***Trigger Warning: This blog discusses rape, trans abuse and suicide.It was incredibly difficult for me to post this because the feelings are so raw, but it will be worth it if it helps, enlightens, or encourages a single human being.
We’ve all seen the stories in the media about young transgender women and men attempting to or committing suicide. Research has show that trans suicide and attempted suicide rates are staggering. I always read these articles and think “If they just had some love and support.” The truth is… love and support isn’t always enough.This is especially true if the one you love is living in an impossible environment, like a home that abuses you for being who you are. I believe that Leelah Alcorn, and the others we have lost, had friends and supporters… folks who were there for them in specific times and places. But at the end of the day, when it’s time to go home and you live in an environment that is constantly telling you that you’re not who you KNOW you are, fear, insecurity,self doubt,and loneliness can be overwhelming.You are living your entire life screaming inside (and sometimes outside) for your family/caregivers to just acknowledge that your feelings are valid and they matter.Often you hope against hope that they may read something or hear something that will flip a magic switch and make them suddenly understand what it means to be you. Daily,you find yourself saying,”It’s not forever. If I can just make it til…when I can be on my own.” For many trans people, having solid friend support, having rare moments of being yourself and not feeling judged, and knowing that it will get better is enough to keep you fighting the urge to self harm.
What if you lived where there is no hope? There is no support, no opportunity to be yourself, and no looking forward to moving out because it’s not possible to leave. This is what life is like for Ky Peterson today. In October of 2011, he was attacked and raped for the second time in his life. This time he fought back and killed his attacker. His lawyer said that he they wouldn’t ask for self defense because a jury would not see Ky as a rape victim…he looks too much like a man (and as we all know, “men don’t get raped”). He was bullied into taking a plea for involuntary manslaughter and is now serving 15 years on a 20 year sentence. For 4 years, he has lived in a system that refuses to acknowledge the existence of transgender people. In our state, the prison facilities allow the abuse of trans people. They encourage the staff to force birth gender on the trans inmates. When the head of prison security tells a trans man that he deserved to raped because he needed to be reminded that he is a female, it is safe to say that the methods used to enforce birth gender are extreme and dangerous.
Since his arrival at Pulaski State Prison, 3 years ago, Ky has been vocal about his transgender status, often telling officers that he’s a man when they call him “Ms. Peterson”. He used to argue with the officers when they tried to correct him on his birth gender. For the first year or so, Ky spent many days in lockdown because of his anger over how they treated him. As time passed, most of the officers just ignored Ky when he corrected them about his gender. He set his focus on education, earned his GED and spends his time studying trans rights and advocacy. He went a year without any issues that led to lockdown, still the prison has labeled him a “problem inmate”. If there is an issue, “problem inmates” are treated with force before discussion. Recently, Ky has become more vocal about how he’s being treated. I shared some of what he experienced when he spoke with the Warden about getting gender therapy, on his blog. On may 26th, Ky was sent to lockdown again after being abused and pepper sprayed by the prison’s CERT team (this event can also be found on Ky’s blog). For the first several days, he was held in a safe cell in solitary confinement. He was only allowed the clothes he wore and had to sleep on a mat on the floor. He had no communication with anyone, not even his mental health counselor.
On June 5th, I received a private message from someone in Pulaski stating that Ky had overdosed while he was in lockdown. My first thought was that someone inside the facility wanted to silence Ky. His blog brings a lot of negative attention to Pulaski and with Dr. Yvon Nazaire as the medical director,it wouldn’t be the first death to be covered up by a prison administration. Ky’s mother and I spent days harassing the hospital and prison. No one was talking, and I became more convinced that the prison was hiding something…and they were. On June 2nd, Ky was taken from the solitary cell, placed in a regular cell in lockdown, and gave him some of his property. I spoke to him that day. He said that he was happy to have his stuff and to sleep in a bed but he needed to talk to his mental health counselor. He was feeling a little stressed about not getting mail from home, or seeing his mom. He sounded a little sad, but he was still cracking jokes with me and telling me how excited he is about seeing me again. The next day, Ky found his former bunk mate’s Tegretol. The officers who packed Ky’s property accidentally packed it with his stuff, and the officers in lockdown over looked the meds when they gave it to him. Ky had been asking to see his counselor for days.He asked for his mail, he asked for his journal to write in, he asked for his music player: anything to help him feel more peaceful…all of these things were denied. He was exhausted but couldn’t sleep so he took some of the Tegretol. He asked again for someone to talk to. They threatened him and told him he wasn’t getting out of lockdown. He took a hand full of Tegretol. Fear set in, making him think that no one was coming and no one was writing because no one cares… he just wanted to sleep for a while….another handful of pills.
Ky Peterson, a 25 year old trans man who, in spite of his circumstances, has always had the deepest love for life, takes nearly 100 Tegretol in an attempt to bring himself peace. He was found by an officer who had always cared for him. His heart stopped, he stopped breathing, Ky was dead and she brought him back. Ky has very few allies on the staff at Pulaski, I can’t help but feel that her presence was Divine intervention. There aren’t enough words in any human language to express my gratitude for this woman.
