side they were on when I was stationed here,” Puckett Williams said.
Puckett Williams was serving time for felony drug charges, while eight months pregnant and going through withdrawal.
Still, she remembers what it was like walking in chains.
“It wasn’t a walk, it was a shuffle,” Puckett Williams said.
Today, she works as the Smart Justice Manager for the ACLU of North Carolina. It is activism driven by her own experiences.
“Not having the ability to balance myself was a huge issue,” Puckett Williams said. “Oftentimes, you’re issued clothes that are way too big, there aren’t maternity clothes. You’re wearing shower shoes, the shower shoes can be very slippery.”
After years of being a victim of domestic violence, Puckett Williams became addicted to drugs to cope with her life. In 2009, she was arrested, while pregnant with her twins.
She said as a pregnant woman, she had few legal options. She could either give birth in jail and lose her children to foster care, or plead guilty to a felony to lower her bail and hope to get out before giving birth.
“I received no prenatal care,” Puckett Williams said. “I took a plea to get out, and five days later had my twins.”
That reality, and those of other pregnant women in custody, is why she is fighting for the Dignity of Incarcerated Women’s Act.
“One of the incremental steps that we are asking that folks take is to view pregnant folks as high risk inside incarceral spaces,” said Puckett Williams. “High risk for a lot of things, And to act accordingly.”
The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House.
“We’re not only talking about the shackling of pregnant folks,” Puckett Williams said. “We’re talking about the availability of menstrual products inside. And this won’t just happen at the DPS facilities across the state. This will happen in all county jails.”
She believe this could change not only the lives of incarcerated women, but ensure their children are taken care of. She said this is so they can grow up safe and healthy, like her twins have been able to.
“I look forward to the day where Gov. Cooper signs that bill into law, hands me that pen, we get to take that nice picture and know that pregnant women across North Carolina will have a different experience than I had,” Puckett Williams said. “There’s no money that can capture that.”
The bill passed through the House and is now in the Senate.