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When she finishes, there’s a ceremony: Fresch rips up the letter, and in her flimsy, jail-issued sandals, pads across the cement floor to a toilet tucked behind a half-wall. There’s a loud, whirring flush. As the letter’s pieces disappear down the drain, her tankmates applaud.
“It takes a lot of courage to do what’s being done right now,” Lindsey says. “But today you get your freedom, because forgiveness is freedom.”
A hole in the system
As Fresch’s Aug. 1 release date approaches, the re-entry staff struggle to find a safe space for her to go.
“Once you’ve been in jail, you need something to transition you back into the community,” Herring says. “You’ve gotta go fight whatever it is you were fighting before you were in here.”
Herring and her staff work with local men’s and women’s shelters to find places for all just-released re-entry inmates to stay. She wants them to focus on remaining sober, readjusting to society and finding a job without the added pressure of footing a rental deposit on day one.
“For the most part, for that first 90 days, when you get out of here, you don’t need to go to work,” says Lindsey. “You need to work on your recovery so when you get that job, the money won’t go to the drug dealer. So we encourage all of them, for at least 60 to 90 days, go to treatment, get grounded outside these walls in your recovery a bit, so when an obstacle comes, you can call your sponsor or recovery coach – use the support system you’ve built.”
So far, though, Harris County Jail has not been able to find shelters for transgender inmates. Some organizations, Lindsey says, “supposedly accept transgenders, but I have yet to see one go there. It’s messed up.”
It’s also illegal: Agencies that receive federal funds could jeopardize that funding if they discriminate against transgender people. But discrimination isn’t easy to prove.