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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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Morrison Institute: Less Prison, More Probation.

This from an unexpected place: The Morrison Institute. Thank you folks, for speaking up. Please do more work on this issue in the coming year in the community - don't just keep it to your academic newsletters and blogs.

Bill Hart: Time to open the prison gates?

Dec. 23, 2009
bill_hart.jpgBill Hart, Senior Policy Analyst

Another fine mess. That’s one way of describing Arizona’s overcrowded, billion-dollar prison system, so many of whose graduates — apparently uncorrected — go on to commit more crimes. “Train wreck” is another useful phrase. But it’s worth keeping in mind the one thing Arizona’s prison crisis is not: It’s not a mystery.

Nor is its solution.

Consider the twin basics of Arizona’s prison policy over the past 30 years: First, pass a bunch of laws requiring lots more convicted criminals to be sent to prison (e.g., mandatory minimum sentences); second, pass other laws making most prisoners stay inside longer (e.g. “truth-in-sentencing”).

What did we think would happen?

Arizona for years has ranked among the top 10 states in its incarceration rate, measured as the number of people locked up per 100,000 state residents. Meanwhile, in the past 30 years corrections has run up a larger percentage increase in operating spending than any other Arizona agency. Since just fiscal year 2004 we have added more than 11,000 inmates at a cost of more than $400 million.

Why the rush to lock everybody up? Some say Arizonans simply have a lust for punishment. Fans of incarceration, however, are quick to point out that crime in Arizona has declined since the 1990s. They are less quick to note that America’s leading criminal justice scholars do not agree that incarceration deserves all or even most of the credit for the crime drop. Or that crime has gone down in both states with harsher justice systems and those with milder ones. Or that Arizona continues to hold down first place among states in the rate of property crime as measured by the FBI.

In any case, we’re left with two unpleasant alternatives: Either let substantial numbers of prisoners out early, or continue to struggle through the budget mess hobbled by this billion-dollar ball and chain.

Like it or not, it’s time to open the gates. 

What about the nightmare of wanton violence that opponents warn of? Most inmates in Arizona prisons are locked up for non-violent crimes (though they might be repetitive offenders). Their most common offense by far is drug crimes, which accounted for 8,388 inmates in November, or about one-fifth of all prisoners. Next in frequency come the expected categories: assault (4,976), robbery (3,485), burglary (2,959), and murder (2,606). Then, however, comes aggravated DUI, which requires 2,188 prisoners to serve a total of four months behind bars.

 Which raises another question: Why are we going to all the trouble and expense of sending thousands of drunk drivers to prison (as opposed to jail or home arrest) for only four months? 

In fact, 39% of the total FY2008 inmate population was locked up for less than six months. Most of these are convicts who were granted probation or parole — that is, they were deemed low-risk enough to remain free or be released. Many of most were then locked up for “technical” violations, meaning they didn’t commit a new crime but perhaps missed a meeting with their probation officer or otherwise broke the rules.

It’s hard to see how releasing some of them early — and diverting many more incoming inmates to probation or jail — would pose a threat to the survival of civilization. It’s easier to see the upside: Keeping an inmate in an Arizona prison for a year averages out to around $22,000. Keeping someone on probation for a year runs slightly more than $1,000. 

No mystery here.

Appeals Court Limits Taser Use

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
(12-30) 11:28 PST San Francisco (AP) --
A federal appeals court has set down strict guidelines for when police officers may use Tasers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a Coronado, Calif., police officer used excessive force when he used his Taser on an unarmed, nonviolent suspect. The unanimous three-judge panel upheld a trial court's decision allowing the suspect, Carl Bryan, to pursue his lawsuit against the city, police department and officer.
The appeals court says police should use a Taser only in threatening situations because it inflicts more pain than other so-called nonlethal weapons at an officer's disposal.
Experts expect some police departments will have to change their Taser policies if the decision stands.

Pedophiles and Abolitionists

May we all get a little more in touch with our humanity in the coming year.

Here's the latest about Ladwig's indictment. It’s not a pleasant thing to talk about – to even acknowledge it happened – but it’s out there. Looks like there were signs he was having trouble well before this happened, but I'm not sure that wearing women's lingerie in and of itself is considered criminal or indicative of a child molester in-the-making. But I’m no expert on pedophiles, and welcome any corrections that can be sourced.

I guess it should come as no surprise that three days after Ladwig's Christmas molestation of that little girl, a 47-year-old prisoner at ASPC-Eyeman, Monte McCarty, who was doing life for sex offenses against children, was found dead in his cell, the result of an apparent suicide. One can’t help but wonder if he was trying to escape the evil some such men feel courses through their veins when he took his life, or if he knew that he would be the target of a lot of men’s rage who would now be stigmatized and punished by the rest of us for Ladwig’s actions. 

First, what happened to that child is a whole lot worse than losing a little good time - no one is minimizing that. There are other places where her voice is being heard and her trauma is being attended to, so I don't feel a need to do that more here. The guys inside would not only be thinking about their own daughters or sisters being victimized in such a way - they have the same visceral reactions - but must have also considered the same potential fallout from this that I did, and more. No early release program; no compassionate releases; longer sentences for methamphetamine possession (and the presumption that one must be a sexual deviant); and the stink of a pedophile on all of them when they walk out the door and try to get on with their lives as 40-something men from Arizona’s state prison on parole. Who’s going to want to give them a job, much less a place to live, whether or not they can prove they aren’t sex offenders? Ladwig wasn’t classified as a sex offender before this, it appears. How will they ever be able to support their families again?

I know that the life of the pedophile must be a pretty wretched existence. They are the most hated among all of us – their crimes are most appalling, and they are thus most readily dehumanized. The rape, assault, torture, abuse, neglect, humiliation, and mental torment they end up suffering when incarcerated is what we all have come to expect to happen to them, and we let it. Never mind whether or not such violations make up the substance of what sickened his soul to begin with. 

Unfortunately, our silence about the safety and rights of prisoners is not indifference - it's condemnation. On some level we rationalize that “justice” is being done, and turn away from reports that suggest otherwise.  That’s why prisons are so far away from towns: it's not just to keep the villager safe in case of escapes - it's so we don’t have to hear the people inside scream. We don't want to hear it; that's what perpetuates rape and violence in prison - and to a certain degree out here, too.

I realize that not all the bad guys are just "victims" – they don’t all even have perpetrators in their own memories. Sociopaths and psychopaths - whether they’re pedophiles, batterers, or corporate executives, appear to simply derive sadistic pleasure from inflicting suffering on others, even if they’ve had perfect childhoods. Even people like me have an impulse that makes us want to see them get caught and watch as they suffer – which is why they suffer so much when they’re caught. As long as they don’t go after children, most sociopaths can hurt scores of people, though – millions at a time, even - and still get cut some slack when it comes to whether or not they should be tortured. Not child molesters. We'd still be lynching them if we could.

Once they’ve been identified as the personification of evil, it doesn’t matter what degree of rehabilitation or behavior management a pedophile may achieve, or what the specifics ever were of the case (is the one in your neighborhood the 55-year old who did 20 years for repeatedly raping his daughter, or is it the 17-year old kid who impregnated his 16 year old girlfriend? They should both be registered…). However apt or misapplied, the label pedophile or child molester immediately disqualifies them as human – even among other sex offenders.

And so, the real truth in sentencing for child molesters should account for what will probably happen to them once inside, and what their life opportunities will be reduced to if they survive incarceration intact and regain their freedom. Prisons should be tracking the victimization of such offenders while incarcerated, how they deal with it, and what kind of suicide, “success”, and recidivism rates they’re seeing among that population after release in light of the realities of their previous prison experiences.

