One of the earliest pieces the Prison Journalism Project published was Patricia Elane Trimble’s “A Mother’s Hidden Fears,” a moving account of what the COVID-19 threat means for the LGBTQ community behind the walls, especially transgender prisoners.
“I worry about my health, something new to me considering I lived most of my life in a constant suicidal state,” she wrote. “I have been on hormone therapy since 2018 and have watched as my body transformed itself into the woman I have always known myself to be… Since I have only experienced optimism for the future in the past two years, I would like to experience more of it with the goal of completing my transition before I pass on.”
We knew we were hearing from a clear-eyed writer willing to speak for those who couldn’t. Patricia stands out for her impassioned, historically-aware commentary on the failings of the prison system and, more broadly, of society. She has called Americans out for caring more about dogs than incarcerated people, and for profiting from their labor. In her piece on the origins of the LGBT movement, she pointed out that assaults on freedom can sometimes come from like-minded advocates. And she reminded us that Martin Luther King also wrote from behind jail bars.
Q&A with Patricia Trimble
As journalists, we always seek answers to the five most important questions we want our readers to know: who, what, when, where, and why. We sometimes throw in a how. We asked Patricia these questions so our readers get to know her better.
Who are you? Tell us a little about your background and what you’d like readers to know about you.
I have been incarcerated on and off since I was 8 years old. Although I accept responsibility for all of my transgressions, I firmly believe my life would have taken a different path had I been able to express my true self at a young age. Being transgender in 1960’s rural Missouri with a dedicated Baptist for a father was not conducive to a healthy or happy life.
I have been incarcerated for 41 consecutive years. I’ve survived a death sentence and I recognize my incarceration is, in fact, not a waste of my life. I have educated myself, earned a GED diploma and attended two colleges. While a student of St. Louis University, I maintained a 4.0 GPA and made the Dean’s List. I was honored to have had an academic paper published in the LGBTQ Policy Journal, a publication of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
When did you start expressing yourself through writing? Tell us your origins as a writer.
As a teenager I would write about how unfair life was and how being forced to live as a male when I knew I was supposed to be female was ripping me apart from the inside. I expressed my anger as well as my sadness through writing. Although the written word was the only safe way for me to express myself, I still had to be cryptic because what I wrote was an expression of my womanhood, and no one could see the letters I wrote to myself. Luckily, we had a burn barrel behind our house for trash, and my personal writings.
What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling? What genres do you prefer?
Most of my work are essays about true life experiences. I do however tend to write in a journalistic style, which is where I have been most successful.
Where do you find the inspiration, or ideas, for your writing?
I’m a staunch advocate of LGBTQ rights within the prison system, and I’m Missouri’s spokesperson for the Prison Abolitionist Organization “Black and Pink.” The actions and inactions of the prison administration are a never-ending source of inspiration, but writing about the successes of my girls coming into their own—that is what drives me and is my passion.
Why do you think writing is important for incarcerated men and women? Why should people on the outside read your stories?
Those who are incarcerated seldom have a voice. Those wrongfully convicted have no voice. Those who find themselves abused by staff, fellow prisoners or simply the system itself, have no voice. We can stand in the middle of the yard screaming about the abuses. No one would listen or care because inside our prisons, prisoners are reduced to simply a number. A number has no voice.
By writing about experiences, whether in an essay or journalistic style, and sending these writings out into the world for others to read, you sometimes have a voice. If you can find your audience, you not only have a voice, but you have a voice that can matter and bring about changes.
How would you like to be remembered and thought of as a person?
The bio written about me for the Harvard article says it better than I could. It reads: “Patricia Elane Trimble is a transgender feminist, activist and advocate for the incarcerated LGBTQ community… Ms. Trimble lobbies Missouri legislators and prison administrators for changes to both Missouri laws and prison policies to end mandatory minimum sentences and institute meaningful programs for the rehabilitation of LGBTQ offenders.”.
The only addition I would make is this: Nothing I do is designed to put my name out there for recognition or sympathy, and nothing I do is in hope of future leniency or a bid for freedom. We all have a purpose in life. Mine is to help mend those who are broken as well as the lost souls who find themselves held prisoner, left to their own devices as acceptable LGBTQ casualties. I want to help return them to society whole and able to thrive. It is important to me that you know this because my fight is for those who still have a chance at living their dreams. I am 61 years young, I’ve been incarcerated for 41 years and this is my destiny, my purpose for being.