Sex is illegal in every prison. Sex between inmates or sex with guards is strictly prohibited. So why then, did Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) recently mount contraceptive dispensers full of colorful, flavored condoms in every dayroom just last month?

When you become state property, you lose your right to consent. I would know — I’ve been through it. Upon imprisonment, women are told “no means no” and “yes is not allowed.”

There’s a collective understanding — sex is strictly prohibited on all counts behind bars, right? That was, until California passed AB 999 in 2013, requiring all prisons to furnish condoms for inmates by 2019.

Understandably, California was slow to comply with the condom demand. Why provide them in prisons housing inmates without male genitalia? 

But then Gov. Gavin Newsom blurred the lines between men and women. Women’s prisons, as we once knew them, were quietly eliminated in 2021 when California lawmakers passed SB 132, also known as the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act.

This legalized gender self-identification, allowing for fully intact men to be housed in one of California’s two female-only prisons by simply declaring a non-male gender. 

Naturally, men began to infiltrate women’s prisons. The ballpark count is at least 40, but it’s hard to be sure because California refuses to publish this data and gives men the option of acquiring a new state identification number to reduce stigma. 

The floodgates have opened for men with histories of violence against women —  often including charges such as aggravated rape — to transfer into women’s general population facilities.

And unlike in men’s prisons, women aren’t separated by security level or the nature of their convictions.

Knowing that 92% of female inmates in California have been battered and beaten, forcibly housing women with sexually intact males — 33.8% of whom are registered sex offenders — is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment. 

This would clearly fail to meet social decency standards anywhere else. But when we’re dealing with female inmates, it seems that society lacks any sympathy or care. 

Now, these fun-looking and flavored condoms send the message that the sexual desires of convicted and often predatory males outweigh the physical safety and well-being of women.

The uncomfortable truth behind all these changes has gone widely unnoticed. Finally, that’s about to change.

In 2013, I was released from serving a five-year sentence at CCWF for participating in a drug-related kidnapping. Today, I help run a nonprofit, Woman II Woman, and maintain daily contact with incarcerated women who have become sitting ducks.

They call, message, and write to me about the emotional and physical turmoil experienced daily due to the presence of biologically male prisoners. They are told to keep their heads down and “get over” any fears and discomfort. 

Women behind bars have no respite from the undeniable stress of serving their sentences while being in a permanent state of hypervigilance. 

I have walked these same yards, tossed and turned in these same bunks, and screamed the same silent, internalized screams without help ever coming. 

The last few years post-SB-132 have been an uphill battle fought with a burden so heavy, that sometimes I question my own sanity. 

But then I joined forces with Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), and became part of their new series, Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Male Takeover of Female Prisons.

This program, finally, provides a voice for women opposed to biological men being housed in women’s prisons. Knowing that there is a team of women willing to prioritize the most marginalized sector of womankind has become the light at the end of this horribly dark tunnel. It has restored my belief in solidarity among women. 

Still questioning whether the plight of women in prison is an issue of concern? Heed my warning. The harsh reality incarcerated women face while forced to live with dangerous men is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s the fate of women nationwide. 

What female inmates are surviving and the evils that they are up against are coming for all of us — even in the free world. This is a war against all women. We need all hands on deck.