I'm friends with a murderer.
My friend is serving xx-years-to life in Central California Women's Facilty in Chowchilla, CA, after having been convicted about 20 years ago on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder. (What she did, and was convicted of, is not relevant to this story, so we don't need to get into that now.)
So, today, when we got a letter from C, my jaw dropped with astonishment, and I was dumfounded with incredulity.
You see, her letter detailed the admission to CCWF of a convicted rapist, a male, into the women's prison.
W. T. F.?
On the face of it, that just doesn't make sense. Why would California prison officials stick a man into a women's prison?
In her letter, C said that is was to protect the man, Richard J. Masbruch, from being beaten, raped, or killed, if he were incarcerated in a men's prison.
When we got C's letter, I was outraged! Ready to blow up! How could this be?
And I'm still outraged, but after a bit of Googling, I now have more of a picture of what's going on, and more of an idea of the details.
You see, Richard Masbruch is apparently transgendered through self-mutilation (not through surgery), and now goes by the name of Sherri Masbruch. According to reports, while incarcerated in Texas, Masbruch destroyed his genitals with acid a few years ago, after many attempts.
The state of California now considers Masbruch a woman, so placed her in a women's prison. (Because Masbruch and the state of California consider him a woman, I will use feminine pronouns in this diary where I cannot write around it.)
But that does not matter to some of the women in CCWF, who are terrified of Masbruch. According to C, Masbruch had been scheduled to be housed next to her until her unit protested. Masbruch has now apparently been assigned to another unit in the prison.
C's letter stated:
So, while (the state prison system) is busy worrying about protecting him, they couldn't care less about protecting me! It's like turning a shark loose in a pool of bloody fish. The predator in him seeks us out and takes over.C's letter continued:
We were in fear of our safety, not just in the day-room, but in our cells, showers, and beds.With that fear pervading the housing unit, C said that there was a terrible altercation after Masbruch was placed in the unit, and Masbruch was stabbed, sending her to the hospital. Some of the women involved are now facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder, according to C.
Many women in prison, perhaps a majority, have been victims of sexual abuse and rape. My friend, C, was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather over many years starting in early childhood. So, when she heard that Masbruch, no matter the physical condition, would be housed in a nearby cell, she was horrified, scared, and upset.
And who wouldn't be? According to People v. Masbruch, here is what Masbruch did (WARNING: severe triggers following):
At approximately 5 p.m. on April 2, 1991, defendant Richard James Masbruch came to the door to apply for an apartment. Mary gave defendant an application form to fill out and invited him into the apartment to get his name and phone number.A 2008 story in the Fresno Bee, quoted in the Prisonmovement blog, offers some other details about Masbruch's subsequent captivity:
As defendant and Mary walked into the living room, defendant turned around and pointed a gun at her face. He told her to put her hands up and give him her purse. Mary explained she did not have a purse, and defendant asked to see her checkbook. Mary complied. Defendant set the checkbook down and told Mary to go into the kitchen. She assumed the gun was pointed at her head. He told her to lie facedown on the kitchen floor and tied her hands and feet with telephone cord. He then "hog-tied" her, tying her hands and feet together.
Marietta, Mary's mother, then came downstairs. Defendant "polite[ly]" told her, "Your daughter wants to see you in the kitchen." Marietta responded, "Oh, I wonder what she wants." As Marietta entered the kitchen, she saw Mary on the floor, and said, "Oh, my God." Mary told her, "Just do whatever he says to do, because he has a gun."
Defendant sat Marietta on a kitchen chair and tied her hands and feet with a cloth parrot cage cover. He then said he wanted jewelry and money. The two women directed defendant to various locations of the house. After exploring each proposed area, defendant returned to the kitchen, and the women suggested another location. They "figured if [they] cooperated that he wouldn't kill [them]. When he would go upstairs, [they] would talk and think of different places where money might be, so if he got enough that he would just leave [them] alone." Mary "could only really see [defendant's] feet" during most of this period.
Defendant then blindfolded the women. Mary noticed that "[i]t was quiet for awhile." Defendant then turned Mary on her side. "[I]t felt like he had taken a butcher knife and started at [her] knee and just ran it as slow as he could all the way down to [her] ankle. [She] was screaming, because it was ... the most excruciating pain you could think of. It was like to the bone. [She] kept waiting to feel the fluid of the blood coming out and [she] didn't feel it and [she] didn't know what he'd done." Defendant had apparently spliced several electrical cords together and shocked Mary with this makeshift instrument. Defendant also shocked Marietta's right arm. After he finished, defendant said, "That's a warning to show you what I can do to you."
Defendant "unhogtied" Mary and went through her pockets for money. He then unzipped her pants. Mary said, "You're not going to rape me?" [13 Cal. 4th 1005] Defendant said, "Shut up," (and he then raped her.)
California prison officials say decisions about where to house transgender inmates are made on a case-by-case basis. Generally, the decision is based on whether an inmate has male genitalia, prison spokesman Terry Thornton said.However, whether or not Masbruch is still anatomically male, due to history of violence against women, C said that she and other inmates are concerned that Masbruch will come after them to sexually assault or beat them.
... California prison officials say they consider Masbruch a woman. A recent photo shows Masbruch has long hair, shaped eyebrows and other feminine features. Masbruch now goes by the name Sherri Masbruch.
... (Thornton) said Masbruch was placed in the women’s prison also for safety reasons because transgender male-to-female inmates could be preyed upon in a male prison. Thornton said other transgender inmates in men’s prisons also are at risk, but are not allowed to transfer to a women’s prison because they are still anatomically male.
Which raises the question: Where should transgendered inmates be housed? While Masbruch may no longer be anatomically a man, Masbruch's history is one of violence against women.
A column in the Fresno Bee looks at this issue:
It does bother me that someone who committed such brutal crimes against women is now incarcerated with them. But leaving Masbruch in a men's prison would leave the state open to lawsuits for not protecting the inmate from rape. Is the answer for the state to provide separate housing for transgender inmates?Perhaps, as an extremely violent offender, no matter the gender identity or sexual orientation, Masbruch should simply be cut off from other inmates, whether men or women. Yet, is a life in solitary confinement the best answer? Or, should Masbruch spend her prison sentence in a facility that is designed to hold, and separate, transgendered inmates?
For more discussion regarding transgendered inmates, see this LA Times story.
Still, matters of gender identity, of sex-change operations, of hormone therapy, are of no concern to C, my friend.
The women in her housing unit are concerned only with their safety. Just because they have done terrible things in the past, and are now paying the price for their actions, does not mean that they -- some victims of rape themselves -- must live in fear of a rapist in their midst.
Change.org has a petition asking that Masbruch be transferred to a male prison or to the California Medical Facility. To sign the petition, please go to this website.