January 24, 2023 by George Joseph

In December 2021, as Christmas was approaching, a trio of trans women decided to bring some holiday cheer to their dorm at the Rose M. Singer Center, a jail complex on the northern edge of Rikers Island. They were going to have a ball.

The stage was nothing special, a small beige floor in front of rows of cold metal benches in the dorm’s common area. But the room had good light. From one window where the sun crept in, the women could look out and watch the planes soaring in and out of LaGuardia.

The decoration materials on offer were limited, but they found what they could. Earlier in June, they’d made blue, pink and rainbow posters for allied corrections employees to carry in their place in the NYC Pride march — and they hung these up on the jail’s walls. One sign, a stenciled image outlining the figures of several trans women in their dorm, celebrated the group in big navy letters, “THE Girls from 2 south.”

In the week leading up to the ball, Venus, Monica and Mimi practiced their dance routines and lip syncs using speakers brought in specially for them. The noise was infectious. Women from across the hall started watching to get a sneak peek of the show, a diversion from the usual mix of boredom and violence on the island.

On the day of the performance, Venus, a Latina woman with bleached blond hair, was clearly the star. She draped a jail blanket across her legs to serve as a skirt and knotted her white facility T-shirt into a crop top. In one hand, she shook a pink streamer. Somehow, she’d even found glitter.

Her turn at the Christmas ball at Rikers was made possible by a recent and unlikely ally for incarcerated trans women in New York City: the Department of Correction’s own LGBTQ+ Affairs Unit. It was employees of that team, never more than a handful of policy experts and social workers, who had helped make the Pride posters and organize the show.

Kels Savage, then a services coordinator with the unit, filmed Venus and the two other women as they vogued and sang, while staffers and other detainees clapped along from the benches. “I remember thinking, you know, ‘I’m glad that they at least had this experience at Rikers, and they weren’t tortured, or harmed,’” she said.

As Savage pressed a button on her phone ending her recording, a sense of relief flooded over her.

Monica had been really nervous about her song, but in the end she killed it. Mimi, who was normally very shy, did a lip sync in front of the crowd. They had pulled the whole thing off in just a week.

Savage saved the video, which she planned to upload so that the other incarcerated women at the Rose M. Singer Center could watch it on their tablets. She had no idea that the holiday celebration would be the last time she’d ever get to support the trans community of Rikers Island like that…

Another proposal, currently under consideration in Albany, would require corrections administrators across the state to presumptively house detainees in facilities that align with their self-attested gender identities unless they choose to opt out of such placements.

Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan City Council member who chairs the Council’s committee on criminal justice, criticized the Department of Correction’s “lack of transparency” with the taskforce — a topic she plans to grill Commissioner Molina about at a Council hearing on Wednesday.

“If you want to show people that you care about a marginalized community that has historically been mistreated within the carceral system, then you should be doing everything in your power to make information and data publicly available, and to be as transparent as possible,” Rivera said. “We have not seen that from the administration. And that’s why we’re having a hearing now.”

Read more: https://www.curbed.com/article/rikers-island-trans-women-violence-sexual-assault-the-city-investigation.html