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21 Questions Need 21 Answers

Below is an essay from PAC member and It’s War in Here Advisory Committee member Terrianna Witherspoon. Terrianna is a longtime advocate for all trans people and she has contributed enormously to SRLP over the years. We are excited to share her very important essay on issues faced by trans people in prison. – Mik

There are so many of us trans people in the prison system that are going through the everyday challenges of being incarcerated and living as trans. In this day and time, we take on a strong army that’s considered an enemy, the correctional officers, civilian staff, and medical staff. On an everyday basis, us trans people try to fight against gender discrimination, ostracism, sexual abuse, and violence. Our struggles have been going on since the beginning of time, and to this day it’s still going on and the questions that need to be addressed still don’t have answers . So here are a series of questions that deserve answers and the proper action needs to be put into perspective.

  1. Why are the correctional staff still referring to trans people as their sex that they were assigned at birth?
  2. Why do correctional staff, medical personnel, and counselors feel the need to discriminate against trans people?
  3. Why do the grievance procedures lack knowledge about trans people’s rights to be treated with respect instead of being singled out?
  4. Why do correctional officers believe that all trans people are the cause of 90% of the sexual violence against them?
  5. Why are complaints going unanswered by trans people regarding the conduct of the correctional and civilian staff?
  6. Why are correctional staff refusing to exercise the sensitivity training they were taught before becoming correctional officers?
  7. When it comes to safety, why do correctional staff place trans people in housing units that are known for violence?
  8. Why do correctional staff often make inappropriate comments about trans people and their way of expression?
  9. Why are correctional officers constantly placing trans people in protective custody after they were involved in an altercation with another inmate who is non-trans?
  10. Why are trans people being placed in involuntary protective custody for offenses that they are not the cause of?
  11. When trans people are being harassed by other inmates, why doesn’t correctional staff take action in reporting it to the proper authority for the right disciplinary action?
  12. When trans people are scheduled for appointments in the facility, why do medical staff continue to use the wrong pronouns to acknowledge trans people’s identity?
  13. Why are trans people not receiving the correct size or type of undergarment (i.e. standard or sports) from the medical staff ordering them?
  14. Why are state shops in the facility refusing to provide trans people with the correct undergarments to match their current gender identity/expression?
  15. Why are facilities refusing to provide trans people with the proper products to obtain a feminine/masculine appearance?
  16. When it comes to trans people (trans women mainly), why don’t we have the proper hair /nail care products to maintain our most prized possessions that make us look and feel beautiful?
  17. Why are the correctional facilities refusing to allow trans people to obtain surgeries to fit our current gender identities?
  18. Why are correctional facilities denying trans people clothing that are for the opposite gender?
  19. Why do trans people have to be subject to being labeled as “sexual predators” by both correctional staff and inmates?
  20. Why are trans people afraid to stand up for their rights against correctional and medical staff?
  21. When are the new laws going to take effect so that trans people in prison can be themselves and not worry about living in fear?

These questions are the main ones that need to be addressed. I feel strongly about changes in the prison system. I feel that there should be mandatory rules and laws that correctional staff will and must obey. I also feel that correctional staff should in fact be summoned to take an extensive training course on the history of the trans community. If in fact they take this course and sign an agreement to attend. If they refuse, I feel that there should be a series of consequences and fines for their refusal, possibly being terminated. I hope that in due time, we as trans people will see a major change in the year to come. In closing, correctional staff should always keep in mind that correct pronoun use is the key to trans people’s future and identities.


Ms. Terrianna Witherspoon

Artwork by Shalyanna Luvme entitled :”Unity

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