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Transgender inmate free after ‘tooth and nail’ prison battle — vows to fight ‘for everyone that was done like me’

“Someone needs to speak up and the voice I know that I’ve got the strength, I’ve got the courage to stand up even if I know I’m going to lose my life or be punished. I’ve been abused my whole life. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been talked about,” Hampton said.

Transgender inmate Strawberry Hampton is out of prison after waging a two-year battle to be housed with women to escape the horrors she says she suffered at the hands of male guards and prisoners.

“On one occasion where I was physically assaulted, I was stomped, I was spit on, I was dragged, my clothes were sliced off of me with a knife,” Hampton says, tears welling in her eyes. “Basically I was treated … it was bad.”

But just because she was finally able to walk out of prison, Hampton is not walking away from her fight.

“I’m fighting for everyone that was done like me — the people who don’t have a voice, the people who are scared, the people that don’t want to put up a fight because they know what I went through they’re going to go through as well,” she said.

Hampton sat down for an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, two days after her release from Logan Correctional Center.

Hampton thought her attorneys were lying to her Monday when they told her she was being released.

Given her legal battle against the Illinois Department of Corrections and its facilities over the past two years, and the treatment she says she endured and the initial setback in her release date, it’s not hard to blame her. Since her release, freedom is still something she’s getting used to, though she’s doing that well and feeling “ecstatically well,” too.

“It’s amazing — I don’t have to worry about taking a s--- or p------ in front of someone, I can go to a clean bathroom, I can have my private space,” Hampton, 28, said. “When I get upset I can just walk away instead of having to face the confrontation right then and there. I don’t have to feel endangered — I don’t have to feel scared.”

After what she called a “tooth and nail” battle to be transferred to the all-female correctional facility Downstate, Hampton, a trans woman, was moved to Logan Correctional Center in December. Her fight garnered national attention, which Hampton hopes to use to fight for other trans inmates.

Strawberry Hampton, 28,
Strawberry Hampton, 28, who filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections for alleged discrimination, sexual abuse and assault from prisoners and guards at male prisons, poses for a portrait near Northwestern University in the Loop, Wednesday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

That’s just one piece of a roughly two-year legal battle that has put a spotlight on the rights of transgender inmates. She’s previously been housed at Dixon, Pickneyville, Menard and Lawrence Correctional Centers.

It was at those all male facilities that she was assaulted multiple times for being a “beautiful woman inside and out,” she said.

“A lot of people were attracted to me, you know, staff and inmates, and when I tell them ‘no’ that’s when they become violent and they threaten my good time or threaten to put me in [segregation] or threaten to stab me or bust my s—- open,” Hampton said.

The Chicago resident, who was born Deon Hampton, was sentenced to serve 10 years for residential burglary — that amount is higher than the usual three to seven year sentences for the crime, Hampton said.

Hampton maintains her innocence.

She was originally supposed to be released in February, but her lawyers and organizations that support her say she was penalized for reporting the abuse and harassment she suffered in prison.

Hampton was prohibited from taking part in programs or work opportunities that would have helped her earn “good time” that would have hastened her release, her supporters contended. A new release date was set for November, but she was released Monday after the Illinois Prisoner Review Board decided to reinstate that credit.

Though she’s free now, Hampton has two pending lawsuits, and she and her lawyers are hoping to receive damages for Hampton. Hampton is confident that she’ll get justice.

Her first suit was against Pickneyville, which Hampton says she filed because guards “tried to kill me.” She had to send the lawsuit out through another inmate’s name because she had been blocked from sending mail, she says.

For her, the decision to advocate for others and wave the flag on her own situation came down to speaking up for others.

“Someone needs to speak up and the voice I know that I’ve got the strength, I’ve got the courage to stand up even if I know I’m going to lose my life or be punished. I’ve been abused my whole life. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been talked about,” Hampton said.

Since that case, her attorney — Vanessa del Valle, of the MacArthur Justice Center — and others have been on her team, advocating for her.

Del Valle called Hampton’s case a “long journey” and “a hard fight.”

“She went through abuse that no one should ever have to go through,” del Valle said. “We’re still advocating for her and others who are locked up because Illinois Department of Corrections needs to overhaul their guidelines and follow the Prison Rape Elimination Act and put it in place to protect people who are trans and people who are vulnerable.”

After being released Hampton says she went to Steak and Shake, got clothes “I hugged my family all day and all night and slept and danced and talked about life.”

For Hampton, that life will hopefully include a job — which she’s looking for — so she can afford a house and a car. In the meantime, she’s living with her sister, Mahighya.

Hampton says she also hopes to be an advocate for other trans people in prison, as well as for others in the LGBTQ community.

Strawberry Hampton
Strawberry Hampton
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“This is supposed to be America, right? So the first thing in America is you have a right to [free] speech, the freedom to religion, the freedom to express who you are, so just because I sleep with the same sex do not make me an animal, it don’t make me a creep or a weirdo, it don’t make me an abomination,” Hampton said, adding she feels sorry for people who judge her before knowing her.

“I’m a human being, I’m a woman, I don’t consider a transgender, I consider myself a woman and I like men and men only,” Hampton said. “People need a reality check, they need to stop saying ‘those people’ or ‘the LGBTQ’ because we are all human. We all should be equal, we all should matter.”