My first 5 days in the RDC intake quarantine area of WCCW has passed fairly uneventfully. Once I was put in my room (not cell) I thought it odd that nobody was calling out on the tier. We are on 23 hour lock-down on this pod because of covid protocols. But… There were no chess games on the tier, nobody playing cell warrior, none of those things I have come to expect of a group people locked in their cells for long periods of time. I could faintly hear the the sound of roommates (not cellies) passing the time in conversation.
I decided to sit back and wait. See how things worked as the day passed. I knew curiosity would eventually cause someone to ask me some questions. There was no talking on the tier til lunch. As each person went to get her lunch she would have a quick exchange with people in the other rooms. Thus I was unsurprised when I went to get my lunch and was asked “Hey new girl, what’s your name and where you from?”
“Amber, and I came from Monroe.”
“That’s the men’s prison.” She replied, mildly scandalized.
“Yeah, I just did fourteen years in men’s prison. They just finally transferred me here, I’m trans.”
That was a terrifying moment for me. I know that in prison everyone’s secrets are one phone call and a Google search away. Anyone can get my dead name and DOC (which are prominently displayed on my ID) and look up my whole history. This would be true even without this project. Honesty is the only lath to acceptance. After a short pause the response I got was wonderfully underwhelming. A couple of woman said “Hello” and introduced themselves. I was past the first hurdle, outing myself. Weirdly, the one trans man on the tier did not introduce himself and made a point of never jumping into a conversation I was a part of.
The rest of the day passed the same way as the morning. Quiet on the tier except at dinner where people said “Hi” and small pieces of news. I made a point of waving to anyone who looked at my door. Some waved back, others didn’t. This gave me a sense of who was open to conversation and who wasn’t. As evening count approached I finally worked up the courage to shout out my door and ask a couple questions. Apparently, it wasn’t an especially quiet day, people just didn’t spend a ton of time talking on the tier. I pointed out that I was board in a room by myself. A couple of people talked to me for the next 15 minutes then called it a night. I think I made a good impression because this has continued each night since.
The women here possess a patience and restraint that I’m not used to seeing in incarcerated people. I think by showing similar qualities I made it easy for people to accept me. This is in contrast to one cis woman on the tier. She shows herself to be rash and quick to complain and she is not being generally accepted by everyone on the tier. I think this may be an important lesson for women coming here to take to heart. Any kind of cell banging, or insistence that “I want what I have coming” or covering up the window to force the DOC to “take it seriously” is going to come off as selfish, entitled, and immature in comparison to the tactics the women here use to get our needs met.
I wasn’t able to get any time out of the cell to shower or use the phone for the first 2 days I was here. Nor did my neighbors. So at the end of the second day of us not getting any out time, we discussed the problem collectively and brought it up to the Sgt. The trick was, none of us brought up our own problem. Each of us would tell the Sgt how not getting out was impacting someone else, forcing the Sgt to go talk to that person who would simply confirm what was just said and again direct the Sgt to another person’s issue. Getting time out of the cell was conceived as, discussed, and ultimately solved as a collective problem. In a men’s facility each individual person would have argued to be let out of the cell separately. Each person using a variety of tactics such as begging, screaming, covering up the window, and being a general pain in the ass. Some people would would get out of the cell and others wouldn’t. Whereas, with a collective approach, all of us were able to get out of the cell that evening and the next day the c/o in the booth ran our out times had changed to make sure everyone got out in the future.
Shortly after that I was given a roommate. Once again I was worried about my trans-ness being a problem. But it ended up, again, being a non-issue. After a few days of living together she confessed to me she was more worried we would have some sort of conflict over me doing or saying something racist (because I’m white and she’s black) than me being a pre-op trans woman. But when it became clear that we weren’t going to have any conflict between us, racial, gendered, or otherwise, we were both able to relax and we’ve been getting along great since.
At this point things have settled into a routine and I have a fairly good idea what what time will look like for the next 10 days. At that point I will be moved to B-wing and get a lot more time out of the cell and have an opportunity to get to know more people. Of course, this means there’s more chances that someone transphobic person will cause problems for me.
Thus far, my only complaints stem from the way the DOC is handling my transfer. They did not honor my chain bag so I don’t have any of the hygiene items I need to to take care of myself. A chain bag is similar to a carry on bag at the airport. There’s a bunch of rules about what can and can’t be put in a chain bag. My other complaint is that I don’t know who to ask to get various things taken care of. Like, I need extra razors to keep my face shaved. They gave me one for free and it was so cheep that I was only able to get two shaves out of it. It’s one thing to say “you will be given accommodations for being trans.”It’s quite another to get them to tell me what those accommodations are and how to get access to them. The real trick is that I will not be given accommodations if I don’t specifically ask for them.
I have a long way to go towards finding my place here and figure out what it means to be a woman surrounded by women. I feel I’ve made a very good start. I also feel like it will be much easier for me to find good people who will help me find my my way than I previously feared.