Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement who I've been supporting, Jessie Burlew.

I will miss my work and the people who have supported me - but I have been most especially grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I have linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


Jessica Burlew's Legal Defense Fund

ALONE: Teens in Solitary Confinement

AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Free Jessica Burlew: Effective Assistance of counsel needed!

(please support and share)

Jessica Burlew was arrested at age 16 for the accidental death of 43 year old Jason Ash in January 2014, and charged with second degree murder. The media ignored the fact that she was a child victim of a sexual predator as soon as she was arraigned as an adult, and thrust her blue-haired dazed mugshot into the public eye with headlines like “Goth Teen Killed Boyfriend During Sex…” (NYDaily News 2/5/14). Her social media accounts - including the one at, where Jason Ash apparently found her, were publicly dissected and commented on by heartless spectators entertained by this tragedy, and Jessie was portrayed around the world as a freakish, bloodthirsty sexual deviant who seduced and then murdered this poor dude Jason, who just wanted to hang out and have a good time with her.

In reality, Jason Ash hooked Jessie on heroin and used her addiction to sexually exploit her. He got off on “knife play” (mind you, she had run away from a group home where she was placed for self-mutilating) and erotic asphyxiation (being choked into ecstasy). He took nude photos of her in bondage. Ash basically kept Jessie as wasted as he could to use her any way he wanted, knowing full well she was a mentally disabled 16 year old - not a consenting adult. She made sure he knew her age when she tried to quit using drugs just a few weeks before the accident that killed him. But Jess thought she loved him - and she just couldn’t resist the needle again when he brought her more.

When I saw Jessie being crucified by the media upon her arrest, I decided to write her in jail and offer what support I could. I knew she’d be facing a long, difficult incarceration in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s custody before she even got to trial, and would need a friend or two out here, at the very least, to advocate for her. We began corresponding and I got my hands on the police report. I can say without doubt that this child is not the monster she’s been made out to be. She’s certainly not a murderer, either - nor is she a “hero” for taking out a sexual predator like Ash. She didn’t mean to kill him - it was an accident. Rather, she's a hero for enduring what the state has put her through thus far, and for fighting the MCSO jail's conditions of confinement for the sake of those kids who come after her. It was more hassle than help to her to have done that.

As I expected she would be, Jessie was housed in solitary confinement in the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, locked down 23 hours a day. She was fed a bag of stale sandwiches and moldy oranges for breakfast and lunch, and one hot plate of slop with rocks in it and spoiled vegetables for dinner. Jessie thought the guards were singling her out for bad treatment until we corresponded, not knowing that all prisoners were fed barley enough edible garbage to nourish themselves. Jess has been constantly deprived of mental and physical stimulation and human contact. She's had no access to TV, radio, sources of news from the outside world, or any other kind of meaningful activity to pass her time in the box. For her "education", her jailers would chain her to a desk for 1:1 algebra instruction twice a week, at the most - nothing to earn her high school credit, though, as the jail high school program for kids charged as adults isn’t certified.

Jess’ mental health was gravely neglected from the time she arrived in jail. It took her mother considerable effort to get her evaluated and on the medications she needed, even though Jess had been diagnosed as autistic and mentally ill at a young age. She sure wasn’t provided with any trauma counseling to help her deal with not only the sexual abuse she had suffered, but the tragic death of another human being at her hands.

Meanwhile, her public defender ignored her for months, assuming he would get her off on probation somehow - then questioning her competency when spring came and the state didn't sound so friendly about a plea. By then she’d been languishing in a hellhole for months, an existence which would have driven most sane people mad. The rule 11 competency proceedings did little to improve Jess' psychiatric care while setting her trial date back half a year - which guaranteed she’d spend almost two years in solitary confinement by the time she got to trial.

Until recently, Jessie was adamant that she wouldn’t accept a plea deal that would send her to prison on murder charges, because she never intended to kill Jason Ash. But she was worn down by her 20 months in solitary confinement and pressured by her attorneys to avoid trial, and ended up entering a guilty plea to 2nd degree murder this past week. That's to say, this plea appears to have been entered under extremely coercive conditions. Unless the plea is rescinded IN THE NEXT 4 WEEKS, she will be sentenced next month to 10 years in prison with no early release. She desperately needs help now. Please make this fundraiser go viral.

Jessie’s supporters ( have found an attorney willing to take her case to trial for a reasonable fee - damn near for free. That is, if that's what Jessie wants to do. But we only have a few weeks to raise the funds we need to give Jess a chance in hell of being free before the year 2025. This kid deserves better than prison - she's been chained up far too long already.

Please give if you can, and SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!!!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fierce Love to Jessie B, from the Phoenix ABC.

17yo Jessica Burlew has been permanently moved with the other girls being charged as adults to MCSO's Lower Buckeye Jail. If you want to write to her or help, please contact the community members who are organizing to support her at You can also go to and add the facebook page for the support group to get involved. 

The FREEJESSIEB group is  NOT to be confused with the Phoenix ABC Chapter, the group which issued the following statement in the wake of the Phoenix New Times' recent exploitative article about Jess titled:  "The Deepest Cut...". They all rock, though.

Thanks for this, my Phoenix friends.  

                 Fierce love back at you -                 
               Circa early 1980's

-------from the PHOENIX ABC (posted 5/29/15)---------

In support of Jessica Burlew, 17 year old survivor of sexual violence and state violence, Phoenix ABC would like to share the following statement:

Jessie Burlew has been in custody for more than a year in the adult jail system in Maricopa County. Over four hundred days of her incarceration have been spent in solitary confinement. She is being charged with second degree murder, as an adult, for the accidental death of Jason Ash. This is a man who was nearly twice her size and more than twice her age, who had substantially more power in this relationship than Jessie did, and who died after asking sixteen-year-old Jessie to wrap a cord around his neck. 

