BY KIM WHITING
Meagan lives in an exclusive gated community in Southern California: the RJ Donovan Correctional facility near San Diego. Meagan’s given name is Lupe Calvillo, and she isn’t your typical inmate. She’s biologically male but identifies as female, serving her sentence behind bars as a transgender woman, in a prison for men.
I met Meagan about four years ago, via my volunteer work with inmates. She has quite the rap sheet: burglaries, drugs, possession of guns, use of firearms, and is currently serving two decades for car theft and DUI. This is definitely not her first prison rodeo. Nonetheless, She’s a whirlwind of positivity, a bubble of happy, a master of appreciation and gratitude, and so loving. It’s amazing to me (miraculous even) that she maintains this positivity in the midst of a 20-year sentence in the steely, shadowed, homophobic/transphobic world of maximum-security prison.
The few images I have of Meagan don’t at all capture the effervescent person I’ve come to know through the words in her letters, and her voice over the phone. I’d love to see a smiling photo of her. We’ve been waiting more than a year for the prison to host another photo event so that I can get that smiling shot.
The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) says it is committed to providing an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and professionalism and that the CDCR code of conduct requires employees to “respect the rights of others, regardless of age, ancestry, color, disability?sex/gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”? In 2015, CDCR agreed in a lawsuit (Quine v. Beard) to revise its policies to allow transgender inmates access to property items (clothing, makeup, hygiene and personal care items, etc.) consistent with their gender identity. These policies were updated in 2017 and codified into law effective May 15, 2018.
Meagan’s life not only illustrates the issues facing transgender/gender dysphoric inmates, but it highlights the societal factors that often lead transgender individuals to prison in the first place. According to studies and research by Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ people,Nearly one in six transgender Americans has been to prison, and nearly half of all black transgender people.
According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police. The difficulty in finding employment can lead those who identify as trans to engage in survival crimes such as sex work, which increases the likelihood that they’ll end up incarcerated. Additionally, state and local laws make it challenging for transgender people to update driver’s licenses, birth certificates and other identification records with accurate name and gender markers. This, in turn, makes it hard for transgender people to secure bank accounts, attend school, or get a job.
As a former psychotherapist, I’m aware that the trajectory toward prison normally begins long before It’s time to get a bank account or job. Because of this, I wanted to start with Meagan’s story from the beginning, in order to better understand the challenges that transgender individuals face, and what leads so many of them to prison. Memory is a fluid thing, a story-telling of the mind. What we remember does not always exactly adhere to the facts, but I believe Meagan was frank and forthright with me as she laid out her life in great detail, in hopes of fostering a deeper understanding of transgender life behind bars.
KW: Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview Meagan. I’d like to begin by going way back. Tell us a little about your childhood and growing up transgender.
MEAGAN: I love that you’re doing this! I’m so happy that you’re willing to let me tell some of my story and hope it helps people understand and accept transgender people and have some compassion for trans people with a criminal record.
KW: That’s my hope as well.
MEAGAN: I was raised by my grandparents in Santa Ana, California. My parents had legal custody of me until I was six, but my grandparents were the ones who took care of me. My mom was out of the picture by the time I was a toddler, either in prison or running with the Mexican Mafia. My dad was a heroin addict and also a career criminal. He was in prison or on the streets quite a bit, but when he got tired of running, he’d come to my grandparents’ house. I know he worked some construction and my grandfather gave him work with the blacktop company he worked for. I cherished the times he was around, but I don’t remember how often that was, or how much my dad worked at legit jobs when he was home.
I have just a few memories of my father, but they are overall good ones, even though the last memory I have of him was so devastating. My father lived in a garage-turned-tiny living space in the back of my grandparents’ house. I lived in the house with them. My favorite memory is standing on my father’s feet as he danced me around his living quarters and sang to me. It delighted me.
I also have vague memories of visiting him in prisons. One time a guard picked me up without permission and I cried hysterically. My father became very upset and took me into his loving arms and calmed be down.
Sadly, the last memory I have of him is when I was about six-years-old. I went to his apartment to dance with him on his feet, and found him on the floor with a needle still in his arm, his body cold. My grandma tried to revive him, but it was too late. I saw him again in a casket and remember the casket being lowered into the ground at a cemetery, next to his brothers, one who died in a car crash and the other who also died of an overdose. After that, my memories are of visiting lawyers and my custody transfer to my grandparents.