Those perpetrators who were once victims themselves - especially the men, among whom childhood sexual abuse is vastly under-reported - have mutilated and killed themselves enough that I have no doubt that somewhere inside some “monsters” is a soul who desperately doesn't want to make another human being go through the same hell they experienced - especially not at their hands. Because their obsessions and compulsions run so deep and their “cure” is so elusive, some see no alternative to deal with their pathology but to spend a life in exile or prison - a place worse than hell for them - or to destroy the predator within by destroying themselves. Are any such souls worth redemption, or are all deserving of the same fate?

I've asked the ADC for data they may have gathered on rates of criminal behavior, convictions, and violent crimes by people who are classified as victims – or histories of victimization among the people they have classified as criminals. I just don't believe that the criminal/victim categories are mutually exclusive; designing our justice systems, programs, funding streams, and social rewards and punishments as if they aren't intimately overlapping categories is a mistake. 

Data about which criminals are victimized, and which victims end up criminalized, could have some far-reaching implications for how we deal with crime prevention and build communities around more restorative models of justice. It could also help us get at data on the crimes that so often go unreported precisely because the victim is engaged in criminal activity at the time: like a 16 year old runaway being exploited by a pimp who could end up in detention facing charges herself (or returned to the home where she was being sexually abused). Or a 15-year old silenced by the fear that the drug transaction which made her so vulnerable would be used to prosecute her if she reported the dealer who raped her - assuming she survived the consequences of being identified in the drug community as a narc. 

We can’t not talk about guys like Ladwig, as uncomfortable as they make us. What happened with Ladwig is going to be a big deal when the legislature starts talking sentencing reform again. Most people I talk about prison abolition with get a lot of the arguments for changes in criminal codes, drug laws, sentencing recommendations, post-sentence sanctions, and other reforms that would inch us closer to abolition – but they always want to know what we’re going to do with the sociopaths and child molesters if we don't have prisons. 

So do I. 

I may not have the answer to that just yet, but I’m starting to do more research, because I think we need to be doing something different with these guys at some point in their lives. Throwing the convicted child molesters to the wolves in the end not only condemns the innocent among them to the same brutal fate we hand to the despised, it strips the guilty of what humanity may have been left within them that could help prevent them from hurting others again. It also diminishes the humanity in us in the process.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Elders in Prison: Nursing Homes with razor wire.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.

Borrowed from our friends at Nevada Prison Watch: their Christmas Eve Post...


Nursing homes with razor wire: Are elderly prisoners really a threat to public safety?
By David Fathi
LA Times
December 23, 2009

Sometime in the 1970s, the United States began a love affair with incarceration that continues to this day. After holding nearly steady for decades, our prison population began to climb as criminal justice policy took a sharply punitive turn, with the massive criminalization of drug use, "three strikes" laws and other harsh sentencing practices. More people were going to prison, and staying there longer. By 2005, the prison population was six times what it had been in 1975.

One little-known side effect of this population explosion has been a sharp increase in the number of elderly people behind bars. According to the Justice Department, in 1980 the United States had about 9,500 prisoners age 55 and older; by 2008, the number had increased tenfold, to 94,800. That same year, the number of prisoners 50 and older was just shy of 200,000 -- about the size of the entire U.S. prison population in the early 1970s.

People age 50 or 55 may seem a bit young to be classified as elderly. But because their lives have often been characterized by poverty, trauma and limited access to medical care and rehabilitative services, most prisoners are physiologically older than their chronological age would suggest, and more likely to have disabling medical conditions than the general population. One study cited by Ronald H. Aday in his 1994 article in Federal Probation concluded that the average prisoner over 50 has a physiological age 11.5 years older than his chronological age.

With 1 in 11 U.S. prisoners serving a life sentence -- in some states, the figure is 1 in 6 -- it's no surprise that the number of elderly prisoners is skyrocketing. In 2007, the New York Times profiled then-89-year-old Charles Friedgood, a New York state prisoner who had served more than 30 years of a life sentence for second-degree murder. Although he had terminal cancer and had undergone several operations, including a colostomy, he had been denied parole five times before being released in 2007. Friedgood at least had the opportunity to apply for parole; in some states, parole has been abolished, and a life sentence means exactly that.

Being in prison is hard on anyone, but the elderly face special dangers, particularly if they are ill or disabled. Some have complex medical and mental health needs that prisons are ill-equipped to handle. Many prisons are not accessible to persons with mobility impairments; for them, bathing, using the toilet or even getting in and out of their cells can be a difficult, dangerous challenge. And older prisoners are more likely to be robbed, assaulted or otherwise victimized.

Some states have so many elderly prisoners that they have built special facilities to house them. Several years ago I visited the Ahtanum View Corrections Center, Washington state's prison for the elderly. Everywhere I looked were aged, frail, disabled people, some of whom could barely move without assistance. The prison's webpage helpfully points out that a volunteer clergy team is available to assist prisoners with "end-of-life issues."

The main justification for incarceration is to protect public safety. But it's hard to see the public safety rationale for keeping so many elderly people in prison.

It's even harder to understand the economic justification.
Incarceration is expensive -- about $24,000 per year for the average prisoner, according to a 2008 Pew Center on the States report. Keeping someone over 55 locked up costs about three times as much. Given that criminal behavior drops off dramatically with advancing age, this is a major investment for very little return.

As the United States faces its worst fiscal crisis in decades, many states are taking a hard look at their prisons, which consume a large and increasing portion of state budgets. As part of this long overdue re-examination, lawmakers should ask whether so many elderly people really need to be in prison and whether the state should be in the business of operating nursing homes with razor wire.

David Fathi is director of the U.S. division at Human Rights Watch.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times,0,1216548.story

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Real Lives Loved and Lost: "Criminals" and Suicide.

I'm extremely impressed with the humanity evident in this journalist's view on this man's struggle, and with the way he integrated it seamlessly into the narrative of the larger community. Austin Moffett wasn't just a petty criminal, he was a man whom others could identify with in his struggle and despair, which not everyone is criminalized for - and I don't doubt that criminalization resulting from his addictions and subsequent struggles paying the court were huge barriers for him getting on with his life. The court wants to be paid before they want you to even pay your rent.

I'm watching a good friend go through that right now with Maricopa County. They're threatening to put her in jail for falling behind on payments despite documentation that her employer stopped paying her with anything but promises for 4-6 weeks. She's into the court for $1500; her employer owes her $2,000, and the judge might pull her out of her job, cause her to lose her housing, and put her in a setting that could kill her (she has a compromised immune system because of cancer treatment) - all to punish her (at great expense, since she requires highly-specialized medical care) for not having their money on time despite her best-faith efforts to earn it. Then she'd come out of jail owing more than she did before, living on the streets with no job - and probably a serious opportunistic infection. Anyone who puts someone like her in Arpaio's jail should be charged with medical abuse.

Tell me who should be going to jail here, really. It's the guy with the keys.

Anyway, being criminalized can bring about some serious despair. The punishment never seems to end, whatever the sentence. Some judges seem to have very little appreciation for how much damage a criminal record and a few weeks in jail can do to a person's life - especially those who just spent the past year rebuilding it from the ground up.

Anyway, we need more journalists and articles like this.  Thank you, Pete and the Payson Roundup.

Thanks to the Moffett family, too, for having the courage to share this with us. It helps others immensely when you defy the shame and stigma that so oftens leaves families grieving in silence.

 The holidays and aftermath are a hard time for a lot of folks, especially those working on rebuilding bridges home. Take care of yourselves, and each other. 

