What happened to Jenna Mitchell? Just another transgender woman prisoner suicide in Georgia

What happened to Jenna Mitchell? Jenna Mitchell was a prisoner in Georgia’s Valdosta State Prison. On December 2, 2017, Jenna Mitchell’s mother, Sheba Maree, called the prison to inform them that Jenna had threatened suicide. Jenna Mitchell’s mother urged the prison to place her daughter on suicide watch. She was told her daughter was already on suicide watch. Jenna Mitchell was never placed on suicide watch. Two days later, however, she was thrown into solitary confinement. According to a lawsuit filed by Jenna Mitchell’s parents, Jenna Mitchell told the officer she intended to kill herself. According to the lawsuit, the officer laughed, basically said make my day, and left Jenna Mitchell alone in her cell. When the officer returned, Jenna Mitchell had hanged herself. Two days later, she died. Now, two years later, the family has sued. 

Jenna Mitchell lived, and died, with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and “gender dysphoria”. She had a history of suicide attempts. This history was known to the prison, and, put charitably, the prison did nothing. Better put, the prison refused to do anything and so placed Jenna Mitchell in grave, and ultimately fatal, danger.

Jenna Mitchell was born Caleb Mitchell. She was a transgender woman. Why was she in Valdosta State Prison, a prison for adult males? Four years ago, Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman, was also sent to Valdosta State Prison. She sued Georgia for numerous violations, as well as numerous forms of violence. According to Diamond, a Valdosta State Prison warden called her a “`he-she-thing’ and encouraged staff to ridicule her for acting like a woman.” Diamond was told, “This is a male facility and your gender is male. You will be required to follow the rules a.” Ashley Diamond tried to commit suicide and to castrate herself. Finally, she was transferred to Baldwin State Prison, a close-security prison where she had already suffered numerous assaults. At the time, it was reported widely that Ashley Diamond’s lawsuit brought national attention to the abuse of transgender prisoners, and especially transgender women prisoners, in Georgia. Georgia changed its policy on gender-affirming medical care for transgender prisonersallowing hormones for transgender prisoners. Those were reports in 2015. In 2017, Jenna Mitchell hanged herself in Valdosta State Prison, the prison that Ashley Diamond self-mutilated and attempted suicide in, in order to get out, one way or the other.

Meanwhile, Georgia prisons are experiencing a spike in suicide rates. From 2104 to 2016, 20 state prisoners committed suicide. From 2017 to this year, that number rose to 46. The prison suicide in rate in Georgia is at 35 per 100,000 prisoners, which is double the national prison suicide rate. The suicide rate for the general population is 13 per 100,000. Valdosta State Prison leads the state, and most of the nation, in prison suicides

What happened to Jenna Mitchell? She wasn’t failed by the state of Georgia. She was executed … for being transgender, for being woman, for living with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, for living, for being. Jenna Mitchell asked for help and she was ridiculed and then abandoned.  When will we stop “improving” fatal and toxic policies and, instead, opt for available alternatives to cages, torture, and death? Why are so willing to sacrifice Jenna Mitchell and her sisters?

(Photo Credit: Project Q Atlanta)

Why does the United States hate Roxana Hernández?

Roxana Hernández

Roxana Hernández died, or was murdered, last Friday. Roxana Hernández was a 33 year-old transgender woman from Honduras. Roxana Hernández was one of about 60 transgender women who participated in the migrant caravan that brought together asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The vast majority were from Honduras, because Honduras is the epicenter of violence in Central America, and in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all gender nonconforming people. Some call it the Refugee Caravan, and others call it the Stations of the Cross Caravan. Having traveled over 2000 miles – on foot, by train, by bus – Roxana Hernández arrived at the United States border where she presented herself, applied for asylum, was detained and thrown into the infamous icebox for five days, transported to a detention center, transported to a hospital, transported to death. Roxana Hernández did not die of pneumonia nor did she die of HIV-related causes. She was murdered, by the United States. The Stations of the Cross begin with betrayal. We betrayed Roxana Hernández and condemned her to a slow, agonizing, torturous death.

Roxana Hernández fled the general violence of Honduras and, especially, the violence against transgender women. Hers is the story of hope. She made it to the United States. On May 9th, she presented herself as an applicant for asylum. She was held for five days in the freezing cells, known as the icebox. Three years ago, the American Immigration Council reported on the deplorable, abusive, inhumane conditions in the cells known as the icebox. At that time, three years ago, the Council noted that the conditions of the icebox had been decried in 2013, and then again before that. Last year, Amnesty issued a report describing Honduras as one of the most dangerous places on earth for transgender women. In their report, Amnesty noted that the violence against Honduras was [a] not new and [b] had been fully documented for years. None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Roxana Hernández should have been an easy and welcome candidate for asylum. Instead, she was dumped into a freezer.

