Editor's note: Among a multitude of other dangers, trans people are also over-policed. Nearly one in six trans people have been to prison; one in two if they're also Black. On the inside, trans people are not guaranteed health care, nor the protections that come with being assigned according to gender identity. Trans prisoners are also more likely to be sexually assaulted than cis-gendered prisoners.
Ashley Diamond, a Black trans woman, successfully sued Georgia's Department of Corrections in 2015 for the abuse she suffered in men's prisons, including being cut off from hormone treatments. She received an undisclosed financial settlement and partial freedom, as she remained on parole.
Diamond has since been re-incarcerated in a coastal Georgia men's prison for traveling out of state to get medical treatment—a violation of her parole. In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against Georgia's Department of Corrections outlining horrific violence against Ashley at the hands of officers and other prisoners. She remains in a men's prison as of this writing.
Below, we've published a dispatch from Ashley in her own words, followed by two more perspectives from incarcerated trans women, whose real experiences fall short of what many of us may reference in the character Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox), in Orange is the New Black.
My day starts typically around 4 a.m. I pray, meditate, grab my headset, listen to a CeCe Winans song, and prepare for my day in prison.
Usually an officer makes a round about this time. But not today—not any day lately in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Under staffed. Under-maintenanced. Unsafe. A real gangsta's paradise, so to speak.
One officer to man four buildings, doors that swing open and pop open at a push.
No access to real medical care, especially trans-related care, especially if you're transgender like me. My experience is well-documented in places like the New York Times.
If you know anything about me, you know that life hasn't been easy for me outside, but it's been especially hard during a second term in a Georgia men's prison.
Prison life here is an unmanned, evil environment where the prey play the part and the vulnerable succumb. But what's happening now is disgusting.
In a society where trans Americans are becoming an endangered species, especially Black and Latino people, all I see is television and media repeatedly playing the stage, only for our rights to be literally whipped away from us.
I'm angry, I'm sad. But I am hopeful.
The horror in my dilemma is not the stuff that hot news is made of these days. But it is a stark reminder of just how far we have to go, and how much work I have to do—how much work we have to do.
But there's a bigger story that I want people to get. I learned from what I lived through: We must change the prison complex as a whole.
Prisoners are people, and we need to work hard to show society that we can be redeemed in any way we can, including the members of the LGBTQ+ community.
It is my hope that whatever your prison horror, my friends, you walk in love, stand strong in faith and forgive those gatekeepers that grossly mistreated us, not for them but for us, so that we will have peace and will be able to fight for our ultimate prize: Freedom.
Unfortunately, Ashley's experience as a trans woman imprisoned at a men's facility is not unique. Listen to more trans women's perspectives from Teleway 411, a new podcast featuring deep conversations with incarcerated queer and trans folx, hosted by A.B.O. Comix director Casper Cendre.
You can support A.B.O. Comix and the two authors below on CashApp, PayPal, or Venmo at @abocomix. Please include Taylor or Kyrsta's name in the memo line to directly support them.
Taylor on ending the "meat show" in Texas prisons
Taylor: I have to say now I'm going to talk about a unit called Allred Unit at TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice). But I've heard recently about that unit, that it has changed. When I was there, it was tough. It was very tough if you were gay or transgender. The name is the Allred Unit. Many people joke that it's the All Redneck Unit.
Taylor is a trans woman incarcerated in Texas who learned when she was a teenager that she would be spending the rest of her life in prison. She shares the story of her trial, her coming-out journey, and her mission to spread wisdom and positivity to the people on her unit.
It's 15 miles away from the border in Oklahoma. And the culture on that unit with the officers is very anti-inmate. Instead of working with inmates, they would almost intentionally cause conflict with inmates. I was sent to this unit and put on [safe]keeping. After I came out transgender and due to problems I had in my youth,I was put in here for what was meant to be protection, a safer place.
On this unit, the problem that me and you had, I got in a little bit of trouble. I was put on a more restricted area. Every time I left the area, they would strip-search me. They would strip-search everyone, but this was not a private strip-search. They were strip-searching us in front of a hundred other people, two other sections.
They used to joke that it was called the "meat show." People would come to the windows just to watch us get naked. This was really, really hard for me. I wasn't used to this. I wasn't used to having predators send me little letters to my house, telling me their opinion of how I look naked, all the things they want to do with me. That was very tough to deal with.
