"There are already two strikes against you because you're black or Hispanic and gay or transsexual. They feel like they can do whatever they want to you, and many times they can." That's Kira, a transsexual, on her prison experience.
Kira is a male-to-female transsexual who had already undergone several gender-reassignment surgeries, but had not yet had genital surgery. She was arrested on drug-related charges — using and possessing ecstasy, meth, ketamine, and cocaine — and wound up serving three years in prison. According to Kira's conversation with Vice writer Vito Fun (who refers to her as a friend), her gender identity made things more difficult from the start, when she was arrested:
I was wearing heels, a micro-miniskirt, and a tube top. The cop felt he had the right to grab what he thought was my pussy. When he felt a bulge, he freaked out. He screamed, "This is a fucking faggot!" Once he realized I was a transsexual he tightened the cuffs. He was going to be nice and let me keep my Burger King when he thought I was a girl, but after he realized I wasn't, he just stomped on it.
Interestingly, at the station Kira says she was shown more sensitivity:
The cops at the police station didn't know what to do with me. They were like, "We have never seen one as passable as you. We don't want to get in your business, but what do you have down there?" I was in shock. I told them, "Look, I'm a pre-op transsexual; I have breasts and a penis. Whatever the fuck you have to do, just make sure I'm safe." A female officer strip-searched the top half of my body and a man searched my bottom half.
Kira had a physical at Riker's Island and was offered "homo housing" by a doctor, only to find out that it had been shut down and she was to be placed with the general population — the general male population. This is fairly common: according to the National Center For Lesbian Rights,
Transsexual people who have not had genital surgery are generally classified according to their birth sex for purposes of prison housing, regardless of how long they may have lived as a member of the other gender, and regardless of how much other medical treatment they may have undergone — a situation which puts male-to-female transsexual women at great risk of sexual violence.
Kira's experience was certainly harrowing and painful, but it wasn't all violence and harassment: Here too, the cops showed Kira some kindness: "Thankfully, the cops gave me a triple-extra-large jumpsuit to hide my breasts." Another inmate helped her figure out a time to shower when the inmates weren't around to see her. One of the gangs controlling the cell block "told me I had to pack up and leave or I would be stabbed or killed. I guess I was lucky, because they told me that if I wasn't a transvestite I wouldn't have received a warning."
But in another situation, a man "was responsible for making a rule that only I could shower at 7:30 in the morning so 'nobody would bother me.' But the real reason he made that rule was so he could watch me shower while he jerked his dick into a urinal."
Harassment from guards was a staple of Kira's experience: "They'd show me off to other inmates and say stuff like, "Doesn't this one look female?" It was so embarrassing." In Attica, where she was placed for dental treatment, a guard said, "Since you're a fucking faggot, I'm not going to put you in the cell with other men because you're going to be too busy sucking dicks all day long."
Kira is by no means alone in her experience, as indicated by the above trailer from Cruel And Unusual, a film about several transgender and transsexual people's experiences in prison. The film specifically argues that people who live as women on the outside should be allowed to serve their prison terms as women too.