“During intake, I kept saying: ‘Hello? I’m trans? I’m a woman?’
April 6, 2015 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Transgender Woman Cites Attacks and Abuse in Men’s Prison (trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault)

The Department of Justice's papers intervening in Ashley Diamond's case (pdf)

Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) mustprovide adequate medical care, including gender-affirming surgery, to Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman being held in a men’s prison.

A federal case out of Texas, alleging failure to protect a transgender inmate (pdf) was filed last October.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (33 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting. That was hard reading. I can't help but wonder how much extra joy it gives those running the prison system, which is so good at dehumanising people, to have another layer of personhood they can strip from inmates. When they take everything from you - freedom, family, autonomy - the only thing you have left is your Self. If they are able to take that too then that must be the ultimate achievement for those in power, and a living hell for the already powerless.
posted by billiebee at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Previously, the Mefi thread on (Mefi's Own) Avery Edison's misgendering and clusterfuck in the Ontario jail system. (Which has been settled to at least some degree.)
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:26 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


That is horrifying.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:52 AM on April 6, 2015


From the Passion Star link:
Now 30, as a teenager Ms. Star pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping after her boyfriend refused to return the used car they were test driving to the dealership, instead driving for several hours with the car salesman in the passenger seat and Ms. Star in the back. Ms. Star was sentenced to 20 years in prison
and
Gov. Perry, however, dismissed the PREA standards as “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding for Texas that the Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.
Well. I made it a few days without literally wanting to see him strangled to death on live international television.
posted by byanyothername at 9:03 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Un-fucking-believable.

Or, rather, I wish it was, but instead it's completely believable that the prison system is run by bags of shit, and overseen by other bags of shit.
posted by odinsdream at 9:06 AM on April 6, 2015


You know, I wonder if part of the problem is that prison officials tend to treat rape overall - against men or women - as part of the deterrance factor of prison. They don't seem to take many steps to stop it or care. Like, it wouldn't be such an issue what prison you were housed in if the prisons were not unutterable shitholes of rape and assault - why do they have to be? Why do we have to accept that that is a thing that's going to happen?
posted by corb at 9:08 AM on April 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


Racism, individualism, love of violence and crappy religion.
posted by nom de poop at 9:52 AM on April 6, 2015


corb: You know, I wonder if part of the problem is that prison officials tend to treat rape overall - against men or women - as part of the deterrance factor of prison.

I think it 's subconsciously accepted by society to a worrying degree. When watching late night talk shows I always cringe whenever I hear a joke set-up involving someone going to prison, because I 100% know what the punchline is going to be (Conan is, sadly, particularly guilty of this).
posted by infinitelives at 10:06 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I wonder if part of the problem is that prison officials average citizens tend to treat rape overall - against men or women - as part of the deterrance factor of prison.

Unfortunately, THAT is the problem. Maybe initially it was a prison official problem, but it seems pretty clear to me that prison rape is simply not an issue of interest or concern to most people in the US. Anytime I read an article about an issue like this, the majority of the comments are some form of:
- "Prison is bad, news at 11" - apathetic
- "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" - tacit approval
- "We cant keep law abiding people safe from criminals, so why should we spend money keeping criminals safe from criminals? isn't the fact we don't execute them good enough?" - fixing society problems is a zero sum game where we can't care about more than one thing simultaneously
- "LOL bubba !!#@" - prison rape is hilarious and awesome
posted by gatorae at 10:07 AM on April 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


Why do we have to accept that that is a thing that's going to happen?

It's also one of the great lies of the crime reduction argument for prison. People say "well they're not committing crimes while they're locked up", but that's bullshit. It's just that we've tacitly agreed that committing any offence that puts you in prison essentially makes any crime against you acceptable for the duration of your incarceration. In theory, the law applies in prison, in practice there aren't many people particularly interested in enforcing it. So we just hide a huge amount of crime in institutions purportedly for its prevention. I'm not sure how to interpret that fact except as palpably insane and miserably perverse.
posted by howfar at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


"LOL bubba !!#@" - prison rape is hilarious and awesome

With the great number of folks with this attitude in the general population, I always wonder why "LOL Bubba" isn't actually written in as part of the law/sentence. Would be too honest or what?
posted by ZeroAmbition at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Would be too honest or what?

It's unnecessary. The sentence is for the convicted to be put into the custody of a system. Judges don't have to stipulate sexual assault be a part of that system any more than bars.

