Shiloh Heavenly Quine, 64, enjoys teaching music to other prisoners and hopes to be released soon after serving 44 years after being in a robbery car when she was 20. She was 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. The state also agreed to start providing transgender prisoners access to clothing and commissary items consistent with their gender identity. Quine was moved to the Central California Women’s Facility in 2017. (Note: She refers to the cisgender women and transgender men in the prison as ‘girls.’)

I went through a lot when I first got here. I went through a whole lot. They put the cart before the horse. They didn’t know what to do with me, so they isolated me. They wanted to keep me in protective custody. I didn’t take that too well, to be honest with you. I was in a box, pretty much. I couldn’t have no cellie. I was like, you’re not gonna isolate me, I haven’t done nothing.

I did get out, but I was in AdSeg a lot off and on in the beginning. They girls didn’t know what to think of me. They didn’t know what my intent was, and being born a male I was more physically strong, so that frightened a lot of them, and it triggered them. The girls here have every right to be fearful of predators. They’ve already been through whatever they’ve been through with their exes, husbands, boyfriends, or from instances in their childhood. They did a lot of things to try to eliminate me. I had numerous false accusations against me. They made things up. There’s a lot of manipulation here and sometimes the women utilize the administration, the protocols and procedures they have, in order to get what they want. We live 7 or 8 to a room. They’re dorms. So, to get rid of me, it opens up a bed in the corner which is a prime spot to be because you have a sense of privacy. So that’s what that was about, a lot of the time.

There’s a lot of PREA here and a lot of people use that as a weapon. When PREA first came out, people used it to get to their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends. If they were in AdSeg, they’d call PREA on people just to bring them back to AdSeg, so they could see ‘em. Early on, I got into a relationship, so I was in AdSeg for that too. The bottom line is no means no, and yes is unacceptable in prison, yet all these girls, the majority of them couple up. It’s just what they do. It shouldn’t be discriminatory if you’re born male or female, because the bottom line is we’re supposed to be equal and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so it just seems a little harder on the (trans women) who come here. The new trans women here take a beating.

What CDCR or CCWF could do better is take control of this prison because they let the girls run it. You got 8 people in one room and usually, one person runs the room, so it’s very difficult for trans women to come here because that room leader will put pressure to get them out of the room. But with anything new it’s hard to digest. You’re going to have an issue when you come to a place with different gendered people who judge, and this yard’s very judgmental.

While fighting my lawsuit I wore a dress, I was getting the proper amount of hormones – in a man’s prison. I had feminine features. I was very girly. And that changed. I came here and there was a recoil. They did a number on me with my hormones. My jaw got wide. They basically turned me back into looking like a man, it’s just that simple. So I shaved the sides of my head and decided I’m gonna be rebellious. Now I identify more as nonbinary. Staff just seem to hate me for that even worse. I try to take the power from them. I roll with it.

I just seen the doctor yesterday though and I’m getting some feminization for my face, because it turns out the hormones I was on quit working. I’m getting my lips done. I’m getting some other facial surgery. But I do litigate everything. I file grievances to stand up for what’s right. I can’t even get tattoo removal. I’ve been trying to get that since 2017. And that has been a failure.

I’ve been here more than five years and now a lot of the girls accept me. I’m functioning on a good level. I’m in a room with some girls in an honor dorm. It’s going smooth. Everybody knows me. I’m teaching music now. I have classes in every building, so I go in there and teach music. Guitar, and I also play harp. It’s exciting to see the passion from a lot of them. The bottom line is I’ve been blessed because last night we had a function and I was kicking it with some girls, and you know, they care about me, and that makes me feel good because I’ve worked at it. I haven’t hurt nobody. You can’t come here hurting people. They will get rid of you, they will pack your ass out. I’ve had some tell me, we accept you, but I don’t know if we’re gonna accept any of [the newer transgender arrivals]. And that scares me. You can’t come in there thinking you’re gonna take over their land because that’s what they’re afraid of. A lot of them think, ‘The men are coming here and they’re gonna take over everything.’ The girls are not cowards. Some of them will slice you, dice you. They’ll fight.

Now I like it here to a pretty good degree, but I do wish I could have gone to CIW, that would have been much better than here and more fitting. They have 2 person cells there. The administration and mental health, everything is better. I went there on suicide watch — twice. And the staff were respectful, polite. It was like a whole different place. They just shipped a lot of people from here to CIW. I tried to get on the bandwagon. I meet the criteria, but for some reason they don’t want to do that.  They want me here.

I have court coming up. I’ve been in 44 years. I was in the car during a robbery where a man was killed. I didn’t know that anybody got killed. I take full accountability. Ignorance is no excuse for the law. I was 20 years old. I was held accountable, but I didn’t do no murder and I’ve been trying for 44 years to bring that truth out. I should get out soon if things go right.  I want to be an advocate, a person that gives back to the community to make amends for everything that has happened. 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. I want to dedicate the rest of my life to that. I’ve got tattoos all over me and I look like a prison person, so I believe I can reach youngsters and give them some coping skills and plant some good knowledge through my music.