Anarchist Meydan Newspaper’s Interview with Trans Inmate Esra

Source: “YALINAYAK: Tutsak Travesti Esra ile Röportaj” (“BAREFOOT: An Interview with Transvestite Prisoner Esra”) Meydan, 14 December 2014,

In prisons, in every era, pressure, torture and attacks occur, directed against those of a different identity, creed, way of thinking; political prisoners; Kurds; homosexuals; non-Muslims — always. But a way to carry out these attacks would be found, they would be justified, they would be covered up in a thousand and one ways.  After the period of rule by the Justice and Development Party, especially after its “master craftsman” period*, everything began to be done openly, without concern or fear, with people in command, from the lowest rank to the highest, looking out for one another. In an interview given to our newspaper by a transsexual prisoner from a prison whose name we cannot disclose for reasons of personal security, she has described the systematic pressure and torture directed at homosexual and transgender persons in prisons. We share with you, our readers, the interview we conducted.

Meydan: Would you please introduce yourself?

I have been a transsexual for 21 years. I have only one hope: to be able to get my pink ID card. Even that has gotten caught up in procedural barriers under prison conditions.

It is possible to speak of a perception and policy formed by the government and various centers of power in relation to different identities. How does this reflect on you?

In this country, to be homosexual means to lead a very hard life. Sometimes the burden of life seems heavy.  From the moment you choose this life the difficulties begin. First your family ostracizes you, afterwards society does so. Vis-à-vis the government, your rights are taken away from you simply because you are homosexual. Even though it is not official, you are treated as though you are deprived of legal rights. They do not even consider you a human being.

Would you please briefly discuss the judicial process?

In the simplest terms, in court you have no right to speak. The defense you make has no value at all. In the eyes of the prosecutors and judges, you are regarded as a potential criminal, a cutthroat, a monster. You are tried as a contemptible human being. They make you feel that way by their every deed. As for when the matter under discussion is a transvestite, even though in the laws there is no punishment based on a judge’s personal convictions, they hand out such punishment as if there were. Although there was no proof at all, I was accused solely because I was found at the crime scene. With several people offering false testimony about me, the matter was laid at my doorstep. For a crime that I did not commit, I was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. They gave me such a heavy sentence because of my being a transsexual, on the basis of the judge’s opinion.

Aggravated life imprisonment is applied in a manner peculiar to itself; it involves quite a few restrictions. Would you please discuss the problems you experience in prison?

Society is the same in prison as it is in free life. We are exposed to insults, verbal abuse, and demeaning attitudes and behavior. We are subjected to inappropriate groping by the officers in prison. If we should complain, we get no results at all. Let me mention one incident that I experienced. At the Samsun prison I was subjected to sexual abuse by a prison officer. I lodged a complaint. With my own hands I delivered the traces of sperm, the evidence. He was imprisoned during the one-year trial process. In the resulting decision at the end of the trial, they acquitted the prison officer, saying that “it occurred not by force, but with consent of the will.” They attached no importance to my reports of beating. The judge decreed that “the prison officer be returned to his duty, that for the time he spent in confinement an adjustment be made and that compensation be granted.” Where is justice? How they issue a decree to return an abusive prison officer to duty again, I do not understand. They are comfortable with issuing this decree because in their eyes we queers are potential criminals.

I have been in prison for eleven years; for nine years I have been kept in solitary confinement. Since my punishment is aggravated life imprisonment, there are legal restrictions. But since I am a homosexual, I am also deprived of the partial rights recognized for those sentenced to life in prison. I have no social activity. In the simplest terms, I cannot even go to the library. We have a right to the chat room once a week. There is none for me, because I am a homosexual. I cannot go to either the outdoor or the indoor sports hall. Since I am by myself, they say, “What business do I have on the sports field?”

