Photo by Lena Balk on Unsplash

It was so hot on the prison yard in South Florida, my sweat was sweating. I looked in the mirror to check my hair and makeup to the chuckles of some of the gawking male inmates standing around watching me. I am one of about 50 trans women housed in this men’s prison of around 1,500 people. 

I had just run two miles, and was heading for my yoga spot. That’s my normal routine Monday through Friday when we get recreation time. 

Out in the field, one of the girl gangs were squabbling about some drama. They are one of the three or four girl gangs we have here. Like most gangs, I’m told they started out under a noble premise, to protect the vulnerable LGBT community here. But like the others, they quickly descended into debauchery: robbing, stealing, assaults, illegal enterprise and drug abuse. 

On my other side, a bunch of hot sweaty guys were battling it out on the basketball court. A cop yelled at them to put their shirts on. Damn! So much for THAT yoga meditation. 

Florida has jumped by leaps and bounds in its treatment of transgender women. Unfortunately, inmates have put the program in jeopardy through their idiocy. My counselor told me the program is in danger of being shut down because of the overwhelming amount of security problems caused by the girl gangs, here and across the state. 

I arrived here at Dade Correctional Institution in January 2019 for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment for my gender dysphoria. Here I sit, wearing my female undergarments, with makeup, long hair, and now two months on my hormones. It still amazes me that I’m here. 

I began pursuing treatment for my gender dysphoria in 2017, two years before I arrived at Dade Correctional. 

In July 2017, the Florida Department of Corrections came out with a procedure for dysphoria and provisions to send qualifying inmates to Zephyrhills Correctional Institution (ZCI), east of Tampa, Florida for diagnosis and treatment. ZCI decided they were not prepared to handle us and the program was temporarily suspended. Due to the diligence of the American Civil Liberties Union in concert with some of our heroes in the fight, such as Reiyn Keohane, Mom Kat, Jamie B., Sara M., and Claire Wakulla, some rights have been restored. 

I went through some challenges with medical and mental health staff at first, but when they realized I was for real, they tried to do what they could. At that time, and maybe even now, ignorance of the procedures prevailed at many prisons. 

At one point, I was told that there were around 260 transgender inmates in the Florida prison system. When I arrived here, the program was still in its fledgling state. Staff and inmates alike were trying to adapt to our differences in presentation. It was a little rough going with some of the more bigoted ones, but overall things smoothed out once some of the girls began receving approvals. Misinformation reigned for a time however.

For example, the counselor at my previous camp said I would be sent to Dade for 14 days to undergo my evaluation. I would be placed in group therapy while I was here. Then, if and when approved, I would be sent back there with passes, prescriptions and instructions. That didn’t happen. It was a waiting game for all of us, and still is for many. 

It took from January 30 to May 23 of 2021 for me to get my evaluations. My approvals came on June 28, four days after my birthday. I saw the endocrinologist on September 6 and started my meds on the 18th. I’m still going through the process to get my follow up. 

But over this past year, things have become more streamlined. It now isn’t taking as long as it did for some of the first trans women here. 

I have to give kudos to all of the mental health staff here. They have worked tirelessly, advocating and fighting for our rights. They have endured criticism from all sides, not to mention ungrateful and impatient women. Yet they persist in trying to help. The staff and administration here have been helpful as well, weeding out and chastening bigots who were harassing us. 

The Florida Department of Corrections and Dade Correctional, in particular, have gone out of their way, for the most part, to accommodate our needs. There are a bunch of us who fought to get some rights and privileges we currently enjoy. 

But the gang problem may bring this to an end. I have love for all my trans brothers and sisters, but it seems a lot of them were raised in a generation where they think it’s all about them. That mentality continues to victimize the rest of us. 

No one lives by themselves, and no one dies by themselves. We all affect everyone else with our actions, whether positive or negative. Like dropping a stone in a pond, the ripples reach the farthest shores. 

Still I rise. 

This is my meditation as I sit in the not-even-close-to lotus, under the beautiful blue sky polka dotted with puffy white clouds. Namaste. God Bless You.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Alisha Ward

Alisha Michelle Ward is a trans writer at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City, Florida.