- Peg


Payson Roundup

Residents battle suicidal thoughts

December 29, 2009
This was the last photo taken of Austin Moffett (fifth from the left, back row) before he took his life in August. Austin’s family posed with Austin during a birthday party at Kohl’s Ranch. (From left) Lauree Moffett, Barry Moffett, Amber Moffett, Sydni Moffett, Austin, April Ray and Ammecy Ray.
This was the last photo taken of Austin Moffett (fifth from the left, back row) before he took his life in August. Austin’s family posed with Austin during a birthday party at Kohl’s Ranch. (From left) Lauree Moffett, Barry Moffett, Amber Moffett, Sydni Moffett, Austin, April Ray and Ammecy Ray. 

Austin Moffett loved skateboarding, the outdoors and most of all his family; however, after various setbacks, Moffett gave up on life and killed himself in August 2009. Before, he did, Moffett reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

The night he took his life, Moffett texted a friend he was “going to do it” but it took that friend three hours to check up on Moffett and when he finally did, he found Moffett hanging in the garage.

If someone had taken Moffett’s threats seriously and told someone, he might still be here.

Just over the holiday weekend, three people attempted suicide and another three threatened to in Payson, said Sgt. Don Kasl.

Like so many people battling depression and suicidal thoughts, Moffett, 21, took his life when he was just starting to turn things around.

After his release from jail he moved to Arizona to be closer to family, was looking for a job and was excited about a fresh start. After 10 months in Payson, he did not receive support from the probation department, his mother said. He also got rearrested several times for minor offenses and was abusing various substances.

Regardless, Moffett’s mother, Lauree Moffett, and sister, Amber Moffett, say Moffett wanted to succeed and was excited for the future. So what would drive a 21-year-old to hang himself and why didn’t anyone see it coming?

Lauree and Amber say they did not see Moffett’s suicide coming, but his friends got several warning signs including a text message and an earlier failed attempt. They hope telling their story will raise awareness about an issue rarely discussed, but desperately needed.

So far for this year, the Payson Police Department has responded to 10 suicides, 39 attempts and 72 threats.
Just in the last weekend, three people attempted suicide and three made threats, Kasl said.

Nanci Stone, vice president of Rim Guidance Center, which provides behavioral health services to residents in Northern Gila County, said a lot of people who commit suicide do so when they are just beginning to feel better because they have the energy to go through with it. Ironically, when someone is really depressed, they often lack the energy to plan their own death, she said.

Since “it is very unpredictable,” when someone will commit suicide, Stone said any threats or comments of suicide should be taken seriously.

“Suicide doesn’t have a type, any person at any time who says they are thinking of harming themselves needs to be taken seriously,” Stone said.

In Moffett’s case, he had reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

A week before he hung himself in a friend’s garage, several of Moffett’s friends and his girlfriend interrupted his first attempt. Although they successfully talked him out of it then, they told no one about the incident. Then on the night that he hung himself, Moffett texted a friend to say he was going to kill himself. Three hours after getting that text, his friend showed up to check on Moffett, but he was already dead.

The Northern Gila County medical examiner said often families and friends do not see the signs of suicide until it is too late.

“The signs may be there, but people ignore them,” he said.

Looking back, Lauree said she still does not see the signs leading up to her son’s death.

In November 2008, he moved to Payson after being released from a Kansas jail, and was working at Lauree’s workplace, Kohl’s Ranch.

However, after arriving in Payson, Moffett got in trouble with the law again for “petty crimes,” was living at various friends’ homes, had no car and was struggling to make court payments, Amber said.

Both Lauree and Amber admit Moffett had low self-esteem and struggled with substance abuse, but “he was someone worth salvaging,” they said. He was caught in “a vicious cycle.” Amber partly blames his substance abuse for his mental state the night he killed himself.

“He wanted a family and wanted to give everyone else the best,” Amber said. “He tried to make everyone happy and didn’t want to see them struggle.”

Amber said she talked with her brother hours before he hung himself and he gave no indication what he was going to do. Looking back now, she wishes Moffett had known it was OK to express his feelings.

Stone said it is crucial when someone begins to feel suicidal to talk to someone right away.

“When someone is suicidal, there are three critical things; they feel hopeless that things will not get better, hapless that they can’t do anything right and helpless that they do not know where to turn; however, those feelings pass,” Stone said.

The medical examiner pointed out there are at least five counselors in town available for help and various churches have members trained to deal with crises.

“Our job is to show them they have options,” Stone said. “We are here to help.”

Rim Guidance Center operates a 24-hour crisis line, (928) 474-3303, and counselors are available every day.
In early December, Lauree and Amber along with friends and family participated in the 2009 Out of the Darkness community walk in Phoenix to prevent suicide. They hope to start a suicide prevention walk in Payson. For more information on Out of the Darkness, visit

Originally published at:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hey - ADC. There's a message for you.

It's buried in my Christmas post, though (Christ on Crime...), and I was afraid no one would ever find it, because of how much other stuff you'd have to read through to get to it. So, if you work for the ADC and haven't yet received your holiday greeting from a real live prison abolitionist, just breeze through the whole Christmas at Perryville story, drop down near the end of the post - right after the photo of the giant Christmas Card - and you'll find it.

That's my Christmas message to the folks at ADC - which extends to the contract employees who deal with prisoners as well. Your kindness in a harsh place matters, too. Anyway, if you find the message, you'll know if it's meant for you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christ on Crime: the Power of Being Soft. And No Early Release.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.

I fell asleep Christmas Eve wishing I'd organized some anarchists to go caroling out at Perryville prison this week; just something to let them know they aren't alone out there. The mothers out there in particular have been on my mind lately, as have their heartbroken parents and children. Because of the tracking mechanisms on my blogs I can tap into what people are Googling for, which - as the holidays have approached - has with increasing urgency been "early prisoner release." I had all sorts of stuff up from other states, but all they kept coming up with from me on Arizona was some sidewalk chalking, pleading with legislators, and quite a bit of after-the-fact chastising of Director Ryan.

When I woke up Christmas morning they were still on my mind: all those families that had been holding their breath as states across the country began early release programs for low-risk prisoners, only to have our legislature and governor, in the end, release non-citizens so they can be deported. Our state and prisoners' families are being crushed by the cost of their incarceration - we're even taking money from education and children's health care in order to keep filling up the prisons - and that's the most creative solution anyone could come up with? Deporting a few hundred immigrants that they gave Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas all sorts of money to chase down and prosecute for smuggling themselves?

Cowards. They won't even release the dying. Even we (prisoners and advocates) would allow that not every ADC officer is so malicious or callous that they would be complicit in Marcia's death just because 16 on one shift were (that must be worse than the criminality of most people requesting compassionate releases). The Department of Corrections seems to think that was an isolated incident that shouldn't reflect on the rest of the gang. In light of that, our legislators should at least grant that not every dying prisoner is a Maurice Clemmons or Baseline Killer just waiting for their final spree. Nor are they molesters-in-waiting, like the latest Arizona parolee disaster, apparently. I wonder how much of the monster in him was made by prison. Most of the terminally ill - the healthy, for that matter, as well - really just want to make amends and die in peace. You never hear about them. They should not be punished for his crimes.

But they probably will be. We all will. Since they'd sooner spend our grandchildren's inheritance to make even low-risk prisoners die on mandatory minimums than take the risk of sending them home in a wheelchair to their families, why would I think our elected officials would have the courage to support an early release program for people who aren't even dying? It has nothing to do with statistics or real crime or even economics, since dying prisoners can cost the state the most. It's all about covering their own seats - which are coming up for re-election. Everyone wants to be "tough on crime," which always translates into criminalizing and incarcerating more of the poor and does nothing meaningful to address the roots of crime. That's not tough - that's just thick-headed. It's the smart-on-crime people we need to be electing here, not the ones exploiting fear at the expense of future victims...we need to stop this here.

