Transgender persons. Finding little dignity among us. Even less behind bars!
whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”
prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and
value as human beings.
UN General Assembly Resolution
It’s exceptionally difficult to find even a hint of dignity behind bars. Incarcerated people are known by their prison ID number, not by their name. When speaking to an inmate, corrections officers don’t use the words Mr. or Mrs., Rev. or Dr. They call them by their last name. They shout it out. There’s no respect or dignity involved.
I guess that’s why I go
overboard in trying to give the incarcerated a little hint of dignity.
From the day I started this business, with every piece of mail I sent to every person living behind bars, I never included the name of the prison facility in the address. I give the inmate’s name, ID#, street address, city, state and zip. That has been, and still is, the policy of Humanity for Prisoners. It may not seem like much, but it’s our little token effort.
In recent years, there’s one specific prisoner group that has an exceptionally difficult time finding dignity: transgender inmates. We have trouble showing any kind of dignity and respect to transgender persons on the outside. Just imagine how much worse it is behind bars.
I was speaking to a Christian counselor about an HFP case one day. When I explained that the person struggling with the problem was a transgender inmate, she abruptly said, “Good luck with a transgender prisoner,” and promptly shut me off. Even as a shrink with spiritual leanings, the subject of transgender was apparently more than she could deal with.
HFP has more than 70 transgender clients in Michigan’s prisons. An MDOC official informed me, “There are currently about 250 prisoners with a management plan, meaning they’ve had contact with healthcare staff to discuss accommodations, etc. due to Gender Dysphoria or being transgender.” One of our transgender clients took the department to court a few years back. As a result, the MDOC has changed its policy:
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has adopted a new policy for the care of transgender prisoners after a transgender woman incarcerated in a Michigan prison campaigned, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU of Michigan), to receive the hormone therapy she was denied.
It sounds good on paper, but on practical issues, life is not pleasant. Following the death of a transgender inmate, one of our clients wrote: “In her last words all she wanted was to have the MDOC bury her in a dress and use her female name. That is not what the MDOC did! After all we go through they put her in men's clothing and used her male name.”
This stuff isn’t easy, isn’t simple. I’m just trying to explain that HFP’s launch was based on kindness and compassion. We’re still doing our best today. We try to offer as much dignity as possible, we call these clients by their new name. We refer to the gender they claim.
dignity is the same for all human beings: When I trample on the dignity of
another, I am trampling on my own.