“Coming Home… It’s Almost Surreal!”
by Grace DeTrevarah.
My name is Grace. I have been home for a short while. I was incarcerated in Wallkill, Fishkill and other facilities of Medium status. Being a Black Transgender woman in a Male facility with a feminine and womanly appearance was problematic from intake at Downstate until I was released from Fishkill. However, I have fought for humane treatment throughout “all” my prison terms (3 terms) due to the information that was provided by SRLP. When I contacted SRLP I was being held in SHU for disciplinary. While being held in SHU at Oneida Correctional Facility (which is now closed), I was being denied access to “Basic” needs i.e. showers, recreation and legal assistance. Then I began to be harassed and assaulted by the SHU officers. The administration of Oneida at the time did not recognize my complaints. I was scared ! But I didn’t allow my fear to stall my need for humane treatment and to be heard. Ultimately, I began to advocate for myself. It was a difficult time for me.
The one important aspect of advocating for one’s self comes with knowing the NYS inmate Rule Book (regardless of the facility), the Directives and policies of the facility one is housed. It took a lot of reading and memorizing these documents. But, I took this as small stuff…. because I was being treated unfairly. Not only because I was an inmate but, primarily because I was Transgender…..and solely that! There were instances when the basic needs i.e. like using bathrooms, showers, recreation and program areas, came with receiving harassment for the mere fact of me just “showing up.” Now what do I mean ? There would be times I would be denied access for these programs and areas because the Officers would inform me that they didn’t “want to have to watch me” and other inexcusable biased reasons. When it came to using the bathrooms or showers, there were times where Officers would monitor my usage by actually coming into those areas. There were times when I was locked in showers to refrain other inmates access to these areas, making a hostile environment for me by other inmates due to the monitoring. All this was discouraging at moments but, I didn’t allow this to deter me to seek out “fair and just” treatment. My advocacy brought a lot of surprise and resentment from inmates and the Administration alike. However, I was able to achieve some form of acknowledgement from inmates who were legally “verse.” Or what those say in prison “The Legal Heads.”
In my advocacy, I have become aware that there is a “need” for Transgender inmates to become advocates for “survival” while incarcerated. (NYC & NYS) I can acknowledge that NYC/NYS do acknowledge that the so-called “Gay” inmates do exist. However, when it comes to the Transgender inmate, Corrections are “In The Dark” and have not been willing or informed of the “needs” that a Transgender inmate may have. In the recent past Corrections have segregated “Trannies” to refrain from dealing with appearance issues, Medical issues and programs. I would like to be able advocate for my Transgender peers who are incarcerated. I do believe that the needs of Transgender inmates are quite different from those of the Lesbian, Bi and Gay inmates due to appearance, Medical and political issues. What do I mean ? Being Transgender with Appearance issues and Medical and Political transitions that are recognizable bring out unfortunately the worst with Officers and Administrations, in my time being an inmate. Gay Males I’m sure have issues and problems as well. However, the difficulties that I had while being in NYC/NYS Corrections were plentiful. I know that I’m no island or special when it comes to “surviving” while being in Corrections. I just believe that my journey was “Bittersweet” because I was willing to study the mistreatment, harassment and inhumane behavior and become “verse” in my advocacy. I believe that more Transgender inmates can and should advocate for themselves when problems arise. The assistance with SRLP can begin when they make a conscious effort to “right” wrongs when they occur. I refused to believe that because I was incarcerated that being treated unfairly and inhumane was part of my sentence.
In the coming months I will begin to write in my journal that I keep. I would like to participate in programs that SRLP and any other Organization that advocates for the LGBT community. Especially those that advocate for the Transgender inmate. These past few weeks of being home, I have been rejuvenated in my goals of wanting to advocate and to be of service. The Open arms and support that SRLP has given me has been something that I’m appreciative of. I just hope to bring something positive and productive to their agenda.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.
This blog, which features letters from our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) members, is just one way we overcome the enormous state-created barriers to communication and political participation for the people who are most affected by the prison system.