I was in prison in 2017.
It was my first time, and solicitors and barristers had told me that it wasn't wise to be seen as LGBT before the courts. I say LGBT because, at this point, this was how it was. There were many debates in the media to argue the T should be removed as I read articles on transgender people being seen as a threat, whether it's trans men in female spaces or trans females in any area, and the world seemed a long way off from LGBTQIA+.
I didn’t have to know that. I was living it.
When I was younger, I was seen as a tomboy to those who knew me but often in the community; I was met with hostilities in toilets and changing rooms. As I got older, going out could erupt into violence at any moment, even when I thought I was safe. One example was a lesbian night my girlfriend wanted to go to, ended up with her trying to undo my shirt as the girl’s hockey team attempted to beat me up as they thought I was a cis man.
I have been abused wherever I have gone, from sexually to beaten, chased, and physically and verbally assaulted.
I went into HMP Newhall thinking if that's what it's like in the community where people are free and are seen as civil and law-abiding citizens, what could it possibly be like inside where people are deemed not safe to be in the community.
I was not recognised as transgender even though I told them that I was on arrival - being ignored put me through further trauma by being made to shower with women. This time, I couldn't say no I couldn't forge a letter from my mum and say I couldn't do PE or shower due to a medical condition. I had lost that right the minute they told me I was on bail.
Being yourself was not an option unless you matched your paperwork at birth unless you agreed with society's structures. For me, I was a problem since day one regardless of criminality.
I was always seen as divergent.
In prison, there are so many harmful structures that have been in place for years and not been updated and fitting with external systems of practice. Prison is very much about this is the way it has always been and why change it if it’s in place regardless of if it is working or ever worked in the first place.
When I arrived 'Inside', I found harmful stereotypes, and I felt like I had gone back into the ’80s. There were other transgender women in prison, and I saw a poster for a support group, but my name would not get put on the list if I wasn’t recognised.
There was one transgender woman on my wing, but no one liked her, and a lot were scared of her several women told me she was a child abuser. They didn’t believe she was transgender as they said they saw her with boxer shorts on, and she didn’t always wear her wig and argued with herself in both a man’s voice and a female voice.
I saw another trans woman, and she seemed comfortable and was wearing tight jeans and a feminine top, calling out and waving to friends as she walked by.
I struggled to get an appointment with healthcare to talk to a doctor about being transgender, as that’s what the nurse told me to do in reception. The day before my meeting, I was moved to HMP Low Newton.
In the prisoner lead inductions, I was able to tell them that I had told them in both receptions on arrival I was transgender to no response.
The diversity rep was a transgender male, and the listeners who work with the samaritans were so kind I felt like I was finally being taken seriously. The environment at this time was overcrowded and stretched to its limits. I had already faced high levels of secondary violence, including witnessing suicide attempts, fighting and threats.
Unlike HMP Newhall, there were no transwomen in HMP Low Newton, only transgender men. As my sentence progressed, I got involved in prison life, joining support groups and participating in LGBT history month and pride events.
When the first rumours circulated that trans women were entering the prison, there was uproar.
By then, I was taking the prison inductions I had once sat in on and was able to explain to women on arrival that being trans was not a danger as I was trans myself and answered anyone's questions. However, the cis women were shouting and saying it was wrong; that trans women only come over to our prison because they wanted to rape women or get an easy ride inside.
As a transgender man, I knew I would not be safe in a male prison, but the female prison was still not easy.
I heard the women’s arguments against having trans women inside prison, but then I thought about how there were child abusers in the female prisons. I had heard women say they had been raped or assaulted by other cis women, and I also knew there were female rapists inside female prisons, not just in the men’s prisons.
As for physical strength, many women in the gym that were benching and doing weights would put a lot of men to shame.
A lot of the women who voiced their concern said that the idea of a trans female wing in a female prison would make the situation worse as if they had to be separated, it meant they were seen as dangerous by the prison, so if that happened, one woman said:
“If they think there is a danger and separate them if I see one and it comes near me, I’ll flask them as the prison has as good as told me they deserve it if they need to be separated.”
