Panel discusses life trials for transgender prisoners

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The Center for Sex ‘ Gender Research at CSUN co-sponsored a panel discussion with UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy about queer and transgender politics of prison abolition on Nov. 15.

The discussion focused on how queer and trans communities and organizations are confronting issues of criminalization and imprisonment.

Lala Yantes, a transgender who has been in prison six times, spoke about her life and being imprisoned.

Her father is an assistant district attorney and her mother works for the California Department of Corrections along with several other family members. Yantes said she went to school and earned a good education, but it didn’t stop her from committing identity theft and becoming hooked on speed.

“The street corner is where everyone accepts you,” Yantes said.

Getting out of jail is almost the worst part, Yantes said: you’re homeless and you have no money. Yantes also said she’s been stopped by police several times just because she was in prison. It was hard for her to stay out of prison because she said believes the police make it difficult for people on parole.

“They set you up to come back,” Yantes said.

Yantes said she believes the state should try to rehabilitate people instead of just placing them in prison. Officials should go back to their childhood and help them realize why they’re committing crimes and not concentrate on what crimes were committed, Yantes said.

Yantes works for Transforming Justice, a San Francisco-based organization of “transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual activists, former prisoners and attorneys who are working to stop the cycles of poverty, criminalization and mass imprisonment of transgender communities.”

Another speaker was Alexis Giraldo, 30, also a transgender individual. Giraldo said she had no appropriate housing and a lack of protection for people like her.

Giraldo said “lifers” don’t have conjugal visits, so they look for the effeminate men to have sex with or rape.”

Giraldo said she was in a consensual relationship with her cellmate in violation of prison policy. Giraldo said she wanted to stop the relationship altogether, so he began to rape her. Giraldo repeatedly informed corrections officers about the sexual assault, but was ignored until it became clear to them when they found strangulation marks on her neck. “Rape is rape regardless of gender,” Giraldo said.

Giraldo is embroiled in a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Giraldo said she’s claiming Folsom State Prison officials ignored her complaints of rape and mistreatment by other cellmates.

The state prison system assigns inmates to men’s or women’s prisons depending on whether they’ve had a sex change, so Giraldo is also asking that prison officials come up with a new system to house transgender inmates.

Rickke Mananzala, from FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment), a New York-based community organization for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth of color continued the discussion by asking the audience questions about their familiarity with gay history.

Transgender people, gays, people of color and low-income families have been taken off the streets, and many of them are in jail, Mananzala said. Gay individuals have been forced into jail and the streets are so-called “cleaner,” Mananzala said.

“We need to focus on preserving spaces all the while preserving rights for LGBT people,” Mananzala said.

Reggie Gossett, from Critical Resistance, an organization that seeks to abolish prisons, explained the notion of the Prison Industrial Complex. PIC is a term used to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems.

“Jail is a system that makes money off of caging people,” Gossett said. Gosset said that there are alternatives to jail such as more open discussion and prevention rather than punishment.

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