Jessie was diagnosed at a young age as autistic and schizoaffective. At the time of Ash’s death, she was a young teenager who had run away from a DCS group home.Despite the fact that all evidence on the scene supported Jessie’s story that Jason Ash passed out without struggling or indicating that he needed help, Glendale PD arrested Jessie and the Maricopa County Attorney’s office decided to charge her with second degree murder for Ash’s death.

Jessie Burlew has been held in solitary confinement since January 2014, a continuation of her abuse while merely shifting the abuser. The environment she’s been thrust into is one of the worst case scenarios for anyone, and particularly for an individual with special needs and acute trauma. There are, in fact, cases which set a precedent for disallowing people with mental and developmental disorders to be in solitary (for instance the 1995 federal case of Madrid v. Gomez where the judge compared putting mentally ill prisoners in solitary as “the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air…”).

Psychological studies have come to a similar conclusion (Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics a paper authored by Jeffrey L. Metzner, MD, and Jamie Fellner, Esq). The National Prison Project of the ACLU stated that, “Although solitary confinement is well known to harm even previously healthy adults, for children, who have special developmental needs, the damage is even greater. Young people’s brains are still developing, placing them at a higher risk of psychological harm when subjected to isolation and sensory deprivation. Indeed, the vast majority of youth suicides in detention occur in isolation.” MCSO, as well as the county prosecutor, have refused to acknowledge Jessie’s prior diagnoses, going as far as denying her medication that she has been prescribed for years.

The story of Jessie’s arrest and trial is tragic, but it is not surprising. From an early age, children are taught that women and girls are dangerously sexual, and that men and boys are powerless to control themselves around them. School dress codes are written to prevent female students from “distracting” male students. From Lolita to American Beauty, precociously sexual girls seducing and exploiting older men capture the male imagination by relocating the blame in relationships with extreme power imbalance. Right now, media reports are asking questions about how male celebrity Josh Duggar should have been treated and “helped” after he molested his young sisters and other young girls. The question of how the girls who were molested should have been treated and helped after their experience is an afterthought.

Jessie Burlew was immediately exploited by the media upon her arrest. Headline after headline labelled her a “troubled goth teen” who had killed her “boyfriend.” Nationwide media presented nearly identical versions of the story: Jessie Burlew was a dangerous teenager with blue hair and piercings. Not one article presented Jason Ash as an exploitative adult who gave meth and heroin to a teenage girl with mental illness who was 27 years younger than him. In the internet era of clickbait and reality TV, tragedies and lives are sensationalized immediately for a tabloid audience.

Miriam Wasser of the Phoenix New Times was aware of the damage that had already been caused by previous media reports depicting Jessie as “death-obsessed,” “beyond her years,” promiscuous, mentally ill, and therefore threatening and disposable. Wasser was also aware of the fact that so many other journalists have downplayed the age difference and power imbalance between a 16 year old girl and a 43 year old abusive man. After the first article that Miriam Wasser wrote about Jessica Burlew, there was an immediate outcry about her references to Jessie as a “troubled teen” based on her social media presence. Miriam Wasser reached out to supporters of Jessie Burlew and apologized, saying:

“I really want to apologize for the line in the story that refers to her as a troubled teen. I take full responsibility for it, but in the shuffle of late night editing, and then receiving your email early in the morning, the line got overlooked. I never in any way meant to imply that having piercings and dying your hair is a clear sign of a troubled teen. The line was in quotes because my intention was to explain that people jumped all over her and called her troubled for those things. Again, I should have caught it, and I take full responsibility. But I’m really sorry.”

Based on that conversation, supporters were given the impression that Miriam was working on improving her coverage and sensitivity around sexual violence, and especially around this case of a very young survivor already dealing with other mental health issues and state-sanctioned torture in the form of imprisonment and solitary confinement. When Miriam Wasser reached out to supporters again, she was very persistent in requesting access to Jessie Burlew’s mother, stating:

“My plan is to take a deeper look at how the larger social system in general failed this young girl–from CPS to our inadequate mental health system to what she’s going through in jail–and trying to tell this story without her mother seems unfair to Jessie. (I will also be reaching out to Jessie through the jail, and I’ll attempt to do so through her lawyer, but we all know how those things tend to go.) Just to reiterate, I’m not trying to vilify anyone, but rather use her story to tell a larger story. Thank you and please emphasize that I’m not writing a story to vilify her daughter!”

Supporters gave Tracey Woodside (Jessie’s mother) the contact information for the New Times reporter, but also reassured her that she had no obligation to talk to the media, and that she could request an interview via email so that she had time to think about her responses and to ensure she was quoted accurately. Tracey did request an email interview, but was heavily pressured by Miriam Wasser to meet in person and eventually she gave in.

At the same time, Miriam Wasser also contacted Jessie Burlew’s supporters requesting artwork, poetry, etc. with the assumed goal of humanizing Jessie for people who had previously only seen her mugshot. A recent drawing of Jessie’s was provided in which she depicted herself in jail, wearing stripes and in shackles, with scars on her arms and tears in her eyes. Around the drawing of herself, Jessie had written the word “extinct” five times, and also, “if they only knew the stories behind those scars, now she cries.” It also read, “She screams, they pinch her. Officers say, how can you complain? Look at your arms.”