When the trans women arrived, the majority of women were ok once they had talked to them individually.
I was cleaning on a wing and saw three women in a trans woman's cell combing her hair into a french plait, asking her questions and saying, you wouldn’t hurt anyone? I didn’t think you would be so kind.
But others were expressing concern and often anger that they had been abused and didn’t want to have "men" in prison with them and didn’t see them as women.
There were taunts in the dining areas when they first went to the dining hall and sat together; some women shouted: "Frankland" (the male estate next door).
After that, they never sat together again and sat alone or with other friends they had made. The general anger seemed to ease as time went by.
Each trans woman showed their unique personality, but bullying still occurred. Both trans men and women were being accused of sexual assault after a relationship had gone wrong.
It felt like women who had been in a relationship but wanted to leave it, whether that was because they were getting teased for going out with a trans person or because their use had "expired". (Some women go out with people who buy them canteen each week or give them vape oils as the smoking ban came into force in U.K prisons around this time.)
In the cases that I saw, trans women accused of being inappropriate were moved to segregation under investigation, and trans men put on basic or moved wings due to allegations.
Trans people inside get accused regularly of getting special treatment, whether it’s not sharing a cell (which you can go through mental health not to share, or get on the enhanced wing or go on p.i.p.e wing to do courses or long term wing if you have a long sentence.)
The showers situation is seen as a privilege, but getting locked in alone is hard as I found only one block for a large wing. I would be bullied if I shut that down to have a shower, so I often went without and when I did go, I waited till everyone had theirs first.
Still, when I thought it was safe to get mine, I often enough couldn't find an officer free to lock me in, and in most cases, the key wouldn’t lock the door, or they forgot about me, and I missed association trapped in the bathroom. When these problems continued, most trans people ended up on wings where it was easier to manage.
I was writing to a trans woman in the male estate while inside prison.
She wrote to "Inside Time" (a prison newspaper), reporting her treatment inside as inhumane.
She was pushed out of the catholic service and mistreated by officers and the chaplaincy to the point that she said she was going to say she no longer trans. She said she couldn't cope anymore - that the level of abuse on a day to day basis was unbearable.
Every part of the system regime is set, and both prisoners and officers often question anything outside that fine line. In both cases, officers don't like change as they have enough to do, and prisoners don't like change because they like to know what to expect in an environment out of their control.
Often coming from chaotic lives, change on the inside can often lead to violence if not handled correctly.
In my time in prison, I had helped trans women fill out a DIRF (discrimination incident report forms) against other prisoners as well as dealing with being misgendered every day of my sentence, which lasted two years. And as much as some officers supported me and went above and beyond, I still struggled with being deadnamed and, in one case having an officer shout on the wing ladies and gentlemen or whatever you’re calling yourself today.
I was shouted at and insulted by officers on certain occasions, such as MDT (Mandatory drugs test) to sign the damn box "female" - as well as things I still don’t like to think about.
They went into a rant that ended with an open hatred of trans women in the female prison that haunted me.
There are so many incredible prison officers who are fighting against a system that is gender-based as well as taken from a Victorian style of thinking.
Those officers made the difference and highlighted how bad the other officers were being and the system that needs not to say they accommodate diversity but make training more in-depth and mandatory in all prisons.
Bullying is rife in prisons - and the trouble is if you are trans, you are an open target as that is the first thing that will be used against you in an argument, but the problem of being trans is something that is used against you whatever side of the gate you happen to live on.
Once a trans man or woman leaves the prison, it will not disappear. I was one of the lucky ones who left some others I have talked to have experienced shocking treatment by agencies supposedly there to support them in the community.
We have to be aware this is an issue and keep on having conversations that highlight the problems.
Work in progress.
Authored by Dalton Harrison @DaltonHarrison9