Chelsea Manning, the transgender army private jailed for one of the largest leaks of classified documents in US history, said on Tuesday she can finally imagine a future for herself, as she prepares to walk free. Manning had served seven years of a 35-year stretch when outgoing president Barack Obama commuted her sentence earlier this year. She is due to be released next week from the all-men’s jail where she was incarcerated, although a precise date has yet to be given. “For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” said the 29-year-old, who still identified as male when she was arrested.
Manning twice attempted suicide in jail, where she was often kept in solitary confinement after being sentenced in 2013 for passing more than 7,00,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which released them in collaboration with international news organizations.
“I am forever grateful to the people who kept me alive, President Obama, my legal team, and countless supporters,” she said in a statement.
“Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periods of solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts.”
Originally named Bradley, Manning became a hero to anti-war activists and a villain to government officials outraged over her leaking of classified files.
Three days before leaving office in January, then-president Obama slashed Manning’s sentence by 28 years after more than 1,15,000 people signed a petition calling for her release.
Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union which lobbied on Manning’s behalf, said that “like far too many people in prison, particularly transgender women, Chelsea Manning has had to survive unthinkable violence throughout the seven years of her incarceration.”