A social media bio that Jessie had written before she was arrested was also emailed to the reporter. It read:

“I love to work with anything that involves music, writing, photography, designing, art, science, animals. I have been writing for years. I love animals. And I love daily inspirements. honestly I can be the most loving person you could ever meet and I can be the most disrespectful, rude, crude, unblissfull person you ever meet to, it is all on perception, I am non judgementful and will always be looking to get to know someone new. I am not that social at first, but I  come around. I love to try stuff new, and I enjoy helping others that  know what its like to be the hated out crowd. all I want to do with my  life is live in an environment of happiness, while I connect to many  viewers of my art and music. my idea on the best way to help someone,  rather teen,child, or adult, is my inspiring something of either artwork  or music or well anything that has meaning, can open up someones heart, and endure the love they seem to seek out… I just want to create a message that speaks volumes with no words, but with sight and sound. that is basically me and what I want to do.”

Miriam Wasser and the Phoenix New Times completely exploited Jessica Burlew and the access they were given to her family, supporters, and artwork. The cover of the New Times this week defiled Jessica’s artwork to make it look as though it was painted in dark red blood, with her scars depicted as open gashes. All of the writing and context of her drawing was removed, and the headline blared, “Jessica Burlew was only 16 when she strangled her boyfriend and mutilated his body.” 

In her article, Miriam Wasser chose to use the entire transcript of the 911 call as an introduction to the story. She included autopsy drawings and graphic descriptions of every single cut to Jason Ash’s dead body. Her voyeuristic coverage of the scene of Jason’s death completely failed to mention that there were no signs of a struggle, or that Jason was twice Jessie’s size and could have easily overpowered her given all of these power dynamics, including the presence of emotional abuse. The article offered no insight or education to the reader regarding typical responses to disassociation and panic, which may have given some context to Jessie’s immediate reactions to Ash’s death. All relevant details that supported Jessie’s innocence — even the ones in the police report — were left out of Miriam Wasser’s story.

Miriam Wasser’s article also went into extensive detail of Jessica’s past history of mental health, consistently painting her illnesses as a challenge to her ability to function in society. The article describes Jessica Burlew “losing control of herself” as a child,  and notes that she was viewed as a “bad influence on her cousins.” Miriam Wasser also included unnecessary quotes from Jason Ash’s mother calling 16 year old Jessica a “skank” and describing her by saying that “her pants had holes from the hips to her ankles, she wore platform boots, her hair was different colors. She looked like someone who used drugs.” Jessica Burlew, who had been in special education from the time she started talking, was reduced to a caricature of a “goth teen.“ She was painted as a woman who is precociously sexual and dangerous to unsuspecting middle aged men (a description that could be inscribed on too many tombstones).

Jason Ash, on the other hand, clearly incited Miriam Wasser’s pity. The contrast in coverage of Jason’s mental and developmental challenges and Jessie’s is very obvious throughout the article. Every attempt was made to encourage compassion and understanding for a violently abusive adult man. He was someone who “didn’t have any street smarts. He never thrived. He tried to get jobs and couldn’t. He worked at grocery stores, CVS, [and often] got taken advantaged [sic] of.” In Miriam Wasser’s article, Jessie was to blame for the accidental death of Jason Ash, yet 43 year old Jason couldn’t be blamed for his sexual pursuit of a 16 year old girl or for the choices he made when he gave her heroin. Amidst speculation about whether Jason was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, Wasser again quoted Ash’s mother: “He could be difficult, but he wasn’t a monster.  He just wanted somebody to love him, that’s all.” Jason Ash, the 43 year old man who was sexually and emotionally abusing a 16 year old, who gave her heroin and meth, and who carved a heart into her chest with a knife, was allowed his humanity, while Jessica Burlew was not.

Miriam Wasser wrote, “Burlew’s mental illness cannot explain away what happened to Jason Ash, nor can her insufficient care necessarily exonerate her” even while she speculated on what undiagnosed mental illness or developmental differences might have led poor Jason Ash astray. Jessica Burlew’s developmental differences and struggles with mental illness are documented as early as she could speak, and her entire life has been spent shuffled from special school to mental health hospital to DCS custody. The writer of this article used documented mental illness and neurodivergence to condemn Jessie, and used speculations about the same issues to implicitly exonerate Jason.

The implications of the article are also infantilizing to autistic adults, such as inferring that if a grown man does have autism, he is incapable of making decisions such as “should I or should I not get a young girl hooked on hard drugs?” or any of the other choices Ash made over and over in the process of constructing this abusive relationship with Jessie. So why, in the author’s mind, was Jason Ash cleared of wrongdoing because he may have been autistic and “wanted to be loved,” whereas Jessie’s own developmental differences were used to label her as unsafe for society? Again, women and/or feminine people are usually blamed for their experiences of sexual abuse. In this case, it was partly through Miriam Wasser’s framing a potentially shared neurodivergence in a different way depending on who was being discussed. Men are consistently portrayed as incapable of controlling themselves, while people who do not fit the white, patriarchal media narrative of the perfect victim are punished. Jessie has been cast aside as dangerous, whereas Jason must be coddled; he didn’t know any better, he “just wanted to be loved.“

Miriam Wasser is obviously not the first to allow her discomfort with mental illness and developmental differences to override her compassion. She is simply one more tabloid journalist capitalizing on the tragedies of others and summing up complex stories into clickbait. Many people were fooled by Miriam Wasser’s stated intentions of advocating for Jessie Burlew, and believed she was interested in helping shine a light on the conditions of Jessie’s prosecution and imprisonment. Instead, Miriam Wasser’s article ends up on the garbage pile with the other voyeuristic tabloid trash that cared more about sensationalizing death and tragedy than understanding and defending survivors of sexual violence.

