When I asked her to draw lessons from her journey, she grew uneasy. The best option, Manning knew, lay in the formal appeal. “If you were trying to get them to be more gender neutral, they would make a point of being very gender specific,” Manning said. B., Anthony Raby, was seated at a bench in the embroidery shop, sewing name tapes for Army recruits, when a fellow prisoner dropped a note onto his table. Raby didn’t have to ask who the man was referring to. “I was pacing like a madman, sure they had not gotten to her in time.” Not wanting to aggravate the staff, Raby struggled to keep his composure.
But Manning’s fight with the prison authorities was grinding into its third year, and she was tired. And a request for gender reassignment surgery had been met with silence. B., in her mind, was “creating, often deliberately and knowingly, situations that cause high levels of stress on any given number of people. Good people break down.”In July 2016, one of Manning’s closest friends at the U. A former Army specialist serving three decades for the rape of a young child, Raby had first met Manning in 2013, shortly after her arrival at the U. Around a.m., he was approached by an Army investigator: Manning was alive.
Manning told me that in the days leading up to the suicide attempt, she felt unusually low and alone.
She had been determined to push through to the end of the long weekend, when her psychologist would be back on base. In early September, she embarked on a hunger strike to protest what she called the “constant and overzealous administrative scrutiny by prison and military officials.” She ended the hunger strike when the prison vowed to provide her with gender-reassignment surgery, an unprecedented accommodation.
One had Manning, in the words of President Donald Trump, as an “ungrateful traitor.” The other positioned her as transgender icon and champion of transparency — a “secular martyr,” as Chase Madar, a former attorney and the author of a book on her case, recently put it to me. “Like, I’ve been so busy trying to survive for the past seven years that I haven’t focused on that at all.”In April 2014, the Army denied Manning’s clemency application, choosing to uphold, in full, her 35-year sentence. B., Raby wrote: “The idea that someone could believe they were a gender other than what they were born was akin to believing a chicken was a hat. However, as a Christian, I fully believe in showing everyone love and compassion, so we talked.”Raby admired Manning’s intelligence, her wit, her unapologetic weirdness. Manning visited his cell frequently to talk or vent or cry — taking care not to stay too long and violate the prison policy of one person to a unit. Manning, re: My Final Letter.” He scanned the first page. Raby notified a guard in the embroidery shop and handed over Manning’s letter.
Isolation “changes you; it makes you angry,” she said.
At Starbucks, she ordered a white-chocolate mocha and retreated to a nearby stool.
Manning has always been small (5 foot 4), but in her last few months at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, she jogged religiously, outside in the prison yard and around the track of the prison gym, and her body had taken on a lithe sharpness, apparent in the definition of her arms and cheekbones.
For almost a decade after that, barred by prison officials from communicating directly with the public, she remained silent as her story was told in books, an opera, an Off Broadway play and countless magazine articles, almost all of them written before Manning had come out as transgender. B., seemed to understand the toll that incarceration was taking on Manning.
“It wasn’t the whole story,” she told me, “ whole story.”Absent her own voice, a pair of dueling narratives had emerged. “Prison isn’t the best place for anyone who actually has actual emotions besides hate, anger, bitterness, apathy or indifference,” he wrote. Unfolding the note, which was folded and sealed shut with spare adhesive from a stamp book, Raby read the header: “Chelsea E.
Four months later, she was free, trying to adjust to life in a world she helped shape.