Finishing School

Sent to TYC when she was 13, Brittany Pollard grew into a young woman and model prisoner in a state prison, but will the lessons she learned there last when she's back in the free world?

There is no way to put it delicately: One day, Brittany Pollard found out that she--a distant relative--had once been a he.

And for many reasons, it was one revelation too many.

Pollard, fresh out of a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown at 13, had learned that the relative was born a man. Suddenly, she says, everything seemed clear, at least to a teen-age mind: the years of alleged abuse--which the relative vehemently denies--the self-hatred, the feelings of abandonment. "Everything just kind of rushed in on me," Pollard says. "I was just kind of, 'Hey, all this time this stuff is happening to me, she was really a man.'"

Brittany Pollard has been locked up since she was 13. Now nearly 18 and housed at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Pollard expects to taste freedom soon.
Mark Graham
Brittany Pollard has been locked up since she was 13. Now nearly 18 and housed at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, Pollard expects to taste freedom soon.
"We call her mother," says Pollard of Alice Tippit, director of the Youthful Offender Program for women. Tippit puts in plenty of off-the-clock hours for the Hilltop girls.
Mark Graham
"We call her mother," says Pollard of Alice Tippit, director of the Youthful Offender Program for women. Tippit puts in plenty of off-the-clock hours for the Hilltop girls.

She acted on impulse, she says, as she had so many times in her 13 years--when she skipped school, got high, ran away or stole candy from the corner store. She got a gun and put it in her back pocket. She sneaked in a back door and walked into the relative's bedroom one night. She flipped on the light.

"I hate you, you gay bitch!" she sneered.

She aimed low. She pulled the trigger.

Then she watched her reaction.

"I wanted to see that hurt," Pollard explains. "I wanted to see that hurt in her eyes that she used to see in me all the time when...she used to do me dirty. I wanted to see that in her."

The relative, shot in the pelvis, stood in horrified silence. But Pollard says she recognized it, for the first time: the hurt.


Everyone always asks the same nosy questions, even here in prison where you'd figure folks have heard everything. They have, until Brittany Pollard, now 17 and housed at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Hilltop Unit in Gatesville, tells her story. She will be getting out of prison soon, and clearly, she is weary of rehashing the lurid details. She knows her case is unique.

Parts of it are hard to believe, and there's a small trace of pain in Pollard's eyes when she spots the stunned look. She shrugs her shoulders. "It's true," she says quietly.

Pollard is sitting in a prison staff office, where she's been left alone to talk. Though she was a hellion at 13, when she was convicted of aggravated assault in connection with the shooting, given an eight-year determinate sentence and shipped to the Texas Youth Commission, she's caused no problems in adult prison. She tells her story while a huge shaking fan blows some of the sweat off dank prison walls. It is August, and few places in the aging Hilltop Unit are air-conditioned.

Her case, it turns out, is unusual in several ways. She was the first young woman to be transferred at 16 from the Texas Youth Commission to TDCJ under a 1996 law allowing such transfers when the youth was given a determinate sentence. Like Edwin Debrow Jr., who is profiled in the accompanying story, "Boy in the Big House," Pollard was written up for dozens of incidents of misconduct at TYC--148, to be exact. Her behavior led TYC to pronounce its efforts to rehabilitate her a failure and recommend the transfer to adult prison.

Pollard is also the youngest graduate of TDCJ's Youthful Offender Program for women. She successfully completed it in November and, until recently, served as a mentor for the second class of young women.

Prison, she says, is a "distant cousin of hell." But home was hell itself. "I know I was wrong," Pollard says about her crime. "I know I broke the law. But at the time, I was 13. I just felt like it was either me or her. I couldn't take it anymore.

"I want to get out," she says, "but when I first went to TYC I thought like some people who they call institutionalized. No one can beat me while I'm in here. I get three meals every day. I know I'm going to have clean clothes every day. You know what I'm saying? A lot of people think like that because some people came from a home like I came from."

It proved extremely difficult to confirm the more bizarre aspects of Pollard's story. Her mother, Desiree Pollard of Lawton, Oklahoma, whom Brittany says told her about the relative's secret, refused to answer any questions and abruptly hung up during a phone call with the Dallas Observer. Neither of Pollard's former attorneys returned phone calls from the Observer, and the state district judge who presided over Pollard's case, Cheryl Lee-Shannon, declined to comment.

Pollard's victim calls Brittany a habitual liar. "As far as abuse taking place in this home, that has not happened," the woman says, adding that she was cleared of the allegations by Child Protective Services. "That is just Brittany talking. This is a thing with Brittany trying to get the guilt and pressure off of her.

"She has taken me through holy hell," the woman says. "I am still the victim."

A Texas Youth Commission report filed with the Dallas County juvenile court states simply that "Brittany shot her [relative] in the pelvic area after learning that her victim was a transsexual," and goes on to say that the relative "has an alleged history of physical, emotional and sexual perpetration against Brittany..." The document, however, compiled when Brittany was 16, also notes that she has a "tendency to exaggerate" when talking about her history of earlier, unreported criminal offenses and that she had frequently been disciplined at TYC for "behaviors such as lying, assault, disrupting the program, manipulating staff, and refusing to comply..." Another report prepared by the Dallas County Juvenile Department, apparently based on interviews with Pollard, her victim and others, says that Pollard "recently found out that [the relative] was born a man and she has had problems dealing with it."

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