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I feel anxious and unsettled as I wait in Cage No. The correctional officer le a groggy and puffy-eyed Skylar Deleon into the cage and uncuffs her hands. Her short masculine haircut also has grown long enough for her to wear a side ponytail that hangs below her small breasts.
We say a quick hello, and before we get started, I buy her a quesadilla and two avocados out of the vending machines, which gives me a few minutes to settle into this surreal scene. We met four times over two weekends, during which Skylar listed all the mental health diagnoses and medications the doctors had given her. We also talked about her attempt to slice off her penis with a disposable razor, which landed her in a community hospital.
A transgender inmate housed in San Diego who has been denied the surgery also has filed a lawsuit in federal court. Those cases might trigger new claims by inmates such as Skylar Deleon—because there are a surprising of inmates like her. I wanted to hear about her life on death row and in the psych unit that opened in October. She wanted to talk face-to-face. I also see her sneakers are laced up with a plastic bag rather than shoelaces, which inmates sometimes use to hang themselves.
Finally, I see that the pale skin of her forearm is scarred by a series of vertical reddish-brown welts. As soon as the federal ruling was issued this April, Skylar began talking about pursuing state-funded surgery for herself. But this is hardly a new quest; she has wanted such an operation for more than 20 years.
Why should Skylar get to do what he wants to do? David Byington, the now-retired Newport Beach police sergeant who worked the Hawks case for five years, has a similar reaction. But the Eighth Amendment to the U. This complicated legal debate has been raging not just in California courts, but also in Massachusetts and Georgia, making it a hotly contested national issue.
While one case was pending U. Supreme Court review, the U. Justice Department weighed in on another, advocating for transgender inmate rights. These prison lawsuits have been unfolding against the backdrop of an escalating gender-identity discussion that has grabbed our attention for much of this year, thanks to Olympic athlete Bruce, now Caitlyn, Jenner.
As she transitioned publicly and in real time, she raised awareness and high emotions around the world. We watched her talk and cry as Bruce on prime-time television about her lifelong hardships and her goal to help other transgender people find the courage to stop living a lie amid bigotry. That series of events brought the transgender conversation out of the shadows and into the mainstream media, sparking questions about acceptance and compassion, the proper terms and pronouns to use, and confusion over the differences between gender identity and sexual orientation, which are separate and unrelated issues.
There also has been discussion about the treatment choices of some transgender women, including Jenner, who say they can still feel feminine with their penises intact. Which brings us to the topic at hand. Especially if that convicted killer committed murder to pay for it? Skylar was convicted of all three murders. Skylar already told me that she has identified as female since childhood but was forced to live a lie for many years.
She ly recalled a harsh scolding by her father, former U. Big John, who threw Skylar down the stairs and shoved toothpicks under her nails after she bit them, spent time in federal prison for drug trafficking. When he got out, Skylar told me years ago, he forced her into being actor. But looking back, she said, she always hated the work and never got to keep the money she made. Skylar loved Jennifer so much she married her in two ceremonies before they had a daughter, Haylie, whom Skylar and her pregnant wife later brought on board the Well Deserved in a stroller to gain the trust of the Hawkses.
Pretending the Deleons wanted to buy the yacht, Skylar and two cohorts asked the unwitting couple to take them out for an open-ocean trial run. The Hawkses were never seen again. A correctional officer recalls that when Skylar heard about the ground-breaking court ruling in April, she was visibly excited and shared her renewed hopes with prison staff.
She also discussed the development with her friend Harder and asked him to send her news reports so she could learn more. She identifies with the opposite sex to which she was born. But as with everything else in this story, this is more complicated than it seems.
Nationwide, officials know of only one inmate—now in California—who has had the procedure done while behind bars in Texas. In general, one of the prerequisites for a transgender woman to have the surgery is a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which Skylar has received. Complicating matters is that prisoners must have surgery at a community hospital, where they must be guarded around the clock by at least two state correctional officers.
In general, she adds, inmates may pay privately for some types of procedures, but they would still have to be approved based on security concerns. With nearly condemned men and women in California today, and no executions since a moratorium was issued in , the chances of Skylar living out her natural life are pretty high. You have to feed them, clothe them, you have to give them medical care. During her five years of book research, she attended three trials, combed through thousands of s of court documents and police interview transcripts, and conducted hundreds of interviews.
You can about her and her other books at caitlinrother. Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. These cookies ensure basic functionalities and security features of the website, anonymously. This cookie is used for determining whether the user has accepted the cookie consent box.
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