Published: Jan. 16, 2014 at 3:53 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2014 at 4:08 AM EST
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A transgender Virginia prisoner, seeking sex change surgery paid for by the state, has been granted parole. It's a major development happening in the middle of a controversial, landmark case.
Ophelia De'Lonta, born Michael Stokes, is being paroled after serving more than three decades behind bars for bank robbery.
Last year, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the Virginia Department of Corrections to have De'Lonta examined by a 'gender specialist'. News of her parole comes before the court gets a chance to rule whether the surgery is medically necessary.
Ophelia De'Lonta had a parole hearing back on November 18, she said in a phone interview in December. NBC12 spoke with her niece by phone on Wednesday.
Tiffany Stokes says the family is "overjoyed because no one in the family thought they would be living, when she walked free."
Ophelia De'Lonta was granted permission to leave prison as a reward for good behavior after serving more than three decades of a 73-year prison sentence. In a recent interview, NBC12 asked her if she was angry, considering her long fight with Virginia D.O.C. for sex-reassignment surgery.
"Getting angry is like me drinking poison and expecting them to die...That's just negative energy that I would have to endure. So, I try not to hold on to negative energy," Ophelia said.
Recently, a U.S. District judge ordered two evaluations for surgery...one paid for by Ophelia and the other by the state. NBC12 has learned that the transgender inmate has had both and the results of those examinations are believed to sealed, right now.
In that phone interview, Ophelia talked about the possibility of being paroled and the impact it may have on her fight for a state-funded sex change surgery.
"If I'm still an inmate in the Department of Corrections, they would still have to provide that surgery," she said.
Will Ophelia De'Lonta have to pay for her own surgery on the outside? Was this a strategic move by D.O.C. to avoid a possible court ruling ordering the surgery? These are all questions we're working to get answered.
The state has maintained her attempts at self-castration are because of a borderline personality disorder. Meantime, Ophelia De'Lonta has been granted parole, but she's still incarcerated at Buckingham Correctional Center. Her family is working to get her connected to a support system on the outside.