I didn’t have any contact with my mom after about the age of two, so I really don’t have childhood memories of her, other than what was told to me about her constant incarceration, involvement in the Mexican Mafia, and later, her marriage to the shot-caller of the Mexican Mafia in Orange County. I learned that I had half-sisters (my mom’s daughters with another man) who had been adopted by a loving family when they were very little. I very much wanted to meet them, but legally wasn’t allowed to.
At around five-years-old, I found that I had a longing to be a girl, to dress pretty and smell good like they did, and to have the anatomy of a girl. As I got older, I saw females as being superior to males. Sexually, I worshipped everything about females and was interested in sex and sexual parts a lot earlier than most kids. I wanted to be a girl and was also sexually attracted to them. Lots of girls came over to visit our family. They were my friends and accepted me as one of them. I didn’t know the categories of sexuality back then, but now that I’m an adult, I see myself as a lesbian or bisexual.
I was spoiled by my grandparents. They treated me kindly and were affectionate. They gave me no restrictions or curfews, which I loved, but was probably not good for me in the long run.
I felt I had a great life as a child. I ate well, had nice clothes and a loving home.
KW: Your positive take on your childhood is admirable. Did you have contact with your mom in later years?
MEAGAN: It wasn’t until my first incarceration, at the age of 21 in 1995 (more on this later) that I was contacted by my mom. I was going to marry a black woman. (I met her before I was arrested. When I got to prison, she visited me and we talked about getting married so that we could have family visits.) The news that I was thinking about marrying a black woman got back to my mom. For a woman in the Mexican Mafia, having a son married to a black woman is a serious no-no and she let me know that. It was the first time she had made contact with me since I was a toddler and she wrote to berate me for marrying interracially. I married the woman anyway. My mom then told me that my half-sisters had reconnected with her (when they turned 18) but that they wanted nothing to do with me. She said that she and my half- sisters would never mention me to their families because they abhorred incarcerated people and anyone who identified as anything but straight. I was very hurt. It seems like the sole reason she wrote me was to hurt me by telling me I would never be part of her family.
When I got out of prison after that first incarceration (she served a year and four months for second-degree burglary), I tracked down one of these half-sisters. I walked into the grocery store (in full female attire, which is what I always wore by that time) where I learned she had started working and asked if she was there. I told the clerk that I was her sister. My sister came out and was furious at me. She was ashamed that her fellow employees witnessed me claiming to be her sister. I was devastated. After she yelled at me and stomped away, some of the employees apologized for her behavior and consoled me. I knew her coworkers fairly well because I was living in the area at the time. It was an area known for prostitution, I was a well-known prostitute, and also a regular customer of the store.
My mom prevented me from meeting my other sister by refusing to give me contact information for her. I was very sad. I really wanted to know and have a relationship with my sisters and their families. I still do. I want that very much.
My mom writes me once in a while now and has eased off on her critical thinking about who and how I am. She’s come close to accepting me being transgender, but unfortunately has not budged on helping me to mend and form a relationship with my sisters or their children or any family except herself. She does send me pictures of them sometimes.
KW: Do you get any other visitors?
MEAGAN: No, but I have a lot of pen pals. I asked the state for permission to write to inmates on death row and they gave me the address for someone, and she and I are now good friends. I have other friends I’ve met by putting my name on trans and gay support websites (there are companies you pay to put you on their sites). We don’t have any access to computers, but the people who connect with us on those sites can write us. I’ve had some of my pen pal friends for almost 10 years. One lives in Canada; one is working in politics in Washington D.C. They’re great people.
KW: I can say from experience that you are a fun and uplifting pen pal. They’re lucky to have you as a friend. You said that you always dressed as a woman by the time you met your half-sister. What was the progression you made from hiding your gender identity, to living outwardly as a woman?
MEAGAN: I started prostituting at fifteen. I would go to neighboring cities where I had the freedom to dress as a girl. I liked being with both female and trans prostitutes because they were the only ones who accepted me as I was. They taught me the ropes.
KW: What kind of ‘John’ was your customer? How did that work?
MEAGAN: When a (male) customer asked for oral sex it was normal procedure for a transgender prostitute not to divulge their gender. But when a customer wanted intercourse, it was my practice to tell them the truth, but most customers knew I was trans anyway, and specifically hired me because of that.
KW: What was it like being trans at that age? Especially working as a prostitute?
