Ophelia De’lonta covered her prison cell door with paper, put down towels around her bathroom area and prepared to administer the medical procedure that the state of Virginia so far refuses to provide for her. Armed with three disposable razors she began digging into and sawing off her own penis, only stopping three hours later when she passed out. She awoke later with 21 stitches, still stuck in the same all-male prison she so desperately wants to escape. Now she’s suing the state to get them to pay for the sex change operation she claims may be a matter of life or death.
Despite being born in the body of a man, Ophelia De’lonta is your typical female prisoner at the otherwise all-male Buckingham Correctional Center. She takes female hormones, wears a woman’s outfit and is required to be referred to as a ‘she.’ Unfortunately a guard using the incorrect pronoun sent her on her latest downward spiral of cutting that first began back when she was just 12-year-old Michael Stokes.
She began robbing banks at 17 in hopes of securing enough money to pay for a sex-change which can cost upwards of $20,000. But by 18 she was behind bars stuck in a world dictated by her anatomy where she remains locked away, isolated from other inmates (for sometimes the best of reasons) and living in almost complete solitude.
So far during her stay, self-inflicted wounds have necessitated the need for expensive airlifts three times. Gender re-assignment advocates argue that these not at all uncommon outbursts of self-mutilation can wind up costing the state more than a simple surgery would to begin with. After all, the state typically pays for other types of medical care for inmates. Yet Harold Clarke, who became Virginia’s corrections director last year, says that a surgery could cause a security risk since Virginia’s inmates are housed according to gender at birth and not anatomy. In other words, it might not do her any good anyway.
Republican Virginia Del. Todd Gilbert threatens legislation if Ophelia’s goes through. “The notion that taxpayers are going to fund a sex change is just ridiculous,” says Gilbert.
Despite the inherent risk, it’s unlikely that this will be the last time Ophelia attempts this type of thing again. Though she does not fear death. When asked about it she acknowledges the possibility, smiling confidently and adding, “But at the end I would have peace.”