In July 2019, Strawberry Hampton made headlines upon being paroled after suing the Illinois Department of Corrections for sexual assault. But only four months later, she found herself in a cell similar to the one she fought to escape.
Hampton claims her reincarceration at a so-called “men’s” county jail was part of a larger state-run retaliation campaign to silence and erase her from the spotlight she reclaimed after reporting repeated abuse, harassment, and re-traumatization from behind bars.
Over the summer, Hampton successfully filed a petition for clemency. At the time of the Illinois Department of Corrections’ (IDOC) approval, she had completed her full, initial sentence and was to be released February 2019. Instead, she said she was incarcerated an extra nine months in retaliation for reporting sexual assault and pursuing legal action.
Hampton experienced sexual violence in four “men’s” prisons: Pinckneyville, Menard, Lawrence, and Dixon. She was then transferred to Logan Corrections Center, a “women’s” prison, before being paroled in July 2019.
The MacArthur Justice Center represented her in her lawsuit against IDOC.
Hampton was released from prison at the end of March 2020, and the Chicago chapter of Black and Pink is fundraising to help cover legal and medical fees.
Hampton Reincarcerated At A County Jail
On November 7, Hampton was arrested on residential burglary charges and had bail set at $100,000. Her arrest took place in DuPage County, specifically Elmhurst, a western suburb of Chicago.
On that Thursday afternoon, Hampton walked to her car after a job interview in Bensenville. She was met with police pointing six different guns at her.
She said law enforcement called her homophobic slurs and searched her car for jewelry allegedly stolen five days prior—“‘two rings and a pair earrings”—despite Hampton’s several demands to not have her vehicle searched. Hampton said she never saw the evidence.
Such stories of being returned to prison within a year of being paroled are not unique to Hampton.
Due to the policing practices of the Chicago Police Department, high rates of reincarceration deeply impact the city’s Black and Brown community. Rearrest and reincarceration are also high statewide.
According to a 2018 Illinois Policy report, “more than 40 percent of those released from prison each year recidivate within three years of release while 17 percent will reoffend within just one year.”
The report notes that “of the 71,551 convictions processed in Illinois in 2016, only 11 percent admitted had no prior criminal history.”
Repeated Abuse Of Trans Women Behind Bars
At the DuPage County Jail in Wheaton, which operates as a “men’s” institution outside of the IDOC and under the control of the DuPage County Sheriff’s Department, Hampton said she faced daily harassment, discrimination, and outright violence. She was isolated by herself the moment she arrived in jail on November 7.
While incarcerated, Hampton said she preferred to be housed in general population with other prisoners, mostly because “if anything happens to me, there will be people that witness it … If [the staff] do anything and I don’t have no witnesses, it’s basically my word against nothing.”
Hampton expressed isolation was damaging to her mental health and that she felt “depressed and suicidal.”
Solitary confinement is connected to a higher risk of suicidality and overall poor mental health, even for brief periods of time. Those risks are also high for people who experience sexual harassment and assault.
“They’re denying me the right to interact with other inmates,” Hampton told Shadowproof while still in solitary confinement.
“I told them I’m a transgender woman, I don’t know no one here, so there’s no reason for them to isolate me or segregate me. And [the staff] told me due to what happened in IDOC, that’s why they doin’ what they doin’”
“Not only did the Deputy make me a target,” she argued, “but the Deputy Sheriff, the Sheriff Department, and the Sheriff, everyone who works here all conspired to bring harm towards me from the IDOC.”
Hampton was ticketed for speaking to another prisoner and faced a month of solitary confinement in mid-February. While she was already isolated from other prisoners in a single cell nearby two other transgender women, she had even fewer privileges in punitive segregation.
Hampton stressed she viewed being targeted by staff as a political effort to silence her from speaking up about the injustices she faced. She also mentioned filing grievances citing staff for queerphobic harassment disappeared in their electronic system.
Hampton’s initial lawsuit against the IDOC was followed by a class action lawsuit that included six other incarcerated transgender women, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois against the IDOC.
The lawsuit focused on how trans women (and really, all genders of the trans experience) are denied trans-specific healthcare, including “appropriate hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgery, gender-appropriate clothing and/or other forms of medically necessary care to support social transition.”
While her transfer to Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, a “women’s” prison, bolstered the case in her favor, she explained she still faced transphobic harassment and systematic discrimination.
The Danger Of Misrepresentation In Media
When asked if other journalists contacted her for comment, Hampton stressed none had reached out to her for an interview.
Poor trans media representation contributes to a larger culture of invalidating trans people by erasing their existence—often quite literally by not calling them by their true names and/or not acknowledging correct pronouns.
In most news coverage, Hampton is misgendered and deadnamed. While her name is not (yet) legally changed to Strawberry, any journalist who cared to contact Hampton directly would’ve immediately known her real name as well as correct pronouns and gender identity.
Local media not only missed the opportunity to humanize Hampton and explore the retaliation she said she faced, but failed to fully research her after she’d garnered significant media attention over the summer and further tarnished her image. This is common for trans people in media, who face being deadnamed and misgendered, even when they’ve previously been outspoken about trans issues.
Hampton stressed the coverage she read severely antagonized her, making it difficult for her to pursue future employment opportunities. Unfortunately, this is common for many incarcerated people once they exit the carceral system. A simple Google search alone can reveal dehumanizing headlines, mugshots, and explicit details of a person’s criminal record without that person’s consent.
One publication even published her home address, making her vulnerable to stalking, harassment, and further harm.
Transphobes can and do hijack these misrepresentative narratives and amplify them further to the right. When newspapers use a trans person’s incorrect name, this gives people with transphobic views a sense of greater legitimacy and empowers them to continue mocking the existence of trans people.
Reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times, for instance, shows what this can look like. It revealed that three IDOC correctional officers posted openly transphobic and homophobic content publicly on Facebook, intentionally mocking LGBTQ+ people behind bars they interacted with while on the job.
Additionally, a plaintiff on the ACLU’s lawsuit against the IDOC was mocked, deadnamed, and overall misgendered by a small trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) blog.
But despite the retaliation campaign orchestrated by state powers to intimidate her, Hampton will not be silenced. She’s still advocating for herself and all trans people, all LGBTQ+ people, on both sides of the bars.
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