Most prisoners, myself included, are guilty of thinking about institutional discrimination mainly from the point of view of race and religion, but there are a lot of other examples that are far less obvious and more deeply ingrained in the system, almost taken entirely for granted.
I’ve mentioned before that the prison service operates a policy whereby male prisoners on Basic regime are not allowed to wear their own clothes, but female prisoners (including transgender prisoners in either direction) are permitted to. I have been actively encouraged by staff here to launch a legal challenge to this policy on the grounds that it is discrimination on the basis of gender, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, and inclination to do this right now.
If I were to put together a case though, it would not be limited to clothing. It would also include the fact that male prisoners are not permitted to buy anything other than the most basic toiletries and are told other items are not allowed for “security reasons”, whilst transgender prisoners in the vary same prisons are able to order a wide range of such cosmetics from a supplier not available to the rest of us, and all without any perceived contravention of those “security reasons”.
As additional evidence of the prison service’s ignorance of diversity I would submit a copy of a recent official notice to prisoners here which notified us that a new governor has now taken over responsibility for the area of marriage and civil partnership. It went on to give the legal definitions of these but, unfortunately for the governor who was taking over this role and who signed the notice, they mis-defined them, saying that single sex partners are not legally entitled to get married but can apply to have a civil partnership. Oops. It took some months but the role soon changed hands again and this was corrected.
I’d also highlight such things as the fact that HMP Wakefield has dropped an ‘L’, now holding regular ‘GBT’ forums. When asked why they did this the staff explained that, since there are no female prisoners here, there aren’t any lesbians, so there’s no need for an ‘L’. Well, since they kept the ‘T’ I’m guessing that they acknowledge the presence of transgender prisoners here. I wonder how they feel about the claim that there are no female prisoners at this jail. I happen to know of at least one prisoner who self-identifies as female and openly states that they are attracted to women and are therefore a lesbian.
I don’t believe for a second that any of this is malice. It is simply ignorance of the issues at hand and a distinct lack of thought. Even the majority of prisoners pay these issues no attention, partly because it doesn’t affect them directly, and partly because, even when it does, there’s never been an outcry or furore following widescale violence, rioting, and deaths stemming from such kinds of discrimination in prison.
On occasion I am asked by other prisoners why I am bothered by these things given that I am neither gay nor transgender etc. My answer is simple. I don’t have to be one of them. I don’t even have to agree with them. I just have to accept that what they do is absolutely none my business, whilst remembering that I do know what it is like to be treated differently to others, in various ways, for no reason other than my personal beliefs and practices which are, in turn, no one else’s business. I don’t much care whether another person respects homosexuality or transgender issues per se. But I do oppose anyone who would treat a person as ‘lesser’ for no just reason. And by opposing those who do this even where it has no direct affect on myself, I hope to give a little bit of strength and support to those affected so that when they see others, including me, being discriminated against, they too will be strong enough to oppose it and offer a supportive hand.
In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Who’s a prisoner’s main enemy? Another prisoner. If only they weren’t at loggerheads with one another – ah, what a difference that’d make!”