HELENA — A convicted rapist who claims he should have been born a woman wants the state to pay for laser hair removal, hormones and counseling as part of the transition from male to female.
Other states have provided such medical care and a federal judge recently ordered the Massachusetts prison system to pay for an expensive operation that will transform a convicted murderer from a man into a woman.
What Ronny Edward Darnell's lawsuit, filed last year in federal court, will mean for Oklahoma is unclear.
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Corrections Department, said the agency has provided similar treatments to inmates in the past, but a handwritten note from a psychologist working at the Helena prison where Darnell is being held shows the prisoner was denied treatment.
“If the inmate had been receiving this kind of treatment on the outside … if it was medically indicated … we would provide treatment,” Massie said. “I believe we've done that in the past.”
Darnell, 44, claims to have gender identity disorder, which is characterized by an overwhelming sense by those afflicted that they would be happier if they were the opposite sex.
In his suit, the inmate claims that his constitutional rights are being violated by the state prison system. He says that by not providing him with hormone treatments, laser hair removal, counseling and assisting him with a name change, the Corrections Department is subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment.
Darnell, who was convicted in 2005 of repeatedly raping a 13-year-old girl in 1997, is not seeking money and doesn't mention any surgical procedures in his handwritten suit.
He does, however, request to be seen by a “transgender specialist.”
“They are denying me any kind of medical treatment at all for my serious medical need,” Darnell wrote in the suit. “I am a female not a male. I was just born in the wrong body.”
The inmate wrote that being denied hormone treatment “has changed me in ways I do not like.”
“It has deepened my voice to sound like a man,” Darnell wrote. “It puts me into a great depression and gives me anxiety attacks on a daily basis.”
Darnell's lawsuit is pending in federal court. He has no lawyer.
Treatment was denied
Darnell, who claims he wants to change his name to Phoebe Halliwell, tried to seek treatment from a psychologist working at the James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena last year, but his request was denied.
James Smash, a Corrections Department psychologist, explained the reason for the denial in a handwritten note dated April 24, 2012, court records show.
“No one is being treated in DOC for this, as far as I know,” Smash wrote in response to the inmate's requests for treatment. “I have given you my answer. Please do not ask me about this again.”
Smash did advise Darnell in the note that the inmate could go up the administrative chain.
The inmate did just that, although it apparently got him nowhere.
In a grievance form filed in May 2012, Darnell requested a transfer to Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, claiming he was being discriminated against by “officers, inmates and staff members” at the Helena prison.
“There's no one here like me to associate with, but at (Joseph Harp) there are at least four other inmates that are,” Darnell wrote in the grievance. “There I can get the medical care that I need for my serious medical need.”
The inmate's request for a transfer to the Lexington prison went unfulfilled. It was made official in a brief letter signed by Janet Dowling, who was deputy warden at James Crabtree Correctional Center on June 1, 2012.
“Medical has not recommended a transfer and I have no administrative reason to request such a transfer,” Dowling wrote in a typewritten letter to Darnell. “Request denied.”