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Dealing with Trauma and Fighting for My Life

Image with shapes with words written on them including trauma, confusion, self-esteem, anger, fear, pain, PTSD, hopelessness, dreams (crossed out). There is also a metal heart shaped bowl with detailed metal work and a flower inside

As DOC puts me through hell I wonder if I’ll make it to surgery

When you hear the word trauma what do you think? For me, I often thought about military people who served in war and endured being shot at, tortured, or even watching their own friends being harmed. I often thought that this was how they developed PTSD. Trauma…I never really thought this six letter word could explain my life.

I came from trauma and its affected me more than I wanted to realize. I spent years in and out of the foster-care system, I still have the scars from the constant beatings I endured from my para-military father, bruised ribs, sore thighs and welts from belts was not strange to me. What bothered my father the most was me “acting like a faggot”. I remember being back slapped so hard that my lip busted all for placing my hands on my hips. My father refused to accept that I was going to be different. I eventually learned to evade his wrath by trying my hardest to act masculine. Yet, it took one time for my father to catch me with involved with a boy who was older than me. He spent two days beating me, tapping my eyes shut, poking me with a safety pen and slapping me each time I fell-down from exhaustion. He was beating the girl out of me he would say. To make matters worst he forced me to read bible scriptures to make me think I was a abomination.

When I made it the school, my teacher asked me to sit down and I explained that I could not sit because of the welts on my butt from the belt. less than an hour later I ended up in the care of New Jersey Child services, shipped to a foster home where my femininity was a open invitation for my foster parent to molest me and for my foster siblings to abuse me. I was told I was ugly, no one would ever want me and that the things that happen to me were apart of what girls went through. I never made it out of Foster care….Instead I went right to prison at the age of sixteen.

When I entered NJDOC, gay people and transgender people who were often perceived to be gay, were mocked laughed at and abused. I quickly did my best to hide who I was, I still at seventeen was assaulted. This was a time when you could not chose your cell mate, so I was seventeen and in a cell with a grown ass man.

I promised that I would stop being anyone’s victim years went on and I stayed out of trouble, until I fell in love with my boyfriend who until this day still supports me, when this was learned by officers in within my prison, I went through hell, from having my property stolen, being placed around gang members who targeted me, even being jumped. I went through hell, yet I still told Mr. Hass (former PREA manager) that I did not want to go to a women’s prison.

It was not until I was on Hormones and in a cell with 3 men fighting for my life…..over a phone… that I made the decision to leave the male prison. I recall the following day calling investigator Pratz, and crying telling him my tooth was cracked and loose. Immediately several inmates were sent to lock-up and the officer was pulled from her bid. Several months later I was transferred to Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. I recall for once not in my bid but in my life being safe to be me a woman! Although some inmates were not accepting of the trans inmates, several did accept us, and they made me feel like family.

I spent my days working painting and laughing, I often advocated for equality which I felt like was missing at EMCF. I was happy! And engaged to the man of my life..I became a unit representative and apart of a group of inmates who met with the New Assistant Commissioner Tome and the Commissioner Kuhn, you could see that people wanted to change Edna and I felt blessed to be apart of this team. Yet, I still dealt with trauma that I thought would never impact me. I still felt unequal I felt like that child who was told they were ugly and unlovable. A lot of inmates felt like I acting as if I was better then them, it was soon that I begun to deal with depression and PTSD, I sought comfort and love that I have never had before, I wanted to be told that I was beautiful and not some freak who wore make-up. It was around June when my fiancee decided to catch cold feet and walk out my life. Gone was that happiness. I only had my friend who showed me unconditional love.

I became involved in relationships. Something I vowed never to do… a few of them I ended because I felt as if I was being used and manipulated. Yet, I quickly learned that nothing was ever over in Edna.
I tried to tell myself that my relationship would cure the trauma, fill the void within my heart and for once I would feel loved. I wanted to not feel alone anymore. I never believed love was “gendered”, so I did not second guess my love for my partner, nor did I understand the consequences that would come with it.

