Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Mum was terrified sharing shower block with violent trans prisoners

A former prisoner has told how she went through hell after being forced to share a shower block with violent trans inmates.

Amanda Benson, 41, revealed she was so terrified of being raped and ending up pregnant that she felt compelled to have a contraceptive coil fitted while behind bars.

The mum of four, locked up with two trans prisoners, one convicted of murder, the other for domestic violence, accused Nicola Sturgeon of “serving up women to predators on a rainbow platter” in Scotland’s jails.

She said: “My whole time in prison on constant high alert, my nerves were frazzled with fear.

“These incredibly violent men were walking around the communal shower area naked and sometimes clearly aroused. Myself and other women were in cubicles with only a curtain to protect us.

“I was shaking with fear. In the end I went to the prison clinic and had a coil fitted because I believed I could be raped at any time. I didn’t want one, I felt forced to do it.

Heather McKenzie, 31, bonded with con Zak Malavin at HMP Shotts, Lanarkshire.

“There was around 40 prisoners and two of them were trans. Neither appeared to be women. They dressed as men, they didn’t wear makeup, they were not so far as I know on any hormone drugs, they sounded like men.

“One of them was a domestic abuser who was over six feet tall and extremely threatening looking, the other was serving time for murder.

“All of the women who were forced to be in that prison with these people were vulnerable in different ways, many of them had been the victims of male violence, irrespective of their own offending.

“It is utterly outrageous, evil even, that we were put in a position of having to live in fear of being sexually attacked every day.

“I simply do not accept that these two prisoners were women, they were dangerous violent men who could at any point have used their strength to overpower one of the women.”

Amanda, from Inverkip in Inverclyde, has spoken out in the wake of fury at transgender double rapist Isla Bryson being placed inside a women’s prison.

She has given the horrifying first hand account of her time incarcerated in a women’s prison while on remand with dozens of other vulnerable women.

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The Scottish Government and Prison Service have been under fire over the decision to allow Bryson – a transgender double rapist – to be incarcerated at Cornton Vale Women’s prison.

Amanda was sent initially to Cornton Vale and then transferred to Gateside Prison in Greenock.

She said the rights of the 40 other women inside at the time were sacrificed for two trans convicts.

She said: “When I arrived in prison I was terrified, disorientated, ashamed and just really missing my children and worrying about not being there for them.

“When I realised I was to be housed with two men I felt total panic, it was like a wave of fear crashing over me – then I found out one was a murderer and the other someone with a history of violence against women.

“I just wanted to keep my head down but I was feeling increasingly suicidal.

“I will never forget the first time I found myself confronted with this huge man.

“He was in prison for domestic abuse against his female partner and yet here he was being allowed to intimidate women every day.

“We were told his name was Laura and that we would need to call him by that name, while the murderer was called Alex.

“I felt like if I was to misgender them it would be me who would be getting into trouble and possibly having my sentence lengthened.

“We didn’t have showers in our cells and so we had to shower in the communal shower block, so women who were traumatised and vulnerable had to be naked and shower with men in their spaces.

“I know some female prisoners decided not to shower at all as a result because they feared they would be raped or assaulted.

“I went to the prison doctor and was given a contraceptive coil, something I have never used nor wanted to use, but I couldn’t take the risk of being raped and becoming pregnant.

“So I was forced to do that to my body just to feel like I was protecting myself in some way.

“I didn’t want to share showers with men, but I was forced to. I didn’t want to see naked and aroused men in my shower area. I didn’t want men in my gym class.

“I tried to escape by working in the salon, but Alex who had committed murder was there.

“One time I remember being locked in a holding cell with no prison officers waiting to attend a visit with my children next to a trans prisoner.

“Anything could have happened to me in those 15 minutes while I was locked in that holding cell with a violent man.”

The mum, who has previous convictions for assault, said she has now been able to turn her life around.

Amanda said: “I don’t deny I made mistakes in my life and I regret it.

“I spent a couple of days in Cornton Vale before being transferred to Gateside which was closer to my home.

“At the time I was struggling with my mental health and other issues.”

The decision on where transgender prisoners are housed is taken on a case-by-case basis after a risk assessment by prison management.

Bryson has now been moved to a male wing of HMP Edinburgh after the First Minister faced a storm over the issue at Holyrood last week.

However there are concerns that other dangerous trans prisoners with a history of violence towards women could be allowed to serve their sentence in a female jail.

There are also fears the Scottish Government’s proposed new gender recognition laws will make it easier for predatory men to be recognised legally as women and therefore gain access to female spaces.

Amanda said: “I honestly can’t believe that Nicola Sturgeon could be so stupid as not to understand the clear problems with the policies she is pursuing on trans rights.

“She knows as well as everyone else that making it easier for men to self ID in the eyes of the law as women without any medical input is going to ultimately make it easier for predatory men to gain access to female spaces.

“It is the most vulnerable women who are going to suffer as a result of this ever time.

“Nobody wants genuine trans people to be discriminated against, but women should be protected too and at the moment that is not happening.”

Retired Labour MSP Johann Lamont said: “This is a horrifying account of what women are being forced to endure in prison.

“No woman should have to endure these conditions and it is disgraceful that this situation has been allowed to develop.

“Women have a right to safety and prisons should be single sex.

“Nicola Sturgeon should have realised five years ago when progressive left wing women where highlighting serious concerns that her policies in this area were open to abuse.

“Sexual predators are opportunistic, so it is not an attack on genuine trans people to say that there has to be safeguards in place.

“There is an opportunity now for the Scottish Government to accept that it has made serious mistakes and to change direction before it is too late.”

Last night SNP MP Angus MacNeil joined a growing rebellion within his own party against Nicola Sturgeon’s GRR Bill which will, if enacted, make it easier to change gender without medical intervention.

Reacting to reports another violent trans prisoner could be heading to a female jail, he said: “Holyrood’s MSPs who were led to pass legislation that would entrench this have to reverse – and quickly.”

Ash Regan MSP has already resigned as a minister over her objections.

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individuals.

“Decisions by the SPS as to the most appropriate location to accommodate transgender people are made on an individualised basis, informed by a multi-disciplinary assessment of both risk and need.”

 (Daily Mirror)

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