COVID Prison Testimonies: Zhi Kai Vanderford in Minnesota, April 2020

April 5, 2020
Zhi Kai Vanderford
Minnesota Correctional Facility, Shakopee

I am a trans male, been on testosterone about a year here. I am a Minnesota lifer that they sent out of state for 14 years in California, 12 years in Oklahoma, and the rest of the time broken up in Minnesota, so a total of 33 years.

The inmates here are fortunate—we have each been issued a mask and told we will get a new one monthly. But out of all the staff, and they are coming in [from the outside world], I have only ever seen one wear a mask—a foreigner—a nurse, bless his heart. The rest of these jackholes are ignorant young folks that feel fine—of course they do. They are asymptomatic.

Of course, what is the excuse of the 2 old geezer doctors that I saw? They don’t care about our health. They joke it is inmate population control.

And the inmates I spoke with are saving their masks for when they are needed. When people are actually dying. But there are Minnesota prisons that have it [COVID].

Thank you for keeping me in the loop and being a lifeline. If I get more time, I will draw or write. Feel free to print my work. Just give me credit. Maybe I can get things improved here.

Stay safe.

Zhi Kai

LGBTQ Prison Testimonies: Dakota Rose in California

July 2020
Dakota Rose Austin
Kern Valley State Prison, California

Ms. Dakota Rose, a trans woman incarcerated in California, asks for help to stop the violence against LGBTQ people housed in the Sensitive Needs Yard, a place intended to keep them safe from homophobic and transphobic attacks. Various populations at risk of harm are placed there, not just LGBTQ people. For more information, see this resource written by currently and formerly incarcerated trans activists.

“My Cup of Tea”

To all of my incarcerated trans-sisters/brothers and non-binary identifying individuals, what’s Gucci! I am Dakota Rose, an incarcerated trans-woman, African Am. who was privileged to read my sis-in-solidarity, Fatima M. Shabazz’ submitted article regarding “transgender housing in prison.” Instinctively, I felt a sense of pride, compelled to interject my perspective and push for out (LGBTQ) advocacy, activism and overdue civil recourse.

Currently I am housed at Kern Valley State Prison, a max security level IV (180 design) SNY/NDO (sensitive needs yard/non-designated) in which a vast majority of the population are identified by CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] administration as STGs (security threat group/gang members). CDCR administrators, such as Sec. Scott Kernan in conjunction with C. Pfeiffer, K.V.S.P. warden, have knowingly condoned a perilous homophobic and transphobic culture, which has subsequently led to various hate crime acts of violence, discrimination, sexual harassment and assaults upon the LGBTQ population.

Continue reading “LGBTQ Prison Testimonies: Dakota Rose in California”

Transgender Housing in Prison

By Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 41, Winter 2020

Hello everyone: Since it’s been so long since I’ve written an article for Prison Health News, it makes sense that I introduce myself. My name is Fatima Malika Shabazz. I am a formerly incarcerated Afican American Transwoman. The last time I wrote anything for Prison Health News, it was due to a civil action I filed against the California Department of Corrections. Since that time, I have been released on parole; I have also been heavily involved in advocacy and activism surrounding either reforming or eliminating bad department of corrections policies related to the trans population.

Currently I am a part of a cohort here in California working on changing the policies regarding housing transgender inmates. Under the current policies, individuals housed in any of the 35 California prisons are done so based on their gender assigned at birth. This has proven problematic for many transgender inmates who identify either as trans-male or female regardless of their physical presentation, as well as those who present as non-binary. As a result, there have (over the years) been many incidents of violence against trans inmates, including murders by homophobic and transphobic cell mates, incidents that we believe could have been avoided had the department had policies such as California Senate Bill 132 in place.

If activists are successful in getting our vision of the bill passed, Senate Bill 132 would allow trans people to choose the type of facility (male or female) they want to be housed in based on their gender identity, as opposed to gender identified at birth. This bill (should it pass), comes at a timely moment, as there has been an increase in violence against incarcerated trans women. The violence has escalated especially since former Department of Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan negotiated away the safety of LGBTQ inmates by eliminating Sensitive Needs Yards. These were housing units in California prisons that traditionally held people who were in danger of facing violence in general population. Examples included informants (“snitches”), LGBT people, and people who were at risk of sexual assault.

The vision for this (at least from my perspective) is that trans people would be able to live in safer, more inclusive spaces that correlate more accurately to their personal gender identities. It must be noted, however, that this is not intended to be a hard and fast written in stone type policy—it is, in fact, meant to provide an option. Point of fact is that some trans women might rather be housed in men’s facilities, due to their personal dating preferences. It should also be noted that as a matter of policy, romantic relationships between inmates and/or staff are illegal, as is sex, consensual or otherwise. However, if trans women want to continue to be housed in men’s prisons as a matter of preference, they would continue to have that option, as would trans men.

