Pregnant behind bars: West Philly mom says food connection saved her life

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Ayanna McNair (left) and Bridget Biddle stop by WHYY to tell their story. McNair is a formerly incarcerated single mother who recently got a licence to start a food truck business. Biddle is an advocate with the Maternity Care Coalition, which helped McNair. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ayanna McNair (left) and Bridget Biddle stop by WHYY to tell their story. McNair is a formerly incarcerated single mother who recently got a licence to start a food truck business. Biddle is an advocate with the Maternity Care Coalition, which helped McNair. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ayanna McNair, a positive and joyful mother of two, loves to cook.

Running Yanna Boo’s Kitchen out of her home, the 26-year-old is best known for her sweet and spicy mango-glazed Buffalo wings.

And, two weeks ago, she received a license to operate a food truck.

“I’m working hard on that,” McNair said. “I’m pushing for this truck, because I’m ready.”

McNair was on her way to earning a business degree at Philadelphia Community College when she was arrested for aggravated assault following a domestic dispute with her sister. That day she found out she was three months pregnant. During the confrontation while trying to protect herself and the baby, she stabbed her sister in the arm. While awaiting trial, she served a few months, but got released once the charges were dropped.

While incarcerated, McNair found out she was three months pregnant. With a history of high-risk pregnancies — and having lost her daughter Nehemiah at 9 months old — she was worried, her thoughts constantly returning to that heartbreaking time.

“I will never forget the day when she had passed. Me and my son were there, and she was just looking at me, at my eyes, and I was holding her for like two hours straight,” McNair said. “It was the hardest day ever.”

Serving time at Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, McNair was determined to stay strong for the sake of her son and the new baby. So she enrolled in Maternity Care Coalition’s MoMobile program that supports incarcerated pregnant women during pregnancy, labor, and their re-entry.

She was released in October and gave birth to daughter Adinah Sade in March.

Bridget Biddle, an advocate and doula at MoMobile Riverside, was on the phone with McNair during Adinah’s birth.

McNair’s “happiness and [her] family’s happiness is so infectious that I love coming over — not only because it smells really good all the time because she’s always cooking,” said Biddle.

“They’re just such a strong family unit. There have been … barriers that Ayanna has not built that have kind of just come into her life that she continues to beat and fight,” she said. “And there’s so much resilience in her.”

During her incarceration, McNair lost her home and car. Life was difficult for her son, Isaiah.

“It was really hard because he would like cry, then he’d write me letters and I’d write letters through MoMobile,” McNair said. “His dad was going through it too because he’s not used to me not being around too. It was hard for both of them.”

McNair’s parents used drugs when she was young, splitting up their large family. McNair and her two older sisters were sent to be raised by an aunt, who had her own four children. But when she was 9, McNair had to move back in with her parents. It was then she found a refuge in cooking.

“Like the way for me to survive for myself, I would watch children in the neighborhood and watch them over the weekend, and I would cook for them all the time,” she said. “And that was my outlet.”

Another order yall better place orders its going fast @brabbbit thanks for ordering

A post shared by Ayanna McNair (@yannaboos_kitchen) on

She continues to express her passion for cooking by selling American soul food platters to anyone with an appetite. Along with her famous wings, she makes macaroni and cheese and roasted garlic string beans.

Isaiah, now 8, takes after his mom, and he loves to spend time with McNair in the kitchen.

“He loves to cook. He’s got his apron. He’ll be in the kitchen with me every day cooking,” she said. “I see the fire in him like it was in me when I was a kid.”

Now that she has a license, McNair is raising funds to buy a food truck that she hopes will soon allow her to bring her cooking to many others beyond her home kitchen.

 

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