Britain’s longest-serving trans prisoner is now helping trans people locked up in the wrong prisons
Britain’s longest-serving transgender prisoner, who was released six months ago, is now helping other trans inmates who are in prisons that do not match their gender.
Sarah Jane Baker, 50, is a violinist and artist who grew up with an abusive father and spent her formative years in and out of care.
At the age of 19, in 1989, she was convicted of kidnapping and torturing her stepmother’s brother, and was given a nine-year tariff. She was later given a life sentence for the attempted murder of a child rapist while she was in prison.
In total she spent 30 years in male young offenders institutions and prisons, where she said she was targeted as a trans prisoner, suffering physical attacks, stabbings and multiple rapes.
She told Openly: “I was a woman held in a male prison and it was so isolating. Fellow prisoners either desire you or hate you, or both.
“When people found out I was trans, I became a human punching bag.”
Baker was not allowed undergo hormone treatment while she was in prison, and in 2017 she became so desperate that she removed her own testicles with a razor blade.
She almost died, but was finally allowed to take oestrogen for medical reasons.
She said: “Not being recognised for who you are for so long does something to your spirit.”
While in prison, Baker learned to read and write and eventually wrote a book: Transgender Behind Prison Walls.
Since being released in September, 2019, she has formed the Transprisoner Alliance which provides “both practical and emotional support to one of the most marginalised groups of people residing in our prisons”.
The non-profit organises letter and visits for trans people behind bars, and it says that 90 per cent of trans prisoners receive no letters or visits from family or friends.
It also provides legal assistance with advice for an in-house barrister on legal name changes and gender recognition certificates.
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One of the things that helped her gender dysphoria in prison was makeup, sometimes brought in by sympathetic officers, so the Transprisoner Alliance also brings makeup and gender appropriate clothing to trans inmates.
Conditions for trans people who are incarcerated have started to move slightly in the right direction, and prisoners no longer require a Gender Recognition Certificate to be moved, but Baker said more needs to be done.
As of November 2019, less than one-tenth of trans inmates were in the correct facility for their gender, according to UK government figures.
Baker said: “The only way forward is dialogue.”