Leavenworth prison has witnessed many events in its 150 year history. But now its has to come to terms with the 21st century, and situations which were not conceivable until now.
Bradley Manning, the soldier sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, has announced that he wants to live out the remainder of his life as a woman.
Manning wrote in a statement read on TODAY: “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female … Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”
Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of charges ranging from espionage to theft. He transferred more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks.
He continued in the statement: “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun … I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.”
Manning signed the letter “Chelsea E. Manning.”
Manning’s lawyers said at his trial that his struggles with gender identity as a gay soldier were a factor in his decision to leak the materal. He sent an email to his supervisor in 2010 telling him that he was transgender, and attaching a photo of himself in a blonde wig and wearing lipstick.
Leavenworth prison is the most likely place for him to serve out his sentence.
His lawyer, David Coombs, said he is “hoping” that Fort Leavenworth “would do the right thing” and provide hormone therapy for Manning. “If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.”
In the U.S. prison system, transgender prisoners who have not had genital surgery are generally assigned to live with their birth-sex peers, but the military policy is unclear. It is also not known if the system can accommodate the potentially explosive situation of one ‘female’ living alongside 500 men.
The amount and type of sexual activity which occurs in prisons is well documented. Manning was already facing problems due to the nature of his offense. His now highly publicized gender change announcement is not going to make his life any easier.
But his lawyer doesn’t see any problem. Coombs said he doesn’t fear for Manning’s safety in prison, and that Manning will not ask to live in a female prison. “Everyone that’s in a military prison is a first-time offender. These are soldiers who have done something wrong, have gone to prison and are really just trying to do their time and then get out.”
One could be forgiven for thinking that his sentiments are a little naïve.
As for Bradley Manning, one can only hope that he will not spend his time in Leavenworth prison wishing he had taken heed of the famous Chinese saying, “Be careful what you wish for…….”