After being incarcerated in a men’s prison for nearly a decade, Ashley Diamond is finally free.
Diamond, a Black trans woman, was released on parole last week, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). During her time in prison, she has twice sued the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) for refusing to protect her from the multiple sexual assaults she experienced and for not providing her with adequate medical care. She says that her experiences behind bars have left her traumatized and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Although I’m elated to be released, I’m still damaged by what happened to me in prison, and I’m worried about the people I left behind,” Diamond says in a press release provided to Xtra. “I appreciate everyone who has helped and supported me. In many ways, the real challenges begin now.”
Diamond was initially detained on burglary charges in 2012 after attempting to pawn a saw that had been stolen by her then boyfriend. In prison, she was subjected to frequent physical and sexual abuse and was denied hormone replacement therapy (HRT). After filing a lawsuit against GDC in 2015, her case received the support of the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Obama administration and led to landmark reforms pertaining to gender-affirming treatment within the Georgia corrections system.
But despite this win, Diamond was reincarcerated in 2019 after breaking parole when she went to Florida in search of treatment for her PTSD. She subsequently sued the GDC again in 2020, alleging neglect and retaliation at the hands of the prison. Her attorneys said at the time that she was being denied medical care, as well as access to women’s clothing and grooming products.
Diamond’s experiences—from denial of hormone treatments to being housed in men’s prisons—are not uncommon for incarcerated trans women. A study from the University of California Irvine found that incarcerated trans people were 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and a 2015 report from the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE) found that over a third of incarcerated trans women reported harassment from prison officials or fellow incarcerated people.
While celebrating Diamond’s freedom, her attorneys pointed out that formerly incarcerated trans people face unique challenges after release.
“Ashley is returning to a hostile world where trans people and people with felony convictions have difficulty securing housing and employment because of bias and stigma,” says Chinyere Ezie, a senior staff attorney at CCR who has represented Diamond in both lawsuits, in a statement. “Her courageous advocacy has shined a light on the violence and inequity that transgender people face behind bars everywhere. Now she must deal with the violence and inequity that transgender people face on the outside as well.
“We are relieved that Ashley is home so she can begin her long-overdue journey toward healing, and we are determined to break this vicious cycle, so our work continues even with Ashley’s release,” Ezie adds.
As Diamond serves the rest of her sentence on parole, her suit against the GDC will continue. “I don’t want the whole experience to have been in vain,” she says. “I plan to keep advocating for Black and trans women and fighting against the violence we face. I hope sharing my story can make a difference to my community.”