Fierce love to Jessie, to her mother, to the young people who know how much darkness is in this world, to the women struggling in abusive relationships while being told from every angle that it’s their fault, to the people of color whose sexuality is considered a threat to be neutralized and sterilized, to the trans women whose murders are reported inaccurately if at all, to the people with disabilities facing judgment from an ableist system, and to all those who are forced to contend with all of this in isolation, behind bars or otherwise. While journalists ignore ethics to capture the short attention span of their audience, a seventeen year old girl sits in a cell in an adult jail, expecting to have her second birthday behind bars this summer. Jessica Burlew deserves better from so many adults with the power to help. Miriam Wasser is just one more name on the list of those who have let her down.

- the Phoenix ABC (5/29/15)


Please go to and add the facebook page for the support group to get involved and support Jessica Burlew in her fight for freedom.

If you choose to read the article, please use the following link so that it doesn’t boost the New Times' search results:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jessica Burlew, our broken justice system, and answering cries for help...

This post was written by a local videographer and citizen journalist  Dennis Gilman, who just launched Real News AZ. He's one of the people responsible for gathering much of the evidence used to convict Sheriff Joe Arpaio of racial profiling, having spent a considerable amount of time and energy filming the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on patrol over the course of several years. Every time I went cop-watching after the passage of SB 1070, in fact, Dennis was also out there - and just about every other direct action in Phoenix, come to think of it, documenting local history.

He writes below (taken from his new website) about the plight of my young friend Jessie Burlew with compassion and understanding, calling the murder porn industry what it is. Dennis' site is a fresh alternative to what Phoenix has going for it now, so hit it directly, and like and share his post, please, for Jessie's sake. 

Visit Jessie's support pages on Facebook, too - she can use all the friends she can get right now, as the prosecution is determined to take her to trial (they're an absolutely necessary player in the murder porn industry, of course...).

By way of an update on Jess:  the jail staff are now suggesting that her custody level might be changed soon, to get her out of 23 hour a day lockdown - now that the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Arizona Center for Disability Law have become involved, of course. And Jess and the other girls being charged as adults have been moved from Estrella to Lower Buckeye Jail, where they report they are getting more access to programs and services. Thanks ACLU-AZ, as well as the AzCDL, for whatever you did to help improve things for the kids! 

And thanks to the rest of you out there who have been sharing Jess' story and offering support. Keep the pressure on both the defense and the county attorney's office, as well as the MCSO - they will all be held accountable for what happens to her.
Now, here's the latest poem and drawing Jessie asked me to share publicly. It reflects her state of mind and tormented spirit after more than 15 months in solitary confinement. Jessie's arms are scarred from many self-inflicted wounds - most of those scars she arrived at the jail with. These are clearly depicted in her self-portrait below. 

The small print above her chained arms reads "she screams / they pinch her / officers say how can you complain look at your arms!!!"  The implication, of course, is that since she has harmed herself before, Jessie has no business complaining about officers hurting her now when they handle her.  

Frankly, they don't know WTF to do with kids like Jessie except to punish and shame them for being troubled kids. They are just there to shackle, cage, feed, and oversee the confinement of "criminals", not to help traumatized children during their prolonged, tortuous period of pre-trial confinement (their fate only if they can't make or don't get bail). I'm not sure how well I'd endure such an ordeal, myself. Jess has been a real extraordinary kid to not only survive thus far, but to fight for both her rights and those of the other kids who will follow her into that hell. She knows it may have made things harder on her in there, but was determined to help make a difference. For that she deserves a lot of credit.

I recently made the mistake of sharing these pieces below with a reporter from the Phoenix New Times, Miriam Wasser, who seemed to care about what happened to Jess. Unfortunately, she or her editors marked up and manipulated the drawing to accompany a story depicting Jessie as some kind of monster whose life was on a crash course to kill some poor sweet old guy living with his mom who was just looking for a good time. And what a bunch of crap Wasser wrote to go with the drawing and poem  - she might as well have burned Jess at the stake for being a witch and benighted her abuser in the process. 

I don't understand Wasser's or the PNT's fondness for child molesters. That SOB Jason Ash was a pedophile who lost his life because he taught the mentally ill teenager he had hooked on heroin to choke him into ecstasy. Ash failed to realize that you can't utter a "safety word" when being strangled, though - he should have told her he'd give her a "safety sign" if he needed to breathe. It was a goddam accident, in any case - not a manifestation of some latent killer buried deep in Jessie's psyche turned loose on the public by a broken mental health and child welfare system. And Jason Ash was no victim, by any means. He was a predator, whether or not Jessie herself at the time thought of him as her "boyfriend". He was committing statutory rape and photographing Jess naked and in bondage - which was technically producing child porn. God only knows who he planned to share those photos with.

So read Wasser's article this week if you have the stomach to, respond in the comments with your disgust, and boycott the PNT, telling them why. I won't link to their site, though - I want that rag to die painfully, myself. Perhaps it will now, as the evil they have done by harming this kid is profound and  unforgiveable; Wasser and her editors at the PNT should all burn in hell. I will show you what they did to Jessie's art, though: they totally bastardized and misrepresented it to push their papers and sell more ads. That's unethical, journalistically, and just plain inhumane...

That said, here's the poetry and artwork the PNT used against Jess so viciously: the poem and drawing were "A Cry for Help". Unfortunately, the bad guys answered her, using me to hurt her in the process. 

Never again will that happen. 

Never again.

Finally, Jessie's next court date is June 10th - please show if you can. Here's the event page for it:


And here, at last, is Dennis' article....


Jessica Burlew and our broken Justice System.

May 23, 2015
by Dennis Gilman

It was early February of 2014 when my regular 10:00 PM local news channel surfing took a startling pause. The banner covered nearly a quarter of my widescreen.  It read POLICE: TEEN MURDERED MAN DURING SEX ACTIVITY.

