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Transgender inmate Michelle Kosilek speaks out in exclusive interview

Posted by David Zimmerman  March 6, 2014 09:23 AM

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Recently Boston Spirit magazine conducted an exclusive, 45 minute, interview with transgender inmate Michelle Kosilek. Kosilek, a prisoner at MCI Norfolk, is best known for her successful law suit against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections in which she argued that the DOC is required, by law, to pay for her gender reassignment surgery. Kosilek prevailed in the case and in several subsequent appeals, the state has filed another appeal and it will be heard shortly.

This is the first time that Kosilek has talked to a local media outlet.

Some highlights from the article include her claim that, shortly after her arrest in 1990, while an inmate at the Bristol County Correctional Facility, she offered to self pay for her surgery. Said Kosilek;

When I was a prisoner in the Bristol county jail trying to get this treatment I had $27,000 dollars in my prison account, because I had a private disability insurance plan from my employer that paid me for psychiatric disability. I had two suicide attempts, so I had a valid psychiatric disability. So my insurance company paid me. So I had all this money in my jail account and I was able to pay for my own surgery. I had contacted a surgeon, and he had agreed to come here and do the surgery.

At that time, according to Kosilek, the surgery would have cost $4,500, but the state declined her offer to self-pay.

She also addresses the reaction that her case has received from some politicians in the state, most notably Governor Patrick and Senator Warren, who have both said that they are against the idea of the state having to pay for this surgery. On Senator Warren, who has stated that she “[doesn’t] think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

I would say that it was disheartening to me — and that is the kindest word I can think of — that a sitting United States Senator could be so misinformed about the right to prison medical care as established by the Supreme Court decades ago. It really is, it’s disheartening to me. I would hope that our elected officials would be more informed about civil rights in regards to prisoners. This is the woman who has stood up in strong support of LGBT rights for those in the community. I don’t understand why my rights should be diminished by the existence of the wall that surrounds me, because of the life that I took. My humanity and my right to dignity is repeatedly established by Supreme Court rulings. You don’t lose your right to humanity and dignity when you go to prison. We don’t go to prison FOR punishment. We come to prison AS punishment. This is what a lot of people, including our elected officials, don’t understand.

Within the LGBT community Kosilek has always been a controversial figure, more specifically within the transgender community. Many in the transgender community have questioned why a person currently serving a life sentence for murder would have access to gender reassignment surgery while others, who have not committed a crime, cannot get the surgery (due to costs and lack of insurance coverage). Kosilek addressed this issue as well.

I would tell them (member of the transgender community) that I came to prison for taking a life in a tragically accidental situation and that, regardless of that, I am nonetheless a human being deserving of dignity and that medical care is one of the things that prisons are required to provide. That it breaks my heart to know that there are thousands of women and trans men like me out there who are unable to afford this surgery at this point in their life and that this makes them perhaps have very despair-filled days, some of whom might be so filled with despair that they might even be depressed and on anti-depressants. I understand this. I personally experienced depression for a long time. I tried to take my own life twice. And I tried to self-castrate in a moment of despair. But the fact that I am a prisoner should have nothing to do with anyone’s belief in my right to dignity. The courts have stated that we have a right to dignity. It’s just a common human right.

Kosilek concludes the interview with a message for the public,

I would just like to say in closing that people need to understand that I — like anybody — I am a work in progress. I have made a lot of mistakes, and I will probably continue to make a lot of mistakes. Though none of them will be as damaging to others, I’m sure, as those I have made in the past — where I was running from myself because others were willing to beat me to convince me that I shouldn’t be myself. I’m not a bad person, regardless of how the D.O.C. might instigate the media, conflating my crime with my status as a transgender woman.

The FULL interview, as well as Kosilek’s open letter to the LGBT community are both available on Boston Spirit magazine’s website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author: Boston Spirit Magazine’s daily blog brings you all of the information you need on New England’s LGBT community. In addition to highlighting local and national LGBT news, we will also highlight local leaders from the worlds of business, politics, fashion and entertainment and keep you up-to-date on all the latest events and parties, hot spots for travel, shopping, dining, and more!
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