Shelly Ball was arrested in February, 1977, for the stabbing murder of a middle-aged man. But the “woman” who was arrested in the Edmonton hotel where the murder occurred turned out to be Sheldon William Ball, 26, of Chilliwack, B.C. Ball was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, but the court also ruled that his hormone therapy—part of a previously begun sex change—should continue in jail. Now the federal government is faced with financing the rest of a series of surgical operations designed to transform the still-male Ball to a woman. And that change, prison officials suspect, is going to present the Canadian penitentiary system with a unique problem: where to put Shelly Ball for the remainder of his or her term.
“I ask myself, ‘What do you do with a case like this?’ ” says Dennis Weir, assistant director of organization and ad-
ministration, of the Edmonton Institution. According to Weir, Ball’s sexchange operations had gone far enough to allow him to live as a woman and work as a prostitute when the murder interrupted his plans to go to the U.S. for the continuation of his transsexual surgery schedule. After extensive psychological examination, the court that convicted Ball of murder agreed that his hormone treatments should be continued but final approval for the operations was to come from Ottawa, which foots the bills. Since prisons are
charged with providing the best of health care for their inmates, the approval probably will come, perhaps within a year. However, Weir is “concerned” about the reception that Ball will get from female prisoners after being transferred to Kingston, Ontario, where the only Canadian penitentiary for women serving long sentences is located.
Ball has been “getting along fine” with the male inmates at Edmonton Institution, where he was transferred a few months ago from the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, penitentiary, “but he obviously can’t remain in a male institution when he is no longer male,” says Weir. Weir speculates that if Ball needs protection after the sex-change is completed she could be temporarily lodged in a provincial jail, where she would be isolated from other prisoners, or that Kingston will have to work out some system of providing her with either protective custody or an entirely new identity to prevent her prison life from being made miserable, or worse. But that is a decision that federal officials won’t have to make for at least a year.
Meanwhile, Ball is the Edmonton Institution’s most famous inmate, the first federal prisoner in Canada to undergo a sex change while in custody. And there is not much likelihood the problem will go away—Ball isn’t eligible for parole until 1988.
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