On Thursday afternoon, Chelsea Manning shared the first photo of herself after being released from prison. In the last days of his administration, former President Barack Obama commuted Manning's 35-year sentence for leaking government secrets to the public, the longest ever imposed for the crime. She had already served about seven years of her sentence and served four more months after Obama's commutation.
Manning came out as transgender the day after her conviction of violating the Espionage Act. She had twice attempted suicide last year while being held at a men's military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after which she endured solitary confinement.
Manning's story is unique in that it shed a national spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in the military prison system. She struggled to obtain hormone therapy while imprisoned, but eventually was approved after filing a lawsuit in federal court.
Now that Manning is a free woman, her next steps are mostly unknown. According to the Army, Manning will stay on active duty (though unpaid) and can receive health care benefits. While on active duty, she'll be assigned a post, though the Army has not yet released those details. However, her appeal to her conviction is still pending, so it's unclear how long she will be on active duty.
On Wednesday, Manning created an Instagram account, where she posted her first photo of herself. The picture shows Manning's legs and feet wearing Converse sneakers, captioned with "First steps of freedom!!" It's pretty heartwarming to see someone experience such joy in such a small act as being able to post a photo for people to see online. She also posted a photo of a piece of pizza, and a bottle of celebratory champagne.
But while Manning's photo as a free woman is touching in its simplicity and her ability to be herself now that she isn't behind bars, she still has some challenges ahead of her.
Although his predecessor granted her commutation, Donald Trump has made his negative opinions about her known. Days after Obama granted her commutation, Manning wrote an op-ed for The Guardian arguing that Obama hadn't been progressive enough during his presidency. Trump, in an unusual but not entirely unsurprising move, called Manning a traitor for her piece after Obama decided to release her. In a tweet, he said, "Ungrateful TRAITOR Chelsea Manning, who should never have been released from prison, is now calling President Obama a weak leader. Terrible!"
This is troubling in that Trump seems to be attacking Manning for expressing her opinion, and while she's now free, it's not quite the hopeful gesture of reconciliation from the sitting president.