By Juan Haines
A state prisoner’s feature story won a prestigious journalism award after beating out over 200 entries from more than 100 professionals representing 29 media organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The broadcast story titled Lady Jay Talks About Being Transgender in Prison won the 2016 San Francisco Peninsula Press Club award for Overall Excellence. It aired on radio station KALW 91.7 FM late last year.
“I thought it would be an interesting topic — a transgender inside of a male facility,” said the story’s reporter, San Quentin prisoner Louis A. Scott. “It’s about the discrimination that an individual goes through on a daily basis — what most of us take for granted is a constant struggle for a transgender inside prison. Something as simple as getting a shower or being subjected to torment and ridicule because of one’s desire to be who they truly are.”
Getting the story out to the public had its challenges, Scott said.
“It took me 18 months for the story to be released. Part of that was because of rape allegations being made by one of the participants in the story, which had to be investigated by CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation).”
Scott said winning the award reinforces the work that he and his fellow incarcerated journalists do in bringing socially responsible and newsworthy discussions beyond prison walls to the outside world.
“Society needs to know that every individual has a story and that we are not defined by our last bad act,” Scott said. “There’s a slew of information behind these prison walls that could be most helpful in solving some of the most difficult social issues. If doing these kinds of stories addresses some of those problems, then I can honestly say that I’m proud of being a reporter.”
Scott is currently interviewing inmates who appear before the parole board but are not found suitable for release. He said he wanted to know how they cope with the denial.
“There is no availability for mental health services for those denied” Scott said. “Some equate being denied parole to losing a family member, which is one of the most difficult things to deal with while incarcerated — that of being permitted closure when a family member dies.”
Scott said being incarcerated is an important element for reporting on prisons and their conditions.
“The reality of the situation is that no one can provide a better perception than those of us who are incarcerated,” Scott said. “As a journalist, I am committed to show the better side of those who are incarcerated. There is not a day that I do not witness rehabilitation and transformation within these walls.”