I think we need to hammer the AG and gubernatorial candidates about compassionate release this year - and it should be coming from the cancer survivor and hospice community, too, not just the families and advocates of prisoners. Victims' rights advocates should get on board, too, if they consider how many victims are criminalized and how many criminals are victimized by the system we call justice in this state. Every prisoner dying inside who should be eligible for compassionate release is a story that needs to be told - otherwise the only story that speaks for them is the one about Clemmons - or Ladwig - and that one will be retold every election year unless we drown it out with the truth: there is more than one narrative on crime and punishment - there are better ways to prevent evil than perpetrating it.

Anyway, having failed to do anything meaningful for the state's prisoners for Christmas, I turned again to the symbolic, and decided to deliver a big Christmas card and some flowers to the women at Perryville yesterday. That place is huge. According to one of the officers, it's getting bigger: those are the great plans our legislature has made for Arizona's future - more women in prison. I drove around for awhile trying to figure out who and where to deliver it to - finally decided to take a picture of it by the prison sign, on the outside chance that no one would let me deliver to anyone there at all.

I was right - I couldn't even leave it there if I was leaving it for the warden, much less for the prisoners - I'd have to come back during regular business hours. Their supervisor even came out to see what this thing with the Friends of Marcia Powell was all about. He took down my name and gave me the phone number of someone I could call next week who would direct me to the right person to give the card to. I thought "warden" should be designation enough to get it to the person who would decide what to do with it, if I wrote it on the card instead of "prisoners". But it wasn't. What was I thinking?

I don't know how many people have tried to pull off a Christmas Day surprise like that, but "the next business day" just doesn't work. I took my card and got back into my car, stopping by my friend's place on my way home to give her the bouquet. She was out at Perryville for a couple of years; she appreciated what I tried to do.

The card, by the way, was a great big copy of the letter that the Sex Workers' Outreach Project had written to Director Ryan about improving protections for prisoner rights, among other things. A bunch of us signed it at the demonstration, and I figured that since he already got his copy (and apparently ignored it) we should give one to the prisoners so they knew they had some support out here.

I was hoping to get it onto Lumley - the maximum security unit where Marcia was last at, where the women who set their mattresses on fire were from, and where the officer worked who suicided last June. I guess I'm just lucky I got in and out of the front lobby myself without provoking anyone, though. I should probably apologize to the officers on duty last night for showing up and being a distraction. I mean, it seemed like they would be posted at the front door specifically to deal with the public - which includes me - so I didn't think it would be problematic to ask them if there was someone I could leave the card and flowers with. But I could have just taken a couple of photos outside and gone without disturbing them, so, my apologies, Lt. Farr and crew. I really wasn't there just to play with you. I hoped someone would take our card (though I admit I suspected that solidarity and encouragement from the outside might be considered contraband, even on Christmas).
I guess it's probably a good thing I didn't show up singing with a bunch of anarchists instead.

Anyway, families and friends will just have to spread the word among the prisoners that Perryville had a Christmas visitor bringing tidings of goodwill and human rights, but they wouldn't let her in. You can print up the letter to Ryan from the free marcia powell archives here, though, and mail it in. Here is the report of the actual demonstration, with photos, in case you missed it. You could also print up the photo I took of the card, here:

Dear Director Ryan: Protect Human Rights.

(Since you insist on keeping your prisoners, please keep them safe.)

Since this post will probably sit here for a couple of days at the top of the page now as my holiday message, I don't want to close it on an angry or cynical note. So, I'll turn my attention to the ADC staff I don't speak much of. Just about every story I've heard from Perryville - even Marcia's - has with it the name of an officer or staff member who was the exception to the rule of mocking, ridiculing, ignoring women, and "waiting them out" until they stopped resisting or finally died. The good guys know who they are, as do all the prisoners and their families. Everyone else does, too, and I imagine some of you take a hit for being too soft sometimes. I would hope you also get promoted (though we do aim to put you out of that particular line of business). Even little things - like a smile - expose the Light in you. We need that light to see through all this - in that way, soft has more power than a lot of people give it credit for. Gentle can be more strong than tough.

In fact, for the more resilient prisoners your simple daily acts of grace and kindness can do more good than all the cruelty that goes on there can do them harm. For the respect, encouragement, insight, hope, and humanity you have shared with the most disparaged among us - whatever your position or reason for working there may be - thank you. Your presence may well have saved a loved one from another endless day of their own despair, or even from suicide. I'm sorry there clearly aren't enough of you, though. The damaged souls and successful suicides who roll out of prison are evidence of that.

Some of you have taken a hit by placing yourselves between our loved ones and violence - both state and interpersonal. You aren't afraid to speak of things like human rights, and you treat imprisoned women with basic dignity regardless of what kind of deviance they've been convicted of. You may not call it by the name I do, but you recognize the monster that feeds your family for what it is, and as law-and-order as you may be, you - like me - long for the day it outlives its apparent need. You may even be the first to help slay it then.

Those of you I speak of here are real public servants, far more committed to justice than the people who pull it out for campaigns, lynch a few bad guys, and ride fear into office so they can make new laws to better suit themselves - all the while gutting your unions with parallel (not competitive) privatization, and reducing your relative incomes and benefits to subsistence levels so you can't rise up against them once everyone finally catches on. I'm shocked at how many law enforcement unions have endorsed Pearce for that reason - he's all about busting the unions - he just thinks he doesn't have to worry about cops because they've been co-opted by his pandering and posturing. I hope you all end up proving him wrong.

It's odd that politicians so often invoke biblical references in the discourse about law and order: whatever one may think about Christ, his most beloved were the convicted and condemned, and his version of justice is the new and revised one. He embraced robbers and prostitutes and thieves irrelevant of their crimes: he recognized that the far greater danger was the injustice doled out to the powerless by the entitled than that posed by the few criminals who rose from the masses in resistance to civil society. It was the moneylenders' tables he upended, after all - he wasn't off chasing immigrants. Boy, would he have a few things to say about that today. Actually, I'm sure he already said them. Considering how many people in this state consider themselves Christians, I don't understand why we have so many prisons. I guess people call themselves Christians for different reasons. Claiming such a faith seems to have a political advantage, even if there's no evidence one really lives it.

Christ was incorrigible - a classic repeat offender, all the more "dangerous" to the state because he acted out of a politic of liberation, not self-interest or greed (thus he could not be tortured or bribed into submission). He may not be executed today, but he would be locked down tighter than a Black Panther, in total isolation so as not to spread his message to other people yearning for freedom. We'd bury him alive and alone - for sixty or seventy years if need be - in a cell that serves much like a tomb. That's what we do to our political prisoners in America. Think about it: if he was in for crimes of self-interest he'd be out in half the time. What does that say about us?

Anyway, those of you who use your power to truly help rather than hurt prisoners have paid it forward, and many people down the road will have your backs. You have done more than just your prisoners a service - the community benefits as well if they come out more intact than shattered. I hope you become the model for ADC - for as long as the beast is around - instead of the exception you appear to be. To you and your families I sincerely wish a safe and happy holiday season, a sentiment shared, I suspect, by many.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sex Worker's Rights Are Human Rights. Phoenix, 2009.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.
Was going to spare my Arizona Prison Watch Vistors this one, but not enough of you travel that I thought you'd ever find your way to this long breakdown of what happened with the SWOP rally - which was a really tremendous event. So, I'm just going to give you the lead in, and you can hit the FMP site for the rest:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sex Workers' Rights are Human Rights. ADC Protest.

