California’s Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act went into effect in January 2021, making it possible for transgender people in prison to seek housing in facilities that align with their gender identity and sense of safety. The goal: to reduce the violence, psychological trauma and degradation experienced by trans prisoners. Instead, as reported in a story that was published by KQED and republished by MindSite News, trans women transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla have suffered new forms of trauma.
As part of this collaborative project, MindSite News bring you first-person stories of life inside CCWF, drawn from interviews that journalist Lee Romney conducted with five trans women and two trans men. Where legal and chosen names differ, we’ve used chosen names. (We’ve also included a glossary of terms at the end of this page.)
While MindSite News was unable to corroborate every instance of alleged staff misconduct, you’ll find sourcing links for the most serious allegations. In a statement, CDCR said it works “to ensure those who live and work in our institutions are treated respectfully, impartially, and fairly” and “is committed to providing a safe, humane, respectful and rehabilitative environment for all incarcerated people, including the transgender, non-binary and intersex community.”
Below are the stories of the transgender prisoners who shared their experiences.
Calvin was among the first trans women transferred from a men’s prison to the Central California Women’s Facility under the new law. She was thrilled and excited, but her hopes were short-lived when she discovered some guards had turned the female prisoners against her by telling them that the “men” being sent to their prison would beat and assault them. A few women left care packages for the new transgender arrivals inmates as a welcome gift, but many were suspicious. Calvin has been placed in solitary confinement on several occasions and still struggles to find her place in a hostile environment, but she hasn’t given up. Read her interview here.
An incarcerated transgender woman instrumental in several prison lawsuits, one of which led to the use of video and body cameras in California state prisons, Carroll had long looked forward to a transfer from a men’s to a women’s prison. “Of course, I imagined all type of safety, I imagined all type of freedom,” she said. “Where I was at, my gender identity and who I am as a person was only my business. And coming here, I imagined being able to just be myself without having to worry about being attacked, being put in a box, assumptions being made about anything about me.” Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. Over time, Carroll has been trying to figure out how to navigate the “ridiculous pressure” she feels at the Central California Women’s Facility. Read her interview here.
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Freddy “Foxy” Fox, 44, is an intersex transgender woman who transferred to the Central California Women’s Facility in June 2021. Keeping to herself and hoping for sanctuary from the terrible violence and white supremacist hate that she had experienced in men’s prisons, she was dismayed to find herself continually written up for false allegations, she says. She has spent nearly all of her time in solitary confinement, where she is still languishing, and currently has no access to the phone or internet.
But she still has some hope that things could change. “When the [transgender dignity] law was passed and staff actually approached me, I thought it was the answer to every prayer I’d ever had. I really did,” she says. “And there’s still potential here. There’s great potential.” Read the interview here.
Gonzales, 33, is a transgender man who says that prison saved his life. Before his transition, he said, he had no one to talk with about his challenges: “It weighed me down. Now, living my truth and being who I am, it’s like I’m free. I’m free.” That’s one reason he wants to help other transgender prisoners. Jails and prisons have a long way to go to stop discriminating against them, even for jobs, says Gonzales, who has started a transgender awareness group in his prison’s B yard. “There are a lot of staff who try to intimidate us,” he says. “But it’s important to say that a lot of the staff are alright. They do try.” Read his interview here.
Tomas Green, 35, is a transgender man at the Central California Women’s Facility. Trans men, he says, get a lot of abuse and mockery from prison officers, and the trans women are poorly treated as well. “I don’t feel that [the department of corrections] properly introduced the trans women to this facility,” he says. “They just got thrown here, like you guys deal with it, figure it out on your own. It was complicated and confusing for a lot of the cis women, like, is this a co-ed prison now? There should have been more communication – just to be more sensitive of the needs of the cisgender women. To tell them, maybe there are one or two who manipulate the system, but do not take that our on every transgender woman. Read his interview here.
Like many other trans women prisoners, Fancy Lipsey, 33, had been assaulted in men’s prison and was desperate to be transferred to a women’s prison. But her arrival at the Central California Women’s Facility, she says, was tainted by rumors spread by guards that the transgender women who were coming to the prison “were coming here to rape them, we were coming here to take over, we were all prison gang members.” She says she has been put in solitary confinement for things she didn’t do. She has the support of some other prisoners, who have told her she “is nothing like these people tried to say you were,” but the fear and anger stirred up among the prison population by staff, she says, has resulted in a relentless spate of unjust accusations and punishment. Read the interview here.
Shiloh Heavenly Quine, 64, is the first transgender woman in the U.S. to receive gender-affirming surgery while in prison. Her victory came as part of a 2015 legal settlement that opened the door for other transgender prisoners seeking gender affirming care. She is gratified that after five years at a women’s prison, she enjoys a good relationships with most of the women there, but she hopes to be released soon from prison after serving 44 years and share what she has learned with the youngsters outside. “I want to be an advocate, a person that gives back to the community to make amends for everything that has happened,” she says. “That’s my redemption. I believe in God, in a higher being, and I need to be right by him as well as my fellow human beings.” Read the interview here.
Illustrations by Lee Romney
SB 132 – The bill number assigned to the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act before it became law in January 2021.
CDCR – California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
CCWF – Central California Women’s Prison, in Chowchilla
AdSeg – Administrative Segregation, known colloquially as solitary confinement, or the hole.
R&R – Receiving and Release
GP – general population
115 or RVR – rule violation report
602 – grievance filed by an incarcerated person
PREA – the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. “Calling PREA” is slang for using the law to allege sexual assault, generally by another incarcerated person. Doing so has essentially ensured that prison officials would move the accused to isolation pending an investigation. However, CDCR policies around restricted housing will be changing beginning November 1 to reduce its use and provide greater opportunities to those held there.
Separation Chrono – a written document declaring that two incarcerated people cannot be placed near one another, either because they are known enemies or for other reasons.
DRB hearing – Directors Review Board, a headquarters level hearing held to determine whether to send an incarcerated person to another institution. For the trans women at CCWF, these have been held to decide whether to return them to men’s prison.
SHU – Secure Housing Unit, a more restrictive form of segregation than AdSeg
EOP – Enhanced Outpatient Treatment, a level of mental health care inside CDCR that provides treatment and specific accommodations to incarcerated people.
IAC – Inmate Advisory Council, a form of governance by incarcerated people tasked with airing concerns of the overall population with administrators.
–This series of interviews, conducted by Lee Romney and published by MindSite News, is part of a collaborative reporting project whose initial investigative story was first published by KQED and republished by MindSite News. The investigation is funded by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
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