Today has been a very bittersweet day. I turned on my computer today to be inundated with the news of Chelsea Manning’s release from prison. Shortly after, her first steps to freedom twitter post went viral. There are a number of emotions, thoughts, and questions that I have struggled through today.
My first feelings for her are elation. No matter what you feel about why she was locked up, Chelsea has served her debt to society, and then some. She deserves to be free, and now she will be able to live her life on her own terms.
Then heartbreak. Most incarcerated trans folks spent a lot of time in Solitary Confinement (“for their protection”), making the Post Incarceration Syndrome much worse. PIS is no joke, and it is a debilitating type of PTSD that only those who have been locked-up can truly sympathize with.
Post Incarceration Syndrome
On top of dealing with severe PTSD, people with PIS have trouble with all of their senses after having life muted for so long. Everything sounds louder, tastes stronger, looks too bright, and smells stronger. They are easily shaken by large crowds and will shy away from social engagements, even when they need to be with friends and loved ones. She will be surrounded by friends and loved ones, yet feel completely alone, because no one around here has been where she has been and seen what she has seen. She will need a PTSD buddy and someone who she can talk to who understands what it feels like to wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t stop hearing the sound of the ball bearing drop when the cell door closes you in. She will forever be tormented by memories of abusive guards. And her body will never fully recover from medical neglect. A therapist once told me that however long someone is locked up, that’s how long it takes to heal from PIS. I disagree, PIS is something she will struggle with for the rest of her life.
Chelsea has the added curse of being the participant in a case that was all over national media. In her first day of freedom, there have already been dozens of articles about her release, complete with thousands of hate filled comments. Over the coming months, she will be expected to give statements, comments, and appearances at all kinds of events … events where crowds fear and panic may be completely overwhelming. We should all feel sadness for her and be respectful enough to allow her some healing time.
Silver linings? For Chelsea, Yes.
As difficult as things will be for her, Chelsea does have a few things on her side. Chelsea has access to help and support that other trans inmates do not. Many folks have donated to a fund to help her start her life over again. She also has the support of the ACLU and a powerhouse legal team to fight for her. Whether it is because she is white, or because her case is high profile enough to make money, these are the privileges that Chelsea has, and the majority of inmates, trans or otherwise, will never have access to.
This next part may sound a little … bitter, and it is NOTHING at all against Chelsea…just a contrasting view. This is a personal blog and I will not be holding back.
Ashley Diamond, a beloved friend of Ky’s, is a trans woman who served over 4 years of her 12-year sentence, in a Georgia men’s prison for a nonviolent crime. During the time that Ashley was locked up, she was repeatedly assaulted and tortured by other inmates, as well as prison officers. Ashley reached out to multiple organizations who ignored her plea for help. From her prison cell, Ashley wrote and filed a Federal suit against the state of Georgia, seeking medical care and safe housing. Even after she WON her federal case, Ashley still struggled to find legal help. Then, Ashley made a recording on a contraband mobile phone, from her prison cell. That video went viral, the media started asking questions. Legal groups suddenly decided that her case was worth looking at. Lawyers with the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) filed a civil suit against Georgia prison officials on her behalf. The SPLC wanted to force Ga. to pay for her medical care, including surgery, trauma care, and therapy. Georgia had no intentions of paying for Ashley’s surgery or even the medical care to treat injuries she sustained while in prison, so they locked her in Solitary / “Safe Housing” for a month and ultimately released her. At the time of her release, the case filed by the SPLC was still being fought. Ashley was released from prison with nothing and until the state agreed to a settlement, Ashley was left struggling to survive. The settlement she received was nothing. There is a cap on the amount of money an inmate can sue the state for, and she was given that amount. After the SPLC took their cut, she had enough to live off of for about year, but nowhere near enough to cover the years of therapy and counseling she will need to help her overcome this trauma.
“.. these people could care less if I were found dead in the gutter in 6 months.” ~Ashley Diamond, about the people who only helped her after she won her case.
Now our sweet friend is fighting every day to survive. Every day, she is harassed by the police or the local KKK in the town she lives in. Afraid for her life, powerless to move, and unable to heal and move forward.
While I am trying to feel happiness and hope for Chelsea, I struggled most with frustration, anger, and confusion. If you are reading this blog, you are already familiar with my partner, Ky, and his case. We have spent the last 3 years, trying to get help. Even though there are individuals supporting Ky, that work for many civil rights organizations, all of our personal requests are still met with automated email replies. I’ve stopped reaching out. What good are these groups if they are only looking for a case good enough to earn them a mention in national media? No one had really heard of the SPLC before Ashley Diamond, and to this day, most people believe that they are responsible for winning her federal case and getting her released (which she did herself). I’m furious that even within the civil right and organizing communities racism, classism, and greed for glory are still determining who is deserving of help.
I spent most of today in tears over all that Ky has faced, and all the challenges he will face in the future. I’m heartbroken that even within the civil rights and organizing communities, racism, classism, and greed for glory are deciding who is deserving of help and who gets left to rot.
Tonight, my beloved sits behind bars, as we fight for his freedom. Tonight, I ask supporters to share his story over and over…
Ky Peterson, 26-year-old, defended himself against a transphobic sexual assault. Ky was refused his right to plead self-defense because he is black and “doesn’t look like a rape victim”. Regardless of the positive rape kit and matching DNA evidence, he was forced to accept a 20 prison sentence…..
I have written, typed, texted, and spoken those words more time than I can count. I feel that I am wasting my time, hoping that Ky will one day be seen as deserving of help by the organizations who were CREATED to help people like him.