“I knew I was a girl since I was six years old:” PRISON TEACHES US TO LIVE AND LET LIVE

10 thoughts on ““I knew I was a girl since I was six years old:” PRISON TEACHES US TO LIVE AND LET LIVE

  1. ah-ha. it would appear to me that, professor Mongelli, you had unknowingly played the role of a psychologist in this situation. just reading from this entry, crystal never had the chance to express herself. she seemed isolated, helpless, perhaps thinking that no one understands her, hence the reason for so many suicide attempts.

    going back to your discussion question, when one does discover a certain bias while talking with an inmate, one should learn to look past it…

    please check my discussion post for more…

    • Interesting, Mark, that you use the word “unknowingly.” Remember the Humanitarian role? This is how it’s brought into play.

      So much of corrections is listening to this stuff. Correctional officers do it a lot in their housing units where the inmates live. Case workers interview inmates to see what kind of progress they’re making. Administrators make themselves accessible at certain times of the week for these discussions. And I’m not sure, but I think the psych staff also does a little of this ;o)

      Prisoners don’t consider librarians officers or administrators. You’re seen as a non-threatening employee who’s willing to serve. They naturally feel at ease when speaking with you. If you make yourself available for these discussions, inmates will respond.

      Empathic, patient listening is a part of what we do.

  2. I’m constantly amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit and how seemingly innocuous acts (like taking the time to listen) can have such a huge impact on others. People are people and if you can work/listen to them without passing judgment, then I think you’ve achieved that “professional status” that we strive for. However, my question is, can this “man” who’s now a “woman” still remain in a men’s prison? What’s the criteria for the state to transfer him/her?

    • I asked her this. Although she admits “I’d love to have a vagina!” she’s not having surgery (she’s afraid of the pain involved in recovery).

      So no — she’ll stay put with the men.

      Should she decide to go through with the surgery, they’ll transfer her to the women’s facility in Framingham.

  3. I’ve heard many people proudly say that they “tolerate” homosexuality, but they don’t condone or agree with it. To me, that is just as homophobic as saying that “God hates gays” or any of the other hateful slogans you see scrawled on picket signs at anti-gay marriage protests. Likewise, I’m sure there are plenty of people who say that have many black friends, but would never want to live in a predominantly black neighborhood.

    I think being non-racist, or non-homophobic/non-transgenderphobic, etc., involves more than just saying you’re not prejudiced, but actually showing that you’re not prejudiced. I think that must’ve been what Crystal was reacting to when she thanked you for your conversation, and what she was bemoaning about the officers who give her a hard time.

    • That one comes down to a definition of terms. In the use of ‘tolerance’ here, they’re saying “I’ll put up with it, but in my world view it makes no sense.” That’s all the further many people are willing to come.

      Your argument here seems to be predicated on an “all-or-nothing” acceptance and, if that’s not in evidence, the tolerance is invalid and unacceptable. It’s just my opinion, but my insistence that folks embrace concepts that go against the grain is unrealistic. People don’t seem to work that way. They’ll meet me half-way, I notice, but that’s it.


      In Crystal’s case, I can’t imagine what it’s like living her life, because I’ve always enjoyed being male. Being trapped in an uncomfortable body must be almost unbearable which is, I suppose, what helped to bring on so many suicide attempts.

      Admissions of suicide attempts always get to me, so the moment she said this I realized I wasn’t talking to the average depressed person. Had this not have been mentioned perhaps I wouldn’t have been so understanding? I’ll have to dwell on that a while….

  4. There are few truly safe places for transfolk in today’s society – good on you for creating a safe space where Christine could open up, breathe, and be herself. I’m surprised that the hormones needed for sex reassignment would be provided as a measure of care in prison. This is an allowance that Crystal won through a civil suit? What a trailblazer!

  5. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in Crystal’s situation. I imagine that your discussion was very therapeutic for her. Do you have inmates talk to you about things that make you feel you’re in over your head? Is it then appropriate to speak with the facility’s mental health professional(s)?

    • Jenn, I’m never in over my head. My ego won’t allow for that ;o)

      I’ve spoken casually with psych staff about certain prisoners. I’ve never visited them in their offices seeking professional advice about how to handle a prisoner.

      Correctional librarians are free to make psych referrals for prisoners who act out in certain ways, so I’ve picked up the phone and have done that on occasion.

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