Striking Photos Document The Life Of A Trans* Corrections Officer

Photographed by Richard Ross.
Written and photographed by Richard Ross.

Just north of the city of San Francisco, at the tip of the Marin County, stands San Quentin State Prison, workplace of Mandi Camille Hauwert, 35, the only trans* prison guard in the facility.

Hauwert entered the correctional system after serving four years in the Navy, where she was deployed in the Pacific as a damage control and assessment officer. In early 2012, after seven years of working at San Quentin — where she primarily patrols the visiting areas — Mandi began wearing earrings and makeup and letting her hair grow. For the past three years, she has been taking hormones.

Mandi's uniform is slightly different from her colleagues’— instead of a black tie, she wears a short, crossed ribbon, and her blouse has pleats and buttons. She has manicured nails — clear lacquer, to comply with prison regulations. Her tone with inmates and peers is gentle. But, not everyone reciprocates her respectful attitude.

Hauwert has been sent home several times for crying. The hormones make her emotional, and the way that some colleagues and inmates treat her doesn’t help. “He’s just a fucking faggot with a fetish for women’s underwear,” she once overheard a fellow corrections officer say. Mandi's peers' continued use of the male pronoun, she says, often hurts more than the insults themselves.

Photographed by Richard Ross.
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“I have existed in a military or paramilitary world all my life,” Mandi explains. “I know how this works. I am misidentified by pronoun not once or twice a day, but tens, hundreds of times a day — it’s endless and it’s crushing. It’s like Chinese water torture — one drop at a time, one pronoun at a time, one snide comment and aside — one after another. It’s torture.”

Hauwert’s gender affirmation surgery is scheduled for March; the procedure is covered by her corrections officer insurance. “Yes, I am anxious,” she says about her upcoming operation, “but I will be home, recouping with my family. My parents support me, and I am intensely close to my sister. My brother, who is a devout Christian, has disavowed me.”

Photographed by Richard Ross.

Mandi longs to create her own family (“Nothing in this world would make me feel more complete as a woman”), but it's often difficult for trans* people to adopt. So, instead, Hauwert takes to Facebook to share her hopes of having children, and, more broadly, to chronicle her life as it changes: “Each and every day, I rediscover little parts of myself that have been long forgotten, or just never before accessed,” she recently wrote. “I do not know and I cannot say what the experience of growing up as a girl is like, but what I can say with absolute clarity and certainty is: The experience of transitioning to womanhood later in life is nothing short of mind-blowing.”
Richard Ross is a photographer, researcher, and professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been documenting juveniles in the criminal justice system for 10 years.

His most recent book,
Girls In Justice, is a rare collection of stories, essays, and photographs of young women inside 250 of the country's prisons. 

This article was originally published by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the US criminal justice system. You can sign-up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter

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