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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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friends Of Marcia Powell: Organizing Update

I wrote this last night, then slept on it, and am not even rewriting it again (tweaked the time reference so it wasn't too distorted, though). So, I have no excuse now if it's offensive to anyone - I'm not always polite about our public resources and  priorities being ordered by people so far removed from the realities of those most devastated by this system of economics - which has everything to do with our take on who "law-and-order" is supposed to protect and serve.

Here you go...

The report I'm tucking below this post came in Monday afternoon from Doug Kilgore at the AEA (legislative update). I guess they'll all head straight over to the legislature Tuesday from the Governing Arizona event, which 1/3 of them are slated to be at. The group that's putting it all together claims to be promoting "Better decisions through economic, scientific, and engineering analysis."

Now, what the %$*#@ does that mean? That set me off for three hours last night and got me up again this AM  - I'm just about to hit send on this and shut the thing down.

Those sound like the frameworks that have been most employed in developing the kind of public policies that will likely continue to kill a certain portion of the population through hunger, malnutrition, and medical neglect, and incarcerate more of our people for longer stretches with less access to community resources and "rehabilitation" opportunities than ever, institutionalizing people in the name of justice from childhood to death at a faster rate than any other nation in the world.

To hear us proclaim the virtues and liberties of our democracy and neo-liberal capitalism (as if the two can really co-exist in the same time and space), you'd think we were a pretty noble and honorable people - not the most criminalized, imprisoned nation on the planet. Even those who think they live "free" here are so often trapped by their fear that they have to strike out at others with hate crimes. 

Worse, the well-intended-but-ignorant help perpetuate this societal disease by voting in the legislative architects who carry more blueprints for "better" prisons and punishments through the use and threat of state violence. Eventually it comes back to bite us all one day - or our kids and grandkids, more likely.

At present incarceration rates (which are expected to increase in the AZ prison population, not hold them steady of even try to reverse the trends), one in every one hundred children in Arizona will end up in prison at some point in their lives. That's similar to the incidence of schizophrenia in the American population, only the psychic trauma experienced by going to prison is prescribed and inflicted under court order, as one is placed in literal bondage and cast into exile, with citizens' consent and regular reaffirmation through the passive or reckless election of brutal judges most of us never even heard of. Who pays attention that all that, anyway? 

Who even has time?

We do, among us. We have the time and the talent to pull this off. The question is whether or not we have the collective will. Retired people, people with disabilities, stay-at home parents (to a lesser degree, granted - that's more than full time work if you do it well), part-time workers, students, artists, street musicians, and guys who hang out at the bar from 2pm to 6pm because they have no sense of purpose and have no one to drink with all have a little time for a good cause. 

We have work to be done that is meaningful, if that's what someone out there has been longing for - it just won't pay the rent, and could spell trouble for current  state prisoners, psychiatric patients, or parolees. You might want to keep your heads down for a little while or you may risk being caught in crossfire. Take care of yourselves first. Then each other. Be safe. We'll need to tag off now and then anyway, so get out and off-paper before you pick any more fights - especially with cops, lawmakers, and judges. There will always be room for you in this one. 

We need the truth of lived experience more than anything to be told on this journey - and that's what you have the most of. Prisoners and loved ones, corrections officers and probationers - quietly practice telling your story, if you think it's something you can put to work for justice more effectively than it can be used against you. They hold it against us anyway by shutting us down with shame. You'll be punished long after you've done your time, unless we change the tone out here. I don't keep many secrets myself for that very reason - my life has been one of survival and resistance, it has forced me to draw creative talent I never knew I had from the bottom of my soul, and has given my voice authenticity - and hence, its power. Our hard-earned lessons are not something to be ashamed of if they can be used as a way to make things better for others. Just keep it all real. 

There is good reason to be afraid, by the way. That's why they call it "courage". Do not be fearless; that has always made me reckless. That goes for everyone. And don't be shy with your struggling comrades - we don't have time. Take me aside even, if you think I've crossed - or am about to cross - some kind of line I may not see.

Folks on the inside have to gauge how thing are for themselves. As everyone from Mumia to Paul Wright have documented, prisoner organizing is not usually well-received by administrators or prison guards. It leads to dangerous things like "empowerment" and "solidarity". Thoughts of resistance are contraband - printed words can really cause trouble. Print them when and where you can and send them to us anyway, as long as you know and can bear the possible consequences. We'll show support how we can, but you'll have to decide yourselves, collectively and individually, whether or not to compromise your safety and freedom. We can't protect you well enough to guarantee safe passage. We can only try to make you visible, and amplify your voice so it is heard everywhere in the world that there is Google, and read everywhere in America that a Breast Cancer Research Ribbon stamp will carry it.

On the outside, we need to start taking notes about sentences handed down by judges, and on the courtroom and behind-closed-doors conduct of prosecutors. That will mean going to court a lot, and being accessible to defendants and family members as a conduit - not a source - of information. Public defenders need to be held accountable, too. We should set up a new website, and be posting follow-up steps or tasks on important cases on the internet so friends and families can keep up with their loved ones while they keep holding down their own jobs and taking care of the kids. There should be no votes left un-cast for lack of information about a district's candidates - not just on the internet, but in real space, too. 

There are already other people gathering and managing all that information in non-partisan manners - we just need to add our two cents, format it all and put it into context, then into our people's hands. Hit community centers, coffee shops, meetings of peace and justice groups you're in, union halls, and so on. We don't want to generate endorsements - others can do that. We don't need to be the ones running town hall meetings - unless that's your thing, like the Unitarians in Surprise. It would be great if a few folks came by this week to help me brainstorm some ideas for upcoming events and make cool fliers for stuff going on between now and the Dec 18 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

My schedule's pretty flexible - drop me a line, sooner rather than later. If you're with a group I've been hanging with until recently, I won't crash your meetings uninvited for awhile - you all need to decide your own tactics, priorities, etc. and how to approach this call to sustained action without me being in the conversation you have about it. I'm asking for your help, not giving you directions. 

All that stuff I talked about up there has working models on the street across the country, and is building a solid base of information for research, which is well underway and some is published. It would just take me more time than I have tonight to set up the links for you, so you'll have to start work soon if you're into this. 

Begin by Googling Courtwatch. I've talked about it here recently. The Times Picayune in New Orleans had a great write up last year abut the program there - the website doesn't look active, though - but hit it if you find it - definitely check out the article. Then think some more and take it from there. Drop me a line if you have any questions or good ideas.

Hope to see more of Marcia's Friends out and about soon. Remember, I'm loaded with great arts and crafts supplies, sidewalk chalk - you name it. I'll hook you up.



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