Chelsea Manning Will Soon Be Free after Seven Years


By Chase Strangio

Chelsea Manning almost died on our watch. She suffered at the hands of our government, and the toll of her incarceration nearly killed her. But she survived. Through long stretches of solitary confinement, the systemic denial of health care, relentless abuse, and a lifetime of consequences, she will have a chance to live.

On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted Chelsea’s 35-year prison sentence to time served plus 120 days. With the commutation, 28 years were cut from her sentence, and her life was saved. Instead of an anticipated release date in 2045, Chelsea’s prison term will end on May 17, 2017.

When she steps out of prison this week, she will walk into a different world than the one she left behind when she was arrested in 2010. And she will walk as a different person than she was seven years ago. Time, trauma, and survival have changed her and changed all of us.

The first thing Chelsea always says when we talk about her freedom is that she wants to give back to the trans community — to fight for the many trans people, largely trans women of color, held in custody; to continue to connect with trans young people; to share our victories and our struggles; to continue to transform the public narrative about what it means to be trans. She has an unrelenting sense of compassion and justice despite all that she has faced.

With her freedom, she will be leaving behind the abuses of prison but also the life she built there. The family of other incarcerated people who kept her alive when she was cut off from the rest of the world.

In February after her commutation, Chelsea wrote to her friends inside:

“I never would have made it without you. Not only did you teach me these important lessons, but you made sure I felt cared for. You were the people who helped me to deal with the trauma of my regular haircuts. You were the people who checked on me after I tried to end my life. You were the people that played fun games with me. Who wished me a Happy Birthday. We shared the holidays together. You were and will always be family.”

Behind every violent system, there are the beautiful stories of resistance and survival. Chelsea has those to share, and as she steps out of prison, we are all better off because we can share in those with her. We can learn from her and watch her grow.

Chelsea closed her commutation request to President Obama, “I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the USDB as the person I was born to be.”

And now she will get that first chance. She will be able to occupy her body, express her gender, navigate the world, share and grow, love and grieve, on her own terms.

Nothing about the coming days or weeks or months will be easy — but they will be hers — and we will love her and support her and give her space to live.

Chase Strangio is a Staff Attorney with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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7 thoughts on “Chelsea Manning Will Soon Be Free after Seven Years”

  1. Tia Will

    Behind every violent system”

    There are people who are dangerous to others. There are those who are dangerous to our society. Our system of prisons and even our jails are violent by design and nature. It is my belief that those who are not a current, or believed to be a future danger should not be incarcerated

  2. John Hobbs

    “There are people who are dangerous to others.”

    Yes, a soldier who divulges classified material is potentially deadly to their countrymen.(sorry, couldn’t think of a gender neutral term that was interchangeable.)

    Daniel Marsh and Sean Thompson also come to mind. You have advocated leniency for one and endorsed the action of the other.

    “It is my belief that those who are not a current, or believed to be a future danger should not be incarcerated”

    Do you get to be the one who decides which criminals are a current or future danger?

    Other than past behavior, which you are ready to excuse in at least one of my two examples, how would you predict who will be a future danger?


    1. Tia Will


      Not guilty as charged on any count.

      First I am assuming that you are claiming that I advocated for leniency for Daniel Marsh. This is incorrect. I advocated for a secure setting in which he could obtain more appropriate mental health care than would be available to him in a prison setting. I considered Mr. Marsh to be very dangerous at the time he was apprehended. I was not arguing for “leniency” but rather for treatment in a locked ward setting which would provide safety both for the community and for him.

      I most certainly did not “endorse” the action of Sean Thompson. I think that pie throwing is both ineffective and childish behavior of which I do not approve. What I have said is that I do not believe that he is a danger to anyone. However, I could not say the same of Mr. Johnson who lost his temper, beat Mr. Thompson to the point where he needed emergency care including stitches and reportedly only stopped when pulled off by his own security. I believe that this kind of retaliatory response is indeed dangerous.

      No, I am not the one that “gets to decide”. That is not within my area of expertise. However, I will opine that neither should this judge who stated his obvious bias against Mr. Thompson be the one to decide.

      Your last question becomes moot since I am “ready to excuse” no ones behavior. I would however, recommend, if anyone asked, community service for both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Johnson, and the latter should have to attend anger management classes to prevent any further anger driven beatings.

      1. Howard P

        Well, am thinking Hizzonor did receive a ‘life-threatening injury’… contusions, perhaps lacerations, to his ego and/or image (some, perhaps, self inflicted, but still, the instigator should be held to account for the beating… after all, he started it)… just short of an avulsion, as to ego, in my mind an avulsion as to my image of him.

        For someone of his ‘stature’, can totally see why he felt like he was in a ‘life-threatening’ situation, so responded perfectly reasonably.

        The DA probably undercharged, without a ‘hate crime’ enhancement (and responsibility for his own beating), and the jury was obviously incorrect and evil for not rendering a unanimous verdict of guilty on both counts, and it should have come with less than 15 minutes of deliberations.

        That’s what it turns out the Disshonor expected and diss-served.

        He was the one that wanted the City charter to create a “strong mayor” designation.

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