MEAGAN: Parts of it were hard and parts of it were good. I never told my grandparents about my gender identity. They were old-fashioned and it would have been unkind to expose this part of myself to them. It would have hurt them to know.
I started using crack cocaine at this age. I used it constantly and still today miss the feeling it gave me. A couple years later, when I was about 17, the trans prostitutes began supplying me with illegal hormones. They also bought me sexy clothes and lingerie. We’d sort of pool our earnings (a lot of it went to buying crack) so the hormones and lingerie were a nice gift to me, but also an investment in the extra earnings I’d make, looking nicer and more feminine.
The prostitutes who took me under their wing taught me what to look for in people and how to tell who had malicious intent, who might want, not only to hurt me, but kill me. This was the most valuable lesson and I’m probably still alive because they taught me how to stay safe, and how to protect myself. They taught me things like, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.” They taught me to read faces and listen to my gut feelings. If I got a bad feeling about someone, they taught me the best ways to remove myself from the person. They taught me to investigate the person if they were from the neighborhood, follow them to see what they did and the kinds of people they associated with. It can be a very scary and violent world for transgender people. Even with all that they taught me, I’ve had situations where I’ve had to pull a gun on a customer to keep myself safe and get away.
My grandmother died when I was in my early 20s and my grandfather and I continued to live together. I worked at a construction site and on the way to work each day, I would stop at a liquor store to buy liquor to bring to work. I drank every day and didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t drink coffee or soda. I just saw liquor as my beverage of choice. At my construction job and other jobs that I had, I would dress and act however I needed to look the part and blend in. After work, I prostituted, used drugs and sold drugs and guns to support my drug use. I lived this way until I was arrested when I was 21 (in 1995). Me and a guy burglarized a flower shop. He broke the window and went in and I stood outside while he handed me the register, VCR and other miscellaneous stuff. I was arrested and convicted of second-degree burglary.
KW: Lambda Legal research indicates that being transgender or gender non-conforming in an American jail or prison often means daily humiliation, physical and sexual abuse, and fear of reprisals for using the legal remedies to address underlying problems. Many transgender people are placed in solitary confinement for months or years just because of who they are. What was it like for you in prison?
MEAGAN: Going into a California prison the first time, as a Southern California-area Mexican, it was expected that I would run with, fight for, stab at, or do whatever was necessary for the Southern United Raza Mexican gang, primarily representing Southern California. If you’re an actual gang member you’re considered a Sur, which means South, and you’re expected to be involved totally. If you’re like me and never really active in a gang, then you’re considered a South Sider. South Siders are to the gang what the National Guard is to the military; we’re called in when extra help is needed. If I didn’t do what the gang wanted me to do, I could get stabbed or beaten.
I was already aware that I needed to keep my gender identity a secret. I had small breasts because I had been taking illegally obtained estrogen that my transgender prostitute friends supplied for me. When guys questioned or commented on my breasts, I would laugh it off and say I was getting chunky from all the carbs in prison food. I never divulged that I was transgender or anything out of the ordinary because being transgender is another big “no-no” for Mexican gangs, and the white ones too. If they had found out, I would’ve been stabbed or beaten until I was forced off the general population yard and put in solitary for my protection.
I served 16 months (for second degree burglary) and when I got out, I began living on the streets full-time as a woman and a prostitute. I had spent most of my life having to hide who I was and I wasn’t willing to do that anymore. Most people see prostitution and street life as a terrible and violent life, and it can be. The girls get abused and made to do things they don’t want to do. But I was in my element on the streets. It felt so good to be able to express who I was. I never lived too long in any one place. I traveled all over the country and loved all the new places, experiences and the people I met. I’m a people-person. I love people and wherever I went, it was easy to find the community that would befriend me.
KW: That sounds really sad and dangerous. I’m amazed by your resilience —and again, with your positive take on your life.
MEAGAN: I felt useful on the streets. I educated prostitutes, especially the trans girls, on how to stay safe and what to look out for, just like the trans prostitutes had done for me when I was a kid. I stopped children from being raped, sold or robbed, by taking them under my wing. They basically followed me everywhere and if they sold themselves, I’d go along to the hotel room, alley, or wherever they did their thing. I was armed and made sure no one robbed or hurt them. You have to understand that if you try to tell someone on the streets not to do something that they’ve got their mind set on doing, they’ll just get away from you. People sell fake dope or mix dope with dangerous stuff and take the kids’ money. I wanted to be around to make sure this didn’t happen to them.
