On Tuesday, September 16, 2014, Jane Doe escaped.
She was patient. She waited for months and even years for the world to do right by her. She waited for her chance to be loved, supported and to survive.
But, 11 years after she first became involved with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families ("DCF"), eight years after first being sexually assaulted while under the supervision of DCF, eight months after being placed in solitary confinement at a facility for boys, five months after being sent to prison without ever being charged with a crime, and three months after being singled out for punishment following an incident that involved three other young people, Jane Doe simply could not tolerate it any longer.
How much can a 16-year-old who has lived a life of abuse and trauma be expected to endure?
Certainly not this much.
Jane Doe's story first became public on April 8, 2014 after a Bridgeport, Connecticut judge granted DCF's request to transfer her into the custody of the adult prison system even though she had not been convicted of, or even charged with, a crime. Her true crime, as Harvey Fierstein wrote in the New York Times six weeks later, is "[t]hat she has survived." She survived years of abuse by those charged with her care only to be sent to isolation in an adult prison for being "difficult to manage" and hard to place, in no small part because she is transgender.
She appealed to the governor for her freedom after a month in prison: "I am suffering in here. I'm having trouble sleeping and I'm not eating much. I cry in bed every night. I can't be myself in this place. I feel forgotten and thrown away. As you probably know, these feeling are not new for me. This is the way my life has been going since I was a little kid." But nothing changed. She sat in prison hoping for her freedom, wishing for a family and her childhood.
Twenty thousand people signed a petition for Jane's release. Janet Mock wrote to her, "You are not garbage. You cannot be discarded and disposed. You are life. Your existence gives me life. You are an unflickering fierce flame that reminds me every day that girls like you -- the ones who have unjustly been forced to jump insurmountable hurdles -- are the ones our leaders should be centering in our movements. You are worthy of all of our attention, care and resources."
Finally, after 77 days, Jane was moved from the adult prison. It was a victory for her but a limited and short lived one. She remained in DCF custody and as DCF has proven time and time again, she would not be safe.
Just two weeks after she left prison, on July 12, 2014, Jane was one of four girls allegedly involved in an altercation at the locked girls' DCF facility where she was held. Rather than contact Jane's legal team, DCF issued a press release explaining that they would be moving Jane into isolation at a boys' facility. In response to DCF's action, the Office of the Child Advocate in Connecticut issued a public statement to convey their continued concern over DCF's treatment of Jane. That statement read, in part, "The public shaming of Jane Doe -- a victim of significant abuse and neglect -- is also inexplicable in light of the fact that the July 12 incident involved four girls, all of whom were restrained, all of whom were described in DCF records as hitting each other and staff. One of the girls was restrained on five separate occasions during the same night -- including being placed in hand cuffs and prone restraint -- long after the initial incident had ended. No transfers were announced for any of the other girls involved in the incident."
Again, Jane was singled out for punishment and humiliation by her legal parent after a lifetime of such abuses.
She went back to isolation in the boys' facility. For five weeks she wasn't permitted to go outside. She dreamed still of having a family and a place where she could be affirmed and loved. But each time Jane became hopeful that she would finally leave isolation, DCF would shatter those hopes.
Given all of that, it really cannot come as a surprise that Jane ran away from the systems that have tormented her. She was only gone for few hours before she was caught (based on reports she turned herself in) and returned to custody by the Hartford police. In those few hours she got perhaps the only taste of freedom and autonomy she has had in almost a year. How much more will DCF take from her?
Jane has been socialized in and brutalized by a system that is designed to control and incapacitate people of color. As a trans person of color, she experiences unique abuses that have only escalated over time. Early in her case, DCF created a fiction of her as a monster that they have deployed again and again to justify their actions in denying her the most basic human needs.
Jane's story must continue to be told. There will be no #justiceforjane until she is free.