SRLP is honored to share the following essay written by Brooke during our recent class at the Transgender Housing Unit of the NYC jails. This is a unit within the Rose M. Singer Women’s Jail which specifically houses transgender women. As it was SRLP’s first class since the THU moved from a men’s jail to a women’s jail, Mik asked the women to share their stories and thoughts concerning the move. This is Brooke’s:
As the officer unlocked my cuffs, I was dazed by the bright blooming pastels of Rosie’s Intake unit. “I’m sorry about that earlier” she told me “I’ve had my days with racism too.” She was Black and a lesbian and one of the very few friendly faces I had seen in the last week. We had spent the last two hours together on a rickety steel DOC bus. We had just stepped off a two hour bus ride with a man in the back seat who called me all the usual slurs. T***** , cocksucker, f*****. I’d become numb to this language from daily beatings in the Brooklyn men’s prison.
A man in the back seat had reached the end of his rope. “I’ll snap your neck. I’ll snap your neck. I’ll snap your neck.” He was attacking whomever he could, which often meant the t***** in the front seat.
The officers in intake were laughing around the central dock: “step through here, miss.” I passed through the metal detector with a dull sense of relief. I knew I was finally safe. The women here treated me so gently. A nervous nurse actually apologized to me when she found me on the toilet trying to bring me dinner.
I spent the last week in the Brooklyn men’s prison. For the first few days I hid in my 6’ x 9’ cell, sleeping or feigning sleep to avoid the men held there. I had regular visitors harassing me through my cell bars. “We don’t want any gays on our floor” was a phrase accompanying every interaction. I pretty quickly stopped talking to people. I tried answering questions about being a transitioning woman and was universally met with laughter and listeners telling each other how crazy I was.
People asked me if my tits were real, what my genitals were like, how I liked to have sex,even after I stopped responding from behind my bars. I remained a side-show attraction. Men continued to shout through the bars, wake me up by slapping my feet with a towel, take things off my table, and one incident where someone tried to rip my property document from my hand. I waited awake in the night for hours for an officer to pass so I could request transfer to protective custody or a trans unit. Most officers shrugged me off and continued making the night rounds. Some told me to wait for a captain and left. I spoke with a handful of captains with concerns about my safety, one or two later sent a transfer request document. I think most wouldn’t do anything because the jail was too full. During the 24 hour intake, I had been in my own cell for a few hours but mostly held in larger units with men. It was easier to blend with a baggy brown shirt enveloping my chest.
Rosie’s is friendly. It’s the exception that an officer misgenders me. I only got gendered correctly 3-4 ties in the men’s prison. Mostly by nursing staff. Almost every officer has listened to my concerns; again, the inverse of Brooklyn house. I have easy access to social programs, medical treatment.
I did not have phone use for the first 5-6 days in Brooklyn, meaning all these pleas for better treatment fell on the deaf ears of staff.
If you have a loved one who is transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or intersex and they are being housed incorrectly, please reach out to our Prisoner Justice Project for assistance. You can contact Mik via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 212-337-8550 x302.
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