I helped young prostitutes I met who were pregnant. I learned how to deliver babies when I was just 15, from another transgender person in San Bernardino County who delivered girls’ babies. I had scissors, blankets, and I’d tie the umbilical cord in two places. I had a suction dropper that I’d use to get the mucus out of the baby’s mouth, then wrap the baby and immediately leave it outside the door of the nearest hospital. I knew some of those babies’ maybe all of them were born addicted to the drugs that their mothers were addicted to, but I also knew they’d get good medical care at the hospital.
Then I’d stay with the girl for a couple days and then push on. These girls were just kids and they were addicts who worked the streets to support their habits. They weren’t able (or willing) to stay off drugs and their addiction made it so that they’d put getting their drug before anything else, even a baby. They’d put the baby in a dumpster after it was born and leave it to die, if I didn’t help them. This way the girl didn’t have to deal with authorities or the law. She wouldn’t cooperate and would flee if I got authorities involved in any way.
I’m not an angel. I was out there doing the same things she was doing, but the baby didn’t have to die. If I could convince her that I wouldn’t let anyone beat, rape or rob her and that I’d get her the purest, most un-cut form of her drug (so it did the least damage to their baby) then she’d let me help deliver the baby. (Between November 2006 and December 2010, Meagan was incarcerated several times fro parole revocations.)
KW: Why are you currently serving time?
MEAGAN: In 2011, I asked a guy for a ride. We did drugs. He went into a store and I drove off with his car and crashed it. If I would’ve gone to trial, it would’ve been my “third strike” and with the Three Strikes law, I would’ve gotten 75 years to life, so the 20-year plea deal I took seemed reasonable by comparison. (She was convicted of DUI, inflicting great bodily injury, and vehicle theft.)
KW: When did you begin living as a woman inside prison?
MEAGAN: It was 2002. I had been in prison since 1999 (for first degree burglary with use of a firearm) and I was tired of living a lie and having to be affiliated with the South Sider gang and dealing with the politics and racial tension on the mainline. I didn’t like hiding my identity as a woman, because I don’t like pretending to be something I’m not. Up until then, I hadn’t known about Secure Needs Yards (SNYs). They’re protective yards for inmates who are targeted for harassment and abuse on the mainline: ex-gang members, gays, trans individuals and sex offenders.
When I heard that transgender people weren’t targeted in the SNYs, I decided that was the best place for me to be. I told prison staff that I was transgender so that I would be transferred to an SNY. They immediately placed me in Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) for my protection, until they determined that I was really trans and in need of a secure yard. As soon as a prison psychiatrist diagnosed me with gender dysphoria (I basically just had to tell them that I had been living as a woman on the streets and taking estrogen, and they transferred me to an SNY.)
The prison put me on Premarin. It’s estrogen that softens the voice, develops breasts and makes the body softer and more feminine. They also put me on Spironolactone. It stops male pattern baldness and decreases facial and body hair. It also decreases sex drive and so I didn’t take it that often.
In 2003, they began giving me shots instead of pills, because some of the trans inmates were selling their Premarin pills to girls who weren’t diagnosed. I helped girls prepare medical requests and appeal forms so that they could obtain their hormones legally. At the same time, we weren’t allowed anything else that could help feminize us. We’d use Kool Aid powder for blush and lipstick, markers for eyeliner, and many (but not me) would cut t-shirts into G-strings in order to tuck their penises and testicles back.
Meagan, as seen in a photo taken in prison before transgender inmates were allowed feminine clothing and makeup.
KW: What do you say to people who say, “You’ve forfeited your right to this way of self-identifying because you’re a convicted felon now and just need to conform,” and that “The state shouldn’t be spending any time or money helping you be your authentic self. That’s not part of the intent of incarceration?”
MEAGAN: For a legit trans person, conforming is not even an option. It’d be like saying to a straight person, “Okay, you’re a felon now, so you have to conform to a gay lifestyle.” It goes against the nature of a person and It’s wrong to put that kind of thinking on any person. It says that who they are is wrong. Making people feel bad about themselves and hold back on who they really are is not rehabilitative.
KW: What challenges or traumas have you experienced in prison that are particular to you being transgender?
