Transgender woman fights for rights inside Leavenworth men’s prison

Ayana Satyagrahi was 5 when she discovered herself taking part in in her bed room closet and placing on her youthful sister’s yellow sundress.

Now 49, she lives in a cell on the men’s prison in Leavenworth not a lot bigger than that closet.

Satyagrahi is one among an estimated 2,170 transgender individuals beneath the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

While she has had entry to hormones and psychological well being companies in prison, she mentioned she’s typically nonetheless topic to demeaning feedback and threats to her security.

“It’s hostile towards us in the BOP,” she mentioned throughout one among a dozen cellphone calls with The Star. The federal company limits calls to about quarter-hour.

“I live my truth within the best of my ability in this environment.”

Satyagrahi has been within the system since her 2010 arrest. In 2012, she was sentenced to 30 years in a intercourse trafficking case and has been at a number of services since her conviction, together with FCI Leavenworth for the previous three years.

She mentioned the prison system has made some optimistic adjustments, however it’s been a gradual course of. And although prisons have established extra guidelines and processes to accommodate trans individuals, Satyagrahi, different trans prisoners and advocates say they’re typically not carried out or enforced. And in some circumstances, they are saying they don’t go far sufficient to maintain trans prisoners protected.

Scott Taylor, a spokesman with the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs, mentioned the company makes use of a gender-affirming mannequin in its provision of companies and “takes very seriously its duty to respect the dignity of all individuals in its custody including both those self-identifying as transgender and cisgender individuals.”

Ayana Satyagrahi graduated from a personal growth program in May 2023 at the federal prison in Leavenworth.Ayana Satyagrahi graduated from a personal growth program in May 2023 at the federal prison in Leavenworth.

Ayana Satyagrahi graduated from a private progress program in May 2023 on the federal prison in Leavenworth.

‘I kinda lost myself’

Satyagrahi was deeply confused about her gender identification from a younger age.

“Literally at five years old I knew that something was not right about being feminine,” she mentioned.

She was introduced up in Black and Baptist cultures in Texas and felt like she needed to “hide who I was.”

“That was torment,” she mentioned.

There have been instances she went to highschool sporting “guy clothes” with feminine undergarments.

Throughout her upbringing, she questioned if she can be accepted, a battle that compelled her to fluctuate between her two identities and categorical herself. Back then, she “didn’t even have a name for it.” But now she is aware of she was experiencing gender dysphoria, a situation the place an individual’s intercourse assigned at start differs from the gender they determine with.

She began performing out.

Eventually, Satyagrahi received into the intercourse trade in hopes that she might earn sufficient cash to get on hormones, which she started taking in 2004, and bear surgical procedure.

But she nonetheless had bouts of apprehension about persevering with to transition, and would cease and restart the hormones, which she mentioned made her lash out at instances. Her life spiraled. She didn’t know who she was.

Then she started recruiting girls into intercourse work.

“I kinda lost myself because that was betraying another person,” she mentioned.

She was indicted in June 2009 in federal courtroom on a dozen counts, together with transportation for prostitution and laundering of financial devices, and pleaded responsible in March 2011, in response to courtroom data.

Navigating life in a men’s prison

In prison, Satyagrahi has confronted assaults and tried to self-castrate, in response to lawsuits filed in federal courtroom. She mentioned she is frequently topic to degrading language from corrections officers and different prisoners.

She mentioned she has needed to battle for lodging, from getting feminine commissary gadgets to showering individually. Sometimes she’s needed to file grievances to pressure adjustments.

Other transgender prisoners say her efforts made a optimistic influence.

Brooklyn Hughes was despatched to Leavenworth within the spring of 2023 for about 9 months on a parole violation.

Hughes, who started transitioning in February 2021, mentioned she confronted discrimination, threats, individuals who requested for sexual favors and violence.

Some workers members have been respectful and used her right pronouns, Hughes mentioned, however most “treated us like trash.”

Released in March, Hughes mentioned she nonetheless wakes up in chilly sweats as reminiscences of Leavenworth churn via her thoughts.

