No Fairy Tale
Some stories just don’t have happy endings.
A transgender teenager only identified as “Jane Doe,” has been in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for roughly 11 of her 16 years. Her father was in prison, her mother was heavily involved in drugs, and she was physically abused. The state stepped in, taking her into their custody.
I like to think that – after being removed from a dangerous, abusive household – she would by now have a “sweet sixteen” party or something with her loving adoptive parents. I want to believe in that Cinderella story of the ill-treated child being rescued by a fairy godmother in the guise of a court-appointed social worker.
It’s a good fantasy that is nothing like the truth. Instead of escaping abuse, “Jane Doe” has faced rape, physical assault, and other abuse as a ward of the state. She’s seemingly faced much worse in custody than in the environment she was pulled from.
She was sent home to her mother at age 15, and ended up in sex work to survive. She again found herself in DCF custody.
Then at the beginning of 2014, things changed and “Jane Doe” ended up in a quarrel with a staff member of the DCF. Things got very physical, and the staff member was reported to have suffered a broken jaw and temporary blindness due to the attack.
The story doesn’t get better here, however. At this point, the DCF decided to simply throw in the towel. They determined they could not provide care for “Jane Doe” within their facilities.
She was placed at the York Correctional Institute for Women for evaluation, which has included days of prison lockup and isolation.
In Connecticut, prisoners – including transgender prisoners – are segregated based on their genitals. While “Jane Doe” has been housed at York at current, it is quite likely she would be transferred to an all-male prison in the near future.
Now there’s a couple things that, if you have been reading closely, I have not mentioned. She has not been convicted of a crime and there are no charges against her, including for the assault of a DCF staffer in January. She should not be facing a prison sentence.
Also, should be sent to prison – again, without any charges being held against her – this 16-year-old transwoman would be sent to an adult prison. All because the Department of Children and Families decided they cannot do their job in regards to “Jane Doe.”
“While in DCF custody, I have suffered immensely,” “Jane Doe” was quoted in the Advocate. “I feel that DCF has failed to protect me from harm, and I am now thrown into prison because they have refused to help me.”
I find myself baffled by this story. Who is being served by locking her away? Being locked up certainly does not help “Jane Doe” herself. I fail to see how sending her to an adult, all-male prison, without so much as being charged for a crime, will improve her life. If anything, I see this being yet another situation that will lead to yet more abuse.
I cannot help but think of the story of Jewlyes Gutierrez, another 16-year-old transwoman. While at her high school in Hercules, California last November, she was assaulted by a number of other girls at the school. This was part of a pattern of bullying that went back over several years – and one that school officials seemingly turned a blind eye to.
This last time, Gutierrez fought back against her tormentors. As a result, she was charged with battery for defending herself while her attackers did not face any charges.
I also think of CeCe McDonald, a 25-year-old transwoman of color living in Minnesota. She and several friends of hers passed a local tavern, where a group of people shouted homophobic, transphobic, and racist sluts at McDonald and her friends. A fight ensued, instigated by the individuals in front of the tavern. In the course of the altercation, one of the tavern goers, Dean Schmitz, was fatally stabbed.
In the aftermath, McDonald ended up with a 41-month sentence in a men’s prison.
McDonald and Gutierrez – both young transwomen – were defending themselves from violence. Both ended up on charges for their troubles. Their prison stories, however, have happy endings.
Gutierrez has seen the battery charges against herself dropped with her completion of a conflict resolution program. This program included her working through some of the issues with one of the girls who bullied her.
McDonald was released in January, just 19 months into her sentence. She is now working with transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox on a documentary on her experience. She’s also been busy advocating on behalf of others in prison – including “Jane Doe.”
Perhaps with the help of McDonald and so many others, “Jane Doe” will also get a happy ending. Like I said, I want to believe that some sort of justice will prevail. As of this writing, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has issued a statement, asking that “Jane Doe” be moved out of prison “as quickly as possible.”
Yet I also wonder how many John or Jane Does we have never heard of. With the prevalence of social media now, it is harder for such cases as these three to fall through the cracks — yet I cannot help but assume more are out there.
How many other stories have no happy end? We may never know – but I’d like to see a world were more of them do: a world where transpeople don’t end up incarcerated simply for defending themselves or – worse yet – because someone decides they just don’t care about them.
By Gwen Smith