OP-ED | An Open Letter to ‘Jane Doe,’ The Transgender Girl in an Adult Prison
I feel like we all failed you, and I’m sorry.
As I write this, you’re sitting in solitary in York, the adult women’s prison in Niantic. Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz has said there was no other choice. Apparently you got into a fight with staff at your last placement; your lawyers and Katz disagree about how serious that was. But that is why you’re in an adult prison, according to Katz.
“This young lady is going to have to learn coping skills that don’t involve hurting other people,” Katz said, before she will consider moving you again.
You wrote eloquently about your experiences of rape, abuse, and trauma in your affidavit to the court. Some of this was from family, some from clients during your time as a sex worker, but some was from DCF staff and other residents in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Please permit me to quote you (and this is a trigger warning for others reading):
“At about age 12 I was placed by DCF at a residential facility in Eagleton School in Massachusetts, where a worker [name redacted] used to show the other children pornographic magazines, and on two occasions I was in his office and he had me perform oral sex on him.”
You also described a staff member at Connecticut Children’s Place who took you and another transgender girl out to movies and, afterward, made you perform sexual acts on him.
These are heartbreaking, shocking, and infuriating violations of trust, and are just some of the most direct ways in which DCF failed you. And now they have placed you in solitary confinement “22 to 23 hours per day,” you have “no contact” with people your own age, and you can constantly hear other inmates “screaming, banging, and crying.”
“I have no family,” you wrote. “I have no friends. Everyone is always looking at me like I’m an alien because I want to be the female that I am . . . I need to be given treatment and services specific to my needs. I need to deal with the trauma I’ve experienced in my life. This prison cannot do that for me.”
I’ve been thinking for days about what I could say to you.
You and I are very different people. I’m middle class, white, and I live a pretty safe, sheltered life. Maybe the only thing we share is that I’m a transgender woman, too. I admit, that’s what drew my attention to you in the first place. I do feel that they’re treating you differently because you’re trans, and it’s obvious that a lot of the abuse you’ve suffered is because of that.
But the more I read, the more I understand that this is about more than that. This is a case where, according to what you told the court, DCF is the direct cause of some of the trauma you’ve experienced, and is indirectly responsible for a lot of the rest.
But now they expect you to learn “coping skills” while stuck in the mental torture of solitary confinement — they otherwise seem to be washing their hands of you.
I know, it looks pretty bleak.
But . . . and I mean this with all sincerity, please take heart.
You are not alone.
A lot of people out here know you’re there in York, and are thinking of you. People from all over Connecticut, and all over the country, know about your story now. And we are outraged that this has happened to you!
I know there are plenty of people who will say that you’re lying when you tell them about your history of abuse. This is something that happens when people society doesn’t approve of, or doesn’t value as much, speak up about abuse.
But I believe you. And there are many, many others out here who do.
So, stay strong. I know at 16 it can be hard to see the future, but you have one. There are plenty of transgender women, like Janet Mock, who went through abuse and trauma when they were young, only to grow into strong, capable, amazing women.
You may not believe now that this could be your future, too. But it can be.
I am so sorry we failed you so badly. The people of this state are so quick to turn a blind eye to what’s happening to you and people like you. We must change that.
There is a law that was passed in 2011 that forbids discrimination against transgender people based on their gender identity. I’m hoping the state will investigate whether this has happened in your case, and I hope DCF will quickly re-evaluate your living conditions.
In the meantime, carry us all in your heart, dear girl. You may be there in solitary, but you are never really alone.
April 17, 2014
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.