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Trans woman locked up in men’s prison victim of ‘brutal, senseless violence’ from prison staff and inmates alike

Matilda Davies May 3, 2021
Free Syiaah

The #FreeSyiaah campaign across social media has gained traction over the past year, but Governer Newsom is still yet to respond. (Micah Bazant & Forward Together)

Syiaah Skylit, a trans woman incarcerated in a California men’s prison, is seeking clemency due to “severe and persistent” abuse and violence.

Skylit is behind bars at Kern Valley State Prison (KSVP) in Delano, California, where – according to an online petition – she has been “a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence” both “at the hands of prison staff and others in custody”.

The petition has more than 5,000 signatures at the time of writing and was launched by the Transgender Advocacy Group, calling for governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to release Skylit. She has reportedly requested to be transferred to a women’s facility several times, but the CDCR have denied her requests. She has been transferred to six different institutions since 2017, all of which were men’s prisons.

It describes numerous heinous attacks Syiaah has endured since 2018, including being “stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets or a mattress”, being “attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so” and being “intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman”.

Syiaah stated to the activists behind the campaign: “When someone in my case doesn’t have family to support them, to have others showing up means the world to me. It lets me know I’m not alone as I once thought I was.”

“You hold so much power that it can make a change,” she added. “That’s what we’re fighting for – change not just for me, but for every one of us. It matters that things change for the better. We have to come together and work together. Your support is a beautiful blessing to me and I truly thank you all.”

She has been incarcerated since 2015 and her earliest parole date is currently listed as April 2027.

At the same prison, another trans woman was murdered in 2013. Carmen Guerrero was tortured and killed after just eight hours sharing a cell with Miguel Crespo, who was sentenced to death for the murder in 2019. He reportedly told prison officials not to house him with Guerrero, calling her by gay slurs, prior to the move.

Ashley Diamond, another Black trans woman in a men’s prison in Georgia, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) last year because of the abuse she has faced. This led the US Department of Justice to make a statement saying that putting trans inmates into the wrong prisons was a “cruel and unusual punishment”.

The ‘Free Syiaah’ campaign on social media has gained considerable traction

Tommy Dorfman, a non-binary actor known for their role in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, got behind the campaign. They wrote on Instagram: “Syiaah, like countless Black trans women and Black gender-nonconforming femmes in prisons across California and the US, is trying to survive while being constantly targeted with violence and discrimination.

“There is no making prison a safe place for Syiaah – the only safe option is for governor Gavin Newsom to use his executive powers and grant Syiaah clemency now.”

More: California, Gavin Newsom, trans prisoners

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