Wow. Arizona has got to be one of the most punitive, misogynistic, homophobic, right-wing states in the country, and I just spent the past couple of days hanging out with the handful of women here brave enough to publicly take on the state legislature and the director of the Department of Corrections. Friends of Marcia Powell and the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project demonstrated Friday at the ADC, calling Ryan out on his own turf to take a stand against violence against sex workers. He had a week to respond to their letter before the rally. In the end it appears as if he’s too much of a coward to face - or to defend - the women in red.

Okay, so maybe I’m baiting him now. His decision to ignore them wasn’t cowardice so much as it was really cold strategy, an evasive maneuver by someone who could take us out in a heartbeat. He’s not afraid, and knows full well he can hurt us more than we can hurt him - it’s cowardice of another kind. Which is still not good news for the good guys. I don’t know why I kept thinking that if Ryan was one of those 16 guards who passed through Lumley yard the day Marcia died, he would have been the one to stop and offer her the assistance that could have saved her life. I want to believe that somewhere in there is a spark of humanity and compassion that we could connect on.

I’ve given him more benefit of the doubt that perhaps I should have. If he is not the man I hope he is – and is instead the man I think he is, the alternatives to my fantasy mean that more prisoners will suffer and die until he’s gone - and who knows if the person who replaces him will be any better?

I thought of all the lawmen in this state, Ryan might be one who would take the women from SWOP seriously, and treat them with respect. He did stop not long ago when I sent word that I needed help with something, and he responded professionally (albeit a bit gruffly – I think that’s just him), but I think that was a fleeting connection. I guess he’s as much a politician as the rest of them, though. That’s the kind of prostitution that should really be criminalized, because it damages people and destroys lives. He’s been there so long, and dug in so deep, that nothing new or different may ever come out of him than what we got from Stewart – in which case we just need to seize the legislature, the governorship, local jurisdictions, and the economic system we have in order to take over and dismantle the whole prison industrial complex…which is why I wanted to believe there was something decent in him to work with.

Now we’re back to looking at this whole beast again, not sure which part to start hacking away at first. I think since no one but the families seem to be on Ryan for prisoner rights – and Arpaio and Thomas already have strong constituencies of people opposing them - we’ll stick with Ryan and the ADC for awhile.

I know I’ve been too soft on him thus far, but cut me a break – he reminds me of my old man. Besides, I’m an abolitionist – I think we should give cops the same consideration we give criminals who want to redeem themselves; most people have the capacity to change for the better, given the right conditions and support network. If a convicted felon can do it, so can Ryan. If he wants to – that’s the key. But we’re running out of time before the next state prisoner is neglected, abused, suicides, or is murdered.

It looks like for now Ryan’s prisoners will have to try to outlast and outlive his tenure before there’s another opening for real change. Ryan personally quashed the idea of an early prisoner release this year for non-violent offenders, and legislators are now afraid to put their name on a bill that would give people more good time they can earn, with his adamant assertion to the media that the public would be at risk with an early release program. His lack of response to the letter from SWOP also strongly suggests that he doesn’t – and never really did – care much about the women ending up there – either why they’re there to begin with, or what happens to them once they become his prisoner. I’d retract it all happily if he proves me wrong, but I’m not expecting much anymore.

Ryan even provided a legislative committee this week with the “evidence” for the argument (via some guy speaking for prosecutors) that “mandatory minimum sentences” and mass incarceration are what’s brought down violent crime in this state.

Never mind that our rates of violent crime are still among the highest in the nation – kind of makes you want to see what others did to bring their rates down, since most states are deciding now that mass incarceration doesn’t really pay off. And the information from ADC that was presented in the Committee on Sentencing this week included an estimate that only 2% of Arizona’s state prisoners are first-time non-violent offenders. That’s hard to believe, given the number of people I personally know who went to prison as first time, non-violent offenders.

What’s minimum security for, anyway – aren’t all those folks low-risk/non-violent? Why do we even have minimum security if we can do a better job helping addicts and alcoholics clean up in community-based settings – where they can work and pay off fines and restitution a whole lot faster than in prison? And what about the mentally ill folks who we all know don’t belong in prison? It seems as if the Director of the Department of Corrections would want to mount a public campaign bringing attention to the inappropriate incarceration of the mentally ill (since they take up a lot of space and staff time in his prisons, and are so often victimized or put into isolation), and try to have their cases reviewed for transfer from criminal courts to probate (or mental health court, whatever folks call it here) – or for clemency, even. I consider many of them among the wrongly-convicted, too.

So Ryan’s putting his stuff out there for prosecutors to throw around, scaring everyone about the possibility of an early prisoner release endangering the community, and I can’t even get him to tell me who – of the 10,000 people he has working for him – I can talk to about how many prisoners are qualified for compassionate release, and why they keep dying in prison for non-violent crimes. I think we need to make sure they’re getting home in time enough to live a little and love their family before they die.

As for the community: you don’t know what you missed Friday because your media didn’t think it was “news”. They must still be pondering the significance of Tiger’s affair; what a revelation. It’s not as if we weren’t juicy enough, either - signs proclaiming “My ass is mine”, Coca-cola-style t-shirts reading WHORE, women in tight red dresses, bisexuals, ex-felons, anarchist men and women decked out in black, and men and women of all ages armed with chalk parading about on the ADC’s patio for an afternoon, waving to passersby and shouting “sex worker rights are human rights!” - that isn’t news in this state?

I can’t help but wonder what else is going unreported here - there’s a whole world out here that folks don’t know exists. We even created a little commotion with the legislature’s pages and security staff when we decided to deliver copies of SWOP’s letter to Ryan to them. No one (all white men) knew what to do or say; they certainly couldn’t take their eyes off us. The capitol police even tailed us until we left the grounds – and we were only a group of four, all of us over 40, I think. It was clear that we were asking something extraordinary when we asked that they deliver copies of the letter to a few mailboxes; the term “sex worker” kept distracting them, I think. And all the red, I’m sure. We certainly livened up their day, at least – one Republican aide was almost asleep on the couch when we first walked in. Good to see our tax dollars hard at work.

Anyway, the past few days with the SWOP folks have been amazing but exhausting – I’m just beginning to recover. I’m still sorting out and writing up what transpired, and where I think we'll go from here, so bear with me as I think out loud (I’m about to piss a lot of people off, but it’s not my intent to hurt anyone, so hold on…)

First, don't stress about the media blackout, really - the Phoenix New Times was a disappointment, but it made visible an elusive element in the structure of Arizona's liberal elite that seems to be deeply threatened by women's resistance: the patriarchy. Not many people ever talks about it here, do they? I bet when they do no one really pays attention. I think it’s the lack of support from the supposedly "feminist" men out here - not oppression by the sexist pigs - that most impedes progress on issues of great pertinence to women. The anarchist men are an exception as are a number in the anti-war movement. SWOP was prepared for a media blackout (so, New Times, I guess you are just like everyone else), and took their own footage, including interviews and the walk through the capitol buildings. It should be edited and posted after the first of the year – I’ll set up a link when it’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll also be posting this on AZ Indymedia, and wherever else I can. I expect we’ll be on our own for media now.

Trivializing things that are important to women is perhaps one of the few ways “liberal” white men can retain power. Since we would otherwise not put up with it, who but criminalized women will they be able to have power over if everyone else is free? They aren’t going back to the top of the hierarchy for a good long time once they fall, that’s for sure, whether they’re liberal or not. If I had it my way, it wouldn’t be a hierarchy – which is probably why I hang with anarchists. Perhaps I should be more understanding and patient with liberal white men, because they have so much to lose in some respects, and still commit themselves to our liberation movements – but we pay the greater price for lost time.

