Transgender prisoners are being failed by the system

Transgender prisoners are being failed by the system

Here's what needs to change — A crowd gathered at Pentonville Prison in London last night on Trans Prisoner Day of Action, with events held globally to highlight issues facing trans prisoners: denied hormones, misgendered, facing disproportionate levels of mental health issues, violence and abuse. Campaigner Kuchenga Shenjé addressed the vigil, and her speech is produced below.


Why are we here?

We are here because the prison industrial complex wants us to believe that police, prisons & surveillance are necessary to maintain social order. But we know this to be untrue. We know this to be very far from a beautiful truth.


We are here because to present as women in our society is to be vulnerable to punishment in all spheres of our lives.

We are here because we must fight in order to transform and transcend.

We are here because Sister Zora Neale Hurston warned us: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

When we say Black lives matter, we mean ALL Black Lives. We are here because Black women matter: cis, trans* and intersex. We are here because non-binary people exist, and they are vulnerable in a prison system that doesn’t acknowledge that. We are here because we have to say their names.

We are here standing in solidarity with all trans women and their deplorable treatment in this prison industrial complex. We are here to state that the denial of hormones, placing women in men’s prisons and in solitary confinement is killing us. Jenny Swift like many other women died unnecessarily. This cannot continue.


We are reminded of the words of the essential Janet Mock: “This pervasive idea that trans women deserve violence needs to be abolished. It’s a socially sanctioned practice of blaming the victim. We must begin blaming our culture which stigmatises, demeans and strips trans women of their humanity.”

We are fighting for our freedom and our vision is de-colonial.

We are fighting for our freedom and our vision is abolitionist.

We are fighting for our freedom and our vision is radically inclusive because we intend to win, together.

We are here because our politics is intersectional. Our politics gives us a framework for action and a blueprint for practice.  We are making the choice to see and to recognise the limits of our own experience and extend our notion of freedom to those who live lives we could not understand.

Audre Lorde said it: “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

We can no longer allow our narratives to be shrouded in silence. Our narratives are the product of multiple, interlocking oppressions. It is with openness and fluidity and willingness to interrogate power that we feminists expect from men in alliance, that women of colour should expect from white women, and that trans people must expect from cis people, who so claim to be their siblings. And our incarcerated families can too expect it from us, who do not have to call prison our home.


We must all hold, as expectations for ourselves, a commitment to be consistently attentive to all aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience, so that all of us can bring our full selves to the movement. We must begin by listening.

Jenny Swift. Our most recent victim of state sanctioned violence that is withholding the hormonal treatment of those who feel they cannot go on without it. If we can hear Jenny Swift, we must listen to all women who are victims of police violence. Of state-sanctioned violence. As we continue to listen for Jenny Swift we must also listen to all women who have been sexually abused, and all women whose self-defence is deemed punishable. And we must believe them when they speak their truths.

When we show up for Jenny Swift, we must show up for all those who live with mental health issues and for those who are not given the support, recognition and respect they deserve.

We must show up for working-class women who are disproportionately punished by the prison industrial complex.

We must show up for mothers.

We must show up for Black mothers, for whom the act of giving birth to their beautiful Black children will be a vulnerable and dangerous one until the world is a safe space for the flesh of Black people.


When we say her name, we are saying that we won’t allow our mothers and our daughters and our siblings to die in silence. When we say her name, women like Jenny Swift become visible. Our narratives become heard. If our movements are not actively centring multiple oppressions, they remain complicit in them.

We must be vigilant in our commitment to resisting the silences that are created when we try to combat the prison industrial complex as if it works alone, in a vacuum. We must expand our notion of what gender-based violence looks like, from private violence to state violence, and in the greyness, that occupies invisible spaces.

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each other and support each other.

In the mighty words of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy: “We have to look out for each other because we’re all we’ve got. The rest of the world really doesn’t give a shit if we live or die. And the thing is when the dust settles I want a whole lot of transgender girls to stand up and say WE ARE STILL FUCKING HERE!”

For more information, check out the Bent Bars Project

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