Tag: prison

Once she gets past the rape thing, she’ll be a queen

Mansfield Frazier says he is a former convict.  He served his detention in a federal prison, according to him.  He has written an opinion essay about what life will be like for Chelsea Manning in prison, which the Daily Beast has published, adding the following disclaimer:

This article is an opinion piece written by a former convict and based on his perceptions of life in federal prison.  In its original version, it suggested that prison rape is rare.  In fact, according to the advocacy group Just Detention International, 200,000 adults and children are sexually abused in American detention facilities every year.  This trauma can carry serious emotional and physical consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections.

I’m going to respond to Mr. Frazier, not form the point of view of a prisoner in a federal facility, but from the point of view I personally have.  I’m a transgender woman who formerly worked at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, the facility that Manning will probably get to call home for the next substantial number of years.

San Diego County to review protocols for transgender detainees

Five years ago the San Diego County Sheriff, Bill Kolender at that time, issued a two-page “training bulletin” as guidelines for handling transgender inmates at local jails.  The document provided Webster’s dictionary definition of transgender before adding the following:

It is believed that transgender individuals have always existed in our societies  These individuals are often viewed by their friends and families as the sex they are representing and their expectation is that society views them in the same manner.

The document was issued because of the death of a 35 year-old transwoman, Vanessa Facen.  She died in custody four days after a fight with deputies in the San Diego Central jail.  Even though she lived as a woman and had breasts, she had been housed with men because she still had male genitalia.  When the document was issued, the Sheriff’s Department also agreed to institute sensitivity training…but no formal policy was developed.

America’s prison problem

Why does the US put so many people behind bars and what lies behind California’s new push for leniency?

The US locks up more people than any other country in the world, spending over $80bn each year to keep some two million prisoners behind bars. Over the past three decades, tough sentencing laws have contributed to a doubling of the country’s prison population, with laws commonly known as ‘three strikes and you’re out’ mandating life sentences for a wide range of crimes.

But a clear sign that Americans are rethinking crime and punishment is a voter’s initiative on California’s November ballot called Proposition 36 that seeks to reform the state’s three-strikes law. Some 27 states have three-strikes laws patterned after California’s version, which was one of the first to be enacted in the country.

Since it was passed in 1994, nearly 9,000 felons have been convicted in California under the law.

One of them is Norman Williams, a 49-year-old African-American man who was a crack addict living on the streets. He was convicted of burglarising an empty home and later stealing an armload of tools from an art studio. His third strike: filching a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. His fate sealed under California’s three-strikes law, Williams was sent to a maximum security prison alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

“I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that,” Williams says.

A Victory for the “Movement”

The big news about transpeople is not something which is likely to help us win friends and influence people.  On the other hand, the headlines are of some interest.  Transgender-inmate ruling is movement’s latest win says the AP’s Megahn Barr.  

So I guess we have won recognition as a “movement”.  On the other hand Michelle Kosilek is not going to win us any friends.  Federal Judge Mark Wolf has ordered a state-funded gender reassignment surgery for Kosilek, who during her transition in 1990 murdered her wife, Cheryl McCaul.  He strangled her with wire and left her body in the trunk of a car at a mall in North Attleboro, MA.  Kosilek is currently serving life without parole.

Wolf has ruled that Kosilek has suffered from gender identity disorder (newly rechristened “gender dysphoria”) since she was a young child, was “born in the wrong body” (Goddess, I hate that phrase), began taking hormones while in prison and requested treatment for her disorder.  Such treatment was denied.  As a result Kosilek twice has tried to commit suicide and also has attempted self-castration.  For 12 years her attorneys have been arguing that the Constitution states that she has the right to treatment for her condition.

California Prison Hunger Strike Ends Peacefully


(Note: This is my fifth and final essay in support of the California prisoners on hunger strike.  The first is here.  The second is here.  OPOL’s wonderful treatment of the situation is here.  The third is here.  Yesterday’s is here.

SF Gate reports that after three full weeks the California Prisoners’ Hunger Strike has come peacefully to an end.  Prisoners across California are now eating:

Day 20: Support The California Prisoners’ Hunger Strike!