Naturally, I watched with baited breath:
"New details are emerging tonight-disturbing and troubling details-of what police say is the murder of a 43 year old man” crooned Lynne Sue Cooney, a 31 year veteran newscaster at the Gannett Corporation’s local news outlet NBC 12.  Mark Curtis, NBC 12’s senior teleprompter reader completes the sentence with  “allegedly killed by a 16 year old girlfriend during a SEX ACT.” Curtis continued  “Tonight Jessica Burlew is being charged as an adult with second degree murder in the death of Jason Ash. Investigators claim Burlew killed Ash by strangling him during a sex act and then she cut his dead body.”

Shocking news right?  Should real men be fearful or are we missing the obvious?  In Arizona the age of consent is 18,  before that it is considered statutory rape and yes, it is illegal.  In some states, it is illegal to imprison and try a minor as an adult.  But this is Maricopa County, Arizona.

Somehow, hidden from the media (but available in the police report) was the painfully obvious truth: Jason Ash, a 43 year old heroin addict and sexual predator had been abusing 16 year old Jessica Burlew emotionally, sexually and physically.  Jessie’s mental health issues have been documented since the age of four. She suffers from autism and schizophrenia.  According to the police report,  Ash was also supplying her with heroin and meth, a lethal combo for a  16 year old with severe mental health issues.  He also brought her into his own deadly style of S & M.  On Jessie’s chest is a heart. That heart was carved into her by Jason a few weeks before his death. They shared the same razor’s both used during “Knife Play,” something Ash trained Jessie to do as foreplay. Both cut each other regularly. Jason also taught Jessie about erotic asphyxiation.  The same electrical cord Jason tied himself and young Jessie off with before shooting heroin also worked well as Jason’s choke-toy, at least until he was too high to remember the “safe word” and Jessie, a mentally ill 16 year old was too stoned to understand what was even happening.  It takes very little research to know that hundreds of people die every year from erotic asphyxiation. From Michael Hutchence, lead singer for The Australian rock band INXS to actor David Carradine. Alone or with a partner, erotic asphyxiation is considered a dangerous activity even by those within the fetish community.  A 43 year old male who stalked his victims on-line is hardly what sane people refer to as a “boyfriend” yet thats exactly how he was referred to by the corporate media.

a younger Jessie enjoying her visit to a petting farm. Jessie loved animals.

Lets not forget that this was early 2014 when Arizona's local news outlets were enjoying high ratings over the sexy, sensational murder trial featuring Jody Arias, found guilty for the murder of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  Alexander had sustained over 26 stab wounds, his throat was slit.  Arias also put a bullet in his head which the coroners determined had killed him.   Nothing trends for media like sex and murder in Arizona.  But the differences here are immense.  Jody Arias, a sane adult, knew what she was doing.  Jessie Burlew, only did what she was taught to do by the predator who injected heroin into her.  If Jessie Burlew caused the death of Jason Ash it was clearly an accident.  Arias also comes from a different social and economic background than Jessie.  She had a legal team of experts fighting for her.  Jessie’s public defender seems absent, not returning inquiries from media.  Yet both are locked up at Estrella Adult Prison run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who boasts of feeding dogs better than prisoners, pre-trial or otherwise.

No surprise, Arias was found guilty. Jessie has been locked up with no hope of bail for over 14 months now.  It is highly unlikely that given proper legal counsel, Jessie could be found guilty of anything worse than running away from group homes and not taking her medication.  But this is Arizona.  From the notorious county jails to the many private prisons we fund at the expense of mental health and education, we have problems  we refuse to address.   When an innocent 16 year old is locked up and written off for over a year without even a trial, when not one politician concerns him or herself with it, we have a serious moral dilemma.

Jessie's only hope for any fair trial seems to be from those who discovered her story, and are trying to help anyway they can. They aren't lawyers, politicians, huge non-profits or churches either.   The murder porn value of a story like this is too great to expect  mainstream media to not exploit it in a negative light.  It's easier to spin  "teen kills boyfriend"  instead of "43 year old heroin addict and on-line sexual predator found dead in accident caused by victim."   I guess the title is too long.

Prisoner rights advocate  Peggy Plews has been corresponding with Jessie.  She reports that  "For over 400 days now, Jessie's been in solitary confinement (aka "close custody"), allowed out of her cage only one or two hours per day for showers, phone calls, and an occasional stretch. She leaves her part of the jail only if in shackles and chains, returning, always, to her private hell through the trauma of body cavity searches. That's the only physical human contact she's allowed to have - being handled like a piece of meat. "

Beth Payne is part of a support group called Free Jessica Burlew.  She writes "Jessie has consistently stated that she had no intent to hurt Jason Ash, that he asked her to wrap the cord around his neck, and that she had no idea he was in so much distress. The crime scene supports that. Jason Ash was a large man, much bigger than Jessie. His body was found laying on the bed as though he went to sleep. There was no sign of a struggle. He could have easily overpowered Jessie if he had tried. He likely lost consciousness before he had a chance to indicate to her that there was a problem. It's a tragic story, but it is not a murder.”

It takes an incredible imagination (or complete lack of concern) to accept that 16 year old Jessie Burlew was able to over-power 43 year old Jason Ash and choke him to death.   But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery charged Jessie with second degree murder just days after the incident. This is the same County Attorney who refused to charge Maricopa County Deputy Sean Pearce with manslaughter after he plowed his unmarked vehicle into another while going 81 in a 40 MPH zone. Sean Pearce is the son of well connected former Az. State Senate President Russell Pearce, a former law enforcement officer himself-famous for his "tough on crime" policies and extreme anti-immigrant legislation. He pleaded guilty to a speeding ticket and took a driving class for his role in his on-duty hot rodding that killed an elderly man. Pearce had his siren and lights off during the crash.

