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Cruel and Unusual -- transgender and in prison

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Published on Mar 5, 2007

Women, transgender women such as Ashley, Linda, Anna, Yolanda and Ophelia, are incarcerated in men's prisons across the U.S. from Wyoming to New Jersey and Florida. Denied medical and psychological treatment, victims of rape and violence, the documentary Cruel and Unusual asks if the punishment for their crime is indeed cruel and unusual?

Making its major festival premier at South by Southwest, Cruel and Unusual (2006, 66 minutes) is an unflinching documentary on the lives of transgender women in men's prisons. Shot over three years, this high-definition documentary film challenges the viewer's basic ideas about gender and justice through braids of poignantly graphic stories, vibrant landscape portraits and stark prison footage.

Prisons decide where to place inmates based on their genitalia, not their gender identity. Ophelia, who has lived in the prison of a man's body for all of her 46 years, now resides in a correctional facility in Virginia, having been sentenced to 67 years for bank robbery with an unloaded gun. Denied female hormone treatment, Ophelia felt she had no choice but to mutilate her genitals to force the system "to finish what she started."

Anna Connelly had been living successfully as a woman, raising her son, and working towards sexual reassignment surgery. She was on hormone therapy through a doctor for five years before she was incarcerated. Anna was refused treatment and put in solitary confinement which caused her to attempt suicide.

Once an individual begins estrogen treatment, their body stops hormone production altogether, which is akin to denying a woman hormones after a hysterectomy. Coupled with the psychological effects of returning facial hair and losing breasts, transsexuality in prison becomes an untenable situation amidst the general terror of prison. Explained Ashley, an inmate in the Tucker Unit, Arkansas Department of Corrections, "A lot of times I wake up, and I look around at my surroundings and I see all these men. I think, what am I doing here?"

"Cruel and Unusual doesn't just transport the viewer within prison walls, but more importantly, into the hearts and minds of an acutely marginalized and misunderstood community. These women are not criminals in the way the public understands them to be. They are strong, honest, multidimensional individuals with dignity, inner-strength and determination," said Kate Black, Program Officer, The Soros Foundation.

Are these women victims of an abuse of human rights across prisons in the U.S.? If Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, should inmates get treatment for it in prison? If treatment consists of counseling, female hormones, and in some cases sexual reassignment surgery, how far should prisons go? Despite their crimes, are they being kept from their Eighth Amendment Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment?

Downloadable photos, presskit and reviews:
http://www.villagelighthouse.com/crue...

Where to buy the DVD:
http://www.10percent.com/shopping_car...
http://www.tlavideo.com/details/produ...
http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo...

Review of the DVD in Bay Windows:
http://www.outcast-films.com/films/cu...

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