I am a huge supporter of the struggles of transgender people in prison, especially after a recent incident with a prisoner in Virginia. That’s why I was so happy to contribute this article in Vice: http://www.vice.com/read/the-uphill-battle-to-make-prison-safer-for-trans-women If you have a chance to read it we highly recommend it.   Photo of Ashley Jean Arnold by…

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By Matt Stroud

A few months back, when I first started with In These Times, I had a talk with Logan Sachon at The Billfold about what I intended to do with The Prison Complex and why I find prisons so infuriating and fascinating. It was an enjoyable discussion. But when she asked me, “What do TV and movies get right … and what do they get wrong” about prisons, I admitted I didn’t really know; I’ve never served time in a prison, and anything I possess approaching a journalistic expertise about incarceration comes from what I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, and policy discussions I’ve followed.

So I decided to get in touch with some prisoners to see how they’d answer Logan’s question.

In a partnership with Between the Bars — a fascinating site that allows prisoners to blog about whatever they want — this is the first in a hopefully recurring series of posts by prisoners about their daily lives behind bars. Since we’re just getting started here, the prompt is simple: “What do TV and movies get right and what do they get wrong about prisons?” Our first response comes from Jennifer Gann, a prisoner at Kern Valley State Prison in the desert of Southern California about 45 minutes by car northwest of Bakersfield. Kern Valley is a maximum security facility for men with just about 4,100 prisoners.

Jennifer’s letter has been scanned and posted here. The text of her letter follows:

I’m a 44 year old transgender woman activist and prisoner in California. I have been incarcerated for the past 24 years, and I’ve witnessed every imaginable aspect of the prison system from the inside.

Initially, I was sentenced to “seven years” in state prison after being convicted of a robbery charge. I’ll admit that I’m no angel, but I served the time which fit the crime. I’m a drug addict and ex-gang member who has made a lot of mistakes which I now regret.

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By Derek Gilna

A lawsuit filed by a transgender federal prisoner in Massachusetts has resulted in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) making appropriate medical care available “to [prisoners] who believe they are the wrong gender,” according to a May 31, 2011 memo issued to all BOP wardens. Previous BOP policy limited treatment of transgender prisoners to medical care that maintained them “at the level of [gender] change which existed when they were incarcerated.”

The prisoner who filed suit, Vanessa Adams, whose legal name is Nicholas Adams, had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in 2005 by medical professionals at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (USMCFP) in Springfield, Missouri.
Adams sought declaratory and injunctive relief under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202.

Her lawsuit noted that GID is a “recognized diagnosable and treatable medical condition listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).” Medically appropriate GID treatment options include providing patients with 1) hormones of the desired gender; 2) the “real life experience,” i.e. living full-time as the new gender; and 3) surgery to change the patient’s sex characteristics – often collectively referred to as “triadic therapy.”

According to her complaint, Adams “believed she was assigned the wrong gender,” which caused her “much emotional turmoil.” Those feelings intensified during her incarceration; she amputated her penis and attempted to castrate herself.

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