(Note: This is my third essay in support of the California prisoners on hunger strike.  The first is here.  The second is here.  OPOL’s wonderful treatment of the situation is here.  The take away: California prisoners on hunger strike for almost 3 weeks have requested your support in their struggle to end long term, 23 hour a day solitary confinement in California’s Special Housing Units.  I urge you to support their struggle to be free from torture.)

Today is day 20 of the prison hunger strike.   This may be the most significant act of prisoner resistance in 40 years, since the Attica Uprising in 1971.

Day 19: Support The California Prison Hunger Strike!


(Note: This is my second essay in support of the fasting California prisoners.  The first is here. The take away: prisoners on hunger strike for almost 3 weeks have requested your support in their struggle to end long term, 23 hour a day solitary confinement in California’s Special Housing Units.  I urge you to support them.  Details follow.)

Today is day 19 of the prison hunger strike.   This may be the most significant act of prisoner resistance in 40 years, since the Attica Uprising in 1971.

The LA Times reports:

Where Is The Great Writ For Brad Manning?

Julian Assange is the big media story, but the unsung hero is probably Brad Manning.  Unfortunately, while Manning suffers in solitary confinement, as he has for the past 7 months, and we scour the leaked material for which he might be responsible, the subject of Manning’s torturous, stringent, long term confinement are noted with horror and contempt, but is anything being done to challenge them?  Put another way, where is the Great Writ, the writ of habeas corpus, for Brad Manning?

Mothers’ Day In Stir


Albion Correctional Facility

Almost three quarters of the 2,422 women in New York state prisons are mothers.

So City Limits reminds us.

Women in New York State are imprisoned primarily at Bedford Hills and Albion.

Maybe we can pause for a second this weekend and think about some of these families– and families in similar circumstances wherever you live– in which the mother is behind bars and the children would like to visit.  This is particularly hard in big states, like New York, when the children are in, say, Brooklyn, and the mom is in Albion, some 400 miles away, a distance Google says you can drive in under 7 hours.  One way.

Mothers’ Day had some of its origins in the U.S. in the mid-19th century as a day to bring together families that had been on opposite sides of the civil war.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have focused since then on re-connecting families separated by prison walls.

Maybe this would be a time to begin envisioning precisely that.


cross-posted at The Dream Antilles and dailyKos

Friday Philosophy: Inside the walls

I was asked by someone to recount some of my experiences working as a correctional specialist (aka prison guard) when I was in the US Army (1971-73).  I decided to try to write about that for this evening, although those are not the easiest memories I have to work through, so there will probably be fewer stories than maybe I should have.

I’ve written a little bit about the experience before.  One of the pieces was Ever, which was about prison rape and other mistreatment of our prisoner population.  The other, Bummer of a week, mostly, was written near last Memorial Day.

I’ve also recounted some odds and ends in comments over the years.

One of the Elephants in the Room

I’ll be mercifully brief. I just listened to a program on KPFA which is an interview with Michelle Alexander speaking of her new book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Basically, her contention that the 5 fold increase in incarceration in this country is thew way the elites have managed to use prisons as a means of social control as industries have moved away from population centers and left in its wake unsustainable ghettos. Which were invaded, starting under Reagan, by federally subsidized efforts to incarcerate a high proportion of African-American men through the spectacularly disproportionate application of drug laws against the poor and, largely, ignoring the white middle-class. SWAT Teams were sent in and funded to roust people out of their beds, seize and confiscate their property and deprive them of their civil rights.  

Torture In Your Own Backyard


Cell Block D, Alcatraz

If Dostoevsky was right, that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” the United States has ceased to be civilized.  When a country imprisons more than 2 million people, and when it manages to be torturing more than 20,000 of those prisoners through long term solitary confinement, something is wrong.  Very, very wrong.  And remarkably, the torture is thoroughly overlooked.

Torturing?  Yes.  Not waterboarding. Not stress positions.  No. I’m talking about long term, unrelenting solitary confinement.  Solitary confinement not for days, but for years, even for decades.  Solitary confinement that literally drives prisoners crazy.  Solitary confinement that is torture plain and simple.

Join me in Special Housing.

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