The long-term goal is to ensure that trans people would know that the option exists for them to utilize at any point while serving their sentences, and secondly that a safer option is at their disposal, because it is an actionable policy. It is the desire of those working on the language of the bill that having this policy in place and ensuring that it is actionable would reduce the possibility of violence being committed against them, including the high possibility of being housed against their will with someone with a history of homophobic or transphobic violence. The bill would reduce the possibility of transgender people being murdered in prison simply for being trans.

As a trans woman, I am acutely aware of these elements of violence. I personally, however, cannot attest to what situation exists for trans men who may desire utilizing this option in the same way. It may very well be plausible that trans men would feel safer remaining in women’s facilities, which would be their prerogative. It is the concern of the cohort that no incarcerated trans person be placed in a situation that would make them feel less safe. With these concerns in mind, we are working very carefully to make sure the language of this bill reflects the concerns of all parties impacted by this bill.

Please be aware that this is still a monumental work in progress, but as we progress, I will duly keep everyone informed. And if you are considering doing something like this in your state, I’m of the opinion that you should. All trans people are entitled to live with respect and dignity, and if this will provide a modicum of that, why not pursue making it happen?

The PREA Problem

by Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 37, Summer 2018

Content warning: this article discusses traumatic experiences, including sexual assault.

I can safely say that at least six out of every 10 times I pick up an LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex community) newsletter or magazine, there is a person in prison somewhere in the country who is being victimized by prison or jail staff from weaponized PREA standards. If you are unaware of what the acronym stands for, it means Prison Rape Elimination Act. PREA was written to provide a resource (anonymous or otherwise) for people confined in America’s gulags (prisons) and mini gulags (jails) to report rapes and sexual abuses committed by both inmates and staff. However, this policy is often used as a hammer against the very people it was written to protect, while at the same time serving to shield the violators of its policies. Continue reading “The PREA Problem”

California Begins to Allow Gender-Appropriate Clothing

By Fatima Malika Shabazz

From PHN Issue 35, Winter 2018

I have been fighting long and hard to get gender reassignment surgery here in California. There are now protocols in place for inmates in the California Department of Corrections to apply for surgery. I applied with the medical department for reassignment surgery, but I kept my civil action (lawsuit) open. I have not lost a major motion to date, so the outlook (at least for now) looks pretty good for negotiation. Continue reading “California Begins to Allow Gender-Appropriate Clothing”

Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams

By Elisabeth Long

From PHN Issue 34, Fall 2017

“Money kept them in. Black love got them out.”

— Pat Hussain, Co-founder of Southerners on New Ground

This August, activists bailed out 51 Black women, queer and trans folks across the South as part of the Black August Bail Out organized by Southerners on New Ground (SONG). SONG is a Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people in the South. The Black August Bail Out is a continuation of bail outs happening around the country that began with the Mama’s Day Bail Out in May. Organizers found people to bail out in several ways, such as using public records requests and allying with public defenders. They met with women inside to ask their permission to bail them out and to find out what their needs might be after being released. In addition to bail, donated funds were used to provide short-term housing, healthcare, transportation, drug treatment, mental health care and other support services to people the activists bailed out. Continue reading “Black August Bail Out Honors Legacy of Resistance and Black Freedom Dreams”

How to Write a Successful Grievance

by Mrs. Ge Ge

From PHN Issue 31, Winter 2017

Most of what I will be talking about is based on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) policy. But this information might be useful in other states. Whenever you need to write a grievance, you should first review the policy in your facility regarding grievances. In Pennsylvania (PA), that policy is DC-ADM 804. Remember that not all grievances are winners, so it is important to find any case law that is similar to your situation to use in the grievance. Continue reading “How to Write a Successful Grievance”

How to Organize a Memorial or Celebration

by Lisa Strawn

From PHN Issue 30, Fall 2016

I’m writing to give people in prison advice on how to put together a memorial or celebration. In June, I put together a Celebration of Life for the Orlando shooting victims at the facility where I’m housed. Continue reading “How to Organize a Memorial or Celebration”

Accessing Gender-Affirming Health Care in Prison

by Mrs. Ge Ge

From PHN Issue 28, Spring 2016

Hello friends,

My name is Mrs. Ge Ge. I am a trans woman incarcerated in PA. I am also the founder of an LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender–plus) organization called L.I.G.H.T. We aim to educate readers about DOC policies that protect them, laws, health and politics. We use this information to strengthen our ability to fight the prison industrial complex, by using its own policies against it. I am writing simply to spread some knowledge on how to get gender affirming health care in prison. There are several useful tools you can use to accomplish this. I will list some addresses at the end of this article. Continue reading “Accessing Gender-Affirming Health Care in Prison”

Fatima’s Fight

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. Continue reading “Fatima’s Fight”