> whenever I hear a joke set-up involving someone going to prison, because I 100% know what the punchline is going to be (Conan is, sadly, particularly guilty of this)

Celebrities are the worst offenders because they are the farthest removed from that system. The famous and wealthy do not face the same justice the rest of us do. Midget jokes are funny because most people are not midgets, don't know any midgets, and will never have to deal with any of thier hardships. Most people find prison rape jokes funny for the same reason. Most of us erroneously think we are well insulated from prison. The TV funny men who really are gladly string us along in that delusion. But if Americans knew how thin a line they walk on a daily basis they'd never chuckle at a bubba joke again.
posted by clarknova at 1:19 PM on April 6, 2015


"LOL bubba !!#@" - prison rape is hilarious and awesome
On the occasions I'd watch Jay Leno's monologues on the Tonight Show, I figured out I had about a 1-in-6 chance of hearing a joke reference to prison rape. And you don't get much more mainstream than that.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2015


For all that anyone may want to make this a general prison rape issue, even the NYT article in the FPP mentions that
transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than is the general population, with 59 percent reporting sexual assaults, according to a frequently cited California study.
To do so is also to ignore or dismiss all of the other inhumane treatment that trans people (primarily trans women of color) are routinely subjected to in the judicial system and ultimately prison. So even in a corbtopia where this one problem were solved, it would still be very important for trans people to be housed in the correct facilities.
posted by Corinth at 2:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


At a low point, she was arrested for foraging through a trash bin for Taco Bell receipts and trying to get refunds, for breaking into that best friend’s apartment and stealing checks, and for violating probation. Even the judge who sent her to prison characterized these as crimes of survival.
There is something very wrong with a world where we can recognize that someone is just trying to survive and throw them in prison anyway.

Also, the whole callousness regarding rape runs a lot deeper than callousness about prison rape. And then we are a whole lot more meh when they are in prison.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Most people find prison rape jokes funny for the same reason.

I think such jokes are callous (and hacky,) but I also think there's a lot of squeamishness and homophobia in it. I think these "dropping the soap" jokes are usually made by men, and these men are usually kind of macho bro types. A lot of guys are terrified of the possibility of being sent to prison and being raped, even if they feel like it's unlikely. They see being raped by another dude as just about the worst thing that could ever happen. So, there's an element of gallows humor there, laughing at something because it frightens them so much.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:44 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The way I often hear it, it's often referred as a deserved comeuppance for the 'disliked figure of the week' (Bieber, crooked politicians, etc.)

It's gotten to a point where I hope that in a hundred years there will be Leonard-Maltin-style disclaimers at the top of vintage comedy clips explaining how it was a different era, when everyone thought it was hilarious that criminals were issued tacit rape sentences, and to try to enjoy the rest of the jokes as much as you can.
posted by infinitelives at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The officials know what they are doing when they place a trans woman in a men's prison. They know that she will be raped, just as would happen if they had put a cis woman in a men's prison. Prison rape is bad enough for cis men, but for women in a men's prison, it's going to happen, and the officials who let happen should be criminally charged.

The harder question is: where do you hold a trans man? would he be safe in a men's prison?
posted by jb at 6:31 PM on April 6, 2015


Not if he has a vagina; I expect that would make him particularly vulnerable. And the fundamental problem is that nobody in the prison system is safe from rape, either from guards or other prisoners.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:20 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is there a country (or a state/province within a country) that does this well and has best practices that can be borrowed for how to handle various genders in prisons along with reducing assaults?

The article itself is obviously anger-inducing, though I am happy for the belated court victory.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:45 PM on April 6, 2015


If prisons were decent, lawful places, the answer would be easy: people can go wherever, because they're as safe in prison as they are outside. You wouldn't have male and female prisons.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:21 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


That- that pdf.. I wish I hadn't read it.
posted by yaymukund at 1:18 AM on April 7, 2015


There is something very wrong with a world where we can recognize that someone is just trying to survive and throw them in prison anyway.

I think breaking into your best friend's apartment and writing 10,000$ worth of checks seems less a element of survival than the judge apparently did.
posted by corb at 7:16 AM on April 7, 2015


I wonder if maybe the judge had some, I don't know, particular insight into the case that maybe you don't have?
posted by odinsdream at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


For me the FPP is about what happened to her after sentencing, not a debate on the merits of the sentence itself.
posted by billiebee at 8:01 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. Good intentions acknowledged, but let's not introduce very emotionally-fraught tangents; even just talking about this one case is already a tough enough subject. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:13 AM on April 7, 2015


If anyone wants to help make the life of a transgender, transsexual, gender self-determining, or gender-variant person in prison better: I cannot recommend the Write to Win Penpal Project highly enough. You have absolutely no idea how much a few postcards a month, maybe some coloring books or commissary money if you can spare it, means to someone on the inside.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think breaking into your best friend's apartment and writing 10,000$ worth of checks seems less a element of survival than the judge apparently did.

The best friend who was robbed seemed to think they were overly harsh in how they sentenced her.

