Last week, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project released a video of Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox reading a letter from a transgender inmate. The letter, written by Synthia China Blast, addressed common issues faced by trans inmates, like being placed in solitary confinement as a form of protection, facing increased risk of assault, and harassment by prison staff.
What Cox was seemingly unaware of at the time she agreed to record the video were the crimes of which Blast had been found guilty.
In 1996, Blast and Carlos Franco — both members of the Latin Kings gang — were found guilty in the 1993 rape and murder of 13-year-old Ebony Williams. According to the New York Daily News, "Bronx Prosecutor William Hrabsky said the two held the girl captive in a Hunts Point apartment, [Blast] raping her and repeatedly slashing her body. Franco was charged with killing the girl after breaking her neck."
Hrabsky added, "The suffering that this poor child went through is beyond belief and puts this crime in the category of monsterous and barbarous."
Blast and Franco are both serving life sentences.
Upon learning of the horrific circumstances prompting Blast's incarceration, Cox asked the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to remove the video, writing on her Tumblr, "I was not aware of the charges for which she was convicted. If I had been aware of those charges, I would have never agreed to read the letter."
"My intention was to highlight the horrific conditions many trans people experience during incarceration — to shed a light where often there is only darkness," Cox wrote, referring to the tragic reality facing innumerable trans prisoners.
SRLP contends that though Blast's crime was heinous, she should not be doubly punished as a result of her gender identity. While not excusing anyone's crime, SRLP remains steadfast in their push to ensure inmates receive treatment in line with their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.
"We firmly believe that regardless of a person’s crime, no one should have their human rights violated or be subjected to state-sanctioned torture," SRLP says in a blog post. "Supporting any individual person is not about pardoning their crime, but about protecting the rights of all incarcerated people and ending the use of systematic torture as 'punishment.'"
Blast's situation — being placed in solitary confinement for a reported decade as a protective measure — bears similarity to that of Marichuy Gamino, a trans immigration detainee who was placed into solitary confinement after being sexually assaulted in prison. Similarly, 16-year-old Jane Doe of Connecticut was held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time as a protective measure, and prisoners Chelsea Manning and Michelle Kosilek have struggled to receive medical care while being held in detention.