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Transgender inmate killed in prison fight in Louisiana

entrance Louisiana State Penitentiary aka Angola nicknamed Alcatraz of the South Angola Plantation The Farm guard house controls compound entry as seen in 2009
MSPPMOORE VIA WIKIPEDIA

Yella Clark was serving a life sentence — which they had recently appealed — at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

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Yella Clark, 45, an incarcerated Black transgender person, was killed in a fight with other inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La., in April. Clark’s trans identity is just being widely reported now.

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Clark had been deadnamed and misgendered in local reports, notes a recent press release from the Human Rights Campaign. There isn’t conclusive information as to Clark’s pronoun use, so HRC used they/them pronouns. Clark had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and was taking female hormones.

Clark died April 2, shortly after prison officials broke up the fight between Clark and the other inmates, according to The Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate (no relation to this publication), a newspaper in Louisiana. The Louisiana Department of Corrections declined to give the paper any details about the fight, beyond saying an investigation is ongoing and there may be criminal charges against some prisoners.

Clark was initially sentenced to 75 years at hard labor as the result of an armed robbery at a convenience store in Haughton, La., in 2011. Later, they were convicted of second-degree murder in the death of fellow inmate Dolan Franklin in 2018. Clark was then sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor with no possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of the sentence.

However, Clark recently appealed, saying they acted in self-defense, as Franklin had raped them the previous night and threatened to rape them again. Clark had been sexually assaulted in prison previously, they testified. But in March of this year, the Louisiana Court of Appeal affirmed Clark’s conviction and sentence. The evidence presented in the appeal was not sufficient to overturn the conviction, the court ruled.

Clark’s trans identity made them vulnerable in prison, Terrance Winn, who served time with them at Angola and is now an activist for criminal justice reform, told the Louisiana paper. “That kind of thing can make things a little bit more dangerous for you,” said Winn, who described Clark as loyal and trustworthy. “It’s a tragedy,” Winn added. “It’s just one of those situations that you wish would never happen. People got that desperation thing going on in prison. If you take away hope from people, tragedies happen.”

Trans prisoners are five times more likely than cisgender inmates to be sexually assaulted by prison staffers and more than nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by fellow inmates, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Other studies have shown harsh conditions for trans inmates as well.

“Yella was finally living their truth — something that everyone deserves to do, no matter their circumstances,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in the press release. “Yet the circumstances of their death, and the harassment and violence faced while incarcerated, show that the system failed them as it does far too often for trans and gender-expansive people.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.