Op-Ed: Unique’s fight for justice and a place to call home

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]rans people are being killed at alarming rates. In detention. In the streets. In their homes. And we aren’t paying enough attention.

Too often profiled and brutalized by police, trans women, particularly trans women of color, cannot walk down the street safely and are disproportionately funneled into the criminal punishment system. In a recent study, 21 percent of transgender women, and 47 percent of black transgender women, had experienced incarceration at some point in their lives.

Once incarcerated, our trans siblings are fighting for their basic survival needs every day – locked in isolation for “protection”, begging for basic health care, filing grievance after grievance, hoping someone will hear them, but then nothing. Just the ongoing horrors of more concrete and more violence.

Unique Taylor, a trans woman and survivor of sexual violence, has spent the last eighteen years in prison navigating these horrors. You can read her story here.

Unfortunately, Unique’s story is all too common.

Like Unique, Chelsea Manning, Ophelia De’lonta, Michelle Kosilek and countless other trans women have fought for years just to get the medical treatment they urgently need while in prison.

Like Unique, Patti Shaw, Passion Star, Dee Farmer and countless others have been abused and assaulted by other prisoners and staff while incarcerated.

Like Unique, most trans women are held in solitary confinement for months, years and even decades.

After almost twenty years, Unique is finally preparing to leave prison. She has fought to survive, fought to be Unique, fought to maintain hope that her life can be more than the 8 by 12 foot box where she has spent the last year and a half. Her Boulder-based attorneys have sent her information about local transgender organizations in Colorado and the support networks that are available there. Unique wants to be released to Colorado where she can build a life with people who will understand and affirm who she is and how hard she has worked just to survive.

But the Bureau of Prisons plans to send Unique to Tennessee, where she was first arrested almost two decades ago. They want to send her to a state known for systemic violence and discrimination towards trans people.

During her most recent BOP transfer from a facility in Tucson to ADX Florence, the supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, where she is currently held in solitary confinement, Unique reflected on the world around her:

“It was dark out and [Oklahoma City] was so beautiful to me. It was a flickering Martian city that night. I could’ve been on Mars for all my sensory deprived mind could discern. I looked at some of the streets and imagined what it was like to just drive around, drive home. Then I started thinking about my home and realized I didn’t have one, (and) that I hadn’t been home since I was 16.

“But sometimes home isn’t really home, you know?”

Unique deserves a home. We all do. All she is asking for is a chance to live. In Colorado, after all these years, she might just be able to have that.

Join us and demand that BOP release Unique to Colorado!

Use the hashtag #StandwithUnique to tell her story on Twitter, Facebook and social media.

Share her story with friends, family, and on list-servs.

Call or email the Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels at (202) 307-3198, info@bop.gov and ADX’s Warden J. Oliver at (719) 784-9464, FLM/ExecAssistant@bop.gov.

Voice a concern on the Bureau of Prisons website at http://www.bop.gov/inmates/concerns.jsp, by entering the name under which Unique is incarcerated, Richard McBee, and her inmate number 05628-017.

Sample message: I’m calling/writing to express my concern over the treatment of Unique Taylor, incarcerated under the name, Richard McBee, #05628-017.  As a transgender woman Unique is particularly vulnerable to violence both in and out of prison. In order to ensure that she is able to safely leave prison and to have the opportunity for a successful reentry, please take the necessary steps to release her to Colorado. For more information about the violence and discrimination that transgender people experience, read this report: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf.

And if you are in Colorado and would like to offer Unique support upon her release, please e-mail Kathryn Stevenson at kstevenson@jbk-law.com.

How did your calls go? Tweet #standwithunique on Twitter and let us know.

Some sample tweets:

Enough is enough! Help bring Unique to Colorado. #standwithunique.

We all deserve a home. Send Unique to Colorado. #standwithunique.