MEAGAN: Dealing with transphobic/homophobic people is very challenging, especially when those people are the officers who are supposed to help protect us. Being on the Secure Needs Yard still wasn’t totally safe for me and other trans inmates. People have stolen from us, because they know we don’t have any gang behind us to help us retaliate. People have been sent to beat us up. I’ve been stabbed in the chin with a pen and had my eye socket broken and lots of bruises. The people who beat us sometimes later apologized, because they were told lies about us that they felt justified us being attacked and then found out that they were lied to. This has happened several times over the years.
KW: ?How else does transphobic behavior play out in prison?
MEAGAN: Before the laws changed, requiring staff to treat us with respect, officers would refer to us as ‘fag,’ or say “You have a dick. you’re not a woman.” I’d see disgust on the faces of medical nurses and female COs (correctional officers.) I’ve been placed in a cell with a “celly” who straight out told the COs he’d kill any fag they put in there with him. He had sex with me and afterward was disgusted with what he had done and beat me in order to redeem himself in his own eyes.
Another time they put a guy who openly hates gays in my cell so that he’d attack me, which he did. As soon as he stepped into the cell, his fist flew into my face. He gave me a bloody nose, cut the inside of my mouth and bloodied me. As soon as the cell doors opened, I approached a guard and he said, with a smirk on his face, Well, I guess you have a cell move coming. They moved me, but before they did, the guy who beat me stole my property and sold it and no one did anything about it. There really wasn’t anything in place back then to protect us or punish people who abused us. A lot of the guards just didn’t care and some wanted us to get hurt.
If someone other than a trans inmate notified staff, and sometimes if the victim notified staff, the victim would be immediately taken to an outside rape center and given a thorough examination. After that, the victim and perpetrator would both be placed in the hole (solitary) and designated as enemies on our paperwork, so that we’d never again be placed on the same yard. But 99 percent of the time the assailant was deemed not guilty, due to unsubstantiated evidence, “his word against mine” situation. It was easier to just make sure we were never again on the same yard.
KW: Tell me about your relationship with Sophie.
MEAGAN: What I’ve been though is nothing compared to Sophie. Sophie is my best friend, love and family. We met in prison and became friends and then cellmates. We’ve been together for eight years, except for one year when we were transferred to separate prisons. Sophie has been through so much. She’s been in prison since 1985 (sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, for second-degree murder). She was only 19 when she was convicted. She was in a mental hospital days before the murder and the doctors advised that she not be released. She was on too many heavy prescribed medications, like Haldol and Thorazine (anti-psychotic medications), and was not herself.
She wasn’t mentally stable in prison and there weren’t any secure yards back then or protection for trans inmates, so she was in a very bad place mentally and emotionally. She would lash out at prisoners who preyed on her and get write-ups or arrests for assault, but the people who assaulted or hurt her rarely got in trouble. Her sentence just kept getting longer and longer and she got more and more unstable.
For all those years before I met her, she was treated horribly in prison: beaten, raped, bullied, harassed, robbed. When I was transferred to that other prison, her new celly sexually abused her and stole from her, so she was put in Administrative Segregation (solitary) for her protection. After that, she was put on single cell status, so we can no longer be cellys, but I’m looking into what needs to be done to legally marry her so that we can share a cell.
Sophie is 54-years-old and very feminine in her manner. She’s very lean because She’s a runner. Sometimes she spends the whole time on the yard (three hours) running the perimeter. She doesn’t drink or do any kind of drugs. She carries herself as a total girl and She’s very sensitive and easily hurt. Sophie doesn’t talk to people. The world has been cruel to her. I’m all She’s got and I do what I can to stay at the same prison with her. For five years, my points (our points get reduced the longer we have good behavior and engage in rehabilitative activities) have been low enough to get me transferred to a medium security yard. But Sophie is housed in maximum security so I commit some infractions every year, right before my annual review, to bump my points back to the level that I can stay in max security with her. I spend a couple months figuring out what offense to commit that will get my points bumped up, but not get me placed in administration segregation (best described as a smaller jail inside the confines of the prison).
This year I was caught with a small amount of heroin and a pipe, which are just as easy or even easier to get in prison than on the street. (There are drugs and paraphernalia available everywhere. They’re smuggled in by visitors or staff.) I don’t use heroin. I only got it so that I’d get my points raised enough to stay with Sophie. I’m very up front about what I’m doing with the officers. They know what I’m up to and why. I told an officer on the yard that I had heroin and a pipe in my cell and he said, “Not now, Calvillo. I don’t want to fill out a bunch of paperwork. Tell someone on the next shift when they come on.” I had to laugh.
