CHICAGO — A transgender woman who just got out of prison says she'll continue to fight for the rights of other transgender inmates now that she's free.
Deon "Strawberry" Hampton, of Chicago, was released Monday from Logan Correctional Center that houses women inmates outside of Lincoln. She was serving a 10-year sentence for burglary. She maintains her innocence.
She battled the Illinois Department of Corrections to be moved from a men's to a women's prison because she said she faced sexual assault, taunting and beatings in male prisons. She was moved in December to the women's prison in Logan County.
"On one occasion where I was physically assaulted, I was stomped, I was spit on, I was dragged, my clothes were sliced off of me with a knife," she told the Chicago Sun-Times two days after her release. She said she faced abuse in Dixon, Pickneyville, Menard and Lawrence Correctional Centers.
Hampton has two ongoing lawsuits against the Corrections Department through which her lawyers are hoping to receive damages.
A department spokeswoman, Lindsey Hess, said the department couldn't comment on Hampton's allegations because of pending litigation.
Hampton said now that she's free, she will use her voice to fight for trans people and everyone in the LGBTQ community who are incarcerated.
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"I'm fighting for everyone that was done like me — the people who don't have a voice, the people who are scared, the people that don't want to put up a fight because they know what I went through they're going to go through as well," she said.
Her lawyer, Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center, said the journey is long and hard.
"She went through abuse that no one should ever have to go through," del Valle said. "We're still advocating for her and others who are locked up because Illinois Department of Corrections needs to overhaul their guidelines and follow the Prison Rape Elimination Act and put it in place to protect people who are trans and people who are vulnerable."
Hampton said when she was released, she hugged her "family all day and all night and slept and danced and talked about life."
She's also trying to get a job that will eventually enable her to buy a house and car. In the meantime, she's living with her sister.
"I'm a human being, I'm a woman, I don't consider a transgender, I consider myself a woman and I like men and men only," Hampton said. "People need a reality check, they need to stop saying 'those people' or 'the LGBTQ' because we are all human. We all should be equal, we all should matter."