There are things I absolutely do not understand about being trans. But I was sympathetic and supportive of a young trans adult who came to me at one time because I absolutely did understand what it is like to have a problem that other people think is just bullshit you made up -- to have a problem with your body and the world telling you "No, you are just crazy. This is all in your head." And I absolutely understand being in a situation where the system is so fuck you that it doesn't fucking matter how goddamn hard you try to play by the rules and be virtuous and hardworking and so on, you are still screwed and will continue to be screwed and it never makes any difference how obviously bad your situation gets, people still just do not see the connection between "There is this thing about my body that makes my entire fucking life just NOT work and a big part of that NOT working is rooted in having to deal with the expectations of other people."

Of course, in my case, I am talking about having a genetic disorder and how that has led to me being on the street. Corb, you work with homeless people and you seem to have a big heart and a lot of compassion for them and you seem to genuinely have your heart in the right place. You take your job personally a lot. You seem to really care.

A lot of trans people wind up homeless or in prison, because, like me and like the people you work with, their lives just don’t work for some reason and society actively throws up barriers to them getting it to work. I know you have some understanding of how that works for homeless people. I am hoping that comparing the two things will help foster insight for you (and perhaps other people).

The young trans person I helped ultimately turned their back on me. I got burned. I saw it coming. I knew from the outset that was the most likely outcome. While I don’t expect us to ever be able to put that behind us and be friends again, like the best friend in this story who got robbed, I have some sympathy for why this young person made the choices they made. I have some sympathy for how impossible a position this young person was in, where there just weren’t any good choices. I don’t want them punished for what they did to me. I hope they get the help they need and I hope that getting the help they need will help them not burn anyone else.

I will note that one of the issues in America today is the way medical coverage is handled and one aspect of being trans is that hormone replacement therapy and the multiple surgeries needed to match their body to their identity are quite expensive and hard to come by at all. My medical condition is also quite expensive. So $10,000 doesn’t look like that much money to me when weighed against the very real costs of dealing with the kind of situation she was dealing with. I can see that being something she felt she needed just to survive.

So I stand by my earlier assertion that there is something very wrong with this world. I think you and a whole lot of people just don't get what this is about. I don't really get it either but I have some inkling. And given that the person who was robbed has sympathy for her, throwing her in a men's prison to be denied medical treatment and repeatedly raped is simply heinous.
posted by Michele in California at 1:46 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's possible to believe that the federal correctional system is desperately broken in terms of how it deals with protecting prisoners from sexual violence, AND to believe that trans people are at unique risk of being sexually exploited and hurt in addition to being deprived of appropriate medical treatment, cast as social pariahs, and deprived of very basic forms of self-expression which cis prisoners are permitted without question. Any reasonable person must admit that sexual violence is cruel and arbitrary punishment, no matter how usual it's become, and the horrors that trans prisoners face - irrespective of the nature of their crimes - are cruel impositions to which cis prisoners are not subject.
posted by gingerest at 11:11 PM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Harris appeals order granting gender reassignment to trans inmate
California Attorney General Kamala Harris elected late Friday to appeal a federal court decision requiring a state prison to grant gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmate whose doctor prescribed to her the procedure.

In addition to appealing to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Harris seeks a stay from U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar on his preliminary injunction requiring the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation to offer the procedure to Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who’s incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., for second-degree murder.

“Norsworthy has been treated for gender dysphoria for over 20 years, and there is no indication that her condition has somehow worsened to the point where she must obtain sex-reassignment surgery now rather than waiting until this case produces a final judgment on the merits,” Harris writes.
Later in the article:
It remains to be seen whether the action will be politically harmful for Harris, who has a reputation for being a champion of LGBT rights, as she seeks the Democratic nomination to become the next U.S. senator for California in the 2016 election.
(The action will not be politically harmful for Harris, and she will continue to be referred to as a champion of LGBT rights, because nobody gives a fuck about trans people.)
posted by Corinth at 12:24 AM on April 11, 2015


It looks like the appropriate contact form for Harris is here. Since I'm a voter in her Senate bid, I wrote to let her know that her decision and phrasing were offensive and that I hope she reconsiders her stance on trans prisoners. I'll update if I get anything other than a "thanks for your feedback" canned response.
posted by jaguar at 7:16 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


A federal judge on Monday denied a request from California Attorney General Kamala Harris to place a hold on an order requiring the Golden State to offer gender reassignment surgery to a transgender inmate convicted of second-degree murder.

In an eight-page decision, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, an Obama appointee, says the state demonstrated it may suffer irreparable injury if the denial of a stay deprives officials of appellate review, but ultimately decides in favor of Michelle Norsworthy, a trans women who’s being held at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif.

“[T]he Court concludes that Norsworthy has established that she is likely to prevail on the merits of her deliberate indifference claim, and that she is suffering from irreparable injury as a result of the deprivation of her Eighth Amendment rights,” Tigar said. “Consequently, the balance of hardships tips heavily in her favor.”
posted by Corinth at 5:56 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]




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