This post contains mentions of sexual assault.
When I was a young child I lived for hours and hours inside my imagination, creating incredible new worlds. It was a coping mechanism I learned so that I could deal with the harsh environment I was raised in by my single parent, evangelical Christian mother. On so many levels I was taught to hate who I knew I was. I dealt with that by creating worlds that I was allowed and even praised for, being me. I didn’t know it then but this ability to live inside these exciting new worlds for countless hours would eventually save my sanity in the future.
I speak about this because years later I was a young, 18-year-old, trans woman being laughed at in a court room by a bunch of transphobic public servants where I became a victim of a corrupt and broken justice system. I never received competent legal defense and instead was convinced by my public pretender (that’s what we called Public Defenders) that I was going away for a long time if I fought the case – a case of which I was innocent, I might add. Yes, I already had a record by that time. I had numerous cases for survival sex work which of course the Assistant District Attorney used to paint me as some deviant man that likes to trick men into paying me for sex as a woman. The more I think about it now – over 25 years later – the more it repulses me that these people were supposedly the “good guys.”
To make a long story short, I was sentenced to five years and sent to a Men’s Prison in Folsom California, one of the hardest prisons in the state at that time. I became property of the California Department of Corrections.
What happened next will disgust many but shock few. Many trans women in prisons for men are preyed upon, bought like property, broken like horses and then pimped out, if not killed. I was no exception. I didn’t know that a serial rapist and killer had purchased me while I was still in Receiving and Release (better known as R & R). Sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are rampant behind bars. In men’s facilities, for example, it is common for staff and prisoners alike to believe that gay men, transgender women, and anyone who is perceived as “feminine” should expect to be sexually abused. That is what happened to me.
Rape should never be a part of the punishment. Right now, Trump and his administration are rolling back protections for transgender people incarcerated in our justice systems, protections enacted by the Obama Administration. No one should have to go through what I and many other people have gone through while in the care of our so-called justice system. In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was created to help stop it, but in many cases, it has been used as a tool to further torture people in danger. Locking someone up in solitary confinement in Ad Seg (the hole) for “their protection” further puts people’s sanity at risk. It is torture. Being in a cage the size of a dog kennel for 24 hours a day 7 days a week, is inhumane. This is what they do if you are in danger of being or have been sexually assaulted. I personally spent countless months inside their solitary confinement units after being assaulted. But I couldn’t be broken.
I was recently asked by my mentor how I survived these horrors and came out with my sanity intact. It was my vivid imagination that saved me.
Now I attend the number one film school in the world USC School of Cinematic Arts, in part thanks to Point Foundation. I am learning not only how to share those worlds I created, but how to use the medium to shed light on those many have forgotten. Our most vulnerable.
This post was written by Point Scholar Kerri Cecil.
Kerri is currently studying film and television at the University of Southern California. Kerri was one of Point’s inaugural Community College Scholarship Recipients while attending Los Angeles City College. Read more about Kerri here.