by: Jamie Anne Royce
CeCe McDonald is set to be sentenced June 4, after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter for killing her attacker Dean Schmitz during a racist and transphobic altercation. The judge will likely apply time served and “good time” to her sentence, so McDonald will likely serve an additional 20 months in prison, not an additional 41 months.
The CeCe Support Committee is asking Judge Daniel C. Moreno to sentence her to house arrest in lieu of prison because her status as a transgender woman of color makes her especially vulnerable to abuse while incarcerated.
Incarcerated transgender people are often housed in facilities reflecting their legal sex, as is the case with McDonald. They are also often placed in solitary confinement where they are usually in a cell 23 hours per day and have little to no outside contact, as McDonald was placed when she was first arrested. She is currently housed in the psychiatric ward, a smaller section of the jail, where she requested to be housed. She has access to television, board games and books, as well as other inmates.
McDonald’s living accommodations will likely change after sentencing. Felony inmates are usually housed in state prisons, not local jails, as they prepare to live long-term in incarceration. Visitation, privileges and accommodations vary by facility and the level of security at the prison. There are four men’s prisons in Minnesota, and she could be placed in any of them, up to four hours away from friends and family.
The CeCe Support Committee is calling on supporters to write a letter to Judge Moreno, urging him to order house arrest rather than prison for McDonald. Letters should be addressed to Judge Daniel C. Moreno, but should be submitted to the CeCe Support Committee firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, June 1, at noon, in order to deliver them all at once to the judge personally.
Some suggestions from McDonald’s lawyers on how best to write the letters:
1. Genuine sentiment and honesty are more important than length and eloquence. Don’t worry about how articulate your letter is — just say what you mean in a respectful manner.
2. House arrest is a reasonable option given the offense CeCe plead to and it adequately addresses her vulnerability in the prison system.
3. Mention CeCe’s good character. (Explain your relationship to her in the letter, and include anecdotal evidence of what a loving, caring and constructive person she is.)
4. CeCe poses no threat to the community
5.Include ways that CeCe’s imprisonment will have an unduly negative impact on her friends and family (if you have personal knowledge of this).
6. Do not disparage or even comment on Dean Schmitz or any of the other people (including CeCe’s attacker) present that night.
7. Do not comment on issues of innocence versus guilt. Do not claim that CeCe is innocent, or that she was falsely or unfairly convicted or coerced into taking a plea deal, or that she acted in self-defense. In considering her sentence, the judge will be looking at whetherCeCe takes full responsibility for the action she pled guilty to, and any arguments undermining that may do more harm than good.
8. Do not use the letter to make arguments about the unjust nature of the criminal legal system. We all feel it, but the judge won’t!
I’m sending in the following letter:
Dear Judge Daniel C. Moreno,
I am writing you in support of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald. While I do not know CeCe personally, as an active member of the LGBT community and a social justice activist I have been following her case and I feel compelled to speak up for her. From all accounts, CeCe has been cooperative with law enforcement, been on her best behavior while incarcerated, admitted her guilt while accepting a plea and retained an optimistic outlook throughout her case.
Transgender women, particularly those of color, experience a culture of violence that is difficult for people outside of that community to conceptualize. In 2010, 44 percent of LGBT murder victims were transgender women, and 70 percent of LGBT murder victims were people of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
Incarcerated transgender people are often housed in facilities reflecting their legal sex, as is the case with McDonald. They are also often placed in solitary confinement where they are usually in a cell 23 hours per day and have little to no outside contact, as McDonald was placed when she was first arrested. Incarcerated transgender people are also at an increased risk of violence and rape while in prison.
I ask that you consider these factors while sentencing CeCe. House arrest is a fitting punishment that allows CeCe to serve her sentence without risking further emotional and physical harm, which would benefit no one. This punishment will better allow CeCe to return to society once she has completed her sentence
Note: This post was originally featured on Stuff Queer People Need to Know and was reposted with permission. You can find the original here.
Jamie Royce is a fierce fancy femme and mobile media machine, working as a freelance writer, reporter, editor and photojournalist. She also blogs at Stuff Queer People Need To Know.