And that was the only way I could eat. If I want to leave to get a meal, I must get strip-searched in front of everyone. If I want to go to medical, I must get strip-searched. If I wanted to go to visit, see my family, I must get strip-searched in front of everyone. There was a period that the anxiety was getting so bad that I almost stopped eating. I was not going to medical. I was going for the minimal amount of chow hall food.
I was doing everything in my power not to have to deal with the "meat show."
We started petitions. We started complaints against TDCJ specifically against this issue. And after thousands of people signed on to our petition, policy was changed. The warden talked to me specifically and told me that there were only two units in all of TDCJ, which at that time had close to 100 units, strip-search people at my custody level. He decided, due to the complaints, to change where they just pat-search us, or they would just feel us for contraband, which eliminated the "meat show." It eliminated the repeated trauma to get naked in front of people.
I only was able to do that because of Casper [of A.B.O. Comix]. By myself, from within the system, I would have had no power to change anything, because most of the time we're ignored in here. We have a paperwork system that we can complain, but we're complaining to the same system that we're saying is wrong.
It's almost impossible to get change. But Casper was able to make complaints out there in the free world, was able to start a petition at change.com. Casper was able to help me. That's not the only time. Casper has helped me multiple times all throughout my life when I needed it. I'll turn to Casper, I'll turn to A.B.O., when I need help. And I know that I might not have anyone else in my life, I know they'll help me. I know that I'm not alone.
As part of Scalawag's 3rd annual Abolition Week, pop justice is exclusively featuring perspectives from currently and formerly incarcerated folks and systems-impacted folks.
Krysta Marie Moringstarr-Cox on the art of pretty-making in prison
Krysta: To be honest with you, my husband is the thing that helps me ground in my self beauty and my self worth, the most. Personally, I have a little bit of a self-esteem issue. I think there's something broken inside my head when it comes to how I see myself, because I'll look in the mirror, and I'll sometimes see what I think is disgusting. And I know it's not true because not only does my husband tell me this, but I've got straight and queer people alike staring at me all the time, especially now. And they're not doing it in a, "Oh my God, look at that bald freak type thing", you know? They're not doing it in that fashion. They're staring at me as if I'm an object of desire. So I know it's me that's got the issue here.
Krysta is a trans woman incarcerated in Texas. She is featured in all editions of A Queer Prisoner's Comix Anthology from A.B.O. Comix publications, and is the author of Anthology of an Artist from the same press.
And as far as my art, how does that help me? I'd have to say that my art allows me to visually create what I would consider the ideal of myself on paper.
Ollie: I see. Well, thank goodness for John and thank goodness for your art as a creative outlet. I know that whenever I get to speak to you, and the few pictures I've seen of you and the many representations I've seen of you in your comics, your beauty shines through in all of them. So beyond the internal barriers that you're talking about, are there any other restrictions on what you can and can't do to express yourself authentically where you are?
Krysta: Personally, there's a lot of restrictions that this place places on me about expressing myself. I get around it though. And sometimes I just flat out ignore the restrictions that they place upon me. For instance, I wear my hair at the maximum length that I could possibly get away with and sometimes even longer and styled into as feminine a fashion as possible. I make my own makeup, which I like to call "fake-up" and wear that from time to time, in order to, you know, play pretty and do pretty-making things, the way that I say it in my own internal head.
There's a lot of restrictions here. You're given white outfits, and we're very seriously discouraged from altering them. That doesn't stop me though.
Casper: Yeah, I remember at one point you actually cut up some of those prison-issued garments and you got in a little bit of trouble for that. Do you remember when that happened?
Krysta: Yes. I remember when that happened, and that's when I found out that the state shirts cost 6 dollars and 52 cents a piece.
Casper: Did you have to pay that?
Krysta: No, no Casper. I didn't have to pay that. You had to pay that. You paid that.
Casper: But you didn't get to keep it, did you?
Krysta: They confiscated it then and there. I think I've learned my lesson though. I don't use state-issued stuff to make my contraband clothing anymore. I've actually got a very pretty and nice summer dress that I've made out of Under Armour shirts. So like a white Under Armour shirt, I've taken several of them and created a pleated summer dress with a short sleeve top and about a knee-length skirt on. It's real pretty. And when I'm feeling the need to affirm my own gender to myself, which is thankfully a lot less now than it used to be, I'll dress up and do pretty-making things, using that. And several of the other garments that I've got.
The craziest thing, though, that I've ever gotten in trouble for making was a pair of panties that were made out of a commissary mesh bag that I dyed pink.