A True Transgender Prison Story:

Living With the Ambiguous Genitalia in the Muskegon Correctional Facility

Part-3 of 3

The major problem Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins faced was Sunny Lamarck wasn’t violating any rules. It was fine the warden wanted to alter Lamarck’s dress and comportment, but there was no rule violation. Unless Sunny was caught having sex or involved in an altercation, the only strategy left was to bluff.

Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins told Sunny Lamarck to come to his office each morning.

“I’m going to look at what you’re wearing and tell you what isn’t appropriate. You’ll then go back to your cell and change and return here. We’ll keep doing this until you understand what to wear. For instance, lose those shorts and that tank top. Get rid of the cosmetics and jewelry.”

“You want me to come here every day? Seriously?”

“Yes. So go and change and come back.”

Sunny Lamarck returned to his cell. She changed clothes and returned for inspection.

That’s better,” said the deputy, “but untie your shirt so your midriff isn’t exposed.”

Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins felt stupid. Lamarck was not a child. What’s to keep her from presenting herself to the deputy warden wearing “appropriate” attire, then returning to her cell and changing again to prance about the prison yard? If she is disciplined, a hearings officer will find her not guilty, and rightly so since there’d be no rule violation.

Deputy Warden Biggie Biggin’s fear was affirmed, when Captain Alderson told him, “You’re pissing in the wind.”

§§§

“I wish I knew more about transgender people,” Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins said to his wife, Anita, while explaining his encounters with Sunny Lamarck.

This was the 1970’s and few people had personal computers; the internet was a military effort and generally not available to the public.

Anita said, “Anna Crawford knows a transexual. Give her a call. She might be able to give you information, maybe even arrange a meeting. Only thing is I think this person Anna knows is changing from a woman to a man.”

“I’ll take what I can get,” said Biggie Biggins.

Anna Crawford did indeed arrange a meeting between Biggie Biggins and a person named Johnnie. Johnnie and a woman named Laura lived together as lesbian lovers.

Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins met with Johnnie and Laura in their Heritage Hill apartment. Heritage Hill is a Grand Rapids, Michigan, neighborhood full of old mansions formerly built by wealthy lumber and furniture barons; the mansions were eventually subdivided into apartments, and were generally populated by politically liberal and alternative life-style adherents. Johnnie and Laura had a small apartment: high ceilings, crown molding, hot water radiators, hardwood floors, avocado colored kitchen appliances. Laura fixed tea.

Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins described his interactions with Sunny Lamarck, and the dangers she posed to herself and the prison.

“There is no way you’re going to get her to change her behavior,” was the first thing Johnnie said. “You’re singling her out, and your scrutiny will only bring her more prisoner attention. She is who she is, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.”

“That’s the sense I’m getting,” said Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins. “And I appreciate your opinion supporting mine. But I’m also hoping you can help me understand transsexuals. For instance, Anna tells me you and Laura have been together as lesbians for several years? Why do you want to change genders now?”

Johnnie smiled at Laura and she nodded, which I took as her approving Johnnie continuing our conversation. That’s how I knew they were in love and trusted each another: In addition to their consulting one another, when Laura poured our tea she rested her hand on Johnnie’s shoulder, and during our conversation they would occasionally hold hands. It’s the little things. The friendly smiles. The quickness to back off and let the other speak when they began interrupting one another.

“I always considered myself male,” Johnnie began. “I’m sure you notice I groom and dress masculine. This has not always been so. My parents insisted I was female and dressed me accordingly. Yet I still acted more male than female even when I was insistently passed off as female. This brought me much harassment from girls and boys…even physical attacks. As soon as I got away from my family, I started looking and acting more male. At some point I simply decided to go all the way. With the surgeries, it will be harder to know I’m transgender, so this is as much about self-preservation as anything else. I’m sick of the violence, the depression, and thoughts of suicide. I thank God I met Laura. I’m not sure what I would have done.”

“Are the surgeries dangerous and expensive?”

“They’re expensive, and they can be dangerous under certain conditions,” answered Johnnie. “As a female I was small-breasted to begin with, so that’s not much of a problem. My genital reconstruction shouldn’t be too bad since I have a very large clitoris to turn into a penis.”

“I can vouch for that,” laughed Laura. She was obviously supportive and with a sense of disarming humor.

“There are also sources of funding to help transgenders make the change,” Johnnie added.

§§§

Armed with Johnnie and Laura’s information, Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins constructed the argument he was going to give Warden Weld, who once he made a decision such as “We have to show we worked with him” was loathed to change.

As it turned out, the deputy warden didn’t have to convince Warden Weld that Prisoner Sunny Lamarck should be transferred to a women’s prison, and the MDOC should seek funding to help her make the gender transition. Warden Weld had a heart attack and Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins was appointed Acting Warden while Weld recovered.

In addition to the Sunny Lamarck issue, Acting Warden Biggie Biggins let custody to put in a new cement walkway allowing officers to escort prisoners straight from the Control Center to segregation cells, without having to take a longer circular route for the sake of the sidewalk symmetry Warden Weld so dearly loved. A light was also installed to illuminate the American flag that flew in front of the administration building so staff didn’t have to continuously waste time hoisting in the morning and taking it down in the evening. Preparing for Warden Weld’s eventual return, Deputy Warden Biggie Biggins embraced that old adage “It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”

Regarding Sunny Lamarck, the argument Acting Warden Biggie Biggins would have used on Warden Weld was put to good use on Central Office staff. Though he couldn’t talk Central Office staff into a direct transfer to a women’s facility, they agreed to send her to the prison hospital for evaluation, with the possibility of future transfer to a woman’s prison if funding for the surgeries could be arranged. “Oh well,” thought Biggie Biggins, “I’ll take what I can get.”

“What made the warden agree,” Sunny Lamarck said when Acting Warden Biggie Biggins broke the news.

“Oh,” replied Biggie Biggins, “let’s just say he had an epiphany, bless his heart.”

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