Local filmmaker George Zuber's film “Where Justice Ends,” explores the experiences of people who identify as transgender within prisons and jails across the U.S. In the film, a number of trans women share experiences of mistreatment, sexual and verbal abuse and discrimination in the prison system.
According to the National Center of Transgender Equality, LGBTQ-identifying people are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates than the general population in the U.S. One in six transgender individuals will be behind bars at one point in their life, it reports.
Among the people the film focuses on is Ashley Diamond, a transgender inmate and prison rape victim who was incarcerated in Georgia for pawning a miter saw, a tool used to cut wood with a circular blade, which she later found out was stolen. Diamond was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Georgia judge and filed a lawsuit while in prison saying prison officials failed to provide adequate medical treatment for her gender identity condition. This lawsuit got national attention in 2015.
Zuber joined Sundial to talk about why transgender people like Diamond are more likely to face mistreatment in the prison system. The film will premiere at the Outshine Film Festival at Regals Cinema South Beach on Saturday, April 27, and both Zuber and Diamond will do a Q&A after the showing.
WLRN: [In the case of Ashley Diamond] they used solitary confinement as a way to protect her from other inmates.
ZUBER: Repeatedly I heard again and again that solitary confinement becomes a home, in some respects for transgender people because they don't quite know what to do with them especially if they complain about being abused by other prisoners. I think it's important that people understand that unlike what you might see in a TV show like "Orange Is The New Black," transgender people are housed not based on their expression or what they actually look like to the general population, but rather based on their genitals. As a result, especially because black and Latino and other people that may not have the resources to be able to do sexual reassignment surgery, they end up finding themselves incarcerated with men rather than women. You can have people who to all appearances you would believe as a woman with fully formed breasts and feminine facial features to be incarcerated with men.
Tell us a little more about Ashley Diamond. What was she arrested for?
Ashley Diamond grew up in Rome, Georgia and she was an example of a person who recognized early on in her life that she identified as a woman. During her teen years she felt she had to leave her home and ultimately dropped out of school. She survived on the streets without any significant encounter with the police until she was in her early 30s. At that time, as I understand it she was asked by her then boyfriend to pawn a miter saw. She took it to the pawnshop and she was later arrested because that miter saw turned out to be stolen. The judge gave her 12 years for a miter saw.
The Department of Justice actually got involved in Ashley's case.
When Ashley went into prison they stopped the hormones that she had been on for some 15-plus years, which of course is cutting off a very serious medication that people like Ashley have to live with to be able to express in their preferred gender identity. She experienced all kinds of verbal harassment, physical assault and repeated rapes in prison. She appealed to the Georgia government to try and find some relief from this treatment.
You point out hormone therapy. It's physically dangerous for some people to get off the therapy. They have to continue on it. There can be withdrawal effects.
These are powerful drugs and they affect a person's most basic physical being and so to withdraw those drugs puts people through all kinds of very painful both physical and psychological difficulties.
What do you hope people take away from this film? Is it more about the treatment, the way that we look at transgender people or the criminal justice system?
I'm hoping it's both because I think that the treatment of transgender people in the U.S. justice system and in prisons highlights some overall problems that need to be dealt with. And I think sometimes we forget these are real people who are entitled to human rights. We need to address it right now.
Correction: In a previous version of this post we mentioned the premiere would take place at O,Cinema Miami Beach, but it will take place at Regals Cinema South Beach.