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12 February 2015

Ophelia De’Lonta (1963 - ) inmate

Michael Stokes of Virginia had a feeling from an early age of being in the wrong body, resulting in a first self-cutting at 12, and bank robberies at 17 hoping to get enough money to pay for a sex change. In 1983 Stokes was sentenced to 73 years for robbery, drugs and weapons charges.

In prison she changed her name to Ophelia De’Lonta from the Shakespeare character and the last name of a slain friend.

In 1999 De'Lonta first filed a lawsuit petitioning for hormone treatment, but without success. In 2003 she, with the aid of the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, again sued the Virginia Department of Corrections and was allowed hormone treatment and to live partially as female, to the extent possible in a male prison.

Occasionally she attempted self-castration, but the VDOC refused to even allow her to be evaluated for transgender surgery. By 2011 De'Lonta was eligible for parole, but failed to get it because of a wide range of prison infractions.

That year she sued again, claiming that the denial of treatment violated the Eighth Amendment. The judge dismissed the case, and she appealed. On January 6, 2012, the ACLUVa filed an amicus brief in support of her appeal, and oral argument took place on October 24, 2012. On January 28, 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ophelia De’Lonta stated a “plausible” claim that the Virginia Department of Corrections violated her constitutional rights when it refused to have her evaluated for sex reassignment surgery. The case was remanded to the lower court.

In December 2013 it was announced that De'Lonta had been granted parole. She had served 34 years of her sentence. The board chairman of Buckingham Correction Center, where De'Lonta was held, was quoted as saying that the possibility of a court forcing the state to pay for an inmate’s sex-change operation was not a factor in the parole decision.

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