On September 13, I got up at 4 am and took a shower. I fiddled with my belongings, which had already been packed for two days. After more than a decade inside Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) prisons, I was getting out.
Though my tentative parole month was September, earlier in the year it was unexpectedly moved up to May. All I needed was a release address. For months, I submitted address after address, including those of family members in places where I had community support, that were rejected because of sex offender registry (SOR) restrictions.
More than a dozen addresses later, I was finally approved for release to a boarding house for people on SOR, in a rural part of the state I’d never been to. I’d submitted it for the first time in May, but it was rejected because the house was under construction. It still is, but the rooms are technically habitable now.
I had one week’s notice. As I processed the fact that in seven days I’d be walking out of prison, I realized that I’d be living somewhere without public transportation. I started inquiring about cars on Facebook Marketplace. I knew I was looking for a Honda, between 2000 and 2010 because it’d be straightforward to insure and the parts were pretty common. The nearest city to my release address is a 45-minute drive. People get around by taxi or by walking, but as a trans woman of color that’s not something I can always do safely.
I used a contraband cell phone to look up providers in the area and started lining up appointments for facial hair removal and other gender-affirming procedures, including continuing my hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If I had diabetes and needed to make sure there were no disruptions to insulin during my re-entry, I wouldn’t have been left unattended. But I had no gender-affirming care resources in prison; I’d had to litigate for access to HRT in the first place.
I’ve filed five lawsuits against GDC, and was in the middle of a sixth when the department opted to divest of me. Prisons like uniformity in their slaves. I was the only person in my facility allowed to wear women’s undergarments. I’d filed a restraining order so they couldn’t cut my hair.
The SOR fees—ankle monitor, polygraph tests, urinalysis tests, classes, gas money to and from the classes—were costing me $800 a month.
By 7 am, people had come to say goodbye. Franklin and Big Juice helped me carry my stuff and watched it for me while I went to pill call line for my medication.
I went up to the designated area to wait with the other person being released that day. An hour or two later they brought us to the outtake area, where they put us in a cage. We waited. They fingerprinted us and handed us more paperwork. They walked us down the hallway past the main control gate, and buzzed the big sliding panel. That was when the hair on my arms stood up. I could see the warden’s office, and the front door.
They took us down a chain-link walkway through an outpost building and into the parking lot, where my attorney and close friend, Lyra Foster, had been approved to pick me up. None of this—my release, my litigation over the past two years—would have happened without her. I signed the last of the paperwork, and we rushed toward each other.
I’ve spent years preparing for this re-entry. You have to. It’s an uphill battle that’s designed for you to lose.
Back in 2018, I was released on parole and lasted two months before it was revoked. The fees that come with being on SOR—ankle monitor, polygraph tests, urinalysis tests, classes, gas money to and from the classes—were costing me $800 a month. I couldn’t keep up with the payments and my rent with my waitress job at Chili’s. But that was the only one I could find that met the SOR requirements, including being more than 1,000 feet from parks and schools. I got a second job as a secretary job a veterinarian’s office. It was 732 feet from a school. My parole officer found out, and I was sent back to prison for five more years.
Prison has been my frame of reference for 13 years. I had to say goodbye to some of my closest friends, and to everything that was familiar to me. I miss my best friend Big Juice. It’s hard for me to open up that innermost circle of friendship, but he’s definitely in there. I miss Gatito and Tony and BKK. I wish could break open the gates and take everyone with me. You almost feel like you’re betraying people, saying goodbye like that. It doesn’t feel right at all. But I also knew that it was my time, and that I was ready.
Read Part 2 of this story here.
Photograph via Georgia Department of Corrections