Strip searches, trauma, isolation: Trans men describe life behind bars



Several other transgender men imprisoned in Texas and contacted by NBC News said they encountered officers who required them to wear sports bras and women’s underwear, as well as lengthen their hair to more than 2 inches or risk “picking a case” — getting written for a breach the rules. According to advocates and people currently and formerly incarcerated, transgender men in the state do not routinely have access to boxer shorts and cannot purchase chest straps, which are used by those who have not yet had breast lift surgery.

“I tried asking for boxers and chest straps and they were refused, which made my depression worse,” Angel Ochoa, 49, another imprisoned trans man in the state, said in a letter. Asked to clarify the state’s position on transgender clothing, Hearst, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said, “Inmates must dress according to their gender assigned at birth.”

Ochoa said he was a tomboy who grew up and started getting dressed when he was 12. “My mother and grandmother loved me and accepted as a boy.”

Ochoa, who has been in prison since the 1990s, said he was subjected to degrading and degrading treatment in the prison system.

“The most pressing issue is being forced to be someone we are not,” he said, adding that he was forced to lengthen his hair, which was bald when he entered prison. They say it is a “security precaution”. … It’s just a way to hurt us.”

According to data recently obtained through the Public Information Request, 980 transgender women and 113 transgender men were in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2019. The policy document provided by the department states that “inmates are housed according to their reproductive status.” .

Neil Geither is the boss Trans Pride Initiative, a Texas-based nonprofit group founded in 2011 that has reached out to more than a thousand transgender people incarcerated in the state. Geither said her impression is that in recent years the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been less aggressive in forcing transgender men to wear sports bras or grow their hair, but that it reflects a shift in priorities and culture rather than a change in policy. Facial hair remains a problem, she said, because transgender men “can’t get enough razors to keep their beards shaved, and then ‘get cases’ of their beards.” She also said that one of the important effects of Covid-19 on trans inmates is the delay or lack of access to sex-confirming hormones.

But the situation can vary greatly from country to country and even from city to city. In California state prisons, for example, transgender men in women’s prisons can purchase the same hygiene items available to people in men’s prisons and be provided with men’s clothing. They can also buy box covers, although the $40 or $50 price tag makes the option out of reach for many individuals. In Georgia state prisons, transgender men in women’s facilities can shave their heads and grow beards, but with the exception of boxers, they can only obtain clothing from a female application form.

Ronnie Fuller, 42, is incarcerated at Georgia’s Arendal State Penitentiary in Alto, about an hour northeast of Atlanta. He said he’s known he’s male since he was a kid but didn’t always know what those feelings meant.

“I didn’t know what the term ‘transgender’ was until I came to prison, and those were years on my sentence,” he said.

Ronnie Fuller said he’s known he’s male since he was a kid but didn’t always know what those feelings meant.Courtesy Ronnie Fuller

Fuller has been in prison since 2004, and during the first decade of his detention behind bars, the state refused to provide hormones to transgender people who had not been prescribed before they entered the prison system. In 2015, policy changed.

“When the option became available here in prison, I took the opportunity,” Fuller said of getting the hormones.

Since then, he said, the prison administration has made other small concessions, including allowing trans men to purchase boxers. However, he and others still were unable to obtain the chest ties, and he said the prison had turned down an offer from a volunteer who was willing to donate them.

He said prison staff “give us male hormones and boxers and think that’s enough,” adding that not being able to get a chest belt and have sex-confirmation surgery affected him “emotionally, mentally and physically.”

Fuller said that with so many barriers to obtaining gender affirming care, he believes prison is the worst place to start a medical transition.

“I have experienced more judgment and discrimination behind these walls than I have experienced abroad,” he said in a letter.

The Georgia Department of Corrections did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

‘It shouldn’t be hard to get physical therapy’

As a result of lawsuits that have been successfully filed across the country, most transgender prisoners in the United States now have the right to receive sex-confirming hormones, regardless of whether they were prescribed to them before they were imprisoned. However, according to advocates, prisoner rights lawyers, and current and former incarcerated people, while policies may be in place on paper, hormones are often difficult to obtain in practice. People in transit behind bars said it can take months or even years for gender dysphoria to be diagnosed and evaluated by endocrinologists or other specialists, delaying treatment that is baffling and baffling for those seeking care.

