What Chelsea Manning's Life In Prison Was Really Like

Chelsea Manning first joined the U.S. military in 2007, but in 2010, while stationed in Iraq, she discovered information that she found troubling, according to Biography. Instead of keeping her head down and ignoring what she had found, she initiated what is believed to be the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history, per Britannica.

Manning sent hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, elevating the profiles of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and initiating "a new era in which leaks were a weapon, data security was of paramount importance and privacy felt illusory," according to The New York Times.

Some saw Manning as a revolutionary, a brave soul who dared to speak out against the military-industrial complex. Others, including law enforcement, saw her as a traitor, and she received 35 years in prison. Her time behind bars was complicated by the fact that the day after she received her sentence, Manning — who was raised as a boy — announced she was trans.

She would spend the next seven years suffering through deplorable conditions in a men's prison before being pardoned by Barack Obama, facing unfathomable darkness thanks to her willingness to bring government secrets to the light.

What Happened to Chelsea Manning in Prison

Chelsea Manning was first arrested on May 27, 2010, according to Wired, and was transferred to a camp in Kuwait. It was there that she was placed on suicide watch for the first time.

She was moved from Kuwait to the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia on July 29, 2010, where she was classified as a maximum-security prisoner and was placed on suicide watch for part of her sentence, per Politico. At Quantico, she was sometimes stripped naked to stop her from hurting herself despite multiple psychologists deeming this treatment unnecessary, among other injustices.

"I had been in shackles everywhere I went or in a small room or a cage," she told The New York Times of her stay as a maximum-security prisoner.

Following her stay in Quantico, Manning was moved to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. During her days at Fort Leavenworth, Manning often worked in the prison's woodshop, and spent her evenings reading fan mail and books, per The New York Times. But she also faced massive and unique challenges there.

Chelsea Manning Comes Out as Transgender in Prison

On August 21, 2013 — the day after she was sentenced to 35 years in prison — Manning came out as transgender by releasing a statement on the show "Today," according to Biography. In spite of this, she was forced to serve the remainder of her sentence in a men's prison.

In 2015, Manning was allowed to begin hormone therapy in prison, though she was unable to receive gender affirmation surgery. Later that year, Manning launched a five-day hunger strike in protest of "overzealous administrative scrutiny" and the prison's failure to provide her with the opportunity to receive treatment, per The New York Times. She was told she would be eligible for treatment, but months passed without any sign of change, and the inaction eventually pushed Manning too far.

On July 5, 2016, she attempted suicide and was placed in solitary confinement, where she attempted suicide again, according to Biography. During her stint in solitary, she reported seeing four people impersonating her prison guards and trying to kill them, according to The Times, an incident that is similar to hallucinations many people experience while in solitary confinement.

Chelsea Manning's Life After Prison

By this time, Manning had amassed a number of supporters who strongly believed her sentencing was unjust, and a movement for her release began. On January 17, 2017, President Obama granted Manning clemency, cutting her sentence down to seven years, and she was released on May 17, 2017, per Biography. Following her release, Manning wrote for magazines like "The Guardian" and launched a senate campaign in 2018.

However, she was taken back into custody in February 2019, after a federal judge cited her for refusal to cooperate. She attempted suicide again on March 11, 2020 and was released from prison once again, this time slapped with a $256,000 fine.

Today, Manning continues to fight for privacy and for the freedom of information. While in prison, she invented a new way to encrypt internet traffic using blockchain, the technology behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin, according to Forbes. Today she's using her expertise to work on security for a crypto startup. She also remains an important symbol for the trans community.

Manning's case "has shed a light on the serious abuses that transgender people — and in particular, transgender women — suffer daily in our nation's prisons and jails," said Shannon Minter, a transgender man who is the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, per NBC. "While Chelsea's experience is extraordinary in many respects, the abuses she has experienced as a result of being transgender are commonplace and deserve far more attention."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.