San Quentin is one of America’s toughest state prisons. It is perhaps the most dangerous beat for any prison guard, but it can be even more precarious for an officer transitioning from man to woman on the job.
Meet Mandi Hauwert, San Quentin State Prison’s transgender guard. Zoey Tur, once known as “Chopper Bob Tur” who has also transitioned from man to woman, met up with Mandi to discuss her transition, her struggles, and her fears, as she walks the beat in one of America’s most legendary correctional facilities.
When Mandi Hauwert began her career at San Quentin, she was known as Michael, a tough as nails decorated Navy veteran, but inside Michael always felt like a woman.
Three years ago, Hauwert decided to report for work dressed as a woman – and asked to be called Mandi.
Tur said to her, “That had to be a big day.”
“Yeah, it was a huge day. It was the scariest day of my life,” she replied.
Six-foot-tall Mandi says she was worried about how the inmates would react. On the hit Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, a transgender prisoner generally finds acceptance, but would Mandi?
Mandi says the inmates have embraced her, especially Lady J, who is also transgender.
Lady J told her, “Your journey is something to be admired. It is something that should be told, and I admire you so much.”
Tur asked Mandi, “You left on a Friday as Michael and returned as Mandi, what was that like?”
“It was incredibly scary. I just felt like I was going to be a walking sideshow to the prisoners and everyone was going to be looking at me and laughing at me,” she replied.
Hauwert’s fear of acceptance didn’t begin when she became a prison guard. She told us her inner struggle to admit to herself she was transgender almost drove her to suicide in her youth.
“I did attempt it in high school. I ended up downing a bunch of pills. I don’t remember what I took. All I remember is waking up in the hospital,” said Mandi.
Tur expressed, “You’re very lucky to be alive.”
“Yeah, I’m lucky,” agreed Mandi.
This week, Hauwet underwent sex reassignment surgery.
Tur asked, “What does that mean to you?”
Mandi replied, “It means the fulfillment of a lifelong dream being finally happy with my own body, which has never happened before.”