Graham was held in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for about six months before he was allowed access to sex-affirming hormone treatments he was receiving prior to his imprisonment, according to Graham and prison records he provided. Fuller similarly said that while evaluation of his hormone therapy was approved in April 2017, it took him more than a year for him to get his first appointment with an endocrinologist.

“Getting a natural remedy shouldn’t be so difficult, no matter what,” Fuller wrote in a letter.

Moreover, while the United States has taken steps to ensure that trans inmates have access to sex-confirming hormones, the vast majority of jurisdictions still do not allow detainees meaningful access to sex-confirmation surgery, said Danny Waxwing, an attorney with Disability Rights Washington. , who represented many trans inmates in the state. For transgender men, this means that they are unable to undergo high surgery for the duration of their sentences.

Jason Yokham is suing the Virginia Department of Corrections.Courtesy / Legal Lambda

In August, LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal lawsuit Virginia Department of Corrections on behalf of an imprisoned transgender man, Jason Yokham. The organization said the lawsuit is among the first to be brought on behalf of a transgender man imprisoned for denying him treatment for sexual dysphoria.

“Under the Eighth Amendment, prison systems are required to provide adequate medical care,” said Richard Sainz, senior attorney and criminal justice and police misconduct strategist at Lambda Legal. “This lawsuit is necessary because a number of transgender people are behind bars, even those who have received some sponsorship, [they] Often enough medical and mental care is not provided.”

Department of Corrections spokesperson, “All medically necessary treatments are available.” For The Washington Post in August. “Treatment decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. In addition to medical treatment, individual and group therapy is also available. We follow community standards of care.” The case is currently scheduled for mediation.

A few states, including California and Washington, have policies that make it possible for transgender people to obtain gender confirmation surgery while in prison. However, according to the inmates interviewed by NBC News, the process for evaluating who is eligible for the procedure is flawed and inadequate.

Giovanni Gonzalez, the California prisoner, said that neither he nor his doctor played a major role in determining whether he qualified for upper surgery on the grounds that it was medically necessary. Instead, the decision was made by a committee responsible for evaluating trans prisoners across the state, he said. Under Department of Corrections Policy, primary care providers at the institutional level are tasked with passing requests for surgery to a state-level body known as the Gender Confirmation Surgery Review Committee. The committee, made up of medical and psychological experts who did not treat the prisoner, then votes to approve or reject the application.

Gonzalez and others interviewed by NBC News expressed frustration with the commission’s existence at all, as there is no parallel commission for Individuals who seek treatment that their doctors consider medically necessary – eg, people who need to have their breasts removed due to a cancer diagnosis.

“My doctors have no say in the surgery. These doctors are the ones who go to this committee and it has nothing to do with me,” Gonzalez said.

With the support of his psychiatrist, Gonzalez initially submitted a request for surgery in November 2018. A refusal was issued after several months and lawsuit He later claimed that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was violating his constitutional rights. In February, more than two years after he filed the lawsuit, his request for surgery was finally granted.

There is no “simple” housing solution.

In addition to facing barriers in obtaining their preferred clothing, as well as gender-affirming healthcare, incarcerated trans men also say they struggle when it comes to accommodation. As documented by NBC News, Investigation Last year, the vast majority of transgender people in the United States were incarcerated in prisons that matched their newborn’s sex or genitals, rather than their gender identities, although doing so without regard to safety concerns or inmates’ preferences is illegal under the Rape Elimination Act. in prisons. This reality has put many trans women at risk of sexual assault, violence, and harassment.

Al Sabroot of Black and Pink said that transgender men would not necessarily be safer if they were housed in facilities for men, rather than being housed according to their gender defined at birth. However, he added, this does not mean that they are not subjected to physical or sexual violence in women’s prisons.

Graham said the women in his unit would undress and climb into his bed at night saying they would have sex with him or try to look at his body while he was showering, even though he was supposed to be allowed to shower alone.

He said that prison staff did not take any steps to protect him. After alerting staff to a specific incident, he spent about 10 days in “guarded”, a form of isolation also known as protective custody. Imprisoned trans people often end up in protective custody for their alleged protection, as they are uniquely vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse when in the general population. But the conditions of preventive detention generally reflect the conditions faced by those in disciplinary detention. When he was in a safe place, Graham said, he was fed through a door and had very limited access to showering or his belongings. Graham said that after being safe for the third time, he got tired of it and vowed never to end up there again.

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