ACLU of Virginia Takes Inmate's Case
Transsexual Seeks Hormone Treatment
[RICHMOND, VA] - The ACLU of Virginia is representing a Virginia prison inmate with gender identity disorder who is suing to win hormone or other suitable treatment from the state.
Without proper treatment, the inmate, Ophelia Azriel De'lonta, formerly known as Michael Stokes, has compulsively mutilated himself in at least 20 unsuccessful castration attempts, according to his appeal filed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Twice, he has been airlifted to hospitals in expensive efforts to save his life when an inexpensive prescription for the hormone might have prevented the emergencies, De'lonta maintains.
"There is a dark absurdity to this entire story. For a few dollars a month, [prison] officials could take care of the matter. Instead, they have created an irrational and harmful policy that aggravates De'lonta's self-abuse and has probably cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars," contends Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.
Willis said, "It is especially disconcerting that the apparent motive for all of this - the refusal to deal with the self-abuse and the policy banning hormone treatment - comes from a prejudice against prisoners with gender identity disorder."
The Corrections Department, citing the pending litigation, declined to comment for this article.
However, in 1997, a department spokesman said, "The taxpayers of Vir- ginia will not be expected to subsidize an elective procedure . . . in fact, to continue estrogen treatment for this inmate would perpetuate the problem, not make it better."
Prison officials had been giving De'lonta the hormone until 1995, when the Virginia Department of Corrections ordered a new policy that barred inmates with gender problems from receiving hormones.
De'lonta filed his own suit in lower court and lost.
U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk ruled last October that De'lonta did not have a constitutional right to hormone treatment. He noted De'lonta has mental health treatment and anti-depressant drugs available to him in prison.
Turk wrote, "It is clear that [he] needs continuing treatment of some sort for [his] serious medical need. [He] is currently being provided with treatment, and the [department of corrections] must continue to provide [him] with treatment in accordance with their constitutional responsibilities."
The ACLU recently decided to represent De'lonta in his appeal.
Willis says the case gives the ACLU a chance to argue two important prison medical issues. First, the ACLU believes the Department of Corrections has a legal obligation to take appropriate steps to keep De'lonta from harming himself.
Second, says Willis, "If they can ban hormone therapy despite recommendations from physicians that it be used, they may feel they can ban other forms of treatment. Medical treatment, even in prison, should be determined by doctors based on the needs of patients, not by policies created by prison administrators."
In a 1997 interview with The Times-Dispatch, De'lonta, then known as "Michelle" Stokes, said he was a transsexual - a female personality inside a male body - inside a male prison.
Behind bars since 1983, Stokes was treated with the female hormone estrogen by corrections authorities from October 1993 to 1995. De'lonta is serving a 73-year, six-month sentence for robberies, including at least two purse snatchings.
In a May 14, 1987, letter to corrections officials, Emanuel Lombard, then chief psychologist at Augusta Correctional Center, described De'lonta as an inmate who has engaged in repeatedly self-mutilating and self-destructive behavior.
His letter requested that Stokes be sent to the U.S. Medical Center in Springfield, Mo., where he could receive specialized treatment while in custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
"It is my judgment that Mr. Stokes will persist in this attention-getting self-mutilation almost against his own will and that he is driven beyond reason - and our therapeutic skills - to explore his transsexual compulsion," Lombard wrote.
The transfer was not approved but, in October 1993, a physician at Greensville Correctional Center gave De'lonta a prescription for a daily oral dose of estrogen. De'lonta said the estrogen was a great help.