• section three.
. problems with post-release programs
Post-Release Programs and Gender Variant People
Ms. Valjean Royal
On Tuesday, January 20th, 2004 President Bush called for the funding of programs to deal with some 600,000 inmates who will be released from prison this year-without work, without a home, without help. "America," he said, "is the land of second chances", and he added that, "when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." The US has a higher percentage of its citizens in prison than any other country in history, and accounts for an astonishing 25 percent of the worlds (inmate) population. Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about what awaits communities that will have to absorb a disoriented and unprepared population of inmates.
The President's promotiOn of funding to faith-based organizations' Postrelease programs became the only area in the federal government where the government has merged church and state. Federal funding now allows faithbased organizations to play a key role as part of the states' efforts to reintegrate · inmates into their commmrities~ and to help them adjust to society. Before this act was put into place by the President- which provides a chance for inmates' to find success-funding for inmate education, drug counseling, and work programs designed to ease the transition from incarceration to freedom had been cut or remained stagnant. It is the.hope of many that these fuith-based Post-Release
Outreach Ministries some day may be credited with substantially diminishing recidivism rates. However, I know from personal experience that, for most tr~ssexuals and other gender variant individuals, the process of reintegration will follow a rocky path: their families may not be willing to accept them, finding jobs will be difficult, and individuals in their old peer groups will be ready to . support the resumption of criminal habits. Maintaining some tether to fumily is important for inmates being released. But the reality for trans people is that, for most, that link does not exist or is often difficult to maintain. Going into a PostRelease program, also known as a Transitional Program, is a good idea. As with any change in life, a time of adjustment is essential. For inmates being released, adjusting to a drastically different society after having learned the regimented life of prison life, it is crucial to be allowed a slow transition back into society because of the need to learn how to start life over again: how to find . en
7 employment; home, manage money, and regain independence. Assisting, counseling, and monitoriD.g inmates closely while taking these first steps towards reintegration into societY is a way to ensure that they are learning the ropes again properly. I, for one, vote 'yes ' for I!IDY such programs.
Transsexuals and other gender variant individuals ~ing released from prison are being excluded from the right to transitional programs provided by tax dollars fimded to Church and State·programs as promoted by President Bush.
Could this be declared unconstitutional? Before answering, do keep in mind the following realities; in existjng case law, the courts have found that transgendered people are not covered under anti-disCrimination laws protecting persons on the basis of sexual/gender ocientation oc sex. Trans people were specifically excluded in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991, and they also are not covered under the disability laws of nearly all the states that have them. Both · state and federal courts have almost uniformly-held that transgendered people are outside the legal definitions and protections of existing anti-discrimination laws.
Since changing gender is so readily apparent, trans people often lose their job, and are denied employment, or become under-employed regardless of their experience or education. Trans people are frequently denied housing or even evicted from rented homes, and denied many public services. Trans people often must deal with transphobic administrators, directors, and law enforcement This is a reality for many trans people that have never been to prison, or jail for that matter. Only~ few jurisdictions, including the states of Minnesota (by statute),
Oregon (by administrative decision), and a small but growing list of cities and counties, offer trans people protection from discrimination. Thus most transgendered activists have viewed inclusion of Employment NonDiscrimination Act (ENDA) as absolutely critical.
Discrimination towards trans people in faith-based organizations cannot be denied. In her book, Crossing Over·(2001), Vanessa Sheridan suggests that a transphobic socioreligious attitude towards the transgendered is all too common:
"Those who fear, hate, discriminate against, and exclude the transgendered often appear to be the routine and even rather predictable products of their culture.''
Vanessa offers insight into the transgender experience and confronts the harsh reality of the injustice prevalent in society and in the church towards those who are differently gendered.
In his, Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities o/Faith
(2003 ), Justin Tanis writ~;
Trans people encounter a wide range of responses when entering a fhlth cornn1unity.
Many times,·trans people choose not to attend in order to avoid what may be an uncomfortable experience and the judgment that they perceive wiJI come from a community of faith ... In. a number of different ways, a congregation can explicitly or unconsciously create an .atmosphere that ·conveys to transgendered people that we are not welcome there. Communities pf faith also need to be aware that they need to extend a welcome that bridges the fear of rejection that a transgender person may have that prevents them from seeking acceptance within the congregation. This one barrier is
. .i. .
