Today in America, Trans women of color are disproportionately incarcerated. While in prison, they are more likely to be assaulted and mistreated. Once they are released, they often struggle to find a job which leaves them in poverty and most likely return to the prison where the cycle repeats. Zahara Green, a Trans Women of color, knows this experience first hand which is why she fights so hard for reform within the prison system and helps those affected by this distorted system.
When Zahara was only sixteen years old, she left her home and three years later was arrested for shoplifting. As a Black, Trans woman facing a rural, all-white jury in Georgia, she pled guilty citing that she “knew this jury would convict me for being a trans woman.”
A majority of her five year sentence was in solitary confinement. Often officers will place transgender women there for extended times citing they are under “protective custody.” At times these women end up in solitary for months or even years without any valid reason. Zahara was later moved to Rogers State Prison for men and placed in the general population. She was immediately instructed to strip alongside many other men. An officer attempted to stop her, but it was too late and many other inmates had already saw her.
Zahara was later approached by an inmate and was offered “protection.” She followed him for the next week as he verbally abused, physically attacked, and raped her. Unfortunately this is not uncommon for trans women in prison. They are targeted for sexual assault five times more often by corrections officers and nine times more often by other inmates.
She was constantly fearful often worrying that she would be killed. She wrote letters to the Georgia Department of Corrections to voice her concerns, but the deputy warden ignored her cry for help.
Once she was released from prison she officially changed her name and found a job in retail management. She went on to school and is currently working on a law degree. She founded TRANScending Barriers Atlanta as a trans-led and trans-focused organization aimed at advocating for transgender and gender non-conforming people while incarcerated. Realizing the importance of re-entry programs, the non-profit also works to help those incarcerated to get their personal identification changed, resumes updated, and interview confidence built so they can successfully find employment.
Zahara’s personal story is tough to read about, but is not uncommon in the US. At a time where prison reform is common dinner conversations, stories like this are the reason we need reform. Black Lives Matter. Black Trans Lives Matter.
By Michael Barilla
Sources: Black and Pink, ACLU, Rolling Stone, NBC News