Ky Peterson, the 23-year-old transgender man at the center of The Advocate's investigative report "This Black Trans Man Is in Prison for Killing His Rapist," was placed in protective custody just one day before his story was published, according to his partner.
Peterson is serving a 20-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter at Pulaski State Prison — a medium-security all-women's facility in Hawkinsville, Ga. — and was placed in "protective custody" or "lockdown" Monday night, Peterson's partner, Pinky Shear, tells The Advocate.
"I am concerned because I have not heard from him since Monday night," says Shear, who notes that she and Peterson usually communicate daily via email or through scheduled video chats available to inmates. "I honestly have no idea where he is."
Several employees at Pulaski State Prison and the Georgia Department of Corrections repeatedly declined to explain how protective custody is used in their facilities and whether it involves solitary confinement. Similarly, messages left with high-ranking officials at both departments received no response by press time. The warden at Pulaski, Angela Grant, told The Advocate that information could only be provided to an inmate's immediate family. Shear is not considered family.
Although each prison's procedures are different, protective custody is generally used for inmates considered a danger to themselves or others. Sometimes it's used punitively, with those placed in protective custody getting isolated for 30 days, with no contact with other inmates and no access to phone calls, letters, or visitors, says Shear.
Prison reformers and trans advocates note that such measures, often purportedly taken to "protect" an inmate, have a damaging psychological effect, according to Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union. The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act recognizes that solitary confinement can be psychologically harmful and physically dangerous for LGBT inmates, notes the ACLU.
Without formal confirmation from prison officials, it's impossible for Shear to know for certain whether Peterson is in protective custody or why that move would happen. She worries because Peterson had mentioned having problems with his bunkmate "for a while."
Peterson attempted to file several formal complaints alleging that the woman was harassing Peterson, including trying to touch him in a sexual manner.
"If you have a problem here, they will ignore you, flat-out," Shear says of the dorm officer's willingness to consider complaints from inmates. "When you file a grievance at the prison, they just throw it away. It goes in the trash. And the security officers will tell you that."