Image credit: Stann Fransisco.
Editor’s note: As a content warning, the following content discusses sexual violence, police brutality, and transphobia. Stann was invited to contribute a personal essay after being interviewed for copywriter Adryan Corcione’s reporting for Filter Mag.
“Yo, listen to me! Hear me? Deep breaths! You're gonna be okay. Breathe with me, I'm here with you.”
I regained consciousness and found myself supine on a cement floor. My breath was choppy and my throat was hoarse. I screamed but I didn't know for how long. A voice from nowhere I could see was counting, “in 1...2...3...out.” I followed their instructions, grateful for help., I was stripped, assaulted, detained, and overall degraded before being locked up l—all because of my legally prescribed testosterone prescription. At the time, I had been taking T for about three years. In my early adulthood, I suffered from severe endometriosis. After a life-saving hysterectomy, doctors wanted to put me on estrogen. I am Two Spirit and chose testosterone. I have no desire to “pass” or “transition.” I’m simply caring for my Spirits. These cops surely had no frame of reference for any of these nuances. All they saw was a testosterone bottle and needles.
They handcuffed me in the backseat of the police SUV, but they left my seatbelt unbuckled. “Am I being held against my will?” I rasped. “Am I being held against my will?” I repeated the question over and over. I knew the words weren't right but the question remained. Neither of the officers in the front seats answered me. Ever since they handcuffed me and animal control took my service dog, I waited for the magic words: “You have the right to remain silent.” I knew what to do once my rights were read. It never happened.
In the Sheriff's Jailhouse, the officers took turns assaulting me.“Which part of you is a trans, then?” One officer asked, scanning my naked body up and down. “Is it this part?” He asked, slapping my breasts. “Or is it this part?” He slapped me upside the head. Another officer entered the room with my shoes, sundress and underwear.
“I think it's this part,” the other officer said, poking at my genitals.
“Which room do you want to be in, then? Big boys or little girls?” They asked me. Before I had a chance to reply, they all laughed.
A third officer handed me a pink jumpsuit with brass button snaps up the front, without socks or underwear. He then ordered into a jail cell on a cement floor without water or food. I was remanded to solitary for the first 10 hours of my captivity. Sharing the cell adjacent to me were two cisgender women, named Nicol and Val. I didn’t find out until the morning that it was Nicole’s voice guiding me through my panic attack.
“Which cop was it?” Nicol asked from her bunk across from me. “Was it the short dude with the girly voice?”
Our other bunk-mate snickered from the top bunk. “That dude has had such a hard-on for me like years, I'm serious.” She's white, blonde, rail-thin, and energetic. “He came to my house and hit my fence with his car, then arrested me for knocking it over.” She was reading a Clive Cussler novel. Her bookmark was a photo of her boyfriend.
“Gotta call the clock,” Nicol bounced out of bed and disappeared around the corner. The phone didn't dial out without paying. You could call an abuse hotline and an information line for free. The only information was time and date: 7 a.m. Sunday, September 15, 2019 in Stratford, TX. If anyone loves a Sunday off, it's folks in rural Texas. “Could I get out of here today?” I half-prayed.
The morning was excruciatingly slow. I had to get naked to pee. The TV blared. The fluorescents glared. I stared at the cement walls. Val and Nicol napped on and off—Val had a nightmare and woke up crying. Her short brown hair was matted and her round face was flush. Nicol got into her bunk and held her. She talked softly for a few minutes, hushed reassurance that this reality is temporary. “You'll feel better after a shower,” Nicol said. Val got out of bed holding her pregnant belly with one hand and wiping her eyes with the other.
Nicol was behind bars for writing fraudulent checks, allegedly stealing her parents’ credit cards and using drugs. Her mother had dementia and forgot she’d given her cards to her daughter, so her mother called the cops; she kept getting jailed over and over until her bail got so high that no one she knew could bail her out. Val was serving 10 months for misdemeanor possession. She and her boyfriend got arrested for using drugs one night. “I was in here probably two months before I realized I was pregnant. [My boyfriend] doesn't know. We haven't talked.”
Even though I’d been arrested based on a misunderstanding—my legally prescribed gender affirming hormone therapy—the cops saw me as an IV drug user when they put me in a cell with them. Needless to say, legal use or not, no one should be treated this way.
For every day that those folks are incarcerated, hundreds of thousands of dollars are made in that community. Though mass incarceration sends more people (disproportionately Black and Brown) to prison, millions more are sent to city and county jails without being convicted of a crime. Every year, approximately 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail over 10 million times, according to the Prison Policy Institute. Bail is set so high that people end up being detained for weeks, months, or even years while awaiting their trial.
My bail was set at $2,500. My bond was $250 and I also had to pay $250 to get my car back from the tow yard. $500 is nothing to buy your freedom, especially to someone like me who is privileged enough to have resources. However, I wasn’t permitted to obtain those resources in a timely manner. I didn't get a phone call. I wasn't legally arrested, so I had no rights. Even then, no one asked me for cash to make my problems go away immediately. This was a long-game shakedown. It was about using me to fund another week's worth of pay for an entire town: for the officers who arrested me after midnight getting overtime, the judge working Sundays, the tow yard open and even the dog catcher who billed me for $25 to get my service dog back.
I got incredibly lucky and was able to pay my way out of jail. I had nothing in my vehicle that was illegal in Texas. Cannabis is illegal there, but I have a medical cannabis card in New Mexico. If I had my medicine with me, I might still be in that jail. The tow yard was full of cars with out of state plates. Majority of them are New Mexico and Colorado, both places with legal cannabis use. My testosterone isn't illegal, but it is a federally controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency, even though it was prescribed by a doctor. My needles are prescribed for intramuscular use, not intravenous. The cops searched for anything incriminating in my car. My toiletry kit somehow ended up in their hands. My used needles were stored safely at the bottom of my bag with the empty bottle of testosterone. How they surfaced so swiftly remains a mystery to me.
What I do know, though, is LGBTQ+ people (especially Black transgender people) are incarcerated at higher rates than cisgender, heterosexual people. I was fortunate enough to slip out of the prison death-machine when I left the state.
My story is one of many. My story is one that I have the privilege to tell.
Shortly after this incident, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down courts across the country. I was safely home in New Mexico therefore dodging the costs and obligation of traveling back for court or ever seeing those people again in my life. COVID-19 put a microscope on the abuses that exist in prisons. The death rate of the incarcerated skyrocketed. Those who died were people who were being denied their rightful medical care in the first place. Folks who can get out, whether due to overcrowding or understaffing, have few to no resources to obtain medical care for themselves. LGBTQ+ people and their families deserve much better. Find out how you can help and learn more in the resources below.
- Visualizing the Unequal Treatment of LGBTQ People in the Criminal Justice System
- Captive Genders Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex by Eric A. Stanley, Nat Smith, and CeCeMcDonald (including a chapter by Dean Spade)
- Free Cece! Documentary
- Trans Behind Bars Shadowproof Column
- Indigenous Women, Transgender and Two-Spirit People Need Support When Leaving Prison
- Trans Liberation Can’t Happen Until We Abolish Prisons
- No One is Disposable: Everyday Practices of Prison Abolition
- COVID-19 Impact on People in Prison
Organizations to support
- Trans Pride Initiative
- Black and Pink’s LGBTQ+ Prison Pen Pal Program
- Prisoner Correspondence Project
- LGBT Books for Prisoners
For FOLX members who are concerned about traveling (including flying) with their prescribed medications, you can book a time with your clinician to discuss safety tips prior to your trip departure.