As Peggy Plews further explains:

"Jessie has had very little mental health treatment or counseling in custody short of  'competency restoration proceedings' which are only designed to assure that she understands the legal charges she's facing and can assist in her own defense.

Medical care has also been shoddy - her requests to have headaches and dizzy spells evaluated have been minimized. She was abruptly taken off her psych meds one week before her trial was originally to start, with no explanation or response to her complaints about withdrawal symptoms.

Jessie does have one alternative to sitting in her solitary hell: when she can't deal with it anymore and gets sent to the mental health unit, she's stripped naked and left alone in a cold cell with only a smock to wear and suicide blanket to cuddle. She isn't allowed to make phone calls or have a shower, even if there for a week - no one is. Apparently, one must sit in their stink on suicide watch until they spontaneously feel better about themselves, or at least swear not to do themselves in while in custody. “

According to a recent facebook event hosted by Sumayyah Dawud. Jessica Burlew has a court date set for 8:30 AM, June 10th at the Maricopa County Superior Courthouse. Click here  for the details.  If you want injustices like this to stop, visit  Free Jessica Burlew  or you can just thoughtlessly believe in what the murder porn industry is telling you.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Help end the solitary hell of autistic teen, Jessie Burlew.

For a little over a year now, I've been corresponding with a young prisoner in Joe Arpaio's Estrella Jail, a now-17-year old girl by the name of Jessie. For virtually all of that time, over 400 days now, Jessie's been in solitary confinement (aka "close custody"), allowed out of her cage only one or two hours day for showers, phone calls, and an occasional stretch. She leaves her part of the jail only if in shackles and chains, returning, always, to her private hell through the trauma of body cavity/strip searches. That's the only physical human contact she's allowed to have - being handled like a piece of meat.

For what is called her educational programming Jessie gets chained to a desk and instructed in things like Algebra two hours a week. According to a couple of the youth, kids  can only take "more fun" subjects like science if they behave themselves. That must mean that the math is the punishment for those kids who are considered problematic - and this is what they do for a child who is entitled to special educational services under IDEA. Jessie, you see, is autistic and has a major mental illness. She's no longer very interested in school, either.

When disciplined for behavior arising out of her disabling psychiatric conditions, Jessie - already in isolation - loses her access to phone calls and visits.  Combined with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO)'s frequent refusal to allow her access to writing implements, this means she is nearly completely cut off from those who care about her during times of crisis. Jessie also loses the right to purchase items like toiletries and food from the inmate store - meaning the only sustenance she gets is that which is served to her by the MCSO - like stale sack lunches, moldy broccoli, and unidentifiable meat-substitute slop (with rocks thrown in for fun). The food there sometimes understandably frightens her. 

Despite being a victim of serious sexual abuse and exploitation before her arrest, and landing in jail on the heels of an extremely traumatic event (the death of her abuser at her hands), Jessie has had very little mental health treatment or counseling in custody short of "competency restoration proceedings" which are only designed to assure that she understands the legal charges she's facing and can assist in her own defense. 

Medical care has also been shoddy - her requests to have headaches and dizzy spells evaluated have been minimized or ignored since she arrived there. She was abruptly taken off her psych meds one week before her trial was originally to start, with no explanation or response to her complaints about withdrawal symptoms.

Jessie does have one alternative to sitting in her solitary hell: when she can't deal with it anymore and gets sent to the mental health unit, she's stripped naked and left alone in a cold cell with only a smock to wear and suicide blanket to cuddle. She isn't allowed to make phone calls or have a shower, even if there for a week - no one is. Apparently, one must sit in their stink on suicide watch until they spontaneously feel better about themselves, or at least swear not to do themselves in while in custody. 

This all amounts to cruel and unusual punishment being dished out to a kid who is supposedly still presumed innocent. And she's not the only one - there's also a few more I hear from, and god knows how many more kids in that hole who I will never hear from. In fact, no one may ever hear from any of these children about their experiences behind bars if we don't make it a point to try to reach them. 

Please stop and read about Jessie's story, then go here to see what you can do to help. We need to spread the word about the injustice of both her confinement and her prosecution.

Thanks to Megan Cassidy at the Arizona Republic for this well-done article this week.

--------from AZCENTRAL.COM--------

Activists back Glendale teen charged with murder in sex-act death

Jessica Burlew was 16 in January 2014, when police say the blue-haired Glendale girl admitted to killing 43-year-old Jason Ash in a sex act gone awry.

Burlew was 27 years younger than Ash and a year and a half shy of her 18th birthday, the age of consent in Arizona.

For those reasons, among others, a group of local advocates have started questioning how prosecutors are treating Burlew's case because they believe she should be defined as a sexual victim by the same prosecutors who are charging her with second-degree murder.

A 43-year-old could be eligible for a class 6 felony if caught having sex with a 16-year-old.

RELATED: Glendale girl faces trial as adult in death of man during sex

The advocates are asking County Attorney Bill Montgomery for a "humane" plea agreement.

The ad hoc organization, Free Jessie B Support Group, has also hurled criticisms against a host of state and county agencies, alleging a systemic failure to protect a minor with a history of behavioral issues and mental illness.

"There are so many human-rights aspects to Jessie's case," Burlew supporter Beth Payne wrote in an e-mailed statement. "She is a juvenile being tried as an adult, a juvenile being held in solitary confinement, a mentally ill person being prosecuted instead of given access to mental health care, a survivor of sexual violence and exploitation [and] a child who was supposed to be in the custody of the Department of Child Services and was the victim of a sexual predator."

But the stacking of the laws in Burlew's case allows for little latitude prior to her day in court. As of March 20, prosecutors have not offered a plea agreement.

