RICHMOND, Va. -- If you stand in one of the tiny dark cells in the Richmond City (Va.) Jail's A-wing, you can touch both walls. If your sergeant stands with a flashlight by the bars, you can just about see in the early morning shadows.
And if you crouch by the end of the knee-high metal bed, you can take in your hands one of the city's newest residents as he races into one of Richmond's gloomiest corners.
You can, as jail medic Mary Kirkland did Sunday morning, lift the newborn boy, wipe his mouth and nose so he could breathe.
You can slap his back and hear him cry.
You can hear the for-once-silent line of cells, where sobs and shouts and clanging jailers' keys usually echo off the cinder block, erupt into applause.
And you can turn to your lieutenant, James Pochkar, to take the T-shirt that he stripped off so the newborn baby could be wrapped in something dry and warm for the birth had come so quickly that the deputies scrambling to bring more towels and blankets and a clean gown hadn't had time to make it to A-wing yet.
Kirkland, a school nurse for a dozen years and a jail medic for the past two, has helped at births before, but never had to manage on her own.
She didn't have much time.
The A-wing deputy radioed in just minutes before that the inmate reported pain, two weeks before her due date. When Kirkland arrived, she found the inmate's water had broken.
The baby came just eight minutes later.
"I told everyone there to be quiet, and you could have heard a pin drop," Kirkland said. She called out for what she needed to the deputy, who radioed it in; Sgt. Herbert L. Allmon Jr. helped rig up flashlights for the dimly lit cell.
"It was like a makeshift MASH," Kirkland said.
It was a moment, like so many in jail, to reflect for as mom and baby headed off to VCU Medical Center, Kirkland knew mom would be coming back to jail and baby would be bound for foster care.
"It's heartbreaking," she said.Contact David Ress at (804) 649-6051 or firstname.lastname@example.org