Rhonda Fleming, Florida
I am a spiritual woman and I am deeply bonded in my soul with my sisters in prison. I have a multi-ethnic background and this enables me to be close to so many of these lovely ladies. My heart, as a mature woman, grieves for these young women...some so broken from abuse by people they should have been able to trust. I have to watch them be sexually abused by male officers, repeatedly, over the years, a "me, too" problem that has not been solved.
It is hard for a young woman that has been molested by a parent, to serve time in prison, with child molesters. These inmates are a constant reminder to women (and male prisoners at men's prisons) of the abuse that lead them to drugs, and subsequently, prison. Unfortunately, this is part of the prison experience. When you add the pressure placed on us, the injustice of it, forcing women to live with men, that self-identify as being women, in our cells and cubicles, in showers and toilet areas, it is intolerable and I will never accept it.
My name is Rhonda Fleming and I am a federal prisoner at FCI-Tallahassee. I am serving time for a white-collar, financial offense. I am incarcerated with men that self-identify as being women, or in many cases, they identify as women that are lesbians or bisexual. I have served many years, in different federal prisons with these male inmates, and the bad behavior is universal: routine sexual harassment/assaultive conduct, denial of bodily privacy and religious freedom to practice the tenet of modesty, and the inability to use the time in a prison to recognize poor choices, bond with other women with similar experiences, and grow while preparing to re-entering society. These male inmates are a disruptive force in women`s prison and is denying women the chance to heal and become better people.
I have personally experienced sexual harassment, threats of assault after I filed a lawsuit, and physical intimidation by male inmates in the prison. Once a woman makes it clear that she is not interested in befriending or hanging out with these men, they become petty, like a little boy that is rejected in grade school. It is a frightening experience because these men are not petite, effeminate males, but large, strapping, aggressive, criminal-minded men, violent inmates.
They are incarcerated for violent crimes and many, if not most have a criminal history of violence against women. Most women in prison do not have a history of violence against other women. Instead, women inmates have a history of sexual abuse, rape, and sometimes, sex-trafficking of their bodies by men. So many of us are afraid of men. These fears are not irrational. What little girl has not been cautioned be careful about how she dresses or has had to be instructed by a parent to tell them if any person touches them in the wrong way? Who are committing these sex crimes against children and women? Men!
For decades, women in prisons have been the victims of sexual assaults, rapes, and harassment by male correctional officers. At FCI-Tallahassee, the Department of Justice is in the process of paying settlements of large amounts of money, sometimes in the millions, for their employees sexually abusing women in the prison. A doctor at FCI-Tallahassee, while performing pap smears, was allowed to sexually assault numerous women inmates during a procedure that is offered to save lives from cancer. Out of fear of being molested, I have not had a PAP smear in years.
With all of this sexual misconduct going on in the prison, how is it a good government policy to place men in the prison with women? The right to bodily privacy, in conjunction with religious freedoms, is completely denied to women in federal prison in Florida. So many of us fell into lifestyles that were not just harmful in being incarcerated, but devastating to the emotional health of women. Selling their bodies for drugs, due to addiction, being sober, and having to face themselves after having fell so low, no women striving for change, through the support of religious or psychology services in the prison, can achieve emotional healing while being sexually intimidated and taunted in showers by male inmates, offering sex with them or demanding it.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims all share a common tenet in their faith: Modesty. We remember how our mothers taught us to cross our legs when we sat down with a dress. We were trained not to expose our bodies to our male family members. It is natural for a woman to fear being naked in the presence of an unknown male, especially in a prison.
Who in their right mind has disregarded a woman`s innate right to bodily privacy, even in a prison? A federal woman prisoner in the United States cannot take a shower in peace, to have the relaxation of being clean, after a hard day of work in prison. And yes, many prisoners work long days, some 14 hours in food service or learning the plumbing trade. All humans need peace...some level of tranquility.
I think about what prison means to women. This is a time for healing...bonding between women, with similar experiences, helping each other to put the past behind them, and reach for the goodness of being alive with all the possibilities of a second chance. The public does not know how close some women prisoners become. As my dear father said at the beginning of this year, you ladies have been incarcerated for long, some of you are closer to the people in prison, than family in the community. I embrace this closeness and am a mother figure for many of these young women. Our ability to become better people and contribute to our communities has been stifled by intimidation by male inmates and prison officials’ attempts to indoctrinate us into believing that these male inmates are women.
Sadly, I watch as the prison peddles testosterone to confused young women, telling them that it is okay to identify as being “men." Women that identify as males are not treated equally, which is not surprising, because this transgender policy is about men dominating women in a manner that is more atrocious than anything women pioneers for equal rights ever endured.
We are staying strong and continuing to challenge this unlawful policy in the United States federal court system. I thank you for all of your support of Keep Prisons Single Sex.
Rhonda Fleming #20446-009
PO Box 5000
Tallahassee, FL 32314