I’m not able to support Ky like any other trans partners might support their loved one. Rather than helping with hormone shots, I have to make sure he has money for food. Instead of making sure he has clean binder so he won’t feel dysphoric, I mail him screen shots of his blog and support letters. I don’t have a chance to hold his hand and give him confidence in public, I have to smile and give him strength on a fuzzy video screen. I fight for him everyday, and yet there’s that part of me that feels a like I could have done more… I should have written more…I should have told him I love him more. I spent too much time advocating for Ky and not enough time with Ky. Anyone who is close to someone who has committed or attempted suicide knows the terrible guilt I feel at this moment.
The question is eating me alive is WHY…why did he do it? The truth is, it’s not about me, or what I did or did not do for Ky. He knows that I love him unconditionally. He knows that his family loves him.Ky also knows that there is an army of people fighting to get him home. He knows that his story has been shared and has inspired so many people. Ky has something that so few people in prison have…HOPE. What brings someone with NO history of drug abuse or self harm to the breaking point? Day in and day out he is abused, harassed and humiliated by the prison staff. Ky took handfuls of pills because they stripped him of his dignity and self respect day after day. Then they locked him down, removing him from any form of human kindness, in the prison, that gave him strength. Finally, they cut him off from all of his outside support and made him believe that he had no hope.
I’ve said this so many times; Ky is the strongest person I have EVER known.He gives that strength freely to every life he touches. Losing Ky would cost this world a tremendous piece of it’s humanity. It’s so hard to function some days, knowing that we almost lost him. Images of him lying lifeless on the ground keep popping up in the back of my mind at random moments. I know that an officer can snap at any given moment, but I have faith in Ky,and I believe in his strength.There is no Trans Lifeline for Ky, but for those of you in the free world who are suffering Ky’s pain, please call this number : (877)565-8860. There is someone there who will help you find your strength.
As of right now, Ky is doing much better. He remembers very little about what happened. His first words to me were ,”Babe, I’m so sorry, don’t be mad at me. I just lost it”. Be mad? are you kidding? How can I be angry when just the sound of his voice …
Whew, So the one thing he keeps telling me is that it will never happen again. He makes cracks about how bad dying sucks and how he wanted to flirt with the nurses but couldn’t. All I can do is swallow my fear and push harder for him.
On May 28th, I sent several packages to Pulaski following the chain of command, in an attempt to make a formal request for Ky’s hormones. These packages included:
- A letter to the warden with a formal request for hormones.
- A copy of my power of attorney
- The letter from Ky’s Gender therapist with his diagnosis and recommendations for hormones.
- The updated Georgia Department of Corrections policy on the treatment of transgender inmates (thanks to Ashley Diamond)
- Information from the Transgender Law Center on recommended treatment for trans inmates
- the entire WPATH Standards of Care for Transgender people.
All total, over 150 pages of reasons why Ky’s gender therapy should not be denied. I mailed copies of this package to ;
- Warden Grant
- Ms. Green, Deputy warden of care and treatment
- Dr. Nazaire -Medical director
- Brad Metz – Chief counselor
- And Ky, so that he can formally give the request to his counselor himself.
The packages arrived at Pulaski on June 3rd, the day that Ky took the pills.They did not give him his package until this morning. I’ve not received any response from the prison about the package or Ky’s hormone request. Below is a small segment of my letter requesting hormones for Ky:
Ms. Grant, given the current social / political climate in regards to transgender issue, you are in the very unique position of taking a Proactive position when it comes to the care and treatment of Pulaski’s transgender population. While Ky is the 1st inmate to request hormones and care, he is not the only inmate who suffers from gender dysphoria….
Taking proactive steps to help identify and provide care for the transgender population can be extremely beneficial to the mental health of the inmates. Ky has recently suffered traumatic emotional breakdowns causing behavioral issues which have resulted in him being placed in lockdown or protective custody. Self harm and suicide rates among those untreated in the transgender community is a staggering 44% (compared to the national average)…
I understand that this situation is new and difficult for the Pulaski Administration. However, if you decide to move forward, there are groups who are eager to help transition your staff into transgender care.
Ultimately, my goal was to be as diplomatic, informative and helpful as possible. Being rude and using profanity or insulting the administration won’t get Ky the care he needs, so I bite my tongue, put on my business face and try to use logic to reason with an unreasonable administration. I pray that Ky is able to keep his strength and that our efforts are not in vain.
Personally, it would have been much easier to say that the prison tried to poison Ky. I would love to have turned my head at the truth, and insisted that he is too strong …to much of a fighter to give up. I want to believe that our love and support is enough to keep him on this earth. My heart can barely grasp the reality of him hurting himself, but that is the reality. Ky is ashamed and humiliated, but there is no honor in lying about it, and he has always been and will continue to be a man of honor. I know this was really long and I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to read and share it.
Thank you all for joining us on this journey,