Kosilek Robert

Michelle Kosilek in 1993.

Much has been said about former Mansfield resident Michelle Kosilek, the Massachusetts prisoner convicted of murder and seeking a taxpayer-funded sex change. But, very little of it has been in her own words.

Until now.

The most recent issue of Boston Spirit, a magazine that focuses on LGBT issues, features an interview with Kosilek in which she talks for the first time about her legal battle with the state and says she was willing herself to pay for sex change surgery more than 20 years ago.

Boston Spirit Publisher David Zimmerman said he sent a letter to Kosilek in November, asking if she would be interested in sharing her story.

She sent back a two-page handwritten letter that Zimmerman published in the magazine, unedited, in addition to an article recounting an interview with the 64-year-old inmate.

"We've heard from lawyers and the public, but we've never heard her side of the story," Zimmerman said. "No matter how you feel about the issue, she is part of the LGBT community and her story deserved to be told."

Zimmerman said the magazine "steared clear" of the details of the murder case, and instead focused on civil rights for the LGBT community.

From the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, Kosilek spoke about her earlier history of sexual abuse and drug use, her treatment as a transwoman in prison and the public response to her case.

Perhaps the most telling part of the article was when the former Mansfield resident revealed she had offered to pay for the surgery herself more than 20 years ago, but the state refused.

"They (the Massachusetts Department of Corrections) have spent several million dollars over 20-plus years in the process, when I offered to pay for myself at $4,500 twenty-two years ago," Kosilek said in the article.

Zimmerman said if the state had allowed Kosilek to pay for her surgery, "the whole legal battle could have been avoided."

The "legal battle" began in 1990, when Kosilek, who then went by her birth name Robert, was convicted of strangling and killing wife Cheryl McCaul in the couple's Mansfield home.

After McCaul's body was found in the parking lot of Emerald Square mall in North Attleboro, Kosilek was tried and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Since being incarcerated, Kosilek has been living as a woman and legally changed her first and middle names to Michelle Lynne.

In May 2006, she sued the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for its refusal to provide sex change surgery, which she feels she's entitled to under the Eighth Amendment that guaranteeing prison inmates should not be subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment."

The lawsuit has sparked controversy across the country, raising questions about the extent of a prisoner's right to medical treatment when that prisoner identifies as transgender.

A sex change operation today would cost between $10,000 and $20,000.

Opponents say the sex change is not essential to Kosilek health, and that taxpayers should not be obligated to fund what they regard to be a luxury for a convicted murderer.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., weighed in on the issue in 2012, saying, "I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars."

Kosilek responded to Warren's quote, saying in the Boston Spirit interview: "It's disheartening to me. I don't understand why my rights should be diminished by the existence of the wall that surrounds me, because of the life that I took.

"You don't lose your right to humanity and dignity when you go to prison. We don't go to prison for punishment. We come to prison as punishment. This is what a lot of people, including our elected officials, don't understand."

The backlash has extended to the LGBT community, as well, according to Zimmerman.

Zimmerman said some people believe Kosilek's argument is unfair to transgender men and women who can't afford sex change surgery.

"Some in the transgender community are saying, 'I can't pay for my surgery, and I haven't committed a crime, so why should she get the surgery?'" Zimmerman said.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in September 2012 that Massachusetts had violated Kosilek's constitutional rights by denying the sex change surgery, and ordered that the department of corrections provide the surgery.

The department of corrections appealed to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, but in January of this year, a three-judge panel ruled 2-1 for Kosilek.

The two judges in the majority wrote that Kosilek's should "receive medically necessary treatment, even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox."

After the ruling, federal appeals court in Boston said this month its entire panel will rehear the state's appeal of a lower court ruling. That hearing is scheduled for May 8.

Kosilek referred to the lengthy process in the "Boston Spirit" article, sticking to her convictions.

"Regardless of how unusual the situation presented as a medical condition, and however much resistance there might be because of its unorthodox nature, it was required to be addressed appropriately as all other medical conditions were," she wrote.

There's no nationwide precedent for requiring the government to provide a sex change operation, and as Zimmerman described it, "giant knowns" about the issue exist.

For example, if Kosilek is provided the treatment, will she be safe in the all-male prison post-surgery? If not, should she be housed in a female prison?

Zimmerman said he's not sure the magazine piece will change the way the public perceives Kosilek, but "it'll be interesting to see how people react."

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