They grant the right to get some fresh air outdoors for one to two hours a day. I go out by myself to the concrete floor in front of my cell and then go inside. Of my day, 22 to 23 hours are spent in a ten-square-meter isolation cell; my room for movement is limited. My only connection with the outside world is television. There is no one to share my troubles with. I can share my problems only by letter. And that I can only write to several friends. It is prohibited to write about everything; the things to be written about are limited. This is a prison; there is no family, there is no one who comes, there is no visit, there is no money, I have no one.

Under prison conditions an economic contribution is required in order to stay alive.

According to the sentence handed down, I will remain under these conditions until the end of my life. How long can one endure under these conditions? I do not know the answer to this question. In prison, if you have no one, if you have no money, you are nothing. Let no one imagine that in prison one lives a life free of care and labor, thinking “What are you going to do with money?” Look, that is not how it is. Electricity costs money; if you do not pay, they cut it off. Tea, coffee, sugar, soap, detergent, shampoo — whatever you may need — costs money. Don’t misunderstand: I am talking about unavoidable necessities. The goods sold at the canteen are both very limited and twice as expensive as they are outside. In prison no one helps out. I do manual labor in order to be able to fulfil my needs. If there is someone who buys the bead handiwork that I make — and it does not always sell — if one day I work until evening, I will earn six lira. For me six lira is a fortune. I hope that the handiwork that I make will sell on a continual basis and that I will earn six lira a day; I would earn 180 lira a month. Even if I earn 80 lira, I am grateful. I cannot obtain clothing because I have nobody. I cannot buy personal necessities because I have no money. I want some people to hear my cry.

Would you please discuss the recent problems originating with the management of the institution, which are the reason for our conducting this interview? What kind of treatment do you encounter?

In spite of my having so many problems, I am also fighting to protect my rights. Alone it is impossible. At the institution where I am currently staying, if I wish to meet with the psychologist or the director, I cannot do so. If I get sick, I cannot go to the infirmary. Completely arbitrary treatment is being applied against me. As a matter of fact, I have already forgotten how to be social. I send a letter; sometimes it is kept waiting at least five days; sometimes it takes ten days. The isolation cell where I have been staying never sees the sun. Since management turns the radiator on using a timer, it does not warm up in the winter. I complain about these problems to the prosecutor’s office, to the Ministry of Justice; management makes a false statement. The prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Justice — they are in no mood to believe a transsexual — they believe the prison director. Under these circumstances it is impossible for me to stay in this prison. I write a special dispatch; the response given is a refusal. I wrote a dispatch stating the problems; I could not go because the prison director wrote, “He has no problem at all.” I went on a hunger strike; I could not go. The prison director threatens me, saying, “I will not send you away from here until you die!” He does all these things because the prison officer who abused me at the Samsun prison is a friend of his; he has said so openly. When I can come out and meet the chief director, he demeans and insults me. He has me thrown out of his office, using strong language. Although I have a right to send a letter to an official institution in a sealed envelope, he seized the letter I had written to the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic. Just two weeks ago we experienced the same issues. Again he failed to send my letter.

I have been so helpless that I have attempted suicide. I swallowed a box of pills; they took me to the hospital. My stomach was irrigated; I was in intensive care. Thanks to the assistance of the hospital psychologist, I had the police take a statement and was able to lodge a complaint about the chief director with the prison prosecutor. Granted, I am complaining about whom to whom? By myself, who am I? I am a transsexual who has no one! If I should die, I have no one to take charge of my funeral; nothing is within my power. In this hospital, when I proved with a document that an official lied, I said, “You are lying, here is the proof, you are a liar.” That word counts as an insult; they imposed a disciplinary punishment: two months! Now the chief director insults me, demeans me, utters curse words; but he is not called to account.

In closing, is there something you wish to say?

I seek justice! I ask you, are you going to remain silent in the face of the cruelty that directors, prison officers inflict on me and other homosexuals who are in prison? Or will you say “No” to this cruelty?

*Referring to AKP’s third term government, starting in 2011.

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