Prison forces trans woman into solitary confinement at a men’s facility

Prison forces trans woman into solitary confinement at a men’s facility

Washington state prison officials have transferred a transgender woman incarcerated at a women’s prison to a men’s prison last week, marking the first time a trans person was removed from gender-affirming housing by the department.

On Friday, Amber Kim was forcibly taken from the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), where she had resided for three and a half years, to a men’s prison facility called the Monroe Correctional Complex.

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When Kim realized she was being removed, she asked to speak with her lawyer and see paperwork authorizing the transfer, which was denied. Kim then refused to walk as commanded, at which point she was allegedly thrown to the ground by guards, who tied her ankles and wrists together and put her in the back of an SUV, she said.

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At Monroe Correctional Complex, Kim was put into solitary confinement, for allegedly “refusing transfer.” In March, she became the subject of a transphobic National Review article that revealed she had engaged in sexual relations with another inmate, a common occurrence but a violation of the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) rules. The article misgendered and deadnamed her, and resulted in an investigation into the leak since the DOC views gender identity as confidential information.

Having sex as an inmate, even consensually, is considered a “504 infraction.” So Kim was moved to a different, more restrictive part of the prison, a move she assumed would be temporary. However, Kim’s counselor told her that prison officials recommended she be moved out of the women’s prison but did not give a reason. Kim suspects the 504 infraction was the cause.

“Cis women get caught having sex all the time and nothing happens. Maybe they get moved to a different cell or pod,” Kim told The Huffington Post. Kim is on a hunger strike, and has been since Friday, demanding to be transferred back.

“I just want to be treated the same as every other woman here,” she said. When asked for a reason behind Kim’s transfer, the DOC said the “housing review was initiated because of Kim’s most recent sexual contact with another incarcerated individual.”

“Both individuals were infracted and Kim admitted multiple times to the consensual sexual contact. DOC policy does not permit any sex, even if consensual, in prison.” Wright wrote to the author of the story.

Starr Lake, who was incarcerated at WCCW for over 20 years, told the aforementioned publication that sex among inmates is extremely common. “Life doesn’t stop because people are in prison,” she said.

Inmates “really do their best to live their life as normally as they can within the confines of the institution they’re in — and so that means having relationships, making connections and behaving as any healthy adult would,” Lake added.

Though much sexual contact is not seen by prison staff, there have been 33 “504 infractions” at WCCW since January 2021, around the time Kim arrived. However, Wright told The Huffington Post via email that Kim’s “is the only one that resulted in a transfer to another facility.”

A.D. Lewis is an attorney who worked with trans people incarcerated in Washington and now runs the Prison Law Office’s Trans Beyond Bars project. Lewis said that “if a trans person allegedly breaks a prison rule, they will be treated differently and punished more harshly than non-trans people.”

The DOC’s “own policies have come to recognize that trans people exist in prisons and face significant danger — their own decision to transfer Amber to a women’s prison [in 2021] indicates their recognition that she is, in fact, a trans woman who faces danger in men’s prisons,” according to Seattle University School of Law Professor Dean Spade.

He noted that the DOC’s “current position to transfer her to a men’s prison is out of line with their own policy requirements and the most basic requirements they are under to prevent grievous harm to her.”

“Nothing changed about who she is,” Spade said.

A fellow inmate spoke highly of Kim. Lisa Kanamu said, “I love Amber dearly,” and described her as smart, “dry funny,” and exceedingly generous, volunteering her time to help others learn math. “She didn’t deserve this,” Kanamu said.

As of now, Kim has spent the last week locked in a solitary confinement cell for nearly 24 hours a day. She may shower three times a week. The aforementioned publication reported that it took a day and a half for prison staff to provide her with gender-appropriate undergarments, and two days until she had phone access.

When she talked to a Huffington Post reporter on the phone from solitary confinement, she said, “I’m just scared it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.”

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