From In These Times: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/13990/trans_prisoners_fight_abuse
Trans prisoners and queer-rights groups protest unfair treatment behind bars.
BY Toshio Meronek
November 10, 2012
“Imagine being told, ‘You have no right to be who you are,’ ” says Faith Phillips, remarking on her first days in prison. The transition was even harder for Phillips than it is for most prisoners: Phillips, a transgender (trans) woman, was held in a men’s prison.
According to recent studies, 16-33 percent of trans people have spent time behind bars, compared with less than 4 percent of the general U.S. population. Another statistic provides a clue as to why: 26 percent of transgender people report being fired because of their gender identity. Forced into the underground economy, some enter prison for “survival crimes” such as sex work. Once inside, people who don’t conform to the gender regulations—both written and unwritten—face a form of punishment far harsher than their original sentences.
Growing up in California’s San Bernardino County, Phillips was abused by her transphobic father and was one of the few people of color in her community. When she landed in central California’s Avenal State Prison at 21, she witnessed the same ill treatment of trans people she’d experienced as a child. So, in March 2008, when a queer prisoner was threatened with a transfer to a ward where he knew he’d be unsafe, she staged a protest, refusing to leave the prison yard when the correctional officers (COs) announced that it was time.
“Might as well take me to the hole, because I’m not moving,” she remembers telling the COs. “Then the whole queer community said, ‘We’re going to the hole, too.’ ” Night fell. The temperature dropped. Prisoners who were inside managed to push blankets out to the protestors underneath a doorway. Eventually, the transfer of the at-risk prisoner was cancelled.
Phillips and her fellow prison-yard occupiers also came up with a list of demands that included HIV and sex education, the return of appropriately gendered clothes that had been taken from them, an end to harassment by staff, and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex support group. The prison’s warden agreed to their demands (apart from the clothing) after a sympathetic captain pled their case.
In retribution for her activism, Phillips says, she was put through a series of prison transfers, drugged and sent to solitary confinement. She claims prison administrators threatened, “If you ever think about doing this again, we’ll bury you.” But Phillips soon became an information collector for the San Francisco-based Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), one of a handful of trans prisoner support organizations that documents abuses inside prisons.
Continue reading at: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/13990/trans_prisoners_fight_abuse