A Detroit organizer and environmental activist forced to give birth while incarcerated and shackled to the bed is now a free woman. After reaching a deal with prosecutors on Friday, Siwatu-Salama Ra, 28, will not be retried for a crime she has always maintained she didn’t commit, Detroit Free Press reports.
In 2018, Ra, co-director of the Detroit-based East Michigan Environmental Action Council, was sentenced to prison while seven months pregnant for brandishing an unloaded, registered gun in front of Chanell Harvey, the mother of a schoolmate of Ra’s niece.
Ra said Harvey was a threat to her family, including her then 2-year-old daughter. After trying to deescalate the situation, the veteran organizer and devoted mother reached for her firearm, which had been in the car, to scare the woman away.
Ra was convicted on assault and felony firearm charges, with the latter carrying a mandatory two-year minimum sentence. She was forced to begin serving that time immediately after two judges denied her bond, even though prosecutors agreed to delaying the start date until after she gave birth. That sentence was later reversed on appeal, but Wayne County prosecutors decided to pursue a second trial, according to the Metro Times.
In exchange for her freedom, Ra pleaded no contest Friday to brandishing a firearm, a 90-day misdemeanor. Prosecutors then dropped the felony firearm and assault charges; which means that after more than a year of not knowing if she would have to serve the remainder of her sentence, Ra can finally breathe.
“Today is a victorious day but it took so much,” Ra said. “Being true and being honest is what got us here. I have made this difficult decision to not risk not being with my children. After 2.5 years, I have seen firsthand how people have come into this courthouse and have had to make very difficult decisions such as this one just to stay home with their families … the people who stand beside me dedicate our lives to change that.”
According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, “35 pregnant women have arrived at Huron Valley this past year,” the Detroit Free Press reports. Huron Valley Correctional Facility is where Ra served her time.
In an Nov. 2018 article detailing Ra’s violent ordeal being caged while pregnant, Detroit filmmaker dream hampton wrote, “According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are more than 219,000 women, mostly mothers, in prison in the United States. It has taken years of Black women taking the lead in advocacy to prohibit prisons and jails from shackling women during delivery.”
Read more about Siwatu-Salama Ra’s case and the work she’s organizing in her community here.