A new report from Dallas-based Trans Pride Initiative, an organization that advocates for transgender justice and undertakes prison support work, sheds light on the violence that LGBTQ people face inside the Texas prison system. The report titled “I Don’t Believe You, So You Might As Well Get Used To It” – The Myth of PREA Zero Tolerance in Texas Prisons is dedicated “to all of the brave persons who have provided—sometimes at great risk of personal safety—the information and data used to create this report. ”
The idea for this report came to Trans Pride Initiative earlier this year when they learned that the Texas House Corrections Committee was scheduled to discuss PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) monitoring.
“We contacted the committee clerk and asked about presenting written testimony for the committee meeting, which we understood would be held tentatively in May,” Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative, said. “We started pulling together data to convey our understanding of the PREA issues in the system to develop a written document for presentation.”
The meeting to discuss PREA was delayed, but Trans Pride Initiative decided to move forward and take what they initially had as written testimony, along with additional data, and turn that into a report.
“We have wanted to do a comprehensive report documenting what we are learning from our correspondence with incarcerated persons, and this is a good first step toward that larger report, which we hope to publish next year,” Gaither said.
The data used in this report is from between 2013 through 2018 when Trans Pride Initiative first began receiving letters from people inside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) system. The report documents their lived experiences of being persons incarcerated in the TDCJ system. A total of 2,553 letters or emails were received from people inside a TDCJ facility, with an additional 13 coming from people inside a Texas County Jail. There were also 186 forms of correspondence received from other states and 193 from federal facilities as well. Of the 411 correspondents, 278 were transgender, 76 were cisgender, 50 were unknown, five were questioning, one was gender nonconforming, and one was two-spirit.
The title is inspired by a transgender woman who was trying to report that she had repeatedly been sexually assaulted, only for a Safe Prisons Manager to respond, “I don’t believe you, so you might as well get used to it.” The report also opens with a note, explaining the graphic and disturbing stories, statistics, and issues that are documented throughout this report may be triggering to readers. The inclusion of these stories and quotes was to, according to the report, “more accurately represent the lives, experiences, and ultimately the resilience of the persons with which we correspond. However, we recognize that while more representative, it can also be far more challenging,” Gaither said.
There are several things that Trans Pride Initiative hopes that people who read this report take away from it, according to Gaither.
“Often we feel that when legislation, regulations, and policy are in place stating something is prohibited or required, people give the benefit of doubt to those in charge of adhering to those rules,” Gaither said. “However, especially in confinement systems, there are often large incentives for staff and administration to manipulate the policy, or to find ways to claim policy is followed when it is not. That can mean claims of adhering to policy are used to cover up violations. This is common in our confinement systems, as well as a characteristic of how ‘justice’ is implemented in our current social structures.”
One of the alarming issues covered by the report details how TDCJ claims that only 0.83% of sexual abuse incidents that were reported by survivors in the TDCJ system actually occurred.
“[W]e have received information that indicates guards use this data [from TDCJ] to tell our correspondents that their reports cannot be believed because 99% of the reports are determined to be lies,” Gaither said. “This is an astounding claim, especially with the long history of violence against persons in TDCJ custody,” the report notes.
The discrimination, stigma, and dehumanization that LGBTQ people face in the Texas prison system extend beyond just the guards and staff at a prison, according to Gaither.
“Dehumanization from staff leads also to greater endangerment from other incarcerated persons who see us as easy targets for extortion, coerced sex, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other violence,” Gaither said.
The report concludes with 32 recommendations, including, to name a few, improving social support networks, paying wages to incarcerated persons, eliminating solitary confinement, ending routine strip searches, and eliminating barriers to healthcare.
Trans Pride Initiative also strongly advocates for the removal of incentives for incarcerations, as corporations and the state literally profit on how many people are incarcerated, and for how long their sentence is. Ultimately, they hope that society can move away from how the system is currently set up.
“That is the hope that we contribute to the greater understanding of how our current for-profit retributive justice system does little if anything to actually address the root causes of social harm, and instead increases harm,” Gaither said. “If we can encourage more people to see that the system increases rather than decreases harm, then we can bring more people into conversations and efforts needed to shift toward transformational justice concepts that will move us toward a reduction in the pervasive structural problems that perpetuate social harm.”