So, they can catch up with the revolution again when they stop whining about being unappreciated. We appreciate you for what you do if you do anything, not just because you’re white men who are willing to be counted on our side. Some men will sign up for anyone’s side if they think they’ll get the goodies in the end – and women happen to be the goodies for most of you. Ultimately, though, those who would deny us liberation and basic human rights can’t possibly really win, so whatever your motives, you’re better of with us anyway.

In any event, since this past week was all about remembering the dead and bringing the living out of the closet of shame, SWOP didn't stage either the memorial or rally as a mainstream “media event”, and were pretty low-key in their own promotions (though high enough profile in the demonstration, to be sure). I think most of their outreach was to their own constituency – they really weren’t expecting anyone else to care about Marcia or any of them, and were thrilled that Marcia has friends now where she seemed to have none before – except for a few other prisoners. I was the only one who seemed surprised not to see more familiar faces from Phoenix; the women from SWOP were pretty happy with the turnout, though, and their friends came up from Tucson to join us. Both events were intimate gatherings as a result -one just more public than the other. Between the two, this has been the most moving, powerful, and educational demonstration that I've ever been a part of - and I’ve done plenty in my years of activism. This even tops the Cronkite thing, and we had just a handful of people.

"No Human Involved" is the classification of homicide victims once used for murdered prostitutes, by the way - the other two options were "male" or "female". That's where the real story is that the media completely missed: Marcia just wasn't considered human by some guards when she was left out to die: she was, by one corrections officer's account after she died, a "biological serial killer." The pink underwear in Tent City, the cages in the state prisons, the police brutality in the streets, sexual and physical abuse by guards, assaults by other prisoners (the real criminals you put us with), the mandatory minimums for prostitution, the requirement that women convicted of prostitution register as sex offenders (do the johns have to so as well?) – it’s all about disempowering and discrediting women – one way of which is demeaning what is feminine when found in men (one of many kinds of misogyny practiced by Joe Arpaio).

I also think maintaining prostitution laws are about enabling the extra thrill that men get from “illicit” sex with brazen and defiant women. Really - what would all these cowboys do if we were no longer outlaws? Tie up their Rotary Club wives? Go after kids? C’mon, guys. Grow up. Some of you are just criminalizing and killing us for kicks – you’re the kind of people who need to be stopped before you contaminate the rest of the community...

The women of SWOP know exactly what the label the prison guards gave Marcia meant, by the way, and what the implications of such a characterization are. I knew when I heard it, too. That was her death sentence, and it was given to her long before she was even dragged into court and sent to prison – it just took awhile to pass it on and carry it out. It was handed down by the good people of this state in the name of “protecting families,” not just a few bad guards having fun. I doubt any of them even meant to kill her.

It's unfortunate that the community members who cared so much about how Marcia lived and died that they made a place for her ashes didn't pick up on any of this, support the SWOP demonstration, and learn what they could from these amazingly perceptive, independent, and fierce women. They may help us keep the same kind of thing from happening again. My life has been blessed by their presence, and I’ve made friends and allies that I know I’ll be working with down the road. I'm certainly more clear about who I can count on to stand with us the next time we position ourselves in public opposition to the state's top cop - who isn't Sheriff Joe. Ryan's the real cop, with far more authority, durability, and credibility among law enforcement officers on policy issues than Arpaio - and he has the keys to all the prisons.

Phoenix New Times loves to hate Ryan, and will thus probably help keep him around - they sure didn't want to let the rest of the Left know that SWOP was even going to be here, and it wasn't for lack of information. Sheriff Joe’s the money-maker these days - he’s just a clown with a badge and dying career now, but he’s still a big seller. Thomas too – I suspect a good many folks will turn out for the protest against him today – certainly the Phx New Times will be there – they saw the dollar signs and promoted the event. I don’t know why I expected that the New Times would have a different bottom line than the Republic – maybe just because they present themselves that way. White men sitting behind desks should not be trusted – much less anointed - to amplify the voices of the voiceless: they just make a production of the BS they think will sell to their audience (indicating that their function is to entertain us), and ignore the rest.

The Phoenix Anarchists aren't shy or afraid when it comes to pushing a social justice agenda, though, and they showed up in force Friday. They always bring a spirit of creativity, revolution, and solidarity to such events: they do whatever they can to stop people from being exploited and abused, without apology. Stan was good to see - he represents the Food Not Bombs connection with Marcia, the people who knew her from something other than her criminal record. There was also overlap among us with Copwatchers (all undercover), the anti-war movement, and even labor. I'm beginning to think that what I see most out here, however, are the exceptional individuals and small groups of comrades (Marcia's Friends, all along) who support numerous liberation movements – I don’t know how much actual cross-movement organizing is really going on, though I still think there’s some cross-fertilization at least from the overlap of activists who all go to each other’s events.

But I'm still new here, and feel like I'm on the outside looking in much of the time, so I may be missing something. The Anti-Sheriff Joe coalition is indeed an authentic amalgamation of different movements drawn together for a common cause; that's where I drew a lot of my initial impressions about cross-movement organizing happening here, which I think in that particular case are still valid. People have done a lot of good work together to end his racist reign on power (though I don't hear much about his misogyny and homophobia, as glaring as they are). Beyond the entertainment value, protesting Sheriff Joe has united members of the community, bringing forth a collective vision for a better Arizona. Still, it's a mistake to think that he's the source of the problem here that has us locking away so many unruly women and people of color in this state.

The rapidly rising rate of incarceration of women hasn't really even been on the anti-Joe agenda, though, so far as I can tell, nor has there been much feminist analysis of what's at the source of Arpaio's popular appeal - it's not just his racism. It's the other -isms that we are blind to, not what we and the world can see so well, that will prevent us from moving forward with a truly progressive agenda, leaving us circling the wagons in hopes that we just outlive the Right wing - we sure don't out-gun them here. Because of our blindness to our own biases and prejudice, and our investment in our own self-interest, too many people settle for compromises which allow them at the expense of our comrades. That’s been a problem for a long time. Covering white middle class liberal ass certainly won’t produce the magic formula that will liberate us all. Our collective chances are much better if we throw our lot in with the sex workers than if we hang with the people who “love” them who are secure enough in their own position with the status quo.

I think Arpaio is becoming more the distraction that keeps us from getting to the real thing than he is the problem himself; we are more at the source of the problem than he is now, because we know better. Our problem is in the silence that we greeted the sex workers with when they asserted that their rights are human rights, too. It's in the permission that male liberals - regardless of ethnicity - give each other to denigrate women's resistance and leadership while slapping each other on the back about how anti-racist they are. It's in the feminists who fail to see how critical they are to ending violence against sex workers - male, female, and transgendered - and how central to all other feminist struggles that particular task is.

The activist community here didn't respond with much more than a memorial service and calls for a softer, gentler prison when Marcia died, which troubles me. Perhaps no one knew what to do. The women at Perryville have been calling us for help ever since then, and we're the ones who have been ignoring them. The population of women in Arizona’s prisons is exploding – where are Arizona's women's rights' groups now? Over 50% of women prisoners in America are mothers - where are the family-centered organizations out here? Most women in prison have been physically or sexually abused - where are the victims' rights organizations out here? Ironically, their collective narrow-minded advocacy has helped brutalize many survivors of trauma and abuse, which doesn't tend to result in anyone’s "rehabilitation." If anything, it further traumatizes and marginalizes victims, transforming their pain into rage that will in turn victimize others. And why are none of them speaking out about state violence - who speaks for the victims of the state?