I doubt anyone will understand, the environment within a female prison especially from a trans woman’s perspective, but the truth is 85% of inmates are in relationships, many of them are known to administration, and others are not. Regardless, many of them are built from the same foundation a desire to want to loved. Trans women the day we walked in the door of Edna we were told ” yaw are guys who came her to have fun”. It was a sad stigma that was attached the trans community. Several of us were even victims to false ra-pe allegations. Hence, many of us steered clear of what majority of the population at Edna was doing, yet several of us did embark on relationships. If wanting to be loved as a transgender woman was a crime than we were all guilty.

The truth is when a trans women is in a relationship with another woman its not viewed under the same lens as other relationships its viewed as a “man” in a relationship with a woman, and any disagreement or embarrassment is can quickly be viewed as rape. Transgender women are “guilty by accusations”, there is no due process. If we dare to say we have been abused we are laughed at or mocked….But the moment a cisgender woman becomes upset, embarrassed or afraid to be disciplined for a consensual relationship, they are permitted to say rape. This reality is sadly discussed in the federal monitors first report regarding Edna.

Like anything in prison something used to help someone can be used to harm someone. PREA, is a federal statue designed to protect inmates from Prison Rape. At Edna it has often failed the inmates, yet reforms have been implemented to strengthen PREA at Edna. I sat in numerous meetings with Assistant Commissioner as her staff worked relentlessly to improve the way that PREA works. However, one battle was always PREA being used as a sword rather than a shield. How do you separate serious allegations from false allegations against inmates or staff simply for a domestic dispute? The answer is you can’t! So inmates and staff who are not guilty of sex abuse are often placed through a process that all too often wrecks their life, even when they are cleared of wrong doing they still go through hell to reclaim their reputation and suffer embarrassment.

I have witnessed officers having false PREA complaints filed against them for things as telling a inmate to go back to their housing unit. I have had PREA complaints filed against me so that a inmate could go to a certain unit. Again, no matter how false the complaints is the allegations are still processed or referred for criminal prosecution. At times staff are even terminated for allegations that were purely false.

When, I had my last PREA hearing regarding my housing. I was shocked when I was asked by the Assistant Commissioner of I was awards of and PREA allegations against me. I immediately knew that DOC would use this to ensure that I never returned to EMCF. It did not matter that I never abused anyone. As a trans inmate I am “guilty by accusation” its a process that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I mean how do I ask for safety within a facility congruent with my gender when this is going on? I mean how do I expect a fair hearing regarding my safety in front of various advocates when I have been accused of the same conduct that they were hired to combat?? I don’t have a answer. I just know that the consequences I have been suffering maybe related to this “guilty by accusation”.

At times I feel as if I have a whole system against me. Yet I find the strength to rise up, because my daughter deserves to know that her mother is not a predator. If I don’t stand up against this abuse than who will? I am not perfect, and I have my own issues, I carry some of these burdens with me each day, Yet I am not nor have I ever been a predator. So for staff to attempt to place me in such category is not just wrong its a reason why staff can’t see objectively. The DOC has continued to try to remove many more transgender women from Edna, about 5 transgender women have been removed from the women’s prison. Its rumored that one inmate has already been attacked by officers. Again, this abuse towards the LGBT community is blatant, and advocates are standing by wondering if any of this is right, wondering what to do.

Today, I remain at Garden State Youth Correction Facility, my daughter was born 6 weeks ago, I am struggling to process all the emotions, I am often wondering if life is worth living. I cry over and over again until I am out of tears, I often wake up more than depressed but also alone. There are some staff who have disagreed with the treatment that I have been forced to endure, but again when you have a entire department against you, the truth is they are waiting for you to die, waiting for you to be overwhelmed by this abuse that they are responsible for carrying out.

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