Michelle Kailani Calvin, 52, helped inform the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act and was among the first trans women transferred from men’s prison to the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF).
I started working on SB 132 [the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act] from the ground up. I was one of the ones that was pushing for transfer to a woman’s prison prior to SB 132. I had also requested to have surgery back then, but I was denied both requests at the time. Now I am approved for surgery, and I started my process for hair removal on July 29 of this year. When I started working on SB 132, I was already excited, and then we got feedback that the governor would sign it. The law went into effect on January 1, 2021, which is New Year’s Day. And it was a Friday so I was like, ain’t nothing gonna happen right now. Watch CDCR delay our process to get transferred. I had a lot of concerns about it. On the 4th of January, all of a sudden, my door opened up and they telling me to come to see the counselor. I go downstairs and the counselor says, ‘We doing your paperwork for the women’s facility, we need to hurry up and have you sign the papers.’ And I couldn’t believe it. I was in awe. A couple of weeks later, I was transferred, which was February 2, 2021.
When the bus was pulling up to CCWF, my mind was going wild. ‘Are these women gonna accept me?’ ‘I hope I don’t end up in AdSeg [Administrative Segregation].’ I didn’t know what to expect. I had to tell myself, Michelle, calm down, just wait. Everything’s gonna be fine. If you be yourself, you’ll be liked, everything will fall in place. When I got off the bus and went through R&R, everything was different. We had to go through reception without any of our property. At first, I could hear a bunch of women saying, ‘Oh the men are here.’ And so that was kind of a letdown. When we got to the room, we didn’t have anything. There was a few women who reached out to us. They came to my door and asked, ‘Hey you need anything? Hygiene, food,’ because we came without any of our stuff. They weren’t allowing us to have it yet. And the next thing I knew, we started getting little care packages sitting in front of our door. But after getting out of reception and coming over the wall to a GP [General Population] yard, it’s been kind of bad.
It took three rooms before I was accepted to a room. The first one, the person screamed bloody murder and went suicide watch and everything else and then they tried to put me in another room, and they refused to take me too. Then finally somebody that was over in reception with me, they accepted me into they room.
I’m not going to lie. I thought there was going to some type of adversity or some type of pushback here. But I didn’t think it was going to come so extreme. Back in December of 2021, I got a 115 for ‘acts that could lead to sexual behavior.’ A friend that I became acquainted with and I was volunteering in the kitchen. Another trans woman and a cisgender woman got caught in a bathroom with each other. Staff took them to AdSeg and then a sergeant rewound the [surveillance] camera to see where their incident started at. He watched me and my friend for 15 minutes on video, sitting in front of each other talking. We was in a little debate. At the end, I said to her, ‘You know what, you’re right. It’s over and done with,’ and I gave her a peck on the lips. They wrote me and her up for acts that could lead to sexual behavior. They found me guilty, and they took six months canteen from me, took my packages for 90 days, took my yard for 90 days, took my day room for 90 days. They just threw the book at me, threw the book at the cisgender woman too. And I’m telling them, that’s a peck on the lips!
If we walk the track with a cisgender woman, officers think we in a relationship. If you walk the track two days with the same cisgender woman, they think you’re having sex with ‘em. Then they put a separation chrono on you, so you won’t be able to live together. You got staff over here telling transgenders, you didn’t come over here for relationships. Okay, what about the cisgender women, you ain’t telling them, ‘Why y’all in a relationship? You didn’t come over here for that.’ They don’t say anything about ciswomen walking around the track holding hands and kissing on each other. There’s a gap somewhere here. You’re picking on people’s sexuality instead of understanding their gender identity. There’s two different categories there. They’re telling us that if you’re transgender, you’re not supposed to be with no woman. So, I try to educate them. I even helped a trans man facilitate a transgender awareness group on B yard to educate the population about the transgender lifestyle, the difference between gender identity and sexuality. But I got moved. I’m trying to get a group established on C yard, but the resistance is terrible here.
Officers is also telling these cisgender women to do stuff to get rid of us. Telling them to ‘take your house back, take your prison back.’ This is what they always say: ‘Don’t let the men keep coming over here. They gonna come over here and rape y’all and beat y’all up and take y’all stuff.’ They telling these women this on a daily basis. I hear it.
I’ve had women come up to me and tell me I was a child molester and a rapist. They said that they looked me up on the Internet. And I said, ‘No you didn’t because I’m none of that.’ And I actually went and got my paperwork, my trial transcripts, my legal paperwork, my paperwork from committee, to show them what I was incarcerated for. I’m incarcerated for two robberies and a carjacking. I got struck out [under the Three Strikes law]. I’m doing 85 to life. I actually gave one cisgender woman on another yard my paperwork to take to read — to show the other girls what I’m in prison for. I shouldn’t have to do that.
They done made it so easy for these cisgender women to make a false allegation against people, not just against trans women, even the trans men is going through it. The staff, they’re going to take these cis women’s word. And then you either go to AdSeg or you get a 115 for something that you never did. I’m going through a situation right now. On September 27, while I was at work, three of my roommates went up to the program office and said I supposedly choked this girl on September 23 at midnight in the room, and that she was crying hysterically and scared. Every hour, an officer walks the building during the night for bed checks. If this girl had been crying hysterically why wouldn’t the officer stop and be told something, then? They waited four days to report an incident that never happened. Staff interviewed all my roommates. Three of them gave a statement against me. Two of them said they don’t recall anything like that happening. But the sergeant tells me, ‘Based off confidential information, I’m writing you up for a battery and I’m moving you out of the honor dorm.’ The CDCR operational manual says upon a guilty finding of a serious 115, you can get moved out of an honor unit. Well, he did it before that. He just assumed I’m guilty and moved me out of the building the same day. Now I’m facing a battery allegation for something I didn’t do. When I go to the [Board of Parole Hearings] in a couple of years, if I was to be found guilty, that’s gonna mess me up. None of us have a fair chance here.
There are a few people who I interact with on a daily basis who have no problem with me. They’re for us being here. They understand. But what I do notice is if a situation happens, everybody starts jumping on board for that situation, and the transgenders is always the ones that get the bad end of the stick. And all the cis women side up with each other. But then there’ll be a few women that say, ‘No, that’s not true, that’s not right. That person’s a good person. You shouldn’t be so mean.’ There are a few women here that’s like that.
The above interview was conducted in October 2022. The following month, Calvin was transferred to the California Institution for Women, where she said many staff and cisgender women are “more respectful.” On May 8, 2023, she received her gender affirming genital surgery. She later spent time in AdSeg on an allegation that proved to be unsubstantiated. By early fall 2023, she was working to organize a prison-wide event for Transgender Remembrance Day on November 20, combining it with a remembrance for cisgender women and trans men in order to “bridge the gap, promote peace, pure relationship and unity within a misinformed population.”