We need to reframe this whole "victim-perpetrator" analysis of crime to embrace the complexities of oppression, exploitation, racism, misogyny, classism, and other manifestations of fear and of hate as we try to identify the real crimes and criminals in our social landscapes. At present, we're putting victims in prison with their perpetrators, knowing full well that a certain number of them – particularly the most effeminate and vulnerable among the men - will be raped, beaten, and even killed...yes, misogyny kills men, too. If every judge was required to calculate the brutality with which some of the people they sentence to prison will be greeted, or the likelihood that they’ll develop a terminal illness and die there for having shoplifted, perhaps they would think twice about what they consider “just” punishment for violating norms that the privileged few have written into their laws. Maybe they would then elevate their duty to protect the innocent over their satisfaction with punishing who they think is “guilty.” They all need to spend a few days in prison without their robes on before they hand down another sentence like Marcia’s.

When liberation movements try to appeal to the mainstream, these are the first folks to get cut out of the deals - bottom line, even the Left doesn't like deviants who might make them "look bad". Emboldened by mainstream "allies" who are appalled by injustice, revel in the glory of rescuing the downtrodden, and enjoy hearing the sounds of their own protests, these sex workers are some of the most courageous fighters we have, and deserve respect. Once we distance ourselves from their red dresses and umbrellas, however – because we think they’re too in-your-face about it, or that their resistance doesn’t matter to anyone else - we isolate them and make it clear that no one will rise to their defense - or even notice if they're attacked. We are the ones who permit violence – we could stop a lot of it too. Instead we turn away, and let the full force of state and social repression come down on them.

We did that to our revolutionaries a generation ago – they are now our elders, and we have left them to die in prison. Our comrades with SWOP around the world face being targeted, beaten, arrested, imprisoned and killed for demanding that they be treated with respect and dignity, and only their fellow sex workers and a few good souls will honor them and remember their names - much less record their own names and faces publicly beside them in opposition to their treatment. That’s a sad commentary for a liberation movement to leave behind. I think we can expect to see folks from Puente the next time around, though – it seems they didn’t get the word in time to support us (that would be my responsibility – I guess I didn’t confirm with anyone there), but when we ran into a couple of their activists downtown after the demo, they were with us all the way. We’ll be counting on that – and they know we’re there with them, too.

I think the anarchists understand the phenomenon of the Left’s rejection and abandonment better than anyone because they've been hung out to dry a few times - which is why they are such reliable comrades to those of us whom even the progressives reject when the going gets tough. Women as “victims” are useful tools to garner sympathy for a movement or cause of any kind, left or right: our cries galvanize our men to come to our rescue, while the outrage that our suffering elicits prompts other women to assert their own critique. But when women who have been victimized (as well as gay and transgendered people among us) take up arms and lead the charge - especially prostitutes, who represent the secrets and sinful pleasures of so many - we defy progressive norms, too. We fail to be appropriately ashamed and vulnerable, which must emasculate some of the men who would otherwise come to our aid, and appears to threaten some of the women.

Along those lines, I think that the biggest challenge the Sex Workers Outreach Project posed to the community in Phoenix was to the progressives, not to Ryan. He conducted himself in perfect harmony with his title, position, and career trajectory. He consulted on Iraqi prisons, so even a gesture from him would carry more water with me than a gesture from the Left – I can guess what that gesture will be when you’re all done reading this, and I don’t think it will be an embrace. There certainly should be no confusion as to why so many of Ryan’s employees ignored Marcia as she called for help last May, anyway. He doesn't need to listen to what a bunch of whores have to say to him about the law, his leadership, or his prisons - especially not the ones who have behaved so badly as to become his prisoner. He doesn't even have to acknowledge our voice or presence except to do head counts - he can just pretend that we’re invisible and our objections to mistreatment are irrelevant; from there it's remarkable who follows his lead – everyone from the front-line guards to the Phoenix New Times.

A common enemy and collective strategy to defeat it doesn't necessarily make allies or friends, of course, and doesn’t substitute for cross-movement organizing. Not that I’m a great organizer, personally. The folks I’ve seen bridge the gaps most between groups are actually the anarchists (who comprise a large part of the anti-war movement, and wear a multitude of colors) – and they aren’t organizing, per se - they’re being. That’s kind of how I want to be. I don’t know enough yet about anarchy to declare it as my own political creed, but the anarchists here support liberation movements without much prejudice. Whether they're explicitly invited to or not, if they hear about an action against state oppression, they’re on it with their own artistic flair. That’s their tradition. As expected, Friday they were there.

In doing as they have, anarchists have built extensive networks across communities of resistance and can be counted on to vehemently and persistently, individually and collectively, register their opposition to racism, sexism, state violence, fascism, imperialism, war, exploitation of labor, environmental degradation, and just about every other evil thing perpetrated by the state, corporations and individuals in power on this planet. They’ve never forgotten about those we allowed to be taken prisoner, either – whole the rest of the left still clung to Clinton, they were all but abandoned. We should all be grateful to our anarchists for saying and doing all the things that the rest of us are afraid to, but that cannot be left untouched if we are to get anywhere. We may express our shock at anarchists’ brashness and lack of proper respect for authority (thank god for their example, frankly), but we’d all be toast without them; they put themselves between us and violence all the time, yet we are so quick to discount or disparage them as not being “realistic” in their actions or their vision. I happen to think they’re among the few people here with a real clue, and I’m glad someone has their eye on a better future than the rest of us seem willing to settle for.

With that I should stop offending everyone that isn’t an anarchist or criminal and put up my pictures – this is probably a sufficient drubbing for my friends on both the Left and the Right, assuming I have any remaining who will speak to me now.

Those of you who missed the SWOP letter to ADC Director Ryan, by the way, it’s not too late to catch up - read it and take notes - this begins here, it doesn’t end here. They told the truth, which has a lot of power no matter how much people try to render it invisible. They really gave us a lot to build on, and I’m not all that hostile once I settle down again - folks are welcome to drop in any time and tell me what they think. Just keep in mind that I’m much more the agitator than the organizer these days, so don’t expect diplomacy from me. I’ve lost my patience and temper with age, so if you have some ideas about how to do this better, get to work, because we could use a little more help out here. We aren’t exactly the most popular cause in town to begin with (unless we’re dead or not resisting), and I’ve probably just set myself up to be hit from all sides now, so if you don’t step up or get out of the way you’ll probably get hit by cross-fire.

You know how to find me.

Thanks again to all who showed up to support us – I knew I could at least count on the anarchists, my union organizing roomies, and Food-Not-Bombers to be there; they really haven’t missed a beat this whole time.

And of course, thanks to my partner in crime, Linda, who has gone out on a limb to make sure real justice is finally established here.

I think we’re all in for a long, hard ride if we’re going to make that happen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Disappeared in America: Immigrant Detention.

Here's to the truth, peace, and justice. May they all prevail in the new year.

 Any of those communities out there planning to cash in on immigrant detention, keep in mind that this is part of what happens to them in our justice system. Perhaps if detention wasn't such a big business, we'd have come up with better immigration policies a long time ago...they have loads of money to lobby legislators to keep us trapped in these kinds of cycles. Beware any politician who comes with visions of privatization of things like public safety and prisons as money-saving schemes.


America's Secret ICE Castles

By Jacqueline Stevens

December 16, 2009


"If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear." Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008. Also present was Amnesty International's Sarnata Reynolds, who wrote about the incident in the 2009 report "Jailed Without Justice" and said in an interview, "It was almost surreal being there, particularly being someone from an organization that has worked on disappearances for decades in other countries. I couldn't believe he would say it so boldly, as though it weren't anything wrong."

