“Our Letter,” by Synthia.
It’s difficult to imagine the world we live in without prisons. Without laws. I’ve come to fully understand that prisons are necessary, that is, to separate those who are without a doubt a danger to a civilized society.
However, what happens within that prison is a story worth documenting. Stories not only from me, truly not just my single voice, but of all the voices as one that demonstrates the horrors that take place within the walls of these so-called Correctional Facilities.
Sex, drugs alcohol, weapons, assaults, arson, rapes, gambling, contract hits, tattoos, trading, prostitution, robberies, and even “murder,” all taking place within these walls.
But how can that be? The United States, through its citizens, pays billions of dollars to ensure that such horrors end once the convicted is sent to prison. He or she is supposed to be ”rehabilitated.” They are supposed to be rotting away in their cages while the more civilized society continues in their fight to protect law and order.
Within Correctional Facilities you have three types of prisoners and three types of prison guards. They are:
1. Convict. His morals and codes are simple. Run the prison, eliminate all threats, and enforce power over all who seeks to oppress him.
2. Prisoner. His role is to follow the Convict’s role, but not to engage in the violence that a Convict represents. A Prisoner demands their human rights.
3. Inmate. An Inmate is the worst. He’s viewed as a “yes sir.” He’ll rat on his Prisoner and Convict in a minute, just to obtain favour from the guards.
Then we have the guards. The “C.O.’s.” Supervisors, Captains, etc. They are paid to complete three very important tasks:
1. C.O. #1: The “Straight by the book” guard. His job is simple. Violate any disciplinary rule and you’re disciplined. Period. He’s the “All-American American.” The one that refuses to lose his job and will rat on his fellow guard in a heartbeat to protect his 401K.
2. C.O. #2: “The Wanna-Be-Convict guard.” He’ll come to work, hand out Newports, sell drugs and other sorts of contraband to prison gang members, and even allow convicts to assault vulnerable inmates.
3. C.O. #3: “The Oppressors.” He’ll come at you with the full power he possesses to take control of your life. He’ll beat you, rape you, degrade you, then allow his “Team” to do the same. When they get tired of you, they put a weapon in your cell – and send you off to the box (23 to 24 hour disciplinary SHU segregation) with sentences ranging from 30 days to at times three years.
So what happens to the vulnerable inmates? Not the ones who tell for favour, no, what about the prisoners who are viewed as inmates simply because they are:
WEAK, GAY, TRANSGENDER, or refuse to join a gang? Well, it depends. If you’re housed with any of the specific guards outlined herein. Each tour is different. You might have officers who want to protect, which they will, or you’ll have the officer who turns a blind eye and lets the Convict run the unit.
I am 39 years old. I’ve been raped, assaulted, and humiliated beyond comprehension.
Imagine someone throwing human feces mixed with urine, spoiled milk, blood semen and other vile unknown substances in your face, hair and body. (Enough to fill a 40 oz bucket).
Imagine the Convicts all “laughing,” taunting you, yelling, “Kill yourself” over and over again.
No matter how much you wash this mixture of hatred off of you and no matter how clean you now are, psychologically, you swear it’s still on you because the smell is so embedded in your mind that it won’t go away. You fall down to your knees in that shower shaking and crying and the C.O. yells “hurry up and lock in.” As you walk to your cell the guards laughing. Why would they allow this?
Why did it happen?
Why is nothing done to prosecute these assaults?
I am the constant victim of prison assaults because I refused to let inmates rape me.
My mistake was “reporting” my abusers. Once you report on a Convict, that’s it. You’re labeled a “Snitch.” Forget the fact that the Convict wanted to rape you, that’s not important. I didn’t “protect myself as is the moral code.” If I was to pick up a shank and attack my oppressor, I would be viewed with respect. However, what’s respect vs. Freedom? I don’t want RESPECT. I don’t want VIOLENCE. I don’t want to DIE in prison. I want to be free. TO LIVE my potentials outside these walls.
Convicts think that because I’m a transsexual I like dick. Since I like dick, what’s the big deal. “Aren’t you a homo?” “Aren’t you a faggot?” No, I’m not! I’m someone’s daughter, sister, and aunt. I’m someone’s cousin, friend, and lover. I’m important. I’m healthy! I want to Survive.
“Well, you got tits! Why the hell you got them for if you’re not gonna let us see them? Touch them? Suck on them?”
I don’t have tits! I have breasts. They are for me. They identify my identity. They are mine to share only with my lover, and my reflection. “You’re a stuck up little bitch. You don’t suck my dick and when these cells open, I’m knocking you out!”
I refused! I report this! I ask for help! What happens? I am met with hostility by the guards who are supposed to be protecting me.
The above is nothing compared to the endless abuse that gay or transgender prisoners face on a daily level – the degrading and inhumane violations that continue to take place.
In the beginning, I turned to drugs to heal my pain. From 1993 to 2003, I was using dope “in prison,” and I numbed the pain. I was raped by Convicts and guards.
I’ve lost my sanity on more than one occasion, blaming myself, resorting to self-mutilation, i.e. stabbing and/or cutting my male parts, believing I was to blame. I was the bad girl.
I live in a cloud of constant thoughts of suicide. I cry myself to sleep. I imagine death being a place where I will no longer feel pain. I awake alone, isolated, depressed and wonder “Why have I allowed myself to live another day of this torment? This abuse?” I am weak at times. Weak because I easily lose focus. I want to be strong, to fight, to live my life, but, why?
My main goal is to survive, yet I struggle to live. Am I my worst enemy? I feel like I’m in some type of matrix* that I am struggling to free myself from.
Does profanity help? Should I yell at the top of my lungs for help using a thousand words that equals nothing when spoken out of anger? What is prison rape? What is sex in prison? Does society accept it? Let’s see: The advertising poster for a 2006 film titled “Let’s Go to Prison” shows a single image of a bar of soap, engraved with the movie’s title, lying next to a shower drain.
Should this be funny? You know, “Don’t drop the soap?” Even law enforcement officers use these slogans when interviewing suspects. Rape is no doubt a standard part of virtually any prison setting, and little has been done to truly follow the Prison Rape Elimination Act laws that are in place.
Imagine a world without prison watch dogs, or Prisoner’s Legal Services, Legal Aid Society, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, etc., etc., etc.!
My story is only less than the 95% of stories never told. Victims and/or “Survivors” of prison rape and/or assault normally never report it. What happens to them? Some kill themselves and others die as a result of being infected with HIV. Others just handle it.
“Homosexual acts were going on in broad view for anyone to see, meat was being roasted.” Is this an adequate picture to describe rape?
When a victim-prone person enters prison, especially a gay or transsexual person, let’s be honest:
#1) You will not be protected by prison staff;
#2) You will be victimized; and
#3) If you’re lucky, you’ll go home and live out your life knowing the pain that never goes away.
Unless the prisons set up video and audio cameras at every square inch of the jail, your stay in these walls will forever be scarred in your existence.
I hope that my letter to [SRLP], “Our Letter,” which we share with you, touches the “want” to help end this abuse. Without “Sylvia Rivera Law Project” and its amazing staff, imagine how many voices won’t be heard!
There is no doubting the fact that “as long as we are in prison we will never know darkness or silence.”
– We are attacked simply because we are who we are. We are proud people who only want to live normal lives. Unless your child is born like me, you’ll never understand what’s it like to be beautiful.
* Matrix, a noun originating from the Latin word for womb. An environment that gives form to, or provides for, the origin or development of something.
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.