·probably the single largest to the J*1icipation of transgendered people in communities of faith .... "Barriers to Participate": I) Fear and: UBfamiliarity on the part of the congregation and the transgendered 2) ~guage issues. 3) Physical layout that separates people by gender. 4) Programs that exclude or separate by gender. 5) Pathologizing or designating trans issues as sinful. 6) Overt hostility. ·
I gathered from both writers that most faith communities do make careful distinctions concerning gender, and show unjust disfavor towards transgender people. This spells discrimination to me, but remember' ther~ are no laws protecting us from this injustice in most stateS. This scenario is tragic not only because of the ever-ina-easing number of gender variant people inside America's prison systein that is never mentioned (due to trans being excluded from USA
Census reports, which include prisoners ~y sex, M or F), but also because no one knows how many transgendeted are ihn6cent, jailed because of selective
· harassment, planting of evidence, or inept defense. For those who doubt the capability of police to ~buse the law, the Mark Fuhrm~ tapes paint an evil · picture of police, Wlfettered by law, framing, beatings, and even torture. In the
Philadelphia police scandal officers confessed to beatings, robbing, lying, and planting evidence resulting in jailing dozens, maybe hundreds, of innocent people. Once there's no justice; crime, chaos and the rate of recidivism increases. And that hurts everyl;>ody.
Reading the texts of Vanessa Sheridan and Justin Tanis, I realized that, as a Christian and transsexual seeking Post-Release assistance when released
. from prison, my primary source of help and support is likely to be.from ·those that may not embrace me because of their embracing religious beliefs that ri~icule transgender and view a trans lifestyle is sinful. Be ever mindful that in some cases this reality is subjecting 1ransgendered people to yet another government policy in the area ofPost-Release..of"Don~t Ask, Don't Tell", in order for us to be accepted into a Post-Release program that will provide some hope or promise of a successful transition back into society and its workfotce.
My personal experience was one of much pain and disappointment because I refused to apply acknowledgment to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. For good. reason I must add. Myself: like many trans people, became a victim of discrimination, social rejections, low self esteem, and self hatred which caused emotional disorders. As a teen living as a MJ'F transsexual I confessed to a crime that I had absolutely no knowledge of (my confession was the only thing that ever linked me to the aime) easting myself out of society, into the hell that my mental and emotional illness at the time made me feel I belonged. What happened next was more nightmarish than your wildest imagination could ever imagine. A ausade called "Save Our Children," founded by a woman named
Anita Bryant. Ms. Bryant was a spokesperson for the Florida Stmshine Orange
Juice manufacturers. "Save Our Children" was a crusade to ban the lifestyles of gay and other alternative lifestyles from American oommWlities in order to save the children of America from being affected by the existence of alternative lifestyles. During the height of the era, a correctional officer was murdered at the
Indiana State Prison where I was housed. I ~ eventually charged again for a murder that I knew n.othing about. Not wanting to believe what was happeningas I continually screamed that I was innocent-my screams continuously fell on deaf ears, and were heard only by uncaring h~. Countless other inmates that knew that I had never left my cell house.on the morning of this crime of murder also stepped forward in an attempt to defend me. An inmate originally · implicated my involvement. E.ven he eventually broke down and admitted that
·h e manumctured his statementS and accusations after receiving promises from state and prison officials for an early release from prison as a result of his agreeing to become astate witn~ in this murder. After his recantment, state officials went out and found three other ipmates that they made promises and deals with to testify to the fabrication. During the era in which people of my lifestyle were already on trial-just for existi,ng-I was placed on trial, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Again for a crime that today' s technology would easily proye impossible if evidence the state presented is !eenacted-the false testimonies of three inmates seeking early releases for their fabricated accounts of the murder. These fabrications were created by state and prison officials. The news media printed.things like, "Man Appears in Court as a Woman", "Makeup on Trial", "Anita Bryant vs. Valjean Royal", '.'The Two Faces of Justice", and
"Justice Takes a Holiday". With no evidence whatsoever to link me to the crime or the crime scene, I was sentenced and later received a life sentenee while being housed on Indiana's death row by way of the United States Postal Service. I have never murdered anyone in my entire life. The only person that I have ever hurt has been myself, as well as the man whose murder I confessed to, which ultimately led to my initial incarceration. I have not been out of prison since. I was 18 years old then, I'm 51 today. There is much more that t would like to share with you that will demonstrate how my journey was the cause and effect of being a transsexual who's non-acceptance by society and peer groups led to my incarceration and the lowest self-esteem imaginable. However, it will take some time to reveal the story of my life in its entirety-so I will get to the pointwhere I am now. I've grown comfortably and gracefully into my womanhood, and I'm a very proud and dignified transwoman despite the hard knock life designed for me and my kind. I cannot begin to eX.,ress the love and freedom in spirit I feel in just the total acceptance of myself as a transwoman. It feels wonderful to know that you are God's precious jewel, just as you are.•I only regret that I had to travel some of the paths that I have in order to find where I truly belonged. Paths of anger, rebellion, deceit, self-hatred, and self-sabotage all bear my footprints. No path is more important than the pa,th to sel~ and the ability to finally face a journey inside yoursel~ and Confront all the pain and selfhatred-that has become your public enemy number one-in all reality, and slay a little a day until this enemy no longer lives in you. Then the path into self can continue on to reach a destination where you can love yourself and be loved. A place where the screaming stops and the Calm begins, a place where you can cl~se your eyes and still.find your way around because you are where you
· :-.. ·belong, a place of soulful acceptance in your selt for your heart, about your life.
