Birth Behind Bars: Iraq War Resister Kimberly Rivera Struggles For Proper Family Care
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Research for this article was provided by Bob Meola.
It was her maternal instincts that first landed Kimberly Rivera at odds with her role serving in Iraq. Six years later, the army used her most basic human right as an expecting mother to make an example of other soldiers who might fall out of line.
After returning to the United States after five years in Canadian exile with her family (husband Mario and four children), Kimberly, then pregnant with their fifth, was arrested and sentenced to 10 months in brig. Despite public pressure for leniency and Amnesty International recognizing her as a prisoner of conscience, Kimberly was denied even a meager 45-day early release to give birth and bond with her new son outside of prison.
Forced to give birth in military custody under a chain of command seemingly unable or unwilling to coordinate procedures, Kimberly and her family were subjected to various indignities, ranging from subtle frustrations and discomfort to poor treatment putting both mother and child at risk. As a final insult, Mario was prevented from witnessing his son’s actual birth, while Kimberly was separated from her newborn shortly after giving birth.
“I could have been in worse prison facilities, but they didn’t follow their own rules at the Miramar brig,” says Kimberly. “There was no way I could follow everyone’s different and conflicting rules. There was always drama in that regard.”
First, Kimberly was forced to take a flu shot that she didn’t want while pregnant. Although she initially tried to refuse the injection, then requested it be delayed until after she gave birth, she gave in when threatened with segregation and a longer sentence.
“My CO, unfortunately, didn’t like getting complaints and listening to prisoners,” says Kimberly. “He stated many times that he would listen to his guards over any prisoner. There were many guard and prisoner sexual assault problems in that brig that are being investigated. They were under investigation and had been under investigation for most of the time I was there.”
Despite the brig’s menacing reputation, Kimberly says her main problem was with how inconsistent her jailers were in following their own SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) around pregnancies.
By the time Rivera finally got to see these SOPs—kept secure behind a supervisor’s desk—she was already five months pregnant and still being forced to do strenuous physical work in sweltering summer heat without rest periods.
“It was extremely hot and sometimes the air conditioner went out for two weeks at a time,” she says. “It did that four or five times. They had me doing difficult chores that got me overheated and were against my medical restrictions—they ignored them. They had me cleaning the dorm area and facilities every day. We had to mop, vacuum, dust, wipe down windows, clean showers. We used cleaning supplies and detergent. I was cleaning every day through my pregnancy, usually for two to three hours a day. Once a week, there was a ‘happy hour’ time when we had to clean what we already cleaned so the command could watch us do it.”
Later in her pregnancy, Kimberly challenged her jailers for violating their own SOPs, refusing her the option of lying down, eating more healthful foods, occasionally removing her heavy outer uniform and avoiding work that would make her nauseated or dizzy.
“In the last month of my pregnancy, they finally put a restriction on my medical order that allowed me to lay down two hours a day. I wrote a big long complaint to the C.O. and the commander came to see me. He was ready for a fight.”