People think prison is the worst place to be, but for me It’s the happiest because I have Sophie.
KW: Do the transgender inmates help each other, or bond in solidarity?
MEAGAN: Only if there’s something in it for them, mostly over drugs or drug connections and cell phones. Almost all transgender inmates are drug addicts and see other trans inmates as competition for their drug suppliers.
KW: Why are they all addicts?
MEAGAN: They were addicts on the street and carried their addictions to prison with them. Most are in prison because of drugs.
KW: Why do you think there’s so much addiction amongst trans people?
MEAGAN: Well, they get rejected by society and even by their families and people who are supposed to love them. They’re treated like they’re freaks and not worth loving. They’re harassed, beat up, raped and even killed. It’s better now than it used to be, but It’s still a dangerous and scary world for a trans person and It’s hard to feel worth something when so many people think we’re not. We want to escape the hurt feelings we feel and the fear we feel, and we feel a little better with drugs.
KW: I feel so sad about the way some of us treat each other, especially those who are different on the outside. I’m even more sad that trans inmates, who could be supportive of and empowering each other, are instead competing with each other. Tell us more about that.
MEAGAN: The transgender inmates do sexual favors for drugs. They try to get into a relationship with one person who will be their sugar daddy and protector. Having other “girls” on the yard only increases the competition. I helped start a trans support group and it was great. Me and Sophie and eight other girls would talk about current issues and support each other, but I don’t go to those groups anymore because It’s become all gossip and cat fights.
There are 40 trans inmates on my yard, out of roughly 1,000. Only five (including Sophie) aren’t interested in dope or dudes. One of the backlashes of the supportive laws for transgenders is that It’s too easy to be designated as trans. Guys who aren’t trans are faking it to get diagnosed. All they have to say is “I’ve always felt like I was a woman” and they get the drugs that make them look more feminine, which helps them get the drugs they?re addicted to. Now that trans people are allowed to choose whether to go to a men’s or women’s prison, dudes are getting diagnosed as trans to get into female prisons. It’s a mess and I don’t know how the prisons are going to handle that. I’m angry, because these guys who are abusing the system are going to make it hard for those of us who actually need these options.
KW: Yikes, that’s a tough situation to reconcile. Are California trans inmates allowed sex change operations?
MEAGAN: I personally don’t want sex change surgery, because I’m comfortable with how I am and enjoy aspects of my male anatomy. But because I’m healthy and see myself as female, I could get the surgery if I wanted. The sex change surgery is available to inmates, but only after a stringent psych evaluation and medical evaluation.
KW: What do you think about inmates, who may have hurt others and are therefore in prison, getting free surgery and other treatments, when those on the outside must pay for it?
MEAGAN: There are some people, like pedophiles and some rapists and arsonists, who have a low chance of being healed from whatever causes them to do that. Psychology hasn’t found a way to help them get better, so I think surgery would be wasted on them, because they shouldn’t be released into society. But for other kinds of criminals, I think that if the crime wasn’t really brutal, then society should be involved in rehabilitating the person. Most crimes that trans people commit come from psychological issues because they look like one thing and feel like something else and because society treats them badly because they look weird. If they get hormones and the sex change operation, they will feel better and people will treat them better because they’ll look more “normal,” and then it will be easier for them to get off drugs. Most of them are in prison because of addiction related crimes, so paying for their therapy and surgery will help them and help society.
KW: The Equality Act, passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 (but so far ignored by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate), amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or the gender identity of a person. Even though the bill isn’t (yet) law, its passage in the House is a clear statement from Democrats about the federal government’s role in prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community. Of course, as we’ve witnessed with the original Civil Rights act, if and when this Act does become law, society’s prejudices and mistreatment can long outlive a change in law.
The same month The Equality Act was passed, California, a state at the leading edge regarding the treatment of incarcerated transgender inmates (and others diagnosed with gender dysphoria), proposed legislation that would have (as of January 2021) require the California Department of Corrections to record people’s self-reported gender identity and house them according to their gender identity or their perception of their own health and safety needs.
That bill was designated as inactive, but when you thought it was going to go through you wrote me about how excited you were about the possibility of being able to choose the type of facility that would be best for you. If you’re eventually given a choice, will you transfer to a women’s facility?
