Excerpts from “This is What Happened to CeCe” (emphasis added):
You probably know – if you’re trans you definitely know – that trans women of color face incredible, staggering rates of violence and homicide. In most places it is essentially legal to discriminate against trans people in housing, employment and social services. As a result, trans people, especially trans women, are socially vulnerable in all kinds of ways – and vulnerable turns into “criminalized”, whether it’s because you can’t change your legal documents to match your gender or because you’re homeless and panhandling or because you’re doing sex work to make the rent…or because you have to fight to keep yourself safe.
Trans people are ten to fifteen times more likely to have been incarcerated than cis people.
Seventy percent of the GLBTQ people murdered in 2010 were people of color. Forty-four percent were trans women.
The court system isn’t neutral.
If you haven’t been on the wrong end of the legal system, it’s very easy to assume that the courts will sort everything out. Privileged people – white people, middle class people, cis people – can grow up identifying with the court system and with the idea of “neutrality” – especially when articulate white men in nice suits are talking. Something happened, privileged folks think, and the courts will figure it out, they’ll assign blame correctly, someone will pay a debt to society, and all’s well that ends well.
Oh, hai, me… :(
I went to jail twice in the past year.
Why? Because I am poor.
Why am I poor? Because I am unemployed.
Why am I unemployed? Because I am a visibly transsexual woman, and even though I live in a state that has some of the best anti-discrimination laws in the country designed to protect people like me, the fact is that anti-discrimination laws on their own do little to stop discrimination.
Some of you are probably thinking that they don’t put people in jail just for being poor. I can assure you, they do, and if you do not understand how this can happen, and why this is especially more likely in the case of trans women, then I invite you to educate yourself on the reasons why someone might be jailed for being unable to produce money on demand, even though they have committed no criminal offense whatsoever.
I invite you to educate yourself as to why an entire class of people in our society, a class of people which happens to include a good number of trans women who are likely to be particularly targetted by our society for marginalisation, is continuously monitored by the criminal probation divisions of our court system and law enforcement system without ever having been arrested for, or charged with, a criminal offense of any kind.
I am still under the threat of arrest and incarceration. Last fall, I ended up living in my truck for an entire week, a fugitive from justice, while I waited to be able to borrow money to rescind a warrant that had been issued for my arrest. What I had to go through to pay that money back, and what I was subjected to during the time in which that debt was outstanding (several months) was not very pleasant.
If my paltry income, which mostly consists of what money I can make by selling my remaining personal possessions, is interrupted again for the space of any more than a week, my Probation Officer will issue an immediate arrest order, which results in automatic suspension of my driver’s license. That itself costs over $100 dollars to restore, once the warrant is rescinded, or I am released from jail. Needless to say, it makes it a little difficult to come up with any amount of legitimate income without the ability to drive legally.
The way the state works this system, those being watched by the Probation Division are specifically disallowed from speaking to the Probation Officer assigned to their case in order to possibly work out a compromise, or for any other reason at all, really. Law enforcement officials, if you do not know this, are trained to assume that anything you say to them is intended to deceive them, that everything you tell them, they should assume is a lie.
The Internet-based payment system set up by the state is contracted to a private corporation and is designed to be confusing. I am, or was anyway, a technology consultant specialising in Internetworking technologies, and I can not make heads or tails of the three different websites that are set up to supposedly accept payments, so rather than take the chance that my payment will not go through or be charged twice, I drive once a week to the county Probation Office and give them cash, in person.
Even if I happen to have more than one week’s money, I give them one week only, because I am afraid that any extra money given them before the next week’s payment is put on my account will be applied to my arrears, rather than to my current balance, and then I will be shit out of luck when the county sherriff shows up at my door without notification to arrest me again. I can’t ask, because they are trained to lie to me, as well as assume that everything I say to them is a lie. Nice how that works, isn’t it?
And I will be doing this for at least the next 11 years, possibly longer. Without ever having committed a offense of any kind.
This really happens. You may not believe this, but I assure you it happens, every single day, in our society.
While attending the 2011 Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, in a workshop I attended, one of the presenters (was that Reina July?) asked the question, “What is the ‘prison-industrial complex’”. This was my response:
The prison-industrial complex is a system that is designed to create and maintain a permanently criminalised and dehumanised underclass of people for the purposes of profit and political advantage.