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 in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've 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)


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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dispatch from ADC Men's Prison

Came across an interesting letter tonight on a friend's blog - he received it from one of the men in Arizona state prisons. I'm not re-posting it or linking to it in order to protect the guy. He had a pretty mixed bag of things to say about the ADC.

It was my understanding from Ryan's assertions that they are or intend to be using the cages that have shade and misters, if those enhancements were ever made - at least at Perryville. I think the relative overcrowding there is worse than at most of the men's prisons, and they don't have as much indoor space so they relied on the cages for just about everything before Marcia died.

But the author of this letter says they haven't used the cages at all anywhere since that day (he made no mention of them being equipped with misters and shade). He also said they've been constantly broadcasting information about heat-related illnesses on the prison tv.

So, I think it's appropriate to commend Director Ryan - or that particular warden - for being sharp enough to make sure that employees and prisoners alike know the risks and signs of heat stroke, and take adequate precautions. I would have expected that every CO working in a prison is required to have current first and and CPR certification - even group homes require that.

California learned their lesson about overheating prisoners a few years ago when a woman in their custody died from the heat while taking medications that made her especially vulnerable. I would think that any administrator in corrections across the country would have heard about that, and changed policies and practices accordingly at the time. Is the profession not keeping people up on litigation and liability issues? The lives of prisoners and mental patients are far too often compromised for the sake of their keeper's convenience, or need to dispense punishment as a show of power.

Schriro and her predecessor, Stewart - and clearly Ryan - must have somehow missed what happened to that woman in California. Surely most people living in the Southwest understand that the heat can kill you, though. People aren't drowning in the desert as they make their way to America each year - the heat kills. If it was her child, Dora wouldn't have put her in a cage for even one hour with no shade or water on a day like that - whether she was punishing her or just leaving her to wait to see a nurse. And if someone else decided to treat her child that way - like a classroom teacher - I bet there'd be hell to pay for a long, long time. Same as if it was Ryan's kid. So why treat someone else's child - or mother or sister, or father or brother - that way?

Anyway, the other thing the author brought up is that the same day that Marcia died they had rounded up about 20-30 guys in his prison, gave them an 8 ox. cup of water to drink and caged them in the sun for two hours, after which they were all expected to drop urine. He says one guy had to be taken in because of the heat (some ADC employees are no doubt decent, competent people - pretty much every prisoner says that, even if the good just number a few), and that none of the rest of the men were able to drop. So they all got charged with refusing to comply.

Now, this is small stuff compared to what Marcia went through, but those kinds of things pile up on people and steal more days and weeks of their lives away - and every day in prison is a risky proposition at best. Someone higher up in the system should look into all the tickets given out for not dropping after sweating it all out that day - not to find out who's blowing the whistle, but to make sure that - if this account is accurate - the charges are dismissed. This would be a good time for ADC administrators to show their prisoners (and families) that they listen and can be fair. It was, after all, the failure to listen to prisoners or take their suffering seriously that killed Marcia. The example that changes some of that should be set at the top.

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