If convicted in a trial, Burlew faces 10 to 25 years in prison.

Maricopa County Attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb said Burlew's defense is free to raise these issues in trial, and said mitigating factors may come into play during sentencing.

Further, he said, Burlew cannot be labeled a "victim" if Ash has not been convicted of a sexual crime. Given that he is dead, Cobb said, allegations are immaterial.

Cobb defended the state's charging decision, which by definition alleges "extreme indifference to human life," causing death without premeditation.

"We felt that the facts and circumstances surrounding his incident support a charge of second-degree murder," he said.

System failure?

Glendale police arrived at Burlew's mother's home on Jan. 18, 2014, to find a dead Ash, lying on Burlew's bed with an electrical cord wrapped around his neck, according to the police report. Razor cuts marked his face and arms.

It was Burlew's mother, Tracey Woodside, who had called police and identified Ash by his first name. He is described as Burlew's "boyfriend" in the police report, although her supporters have since taken issue with that assessment, given Burlew's age.

By the time police arrived, Burlew was nowhere to be found. Woodside told police her daughter had phoned her, telling her Ash was dead and saying to her it was "bad."

Woodside returned to her apartment to find Burlew and Ash, and called 911 from a neighbor's house. It was at this time Burlew, who had already been reported missing from a group home in Phoenix, disappeared again.

Police soon tracked the girl to a neighboring apartment after she had sneaked by police disguised in a burka, the report states.

Burlew quickly admitted to causing Ash's death, but maintained it was an accident, according to the police report. She told her mother Ash did not use the "safety word" the two had agreed upon, and she told police the strangulation was common and consensual in their sexual relationship.

The teen explained the incisions as initially an attempt to revive Ash, but told police the cutting evolved into a mechanism to relieve the stress of the situation. Burlew also admitted to cutting herself, police said. Paperwork found in Burlew's bedroom substantiated this claim, acknowledging an incident of self-mutilation.

In a statement released to the media, Woodside said her daughter had been plagued with mental-health issues. Psychiatric treatment, including therapy, various medications and stints in residential treatment centers, started when she was 4 years old.

Supporters say Burlew has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and autism.

Burlew was in protective custody under Arizona's Department of Child Safety, but that she had run away from the DCS group home shortly before the incident, according to her advocates. Her case manager's attempts to retrieve her were scant and futile, her supporters say.

A DCS spokesman for confirmed Burlew was previously under the department's care, but declined to comment further, citing pending court action.

"… [T]he system has failed us," Woodside said in the statement. "I failed Jessica by listening to and doing what mental-health professionals told me to do."

Laws fall into place

A group of local advocates have started questioning how prosecutors are treating Jessie Burlew's case. (Photo: Courtesy of Free Jessie B Support Group)

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a succession of findings in the past several years that bode in favor of juvenile offenders. The decisions effectively banned capital punishment and mandatory life sentences for juveniles, and prohibited life sentences for non-homicide offenses.

Rationale was often based on emerging science involving the development of adolescent brains and an "evolving standards of decency" on what constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

So far, Burlew's age, legal status as a victim and mental health conditions have provided little assistance to her case. She has been held in Estrella Women's Jail, under solitary 23-hour lockdown, since her arrest more than a year ago while awaiting a trial that has been pushed back from March to July.

Arizona prosecutors are required charge juveniles who are 15 or older as adults if they are accused of a violent felony, including murder.

Burlew underwent a hearing this fall, where a judge found her competent to stand trial.

And Maricopa County Sheriff's officials say the teen's intake screening classified her as a "closed custody" inmate.

MCSO spokesman Joaquin Enriquez said he could not disclose the reason Burlew was placed in closed custody. In general, he said, factors may include a history of institutionalized behavior, the nature of the charges or for fear that inmates will harm themselves or others.

The conditions of Burlew's confinement garnered traction at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Representatives confirmed they sent a letter to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office but declined to comment on the case.

Burlew is not accepting interviews and her public defender has not responded to requests for interview.

Larry Hammond, an Arizona criminal defense attorney with experience in juvenile matters, said prosecutors should carefully review juvenile homicide cases, especially when there is reason to believe the minor has been "compromised mentally."

Hammond, who was briefed on the case but is not involved in it, believes mitigating factors should be considered at the front end of a case.

"If they are potentially schizophrenic, or if they have some other psychosis, those other conditions in a developing brain are always more problematic," he said. "Good prosecutors should know that."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Arizona Prison Watcher: January 2015


Margaret J. Plews, Editor

January 13, 2015

New Year’s Greetings to those behind bars in the AZDOC:

This may well be my last letter to you all as Arizona’s Prison Watcher, since my family has recently called me home, where last week it was literally colder than Mars. I moved back East around Thanksgiving and immediately got caught up in my loved ones’ medical crises. Then my house burned down in December, just before I moved in - thank goodness no one was hurt. I’m crashing on a friend’s sofa now, and all my stuff is buried in the garage under the things that were salvaged from the house after the fire. That means my office is still in boxes, and may well sit there until spring, as I have no place else to put it.

Furthermore, while I did put in a forwarding notice with the post office before moving, a lot of stuff didn’t get forwarded for over a month and I got hit all at once with a ton of mail last week. So, I’m not blowing anyone off - I just haven’t been able to get back to most of you who have written in the past few months. That’s what prompted this letter, as I can’t answer all your requests for help - really, I’m having a time of it right now myself. The best I can do is refer you to my friends and comrades back in Arizona, in hopes that they can help you somehow. None of the following people have asked me to promote them or anything, by the way - I compiled this list as a favor to you, not them.

