by Fatima Malika Shabazz
From PHN Issue 27, Winter 2016
Peace and Love. I hope this letter finds all my brothers and sisters in the never-ending fight for our rights doing well. I have a great deal of faith in the strength and resilience of people like myself.
First steps of a lawsuit
For those who don’t know, I filed suit recently against the state of California’s Department of Corrections for denying me the chance to get genital sex reassignment surgery. It had already been denied by the prison’s medical department, and all appeals were denied at every level. I mailed the petition to the Central District of the California federal court, and it was received on August 13.
The screening stage is the point in which the court determines the validity of your complaint. The process can take a very long time to see fruition, so patience is a virtue, for real.
My original petition was denied with leave to amend. Before submitting the amended petition, I submitted a motion for reconsideration, which asks the judge to reconsider the first decision. This motion was denied. I then filed a motion for enlargement of time to be able to file the amended petition. I never got a response to that motion, but I did continue to work on and file the amended petition. I am now waiting for a response.
Along with the suit, I also filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis. This is asking the court to allow me to proceed in court as an indigent inmate. (I’m broke as hell, baby.) A couple of weeks after filing, I received a notice that the request was granted. However, I was still tagged with a bill for $350 for a filing fee, pursuant to 28 U.S. Code § 1915(b)(2). Look this up and see if the same rules apply in your area. Here in California, the court directs the Department of Corrections to deduct 20% from your inmate trust account any time it exceeds $10, to cover that cost.
Note that I currently make about $35 a month, plus the state already takes 55% from that, which leaves me about $16. After the court hit, I’m left with about $4 a month. So assess your situation with regard to these fees.
Pearls of wisdom
I also received a notice asking if I wanted to proceed with a magistrate judge or with a district judge. When you get this notice, always check “district judge.” You tend to be in better hands with them, or so I’m told.
Also, be sure to write the clerk of court a formal letter asking for the rules of the court. The first set is free. Anything after that, you will have to pay for. Again, check and see what applies where you are.
Most importantly, stay current. Keep up with all the newest court cases concerning what you are suing for. Know what your state law is regarding prison healthcare, and find the cases that apply to your fight. However, your situation may be different from the situation of the person who won a similar action. What may apply to me may not fully apply to you. It’s important to understand what your situation is, because your argument will amount to a composite of your situation and case law citing other situations.
Is a win really a win?
Recently, Ms. Shiloh Quine won a legal decision here in California. The state agreed to a settlement, which entailed a revision of the state’s policies regarding incarcerated transgender people’s access to medically necessary treatment and gender-affirming clothing and canteen items. This includes access to feminine cosmetics in the canteen and gender-appropriate state-issued clothing for transgender people.
None of that has come to fruition yet. I’m inclined to believe that it’s all a bunch of smoke and mirrors. It’ll be five years before we see one new canteen item, and possibly the same length of time before we are issued any type of female-appropriate clothing, aside from the bras we get now, which incidentally took about three years to get.
Please do not give up the fight.
Progress in PA
by PHN staff
In Pennsylvania, as a result of advocacy by members of the activist group Hearts on a Wire in prison and outside, new commissary lists are available to transgender people as of June 30, 2015. These new commissary lists in Pennsylvania offer gender-specific items that were previously viewed as contraband, including undergarments and cosmetics. Pennsylvania also announced new rules for placing people in housing that is more appropriate to their gender identity and for respectful treatment by staff. Other states and facilities are making similar changes due to activist pressure.