Hear Me! My Name is Catherine!
Legally a Woman, Jailed Among Men

On The Record with Catherine Carlson

Catherine Carlson in Payette Country JailA small and fragile transgender woman sits behind bars in solitary in a men’s section of an Idaho county jail for crimes sparked by years of mental and emotional torture brought on my a malicious parent, cruel state actions, and a savage legal system that refuses to recognize the most personal part of an individual’s identity, gender.

Meet Catherine Carlson, a 56-year-old, on her way to prison after years of what she describes as being terrorized by her family, the State of Idaho and the police.

Read her story and listen to Catherine’s emotional courtroom testimony and exclusive jailhouse interviews of why she says she finally came to the end of her rope and snapped.

On July 11, 2010 she set fire to her home and truck and was later arrested walking down the highway naked.

Convicted of first-degree arson, possession of a hoax destructive devise and indecent exposure, Catherine is facing up to 40 years in prison.

In this compelling and heart-wrenching story about one woman’s quest for simple respect and human dignity, Catherine talks exclusively to investigative journalist, Jody May-Chang from the Payette Country Jail as she awaits sentencing.

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Earlier Reporting On This Story:

Carlson Talks After Guilt Verdict

Boise Weekly City Desk Jody May-Chang

By Jody May-Chang
Originally published on BoiseWeekly.com Apr. 18, 2011

After being found guilty of first degree arson, possessing a hoax destructive device and indecent exposure on April 14, Citydesk talked to Catherine Carlson about her conviction.

“Well I expected it, and I didn’t expect it, and it blew my mind … I [am going] to prison because I couldn’t transfer that title of that trailer into my name because I refuse to register as transgender,” said Carlson.

The 56-year-old Payette woman has a long history of physical and psychological abuse, and has had numerous encounters with the courts and law enforcement over the years.

July 11, 2010, Carlson torched the trailer where she lived, placed four fake pipe bombs on her doorstep and put a note on her front door that read, “No one inside, booby trapped, it’s not worth your life, keep out.” She then headed to a storage facility where she set her truck on fire. Carlson was arrested shortly afterward, while walking naked down Highway 95 in Payette. Continue reading

Catherine Carlson Found Guilty On All Charges

It took the jury of five women and seven men one hour to come to a verdict, finding 56 year-old Catherine Carlson guilty of first degree arson, possessing a hoax destructive device and indecent exposure.

After the verdict Carlson’s attorney Phillip Heersink said that although he “was not overly surprised” he was still “disappointed” by the decision.

Against Heersink’s advice, Carlson took the stand as the only witness for the defense. Extremely thin and gaunt, the weathered looking Carlson began her testimony restrained and respectful. She responded to her attorney’s questions regarding the events leading up to her July 11, 2010 arrest.

During cross-examination Payette Country prosecutor Anne Marie Kelso’s, line of questioning agitated Carlson. It got particularly emotional during the following exchange between Carlson and Kelso. Continue reading

Catherine Carlson’s day in court
Advocates suggest a hospital is more appropriate than prison

Boise Weekly City Desk Jody May-Chang

By Jody May-Chang
NEWS FEATURE: Originally published on BoiseWeekly.com Apr. 6, 2011

Catherine Carlson, Boise Weekly, Transgender, Prison, IdahoCatherine Carlson knows that when she steps into the Payette County courtroom on Tuesday, April 12, she faces the possibility of spending the rest of her days in prison. She also knows that she is her only defense witness. But she wants her day in court.

Carlson, a 53-year-old transsexual woman, is charged with three felonies: first-degree arson, unlawful possession of a bomb or destructive device, and usage of a hoax destructive device. She is also facing a misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure. All told, she faces up to 35 years behind bars and a $120,000 fine.

On the morning of July 11, 2010, firefighters responded to a report of a blaze in a Payette trailer park. Tension quickly mounted when authorities discovered alleged pipe bombs rigged to a propane tank on the front porch of one of the trailers. Attached was a note warning that the home was booby-trapped. Law enforcement evacuated the area while bomb technicians defused the device.

Within an hour, firefighters received another call, this time for a car that had been set ablaze near a storage unit north of Payette. Emergency dispatchers received a third call shortly thereafter. Drivers on U.S. Highway 95 near Payette said they had seen a naked woman running down the highway. It was Carlson. Police said she owned the vehicle and the trailer home. Continue reading

Payette Transgender Woman Awaits Arson, Weapons Trial in Isolation

Boise Weekly City Desk Jody May-Chang

By Jody May-Chang
Originally published on BoiseWeekly.com Dec. 7, 2010

Monday, Dec. 6, Catherine Carlson, 53, was in Payette Country Court for a preliminary hearing after a psychological evaluation earlier this month deemed her competent to stand trial.

After over an hour of testimony by city and county officials and first responders to the July 11 incident where Carlson set fire to her Payette trailer, Judge A. Lynn Krogh, found “probable cause” to proceed with the case. Carlson is scheduled to be arraigned on January 7 where a trial date will likely be set.

Facing up to 40 years in state prison, Carlson said she sees herself a martyr for an issue she has been fighting in Idaho for several years: dignity and respect for transgender citizens.

Carlson is a transgender woman who had a legal name change in California as a prerequisite to sexual reassignment surgery she had 30 years ago.

According to Carlson, the state of Idaho was not aware of her male history until it was revealed in court over a civil matter more than a decade ago by her own mother. Carlson said ever since Idaho has listed her male name as an a.k.a. despite her efforts to have the name removed. Continue reading

Payette Woman: “You Want to Know Why this Mobile Home Went Up in Flames?”

Boise Weekly City Desk Jody May-Chang

By Jody May-Chang
Originally published on BoiseWeekly.com Aug. 26, 2010

Catherine Carlson, arrested in Payette last month for setting fire to the trailer where she lived and placing what looked like four pipe booms on her stoop, was moved in late July from isolation in the Payette County Jail to the Idaho State Hospital in Orofino where she remains for an undetermined period of time.

Payette County Prosecutor Anne-Marie Kelso told CityDesk that although she could not talk specifically about Carlson because of medical privacy laws, explained that when a judge commits someone it is because the court suspects mental illness and the defendant is likely to hurt themself or others.

“Everything is stayed right now. Once she is out of the mental hospital they will complete the physiological evaluation regarding the issue of whether she can assist her attorney and only then can we proceed,” said Kelso.

Charged with felony first degree arson and using a hoax destructive device, Carlson faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

“I can’t say for sure,” said Kelso, “but it would be very unlikely to ask for the maximum sentence.”

Carlson said her case boils down to one thing: respect for her identity as a woman. In 1980 Carlson had sexual reassignment surgery to become a woman. As one of several pre-conditions for surgery, Carlson had her name legally changed. However despite her efforts to get it removed, Idaho state records list Carlson’s former male name as an a.k.a. Continue reading