Beyond Bars: Koko
The following post is a part of our series Beyond Bars. Beyond Bars blog posts are pieces sent to us from currently incarcerated people. These posts are not written by Ella Baker Center staff and we try to keep them in their original form. This blog is meant as a way to foster dialogue and build community with folks inside. If you have been touched by a particular piece or would like to send a note of encouragement to any of the authors you may email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to:
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Attn: Norma Orozco
1970 Broadway, Suite 1125
Oakland CA, 94612
Come back next week to read an accompanying piece on trans incarceration by former Ella Baker Center intern Bethlehem.
I am a 31 years young transgender Woman of Color and there is a topic that I want to give from behind the wall and barbed wire. My story is about how I became Trans’ behind the wall. When I came into CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] in 2010, I was a ‘gay boy.’ I then began wearing form fitted clothing that hugged my body more, shaved, used pencil led for eye-shadow and eye-liner, and red markers for lip-stick, even changed my name to a female moniker. I created a whole new person. A new personality, a new character. I walked different and spoke more feminine. I wanted more attention from the men in prison by standing out and being a “Queen.” (Queen is slang for a transgender female in prison). The queens on the line embraced me wholeheartedly. I then filled out the proper paper forms to see the doctor to be prescribed Estrogen injections. After 12 months of seeing a mental health therapist, I was diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria in 2011. I received Hormone Replacement Therapy, 7-8 sessions and daily hormone blockers that help the injections be more effective on the male body. From San Quentin to Tehachapi State Prisons, I watched my male body transform before my eyes! Now I’m a beautiful full figured woman and I’m so confident and comfortable in my own skin. I always knew I was a female when I was younger but didn’t have supportive parents and as I have gotten older, I didn’t know the medicine existed or the medical history research— now I do. After 7 years of hormone therapy, I look in the mirror and I don’t see the same person I was before I came to prison. The real fun and trouble starts when I parole next year and I hit the ground with my track shoes running at what my new life has to offer.
The biggest secret of my transition in prison is that I didn’t tell any of my family. I didn’t know how and I guess I didn’t want their negative comments/opinions. I didn’t want their love to be lost for me, especially back in 2011 when I began the transition process. If I didn’t have their full on board support, I would have discontinued the Hormone Replacement Therapy, HRT, and came out as just a gay male. It took me 7 ½ years to finally tell my little brother who is 27. And he took it well. I even sent a picture of what I look like and I’ll let you know his feedback when I hear from him, I just told him over the phone. There was awkward silence and then he quickly changed the subject.
Photo provided by Koko
Becoming Trans in prison was difficult. Especially for the friends I have currently who knew me as my male moniker. I catch them still using my boy name, the male pronouns, and a lot of them stopped being my friend. I didn’t begin showing my female characteristics (boobs, hips, booty) until 3-4 years into my transition. Being that we are in prison, we are given the brand name estrogen. The injectables literally transformed me from a male muscular body to a thick voluptuous female. The attention from staff (teachers, nurses, and correctional officers), was both good and bad. The bad, I once had a male nurse say he couldn’t give me my hormone therapy shot in my glute, my preferred spot, that he had to give it to me in my shoulder, because he wasn’t comfortable seeing my butt cheek. Then the officers harassed me and my boyfriend, we got caught kissing and received a write-up, we had to perform 40 hours of work detail and pick up trash; they called it ‘sexual misconduct.’ Then some inmates think all trans people are easy and promiscuous and they have the most random sexual advances that will make you vomit. Being trans in prison can be easy, or hard, on your sentence. But I stay humble and keep my eye on the calendar.
Stay tuned to learn more about trans incarceration. Next week we will be publishing a piece from Bethlehem, a former Ella Baker Center intern, who discusses and explains the incarceration of trans people on a systematic level.