After five days, Roxana Hernández was transferred. She had physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorated terribly in the short span of five days. On May 17, Roxana Hernández was transported to the hospital. On May 25, Roxana Hernández was dead. In their report, ICE agents identify Roxana Hernández as Jeffry Hernández. Even in death, Roxana Hernández was not allowed even a scintilla of dignity … and that is precisely the point. Her name was and is Roxana Hernández, and her friends called her Roxy.

According to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras, who together organized the Caravan, “Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities. In other words, she was murdered, much like Claudia Gómez González was murdered by a Border Patrol agent’s bullet less than a week ago. Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life in, she died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”

This is the land of #JusticiaPara and #JusticeFor. #JusticiaParaRoxana. #JusticiaParaClaudia. #JusticeForRoxana. #JusticeForClaudia. A land without mercy, redemption, love or humanity. A land where we greet the vulnerable, the stranger, with death by freezer or death by bullet. And all the people shall say, Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: Guardian / Transgender Law Center)

Hunger strike: Transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean, Tunisian migrants, and Davos

Marie Dean

While, in Davos, billionaires and millionaires gorged themselves, in England, transgender woman prisoner Marie Dean led a solitary hunger strike for her dignity and life, and, on the island of Lampedusa in Italy, over 40 Tunisian migrants sewed their lips shut and entered a hunger strike, demanding to be transferred off the island onto the mainland and demanding not to be deported. All this occurred while the munching billionaires told the gulping millionaires “how the middle class feels.” For Marie Dean and for the Tunisian migrants, the whole world was not watching.

Marie Dean, 50 years old, currently sits in HMP Preston, a men’s prison in Lancashire. Dean has petitioned to have her chosen gender recognized. The Ministry of Justice refused. The Ministry of Justice assures the public that Marie Dean is perfectly safe in an all-male prison: “There are stringent procedures in place to ensure transgender prisoners are managed safely and in accordance with the law. We have robust safeguards in place to ensure that the system is not abused.” Those “stringent procedures” did nothing for Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, or Jenny Swift, transgender women prisoners placed in men’s prisons. Each protested, begged, pleaded. Each was “found dead”. Now, Marie Dean says she is willing to fast unto death, rather than suffer ongoing dehumanization. What happened to Vicky Thompson, Joanne Latham, and Jenny Swift? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. What is happening to Marie Dean? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners. While Marie Dean fasts unto death, the world watches the super wealthy gorge themselves in Davos.

On Lampedusa, forty some Tunisians migrants have been held for several weeks. Recently they were informed they were to be deported. In response, they went on hunger strike, some sewing their mouths shut. In 2013, Tunisian and Moroccan migrants sewed their lips together in protest of the abysmal conditions of detention. As one detainee explained, “People … are treated like animals.”

Marie Dean is on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill her soul. Forty some Tunisians are on hunger strike because the State is trying to kill their souls. Marie Dean and the Tunisian migrants encapsulated the horror that lies at the core of the so-called global economy. For the billionaires and the millionaires to dine at the Davos feast organized by the International Organization of Thieves and Robbers, some must lose their lives. Some lose their lives because they are transgender women; others lose their lives because they are African migrants. They will not be found dead; they will be sacrificed. Marie Dean says NO! The Tunisian migrants say NO! Look away from grinding jaws of Davos, look at the closed and sewn lips of HMP Preston and Lampedusa. The time is now … before more are killed.

Lampedusa

 

(Photo Credit 1: Change.org) (Photo Credit 2: Giornale di Sicilia)

What happened to Jenny Swift? The routine torture of transgender women prisoners

Jenny Swift

On Sunday, January 22, as part of International Trans Prison Day of Solidarity and Action, 100 or so people gathered outside HMP Pentonville to give witness to transgender prisoners who committed suicide resulting from having been denied medical healthcare related to transition and from transphobic violence. In England in the past two years, three transgender women have been “found dead” in their cells: Joanne Latham and Vicky Thompson, in 2015, and Jenny Swift, on December 30, 2016. Despite their desperate pleas, all three were in all-male prisons. Joanne Latham, Vicky Thompson, and Jenny Swift didn’t succumb to despair. They were murdered in cold blood by the State.

When Vikki, or Vicky, Thompson died, she was twenty-one years old. Vikki Thompson, born male, identified all her adult life as a woman. Arrested for robbery, she was sent to a men’s prison. She said if she were sent to a men’s prison, she would kill herself, and she did. The State `investigated” … again. Vikki Thompson was released from all of that, however.

