Letters and Politics

The History of the Khmer Rouge; Transgender Women in Men’s Prisons

With Khatharya Um, political scientist, Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies, and Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Author of the book From the Land of Shadows: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambodian Diaspora.

And Kris Schreier Lyseggen, journalist, photographer and fine artist. Author of The Women of San Quentin: Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons.

And Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman and nonviolent offender who had sued Georgia corrections officials for failing to provide her medical treatment and safekeeping.

About From the Land of Shadows: 

In a century of mass atrocities, the Khmer Rouge regime marked Cambodia with one of the most extreme genocidal instances in human history. What emerged in the aftermath of the regime’s collapse in 1979 was a nation fractured by death and dispersal. It is estimated that nearly one-fourth of the country’s population perished from hard labor, disease, starvation, and executions. Another half million Cambodians fled their ancestral homeland, with over one hundred thousand finding refuge in America.
From the Land of Shadows surveys the Cambodian diaspora and the struggle to understand and make meaning of this historical trauma. Drawing on more than 250 interviews with survivors across the United States as well as in France and Cambodia, Khatharya Um places these accounts in conversation with studies of comparative revolutions, totalitarianism, transnationalism, and memory works to illuminate the pathology of power as well as the impact of auto-genocide on individual and collective healing. Exploring the interstices of home and exile, forgetting and remembering, From the Land of Shadows follows the ways in which Cambodian individuals and communities seek to rebuild connections frayed by time, distance, and politics in the face of this injurious history.

About The Women of San Quentin: 

True stories about nine transgender women in the male US prison system who grew up never feeling safe, who were surrounded by others telling them that they should be ‘ normal ’ , and that their deepest sense of who they were was an error. As the number of transgender people ‘coming out’ reaches levels we never before dreamed of, author Kristin Lyseggen hopes this book will shed some light on the needs of people locked up twice in their lives. She started writing this book as soon as she moved to California from Norway, just before we learned that Private Bradley Manning was Chelsea Manning and before we knew about the popular Netflix TV show Orange Is the New Black. In real life, most women with gender identity issues, when jailed, are put in male prisons with notorious predators. The only options for many of them in order to survive is to live isolated in cages, or become sex slaves for other inmates. For Kristin Lyseggen to understand the reality of their lives, she had to gain trust from people she had never met and never expected to meet. This book project led Kristin from the ‘ war zone ’ in East Oakland, California, to the run-down, chaotic intensity of the Tenderloin district in San Francisco; she traveled from a boundary breaking Transgender Health Conference in Bangkok to a clandestine LGBTQI advocacy conference in Nairobi, Kenya; from an event to raise funds for incarcerated transgender women in Oakland where one speaker was ( former FBI ’ s ‘ Most Wanted ’ ) Angela Davis, a professor at University of California; to conservative Rome, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama; to a maximum security prison in the Central Valley of California. Without exception the stories she encountered during this project were diverse and different from one another in ways that were surprising and often disturbing. Kristin was introduced to an almost inconceivable struggle heaped upon the usual stories of people incarcerated in US prisons. In spite of the conditions of their lives, they taught her that what landed them behind bars, and the contradictory feelings one has about their crimes, there could be the possibility of redemption.

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