The letter below came to us from our friends at BreakOUT!. This Thursday night at 9:00pm, the Allways Lounge will host a benefit for BreakOUT! featuring a range of performances; circus, burlesque, drag, bounce, and more.
"This is a short story of my life. Please type it and print it and send it to anybody who it might help."
My name is Isabella. I'm 22 years old and I'm a transgender woman. I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA. I'm currently serving a 13 1/2 year sentence in prison.
I'm writing this in hopes that I will touch the lives of other LGBTQ people or anybody else who listens. This is my story. I'm basically going to talk about my transition into society as a transgender woman, including my time spent in group homes, juvenile institutions, and adult institutions. I hope that you enjoy my story and pass it on.
I first realized I had an attraction to boys when I was about 12-13 years old. I've always been feminine and was fascinated by girls and wanted to be one. They used to tease me in school saying "You talk like a girl," "You act like a girl," or "You're gay."
I was like in 2nd grade, I didn't even know what "gay" was. I tried to hide it at first because I was scared and I wanted to be accepted. This did not work out at all. I turned to drugs at the age of 13. I used drugs to numb the pain and feel happy. I used all types of drugs. Once I got caught up in the juvenile system, I could not stay out. I kept coming back and forth from group home to jail. My family was very worried about me, they kept placing me in different programs trying to help me but I rebelled against them. The judge got tired of me and send me to a juvenile prison.
The juvenile system was very hard for me. I used to fight a lot trying to defend my sexual orientation and gender identity. I used to get mistreated by staff and other youth. I was treated differently and discriminated against for who I am. There weren't good substance abuse programs or other treatment services in there. After serving time in the juvenile prison, I went home and started doing drugs again. This caused me to be sent back to juvenile prison again. Every time I would get out I would go back to the same people and I always ended up in jail. I would make decisions and not think about the consequences - I was living for the moment.
When I was about 15 years old, I made the decision that I'm gonna be who I am. I was tired of hiding who I truly was. Every since I made this decision I've been at peace with myself. That's why I believe that I was truly born this way.
Despite my acceptance of myself, I still didn't have anywhere to go and others rejected me. I would still get involved with some guy and I would always get hurt because I was looking for love in all the wrong places. When you're involved with drugs and negative activities, the people who are around you will use and abuse you. They will tell you everything you want to hear and some. I fell for these types of people plenty of times. I had no positive peer support and no place to go.
When I got out of juvenile prison the second time, I was considered an adult. Any crime I committed now, I would go to adult jail...
At this time, I started dressing in women's clothes and taking estrogen and living my life as a full-time transgender woman. But I still didn't kick my drug habit. I kept using drugs to numb the pain I felt. I also used to believe that I could "buy" love and friends. Which is the worst thing I could have done. This left me feeling hurt, miserable, not wanted, and alone because people were always using me for their own personal gain and I was too blind to see it. I just wanted to be loved and accepted.
This lifestyle led me to adult jail, Orleans Parish Prison, to be exact. Orleans Parish Prison is a place of violence where LGBTQ people, especially transgender women, get mistreated on a daily basis. During my time there I was sexually assaulted by inmates and staff also physically assaulted me. The prison offers no protection or assistance to people who look for it. Therefore, I had to survive on my own.
During my time there I was given a break and was sent to work release. This was a much better environment, but I still didn't receive any substance abuse treatment.I got involved with this guy. I thought he was one of the best things that ever happened to me- I truly believed I found true love. We got out around the same time and once again, I was free. I was 21 years old and madly in love, but you can never have a happy relationship when there are drugs involved - never.
Well as you already know, there was no help or support for LGBTQ youth like myself and so I eventually got caught up again and ended up back in jail. I got blessed with a good a lawyer but I still got a lot of time. I finally came to a point in my life where I had to make a choice. Either I was gonna start loving myself or continue with this ignorant and destructive lifestyle.
I have been in jail one year and also have been clean one year- and that's by choice because they have a lot of drugs in jail, believe me. I'm just tired of the same old thing. So I'm losing out on years of my life behind this. I regret a lot of my decisions in the past but when I get out I'll still have a chance to live a happy life. I could go into so many more details about my past but I choose not to because that's not my main focus. My main focus is getting through to somebody so we can help them.
Well now I'm adjusting to prison life as a transgender woman. It's not easy - it's much different from the juvenile justice system. For example, a gay or transgender person in prison can't stand up and urinate- we must always sit down. We must face the wall in the shower, too. That is just some of the "jailhouse rules." A lot of it is a bunch of foolishness if you ask me. But you have to respect others and yourself in here so you won't have too many problems.
I'm missing on the best years of my life because of bad choices and a juvenile system that didn't help me. And if I can reach out and just help one person, I will be satisfied. I'm blessed to have family and friends sticking by my side during my incarceration- but I'm still lonely in prison. Because it's a lonely place.
I love my LGBTQ people to death because we are people and we need to be treated equally. Self-love comes first and then other things fall in place. I still have so much to learn in life. I'm fighting everyday to achieve my dreams. I recommend the Lady Gaga song "Born This Way" to anybody who is reading my story. The words in that song are great. We all are superstars no matter gay, straight, bisexual, lesbian or transgender. We're people who desire to be happy. We're just different and unique and the creator made us this way. No matter what I did I could never change my sexual orientation or gender identity, because this is who I am and it's not wrong. It's okay to be gay or transgender. But there are LGBTQ people who are mistreated all around the world everyday. But there are so many positive things for us, too.
I'm trying to start a group in prison now for LGBTQ people so we can come together and help each other. Society sends out so many negative things about LGBTQ people. It's terrible. I'm only 22 years old but I've been through a lot and my experiences can help other people who are having problems. If you read my story, I hope you enjoyed it. It's very short and in the future I plan on doing a lot more.
I would like to thank BreakOUT! for sticking by my side. Their staff has been at my side since 2007; since before BreakOUT! was created. They have inspired me to be positive in life and help other people.
Photo above: BreakOUT members at organizing meeting.