·''Don't Ask, Don't Tell" wo~d be like traveling back. in time for me. Not an
In July of2003 I went in front of the Indiana State parole board, as a model prisoner, after having served 30 years. I was placed into asix-month .
(non-residential) transition8J. program. As a participant in this program lwas disappointed that there.did not exist any reference to any Post·Release assistance for trans people, nor was there any representation from the transgender community among any of the guests scheduled to speak. I kej,t a journal throughout this·program with thoughts of pursuing this same sort of program geared towJds trans people. I ~oped that.this program coul4 be implemented into the OCX:: ·transition programs everywhere where applicable. If implemented, my program would encourage, educate, and direct trans people towards support groups after their release that could accommodate the needs of trans people by assisting them·toward achieving the same success in their reintegration into
·communities as afforded to others.
One of the inspirational speakers offering encouragement for those of us in the transitional class· s I attended was a former inmate (heterosexual) who had e succeeded in reaching goals that seemed unattainable at some points in his life.
He gave a very strong and powerful testimony. I gained a strong desire to be able to deliver the same sort of inspirational speaker for trans folks, to elevate, and make a huge difference in these programs for trans people. My d.isappo~tment was replaced with my vision, and my determination to succeed. Six months later, after my successful completion of the transitional program, I returned to appear before the parole board. At this review I was given 90 days to come.up with acceptable parole plans. The board members asked that I have any comrmmity support that I may have present at rny next hearing, which was set for March
2004. I wrote hundreds of letters to Churches and Outreach Missions for transitional·Post-Release assistance. I never failed to mention my status as a
MTF transsexual, I never received any responses. I wrote to many people in the trans communities asking them to help me by networking on their computers to assemble a support system inside of the trans community that would be able to be at my hearing so that a support system was present. I hoped that trans people would have packed the place! My mother and father are the only support I already.had, and they are both old an ill, so they ~uld not be at my hearing.
Gianna E. Israel, Community Counselor for Transgendered, supplied a Statement of Reference letter that I placed within every application and every appeal for support that I sent out. I began to feel sick inside the closer to my hearing date I got. None of the Faith community responded, and none of the 1rans community seemed interested at all. When I returned before the parole board on March the
26th, 2004, my heart was broken and I hurt to the core of my soul once again. No one at all was there for me, after all my efforts. No one but producer Dan Hunt of REID Productions, who had been granted permissi<;m at my request to film my parole hearing, and follow my release after parole as part of a documentary that is r'
. being produced for PBS about transsexual life before, during, and after the priscm experience.
My parole was denied, and as I laid in my bed of sorrow crying my heart out that evening, wanting to just die, I received a letter from the ''first applicatio~" that I ever mailed to a Faith commwtity. The letter stated that I had been accepted into the."Jesus House", a Post-release residential program for
Christians. The letter came too late for my parole hearing, but for some reason that didn'tmatter, I felt good about it. So g0?4, I dried my eyes, read it again, and I haven't cried since. Today, I'm okay. I'm still waiting, praying and
· waiting. 'there is a need for Post-rel~e assistance for trans-people and I am confident, it's coming...
Sheridan, Vanessa. Crossing Over: Liberating the Transgendered
Christian. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2001.
Tanis, Justin. Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and
Communities ofFaith. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003.
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