Brooklyn Hughes, left, is a transgender woman who was incarcerated at the federal prison in Leavenworth. She said she faced discrimination, threats and violence at the facility.Brooklyn Hughes, left, is a transgender woman who was incarcerated at the federal prison in Leavenworth. She said she faced discrimination, threats and violence at the facility.

Brooklyn Hughes, left, is a transgender woman who was incarcerated on the federal prison in Leavenworth. She mentioned she confronted discrimination, threats and violence on the facility.

Satyagrahi was a vibrant spot. She’s an advocate, Hughes mentioned.

Most however not all of Satyagrahi’s household is supportive of her, together with her seven youngsters and her youthful sister, who mentioned she worries about Satyagrahi’s security.

According to Kris Tassone, coverage counsel on the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30% of trans respondents to a survey mentioned they’d been bodily or sexually assaulted by workers or different prisoners prior to now yr. Other analysis has discovered that transgender people who find themselves incarcerated have issues accessing hormones, hygiene and private gadgets; utilizing rest room services; and being housed within the applicable services. Some have been positioned in solitary confinement due to their identification.

“Each of these issues not only deny trans inmates their rights, but also create a culture of discrimination and increase the risk of violence against trans prisoners,” Tassone mentioned.

They mentioned trans prisoners also needs to get “adequate medical care, and those decisions should be made by the individual and their culturally competent medical provider.”

Policies not all the time enforced

The BOP has a Transgender Executive Council comprised of senior stage workers members that provides steering on coaching, switch requests and surgical procedure referral requests to the well being companies division.

Staff additionally bear coaching pertaining to transgender adults who’re in custody, and guidelines say prisoners ought to be addressed by the pronouns they use or their final identify.

But simply because the BOP has insurance policies, Satyagrahi mentioned it doesn’t imply they’re carried out. In her expertise, they haven’t been.

In January 2022, she legally modified her identify, which was impressed by Buddhist teachings, in Leavenworth County District Court.

However, she mentioned she continues to be known as by her former final identify. Her uniform nonetheless says her former identify. She is listed in on-line BOP data by her lifeless identify, the identify she was assigned at start, and as male.

She and others in her scenario have options they are saying would make them really feel safer in prison.

Hughes mentioned she wish to see transgender prisoners get their very own recreation yard to “have a safe haven.”

Satyagrahi mentioned she desires that and different adjustments, together with pat downs performed by feminine officers or a physique scanner, the choice for single-cell housing and entry to surgical procedure. It’s an effort she calls the Transgender Accessible Prisons Initiative.

Ultimately, she mentioned she wish to be transferred to a girls’s prison. Those requests have been denied. Every time she brings it up, she mentioned, the aim posts for it to undergo shift.

In addition to a switch being thought of a medical want, Satyagrahi mentioned she has accomplished a number of packages, from battle decision to emotional regulation, in addition to intensive remedy.

“I’m completely different from my past,” she mentioned.

Tassone mentioned facility placement is without doubt one of the most important selections for trans individuals in prison and encourages prisons to make these calls on a person foundation, and never solely on identification paperwork or genital traits.

Taylor, with the BOP, mentioned housing placements are assessed on a person foundation. The company discourages single-cell placement as a result of it may be isolating.

Finding methods to be at liberty

Despite the challenges, Satyagrahi mentioned she has embraced her identification. A very long time in the past, she determined she was going to cease hiding herself.

“Because of that, I’m freer,” she mentioned.

She enjoys doing her make-up: eyeliner, basis, brows and blush, which she is allowed to order via the commissary.

“It makes me feel more conformed with my gender,” she mentioned.

She additionally has a job within the prison as a barber. Some of her purchasers are cautious of her at first. But she mentioned she has earned respect within the function and takes pleasure in making individuals look good, particularly earlier than relations go to.

But she nonetheless faces harassment at Leavenworth. Last week, one other prisoner known as her a slur. She tried to clarify her identification as a transgender woman after which simply let the scenario go. When she will get questions on her gender identification, she explains, “I’m acting like me.”

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