To fight the AZ DOC by reading up on their policies, your civil rights as prisoners, how to sue them yourself and such, contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross. You can also report human rights violations to them. They’ll try to send you the info you need to fight back. This is a group of people I trust who have supported my work the most; they organized this ABC chapter specifically to carry it forward. Most are prison abolitionists/ anarchists like me, so you can bet your mail with them will be monitored, maybe even messed with by DOC. If you dont give a damn though, there are some pretty cool folks to correspond with and they’ll send you whatever info they can to help you fight the state...Just be careful about getting too radical in your own rhetoric with SSU reading - its so easy to get carried away when you find like-minded folks who want to hear your voice. You could become a politicized prisoner and end up buried in a lonely hole for the next decade, labeled an anarchist or some kind of extremist yourself. That could follow you, too, out the gate. Most of you would be best off if you simply state your issue and stick to the business at hand if you need some kind of resource from them. Their addy is Phoenix ABC PO Box 7241, Tempe, AZ 85281

Next up is my colleague Stacy Scheff. I’ve been following the work she’s done these past few years. She’s a civil rights attorney, not a free one, either - she has bills to pay. But she is very competent when it comes to prisoner rights litigation, can coach you through filing a suit yourself if need be, and will do a demand letter re: PC or medical care for a reasonable fee. DOC and the AG know her, and that she’s not to be taken lightly. She used to work with Vince Rabago, but has recently started her own practice in Tucson. If you need a legal consult on a matter of your rights as a prisoner, get a legal call to explain your issue and see what she might charge, or write to her. I get no kickbacks for referrals, by the way - I just know that if you have a case, she can kick the state’s a**, which makes me happy.  Law Office of Stacy Scheff  / P.O. Box 40611  / Tucson, AZ 85717-0611 /  (520) 471-8333  FAX: (520) 300-8033

Of course, there’s also the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona (ACLU-AZ). They sued the DOC in the class action over health care at the DOC, Parsons V Ryan. Ask them for a copy of the original complaint and the stipulations the DOC agreed to in the settlement - it might help you in your own fight for access to medical care. You should also report violations of human and constitutional rights to them. FILE GRIEVANCES over that stuff, first, though, and see them through - follow the policy or you have no chance in hell of holding DOC accountable in court down the road. Even if the ACLU doesn’t intervene in your individual case, its so important for prisoners to document with them what’s going on inside, that’s what get’s them paying attention to areas that may require litigation: a barrage of compelling testimony from prisoners and their family members, and evidence of unconstitutional policies and practices.  They are at: ACLU-AZ / PO Box 17148 / Phoenix, AZ 85011.

I’d also recommend reporting the abuse and neglect of prisoners with serious mental illness (SMI includes major thought and mood disorders, like schizophrenia or manic-depression) to the Arizona Center for Disability Law. The AZCDL has the “Protection & Advocacy” authority in Arizona, which is power to intervene with institutions where disabled individuals are being abused, neglected, or denied their civil rights. Historically they have not helped SMI prisoners on an individual basis (they litigated the DOC in Parsons v Ryan over the poor treatment of mentally ill prisoners and the abuse of solitary confinement), but they may make an exception if your case is representative of a bigger problem they’ve been hearing about. The only way to really drag them into this fight is for those they should be serving (or those looking out for them) to write to them. Even if they don’t help you, your letter may help them tune into what SMI prisoners are going through, and get them more involved on some other level. Their contact info is:

                                     Arizona Center for Disability Law
5025 E. Washington St., Ste 202            100 North Stone Ave., Ste 305
Phoenix, AZ 85034                                 Tucson, AZ 85701
(602) 274-6287 (voice/TTY)                   (520) 327-9547 (voice)
(800) 927-2260 (voice/TTY)                   (800) 922-1447 (voice)

If you’re fighting for your medical care, or dealing with extreme isolation, the folks to write to are at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Tucson. They’re on top of prison and health care privatization, new legislation affecting criminal justice issues, and in the fight against solitary confinement. They wrote “Death Yards” about Corizon’s shoddy care, and a booklet on solitary confinement in AZ. They may have other resources that can help, and it’s good for them to hear from prisoners about what’s going on. Their contact info is: AFSC-Tucson / 103 North Park Avenue,  #111 / Tucson, AZ  85719 /  (520) 623-9141

Another place for prisoners (not solely people of color) to report the DOC’s bad conduct  to is the NAACP of Maricopa County.  The attorney who volunteers for them is in only once a week, but is good about checking the mail and will occasionally pursue a complaint on a prisoner’s behalf if it appears civil rights are being violated, whether it’s due to racism, homophobia, or other such prejudices. She’s advocated for the safety of gay and transgender prisoners as well, regardless of race. She’s a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild, too - I often see her at protests doing legal observing (cop-watching). She also goes around the state doing presentations to community groups against private prisons and mass incarceration - thank her for all her community service if you write. Send your letters “LEGAL MAIL” to: Dianne Post, Legal Redress  /  NAACP of Maricopa County / P.O. Box 20883 / Phoenix, AZ 85036

Now, for those of you who like to express yourselves, don’t care what the DOC thinks about it, and want to be a part of a larger community of AZ prisoners sharing poetry, art, essays, horror stories, or experience, strength and hope in a new prisoner-written zine or newsletter, write to the Free Verse at PO BOX 7241 Tempe AZ 85281 with your ideas and ask them what they’re working on - someone will get back with you. Those are my friends, too.

Take care, all.

                                       Peggy Plews

PS: here are the attorneys I know who have recently sued the AZ DOC successfully, in most cases, I believe. PAGE 1   PAGE 2

ART ATTACK at the Maricopa County Courthouse
Day of the Dead Prisoner: November 1, 2013