Mandi Hauwert was 32 and a few years into her career as a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison when she started to wear eyeliner to work. "Just a little bit," she tells me. "Just to have some sense of feeling when I went to work that I was being secretly feminine."
At the time, Mandi hadn't come out being transgender. She'd struggled with her secret for years—becoming depressed and suicidal as a teenager, joining the Navy to feel "a little more manly," and finally gathering the courage to open up to one of her female coworkers at the prison. "She was super accepting," Mandi told me. "And then it got me thinking, like, maybe—maybe—I could come out." But after another colleague started to ask questions about the makeup she was wearing, Mandi got called in to her supervisor's office. "I immediately told them that I was transgender," she says. "And their immediate response was that they don't allow cross-dressing."
Mandi eventually got permission to come to work as a woman, and since July 2012, she's done just that. The health insurance she receives as a state employee also covered most of her gender reassignment surgery in 2015. Still, continuing to work as a guard hasn't been easy. Early on, inmates called her names. And while that's eased up over time, Mandi says her colleagues haven't gotten over her transition yet. "It's walking into a room full of officers and having everybody move their chairs over to one side, away from you," Mandi says. "I hate the negativity."
Mandi's also gotten some pushback from the trans community, which she says views police officers and guards with a lot of suspicion. "To be fair, law enforcement has historically treated trans people very poorly," she says. But Mandi is holding firm to the idea that being a part of the system is what could eventually bring about change. "Who knows?" she laughs. "I could be the first transgender warden."