MEAGAN: I’m getting more information on what a women’s prison would be like for us, but Sophie and I are a little afraid to make that move. The trans inmates in a women’s prison who identify as male, and even the lesbians, could see us as a threat. Sophie and I have female breasts and act feminine, but we still have penises, so that “combined with our being attracted to women” could make things complicated and could get us hurt.
KW: Sounds like there’s not an ideal situation for you and Sophie.
MEAGAN: It’s probably better if we stay in the men’s prisons. We’ve learned how to handle this environment so that we feel safe. We mostly keep to ourselves and we can go weeks without ever going to the nasty chow hall. We have our little cell picnics, with food that I buy from the canteen: chips, beans, rice, soups, oatmeal, cheese blocks and that kind of thing and we enjoy ourselves. We don’t bother anyone. We don’t sell our bodies or our personal items for drugs and that helps keep us out of danger.
Sophie doesn’t use drugs at all and I just mostly smoke weed. I also drink wine (made by the inmates out of fruit and other foods with sugar), so I don’t get into the messes the other girls get into. I don’t get into debt. When I enjoy my vices, I obtain them through selling my homemade lighters, the plush pillows and teddy bears that I sew, and the food I make. I also re-sell porn pages and do laundry for inmates and sew pants for pay, so I get by. And I enjoy making my crafts and cooking foods on my “grill” that’s rigged from a hot plate. I love being creative. I wish I could send you pictures of my cell!? I’ve got the walls nicely painted in various colors and designs, the pillows that I make are on the bed. Everything is artsy and colorful, waxed and glossed and I keep it super clean. Even the goon squad and black patch cops have complimented me on it and taken pictures of it.
KW: Getting back to the nuts and bolts of prison life, is there anything more about the progress you’ve seen, and experienced, involving transgender inmates over the years that you’d like to share?
MEAGAN: Two years ago, the prison reassigned staff who were jumping or beating trans inmates or setting them up to be attacked. They sent them to other prison areas without trans inmates. That’s also when they started training the staff to be respectful to us. All the staff on our yard are now very transgender friendly. A few may be transphobic, but they don’t act on it.
About a year ago, we were allowed specialized prison-issue clothing and we could buy makeup in natural colors from the canteen or the companies where we can “if we have money” order quarterly packages (of packaged foods, toiletries, prison-approved clothing and accessories, etc.). A few months ago, we were issued ID cards that notated us as trans and gave instructions as to how to refer to us (she, her, Miss). We also have regular meetings with staff from the state capitol and the heads of the prison (without COs being present, so that we can talk openly) and we talk about issues related to being trans. I’ve been very impressed with the education that’s been given to staff. We are treated so much better than we used to be. This May, they’re even having LGBTQ activists come to the yard to do a Pride festival, although with the COVID-19 virus, I don’t know if this is going to happen.
Trans inmates are very fortunate in California compared to those in other prisons. I’ve never been incarcerated in another state, but I read Black and Pink magazine, which provides a place for transgender inmates to tell their stories. Based on their articles, I’d have to say that other states are NOT like it is here. They have a long way to go. For the most part, this yard is a great example of how all prisons could and should be.
KW: When are you expected to be released?
MEAGAN: January of 2028.
KW: What will you do? What are your hopes and plans?
MEAGAN: I hope that Sophie gets out before me. Her next parole board hearing is in 2026. If she can get out, I see us having a beautiful life and marriage. My dream is to help homeless people, especially homeless youth, avoid becoming victims of sexual exploitation, assaults and other abuse. I would do like the trans prostitutes did with me and teach them how to stay safe and how to recognize people with dangerous intent. I want to see Sophie happy and help her experience the many years of life She’s been denied. She’ll probably be granted release, but if She’s not, I’ve made peace with staying in here to be with her. I’ve lived a good life and with Sophie I live a better life.
KW: Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
MEAGAN: I encourage people to get out there and meet different people, get outside their comfort zone and get to know people who live differently than they do. That way, they’ll find out that we’re really all the same.
Kim Whiting is a Reporters Inc. Board Member. You can read more about her?here on our Team page.She can be reached at
The Reporters Inc. is a proud member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of more than 300 nonprofit newsrooms dedicated to serving the public interest. Our articles are syndicated and shared with hundreds of other media organizations, online magazines, top blogs, etc. Please send news, feature and investigative story tips and ideas to .
Looking for one of our previous articles, investigations, commentaries, essays or book excerpts? Search our archives by typing key words into our SEARCH bar above, or at the top left corner of our site!