Showers and Pat Searches


We have a minor victory.

I finally convinced the unit manager to give me access to a second shower curtain so I now don’t have to worry about people tying to spy on me when I’m in the shower… well, as much.

In Washington’s prisons we refer to such people as “shower sharks.” It was getting to be a problem for a while until I called in the cavalry (people I hang out with) to help me make that boundary particularly clear to some peculiar individuals. I’ll leave it at that. Hopefully the second shower curtain will prevent future problems by making it far more difficult for someone to try and spy on me in the shower.

Since I’m the only out/on hormones trans person currently in A/B unit, I’m not sure how much this will help others, but it’s something. I’m half tempted to encourage some of the people I know who are “body shy” or are worried about being victimized to raise the following point:

Access to a second shower curtain shouldn’t just be available to trans folks, but anyone that feels the need for privacy in the shower.
I honestly don’t know why all the shower stalls don’t have double curtains, they all have two shower rods. One on the outside of the “changing stall” — which is essentially a pair of bathroom stall walls that extend out from the shower stall — and one on the shower itself. Up to this point there is only the one curtain on the outside of the changing stall. Thus, people could peek over or under it while I was showering and did so on multiple occasions.

The PREA specialist and grievance office here at WSR both downplayed the importance of preventing “shower sharks” and claimed that there was no problem. I’ve been raising this issue for almost a year, ever since they did the shower remodel which added the changing stalls to all the showers. And now something has finally been done about it. In short…

The DoC saying “that’s not a real problem” is very common when I raise any issue. According to DoC policy,  male officers and staff are not allowed to pat-search or strip search “female offenders,” which is great. However, much like many other government and corporate entities, they don’t define the word “female.” So their argument goes that since I am in a men’s prison, I must be male for the purposes of their policies. This is another problem that they claim is not a problem. To the extent that when I raised this issue with the captain she, instead of following federal law that says officers cannot do cross gender strip searches (PREA Standard 115.15) or the state law that says it is illegal to discriminate against someone due to their gender identity (RCW 49.60.030 and RCW 49.60.040) she ordered training for all officers and staff on the “correct” way of searching trans inmates. The correct way of pat searching a trans femme inmate is to call a female officer over to do the pat search! The correct way of strip searching a pre-op trans femme inmate (like me) is to have a female officer present for searching my “top half” then let me put at minimum my bra back on and the male officer do the bottom if the female officer is uncomfortable with that. This is the policy in other prisons in the USA and elsewhere and needs to be the policy in Washington.

It’s not like I’m putting forward just what I want, which would be to not be strip or pat-searched at all, Further more, I don’t want a man in the room at all if I’m disrobing. However, it would be wrong to subject a female officer to anything she doesn’t want to see.

It’s a complex issue, but it’s not like the solution isn’t already out there. The Wa DoC just doesn’t want to hear it.

In November, the Wa DoC is undergoing a PREA Compliance Audit. I’m trying to find out how to make sure the auditors know I want to speak with them about all these issues. So if you happen to be a PREA auditor and you’re reading this, and by some amazing coincidence you just so happen to be coming to Washington state… please pencil me in for an appointment. We should talk.


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