Published on June 29th, 2012 | by Wild Gender1
Kyliah Boswell: Gender Variance in Prison & Forced Isolation of Trans Inmates
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Non-incarcerated allies are needed for Kyliah Boswell, a 22-year-old inmate in Marion County Jail, who is isolation as a result of her transgender identity–a practice not at all uncommon in the prison industrial complex, where a rigid gender binary is built into the organizational and cultural structure.
According to Indianapolis news network (WISH), administrators at the prison say Ms. Boswell is “separated from the general population for her own protection,” after already having been in housed in isolation for over three months.
According to WISH reporters, Boswell participated in the interview with the news crew while wearing shackles at her wrists and ankles. Unlike inmates in the general population who walk freely, those held in isolation are shackled when they’re escorted from their cells.
“Because prison populations are comprised of a disproportionate numbers of poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, youth, survivors of violence, immigrants, and people who do not speak English fluently, many transgender people face multiple forms of oppression, including prolonged periods of isolation in solitary confinement cells,” says a 2009 Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) report. SRLP works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.
Recently, reports of debilitating mental health effects of prison isolation for all inmates have resulted in a federal lawsuit (filed earlier this month) by the Center for Constitutional Rights, challenging the practice of long-term isolation, claiming that prolonged isolation in 80-square-foot, windowless cells for all but 90 minutes a day amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
Arguing that long-term solitary confinement (at least 10 years) is a violation of the 8th amendment, included in the text of the official complaint are anecdotal reports from (mostly non-trans) inmates indicating significant psychological problems stemming in part from the conditions of isolation. Among the examples cited are an inmate who “feels that he is ‘silently screaming’ 24 hours a day” and another who reports feeling “like a caged animal.”
As for Ms. Boswell, her trial date is set for the end of August, and she faces an indeterminate period of isolation. Marion County Jail, where she is housed, is privately run by Corrections Corporation of America. The company released a statement saying their goal is to house inmates in the “safest environment possible with the utmost respect for human rights.”
But Vivian Benge, the president of Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance (INTRAA) heartily disagrees.
“In an attempt to protect someone, the person is isolated to the point where they become depressed and often don’t receive medications they are supposed to,” Benge told WISH. “There are a lot of problems with that particular approach.”
Visit Black & Pink for more resources related to transgender/queer prisoners, to find a prison pen-pal, or take action towards prison abolition.
The video below is from WISH and uses some problematic language, including using Kylia’s former legal name and discussing her “birth gender.”