Petersburg, Virginia: At approximately 2:30 PM on February 24, 2015, Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg Medium inmate Ashley Jean Arnold (given name: Steven Roy Arnold), 32, ended her life by hanging herself in her prison cell. Arnold had sought medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria in the two years leading up to her death, but prison officials repeatedly delayed care rendered and denied additional treatment components requested.
Born a biological male, Arnold served in the U.S. Navy as a fighter jet mechanic and even won an award for being sailor of the year for her squadron prior to being indicted and convicted of federal criminal charges related to child pornography. She was sentenced to a term of 300 months in federal prison and housed at FCI Petersburg.
For several years Arnold sought expanded access to medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria (which the Federal Bureau of Prisons calls gender identity disorder). She sought treatment in line with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the only such standards of care for the treatment of transgender individuals, which includes hormone replacement therapy, real-life experience, counseling and other treatment methodologies designed to help transgender individuals transition from their biological gender to their chosen gender. The Federal Bureau of Prisons repeatedly rebuffed Arnold’s efforts at seeking help.
In July 2013, Arnold filed suit against prison officials in the Eastern District of Virginia (Arnold v. Wilson, Case No. 1:13cv900), alleging deliberate indifference and violations of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. On December 23, 2014, United States District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted the government summary judgment, deciding that prison officials were not deliberately indifferent to Arnold’s serious medical needs and had not subjected her to cruel and unusual punishment. While Special Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin T. Hickman represented the Federal Bureau of Prisons, jailhouse lawyers Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis assisted Arnold from their prison’s law library. While Ashley filed a notice of appeal, she took her life before the appeal could proceed.
Arnold’s cause is currently being advanced by jailhouse lawyers Rinchen and Zoukis, who are actively petitioning the Department of Justice to open a criminal inquiry into the sexual harassment and retaliation that specific prison officials exerted against Arnold leading up to her tragic death.
Zoukis can be reached for comment, interviews and supporting documentation at the following address:
P.O. Box 1000, #22132-058
Petersburg, VA 23804