Tremayne Carroll, 51, is among four incarcerated transgender women who’ve been granted the right to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to roll back the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act (SB 132). In addition, she is among four trans women at CCWF who have filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by staff. Carroll, who uses a wheelchair, was also a plaintiff in two lawsuits that resulted in settlements. One alleged that an officer at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility left her handcuffed in her wheelchair for more than two days. The other, Armstrong v. Newsom, was a class action case that alleged a pattern of mistreatment of disabled prisoners at CDCR. That settlement required installation of security cameras and the use of body-worn cameras in California state prisons.

I’ve been incarcerated since September 10, 1998, on a third strike. I got 25-to-life for aiding and abetting a theft of a jewelry store. I was in the car. The person I was supposedly aiding got probation. I’ve always been in the men’s prison, all the way up until August 26th of 2021, which was the day that I arrived at CCWF.

My clinicians on the mental health side of CDCR, my doctors have long understood my gender dysphoria and the dynamic of my life related to my gender identity. As far as outwardly identifying as anything, I never felt the need. To this day I don’t. My gender identity is mine and mine alone. I’m a natural born athlete. I played sports when I was young. I’m 6 feet, I’m 220 pounds, I am who I am. I never felt the need to wear lipstick or wear tight clothing or try to change my voice or any of the things that people who are trying to put me in a box have done. Because generally if you express that you are a woman or that you identify as a woman in men’s prison, everything is sexualized. And it’s sexualized in a fashion that suggests what your sexuality should be. So simply because I identify as a woman, 99.9 percent of the people would assume I’m interested in men. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, ever. Not in life, not in men’s prison, not now, not never.

Gender dysphoria and gender identity are in my medical and mental health records. My psychologist before I came to CCWF, he understood. He gave me all the information that I didn’t have about SB 132. If I want CDCR to address me correctly and house me correctly, then I have to tell them what my identity is, but I don’t have to tell them what my sexuality is, and they don’t have a right to know. These issues get tied together here though, due to stereotypes and misconceptions. 

Because I’m part of the Armstrong case, the court put a temporary restraining order in place for me. There was an order by the court for CDCR to either transfer me to a federal prison, transfer me to an out of state prison, or release me to the community. This was in July 2020, so SB 132 wasn’t law yet. CDCR didn’t want to release me. They didn’t want to transfer me to federal prison or out of state because of COVID. But the judge wanted me transferred to a prison that already had cameras. Where they sent me was a Level II prison that was, like, super protective custody, you know, people with high profile cases, pedophiles, former police officers. When my doctor told me about SB 132, I asked for a transfer, and we had to get the court order changed to send me here.  

Of course, I imagined all type of safety, I imagined all type of freedom. Where I was at, my gender identity and who I am as a person was only my business. I had to live my life a certain way for my safety. 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. But from my very first day, when I got to R&R, the warden had a whole cavalry there for me. The warden, associate warden, ISU (investigative services unit), they was all there to talk to me. They said, we don’t think you should be here. But the law is the law so you’re here. It really felt like they wanted to intimidate me.

About four months after I got here, this lady punched me in my face and threw coffee in my face. That happened in the day room on camera in front of staff. Eventually they took her to her room, but from the outset I knew that some staff members were encouraging that type of behavior against me because people were making comments, you know misgendering me, homophobic slurs in the presence of staff members.

This lady had survived breast cancer. When I first met her, I tried to be friendly. And you know, I tried to encourage her and unbeknownst to me, she was taking my friendship the wrong way. And when I had to explain that, like she was just outraged. Later she told me that an officer who is no longer here used that, encouraged her to assault me and accuse me of things I didn’t do. That the officer coerced her into doing it and promised her she wouldn’t get any punishment for it. I’d never even touched this lady. She was saying I raped her, and then she was saying we had consensual sex. She kept asking for a pregnancy test. They have cameras here. I was never with her in a place where there were no cameras, so none of her accusations stuck. But all of that attention, I feel it was meant was to discourage people from associating with me, you know, like, making me look like a monster. They were trying to put me on an island. The first two years I was here I was placed in a room down a hallway by myself, isolated. Just me, down a hallway that can house probably about 40 inmates. 

Other people also hold gripes because they feel slighted by me. I want to say, ‘Hey, you wasn’t afraid of me when you asked me to be your roommate and I told you no.’ I didn’t say ‘You’re not my type’ or anything like that. I was nice about it. But now you feeling some type of way about it. It’s a bunch of that stuff that happens. I never put nobody down. I try to lift everybody up and be cool with everybody and be friends with everybody because I love putting smiles on people’s faces.  But here you can’t do that, you can’t even tell somebody, ‘Oh good morning, gorgeous,’ because if you say that, now you like ‘em. And they try to make a pass at you.

And if I do have feelings for someone, that’s not allowed. It seems like if you were born a girl then you can be friends with a girl. But we can’t. We don’t have that right for some reason to be friends with somebody or to even fall in like or in love with somebody. How is that exclusive for somebody that’s born a woman?

Some of the other trans women and trans men are putting pressure on us too. You have all of these layers here where some people is not even fighting to get to the top, they’re fighting to put somebody beneath them. You have trans women who already had their surgery. Then you have those who are waiting to have surgery. What some of them feel aids their cause is to say we’re men, we’re not really transgender, or we’re raping people. What gets me is, you’ve been judged all your life. Why are you now judging? Why are you putting labels on people when you been fighting labels your whole life? Why does somebody have to conform to what you believe. But that’s what’s going on here and it’s caused a lot of dissension with different people.

My sense of security and self, it’s been challenged because of all of this. It’s ridiculous pressure, and I’m just trying to navigate it.