After the back-to-back suicides of Vikki Thompson and Joanne Latham, the English government put new policies and practices into effect … but too late for Jenny Swift. Those policies went into effect January 1, 2017.

Jenny Swift was sent to HMP Doncaster on November 17. Opened in 1994 and run by Serco. Doncaster hasn’t had a checkered career because it’s been bad from the start to the present. The chief inspector of prisons described the place as squalid, worrisome, and run with “institutional meanness.” At various times, Doncaster has had the highest prison suicide rate in the country. These are only some of the reasons people refer to Doncaster as Doncrataz.

HMP Doncaster is bad for everyone. It was fatal for Jenny Swift.

A friend of hers remarked, “She kept asking for the hormones and they said she would get them but she never did. I phoned up and explained that she needed them too. Jenny said that not having them was making her legs shake, making her feel sad and ill – she said it was like coming off drugs. It made her miserable.” She added, “She had been trying her best to keep her feminine side but she mentioned in prison that she could feel the testosterone in her body and she felt sick. It was making her cringe inside. If she had her hormones and the correct tablets she would still be here. I know that for certain … I want there to be a massive investigation because this happened twice before and it shouldn’t be happening.”

Jenny Swift’s death has at least three stories. There’s the story of a woman placed in a men’s prison and the story of a transgender woman placed in a men’s prison. These alone and together are enough to make one weep. Then there’s the third story. That story involves the staff and the State who knew that had Jenny Swift been arrested two months later, they officially would have had to take some kind of care of her, as a transgender woman and as a woman. But it wasn’t January 1 yet, and so they placed her in the deepest rung of hell where she would suffer and suffer and suffer. That story should make us howl.

Jenny Swift was killed, not by indifference but by brutality. She deserved better. We all do. Every single death is a death too many. Jenny Swift wrote, “I am Jenny Swift, I am proud to stand my corner anywhere I need to.” Jenny Swift should not have died. We should not have killed her.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / SWNS.com) (Photo Credit 2: Liverpool Echo)

What is your sister’s name? Christa Allen

The story of Christa Allen is all too common. In 2002, Christa Allen underwent male-to-female gender reassignment surgery. In 2006, she was sentenced to time in Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility. Later, she was moved to the Indiana Women’s Prison.

When Christa Allen entered prison, she explained her medical needs: female hormones and a vaginal stent. Allen explained the stent was medically necessary to prevent closure and loss of tissue. Without the stent, she would most likely suffer medical complications that could necessitate a second, and extremely expensive, operation.

At first, the prison authorities agreed to the stent. Then they found is a security issue, and told Allen to use a vibrator. Then they found that a security issue, and told Allen to use a tampon.

Allen complained of pain and vaginal bleeding. She argued that she needed the stent, and the prison doctors and authorities refused. Christa Allen spent one and a half years in prison, leaving in 2007. At that point, she was unable to continue her treatment, and so would need new reconstructive surgery. She sued the prison doctors for medical malpractice.

Christa Allen’s case is going through the court system now. In the most recent hearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals sided with Allen, stating [a] there was no reason to prevent the use of stent or vibrator, and [b], and most importantly, prison doctors should follow the standard of care that all doctors are meant to follow.

Prisoners are people. Women prisoners are people. Transgender women prisoners are people.

The doctors have asked the appellate judges to rehear the case.

In jails and prisons and immigrant detention facilities across the United States, the most vulnerable are women, and the most vulnerable women are juveniles; women with drug addictions; lesbians and transgender women; women with a history of mental illness, physical or sexual abuse; and women convicted of sexual offenses. Each one of these groups is meant to suffer their own particular form of hell, composed of a particular category of extra violence.

For the transgender woman, the extra violence stems from a claimed failure of `being real’. Deprivation is the program response: denial of gender self-definition, preferred names, pronouns, underwear, hair length, or appropriate and necessary medical care. It’s always the same: your needs cost too much. For the prison economy, being transgender woman is deemed inefficient, and so cost-cutting measures must be put in place.

Repeatedly, transgender women prisoners have organized and sued for their rights to decent medical treatment as transgender women. Repeatedly, these women have won: Kari Sundstrom and Andrea Fields; Vanessa Adams; Michelle Kosilek. In each case, the court ruled that transgender women are people, transgender women prisoners are people, and prison doctors are doctors.

The legal arguments will continue as will prison authorities’ and prison doctors’ claims that taking care of the special needs of women is just too much. Christa Allen provides us all with a mirror. When asked, “Where is your sister?” will we hide behind “Am I my sister’s keeper?” Will we cover over the violence, or will we act to keep our sisters out of prison and then, finally, to close the prisons themselves? What is your sister’s name? Christa Allen.

 

(Photo Credit: Indiana Department of Corrections)