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Nightmare in Calif. jail: Imprisoning women with 6'5'' male murderer

Women's prison.
Women's prison. | Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

If you’ve ever wondered what a godless society devoid of everything good and decent looks like, what follows is a snapshot of the world’s largest women’s prison, Central California Women’s Facility.

Based on daily reports I receive from my sisters inside (I was formerly incarcerated), I no longer recognize the prison or the culture of psychological terror they are being forced to adopt. Currently, under the implementation of “The Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act,” males, including hardened criminals, are permitted to self-identify as the opposite sex and are allowed to transfer to prison facilities based on their chosen “gender identity.”

Any rational person can see the intentional indifference of California’s lawmakers’ efforts to prioritize predators. This recently enacted law does not even require a male inmate to take cross-sex hormones or have sexual reassignment surgery prior to transfer.

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A good friend of mine, Cathleen, whom I met many years ago while in prison, is firmly standing on her Christian faith, and she is paying for it dearly. Her freedom, her civil liberties, and her right to the pursuit of happiness that she earned back after serving decades in prison have recently evaporated. As I explained during the bonus episode of The Christian Post’s podcast series “Generation Indoctrination” and will again next month in Dallas at CP’s public event, what she and others are enduring is a nightmare. Cathleen’s ordeal is a case study of what incarcerated women regularly experience in this morally convoluted, torturous environment.

Cathleen was found suitable for parole by the board of parole at hearings last year. It is always a time of celebration when a person is granted parole, especially when they have worked hard for it. I met Cathleen in the honor dorm in 2009 where she still lived until very recently. A trans-identified male and self-proclaimed satanist that transferred from the men’s prison violated her privacy many times by entering the toilet when she was in the stall. In the months before this incident, another woman from a different prison yard told me about this same guy, that he is 6’5” and is “a big dangerous man who was convicted of murder 40 years ago, and killed another inmate while he was in the men’s prison.”

“I was and still am scared to death of this man. I was afraid to report him to the guards,” she added.

Others noticed what was happening, and they decided to submit inmate complaints together. None of these women were prepared for the psychological warfare that ensued as the predator is a skilled manipulator who has had approximately 40 years to perfect his craft. After receiving a tip from a confidential informant that the three women who used the correct avenue to voice their concerns were in danger, all three were arrested for their own safety and taken to administrative segregation. All three of these women were honor dorm residents with jobs and records free of write-ups, which is required for them to live in the honor dorm, unless one transferred from a men’s prison — which was set forth under California’s law, SB 132.

After being released from segregation, the women received serious rules violations for false reporting and harassment. Cathleen was then referred to an en banc hearing either by the Decision Review Unit or the Governor, because of the new information about her rule violations. En banc hearings are open to the public and give supporters and those in opposition to a person’s release an opportunity to speak. Her hearing was full of formerly incarcerated women who served many years together, some of whom guided me and mentored me during my time in prison.

Employment and housing were secured for her and peer support was available from some of the most notable and successful ex-lifers in California. But Cathleen’s parole grant was vacated and the panel voted to reverse her suitability grant. She was ordered a new hearing as her serious rules violations were still pending as she was not yet found guilty of anything.

Months later, the false reporting violations were all dropped. Cathleen was later found not guilty of harassment. The lieutenant who heard her on the write-up told her that not only did she do nothing wrong, but that, in fact, she did exactly what she was supposed to do in such circumstances. This was encouraging news given how emotionally traumatic this process can be and she was eager to know what the next step was regarding her grant reinstatement. Every step is like free-falling in the gamble for potential freedom.

At her next legal visit, her attorney urged her to write an open letter of apology to the male predator who violated her privacy and to apologize specifically for her ignorance and transphobia that stemmed from her religious upbringing. She was advised to focus on her unwillingness to see the other person, a dangerous male felon, as a woman.

She was advised to use words like "unwilling" rather than "unable” to show that she made a choice instead of using words like "lack of knowledge/understanding" because "I don't know" is deemed less accountable than apologizing. She was also advised to own her part in the harm she caused and add: "Today, I have done the work to understand more deeply what your identity means and I have more knowledge about the issues you face as a transgender woman.” She was told to reflect on the negative impact her actions had on the transgender community as a whole and to commit to using correct gender pronouns and even correcting her peers when they harmfully refer to a male-bodied inmate as “he”. They even suggested she express a willingness to use her “cis-gendered privilege” to create a reverse ripple effect in support of the transferred inmates from the men’s prison.

In addition to her basic dignity as a woman being violated, Cathleen’s Christian faith is also on trial. Hebrews 13:3 reminds us to “[c]ontinue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” and that certainly applies here. Cathleen is not only being mistreated but is being denied her freedom and liberty because she refuses to bow down to the god of gender.

Her commitment to withstand this darkness has bolstered my faith and I believe the Lord will somehow redeem this terrible situation. I’m praying that it inspires her fellow inmates, my friends, to continue to remain steadfast amid these ongoing horrors.

To the Body of Christ, please hear me: Cathleen’s ordeal is not limited to the prison context and she is far from the only one enduring this cruel abuse. This savagely evil exploitation of the vulnerable that is being allowed to flourish in Chowchilla prison (CCWF) is what is to come for us if we do not stop what is happening to these incarcerated women who are precious to Jesus. This is the fate we are sealing for ourselves if we do not actively protect the least of these.

Amie Ichikawa is a former inmate and founder of the charity group Woman II Woman, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of incarcerated women. She became aware of the need for female-centered re-entry support and services after being released from prison and decided to act as a resource center for her sisters who were still inside the correctional facilities. Woman II Woman stands as one of the only platforms for the incarcerated female population in California’s prison system to which they have unprejudiced access.

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