ICE agents regularly impersonate civilians--OSHA inspectors, insurance agents, religious workers--in order to arrest longtime US residents who have no criminal history. Jacqueline Stevens has reported a web-exclusive companion piece on ICE agents' ruse operations.

Pendergraph knew that ICE could disappear people, because he knew that in addition to the publicly listed field offices and detention sites, ICE is also confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants--nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag. (Presumably there is a flag at the Veterans Affairs Complex in Castle Point, New York, but no one would associate it with the Criminal Alien Program ICE is running out of Building 7.) Designed for confining individuals in transit, with no beds or showers, subfield offices are not subject to ICE Detention Standards. The subfield office network was mentioned in an October report by Dora Schriro, then special adviser to Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, but no locations were provided.

I obtained a partial list of the subfield offices from an ICE officer and shared it with immigrant advocates in major human and civil rights organizations, whose reactions ranged from perplexity to outrage. Andrea Black, director of Detention Watch Network (DWN), said she was aware of some of the subfield offices but not that people were held there. ICE never provided DWN a list of their locations. "This points to an overall lack of transparency and even organization on the part of ICE," said Black.

ICE says temporary facilities in field or subfield offices are used for 84 percent of all book-ins. There are twenty-four listed field offices. The 186 unlisted subfield offices tend to be where local police and sheriffs have formally or informally reached out to ICE. For instance, in 2007 North Carolina had 629,947 immigrants and at least six subfield offices, compared with Massachusetts, with 913,957 immigrants and one listed field office. Not surprisingly, before joining ICE Pendergraph, a sheriff, was the Joe Arpaio of North Carolina, his official bio stating that he "spearheaded the use of the 287(g) program," legislation that empowers local police to perform immigration law enforcement functions.

A senior attorney at a civil rights organization, speaking on background, saw the list and exclaimed, "You cannot have secret detention! The public has the right to know where detention is happening."

Alison Parker, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a December comprehensive report on ICE transit policies, "Locked Up Far Away." Even she had never heard of the subfield offices and was concerned that the failure to disclose their locations violates the UN's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a signatory. She explained that the government must provide "an impartial authority to review the lawfulness of custody. Part and parcel is the ability of somebody to find the person and to make their presence known to a court."

The challenge of being unable to find people in detention centers, documented in the Human Rights Watch report, is worsened when one does not even know where to look. The absence of a real-time database tracking people in ICE custody means ICE has created a network of secret jails. Subfield offices enter the time and date of custody after the fact, a situation ripe for errors, hinted at in the Schriro report, as well as cover-ups.

ICE refused a request for an interview, selectively responded to questions sent by e-mail and refused to identify the person authorizing the reply--another symptom of ICE thwarting transparency and hence accountability. The anonymous official provided no explanation for ICE not posting a list of subfield office locations and phone numbers or for its lack of a real-time locator database.

It is not surprising to find that, with no detention rules and being off the map spatially and otherwise, ICE agents at these locations are acting in ways that are unconscionable and unlawful. According to Ahilan Arulanantham, director of Immigrant Rights for the ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles subfield office called B-18 is a barely converted storage space tucked away in a large downtown federal building. "You actually walk down the sidewalk and into an underground parking lot. Then you turn right, open a big door and voilà, you're in a detention center," Arulanantham explained. Without knowing where you were going, he said, "it's not clear to me how anyone would find it. What this breeds, not surprisingly, is a whole host of problems concerning access to phones, relatives and counsel."

It's also not surprising that if you're putting people in a warehouse, the occupants become inventory. Inventory does not need showers, beds, drinking water, soap, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, mail, attorneys or legal information, and can withstand the constant blast of cold air. The US residents held in B-18, as many as 100 on any given day, were treated likewise. B-18, it turned out, was not a transfer area from point A to point B but rather an irrationally revolving stockroom that would shuttle the same people briefly to the local jails, sometimes from 1 to 5 am, and then bring them back, shackled to one another, stooped and crouching in overpacked vans. These transfers made it impossible for anyone to know their location, as there would be no notice to attorneys or relatives when people moved. At times the B-18 occupants were left overnight, the frigid onslaught of forced air and lack of mattresses or bedding defeating sleep. The hours of sitting in packed cells on benches or the concrete floor meant further physical and mental duress.

Alla Suvorova, 26, a Mission Hills, California, resident for almost six years, ended up in B-18 after she was snared in an ICE raid targeting others at a Sherman Oaks apartment building. For her, the worst part was not the dirt, the bugs flying everywhere or the clogged, stinking toilet in their common cell but the panic when ICE agents laughed at her requests to understand how long she would be held. "No one could visit; they couldn't find me. I was thinking these people are going to put me and the other people in a grinder and make sausages and sell them in the local market."

Sleep deprivation and extreme cold were among the "enhanced interrogation" techniques promoted by the Bush White House and later set aside by the Justice Department because of concerns that they amounted to torture. Although without the intent to elicit information, ICE under the Obama administration was holding people charged with a civil infraction in conditions approaching those no longer authorized for accused terrorists.

According to Aaron Tarin, an immigration attorney in Salt Lake City, "Whenever I have a client in a subfield office, it makes me nervous. Their procedures are lax. You've got these senior agents who have all the authority in the world because they're out in the middle of nowhere. You've got rogue agents doing whatever they want. Most of the buildings are unmarked; the vehicles they drive are unmarked." Like other attorneys, Tarin was extremely frustrated by ICE not releasing its phone numbers. He gave as an example a US citizen in Salt Lake City who hired him because her husband, in the process of applying for a green card, was being held at a subfield office in Colorado. By the time Tarin tracked down the location of the facility that was holding the husband when he had called his wife, the man had been moved to another subfield office. "I had to become a little sleuth," Tarin said, describing the hours he and a paralegal spent on the phone, the numerous false leads, unanswered phones and unreturned messages until the husband, who had been picked up for driving without a license or insurance, was found in Grand Junction, Colorado, held on a $20,000 bond, $10,000 for each infraction. "I argued with the guy, 'This is absurd! Whose policy is this?'" Tarin said the agent's response was, "That's just our policy here."

Rafael Galvez, an attorney in Maine, explained why he would like ICE to release its entire list of subfield office addresses and phone numbers. "If they're detaining someone, I will need to contact the people on the list. If I can advocate on a person's behalf and provide documents, a lot of complications could be avoided."

Cary, a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina, has a typical subfield office at the rear of CentreWest Commons, an office park adjacent to gated communities, large artificial ponds and an Oxford University Press production plant. ICE's low-lying brick building with a bright blue awning has darkened windows, no sign and no US flag. People in shackles and handcuffs are shuffled in from the rear. The office complex has perhaps twenty other businesses, all of which do have signs. The agents, who are armed, might not wear uniforms and drive their passengers in unmarked, often windowless white vans. Even Dani Martinez-Moore, who lives nearby and coordinates the North Carolina Network of Immigrant Advocates, did not know people were being held there until she read about it on my blog.

In late October 2008, Mark Lyttle, then 31, was held in the Cary office for several hours. Lyttle was born in North Carolina, and the FBI file ICE had obtained on him indicated he was a US citizen. Lyttle used his time in the holding tank attempting to persuade the agents who had plucked him out of the medical misdemeanor section of a nearby prison, where he had been held for seventy-three days, not to follow through on the Cary office's earlier decision to ship him to Mexico. Lyttle is cognitively disabled, has bipolar disorder, speaks no Spanish and has no Mexican relatives. In response to his entreaties, a Cary agent "told me to tell it to the judge," Lyttle said. But Lyttle's charging document from the Cary office includes a box checked next to the boilerplate prohibition: "You may not request a review of this determination by an immigration judge."

Lyttle made enough of a fuss at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, that the agents there arranged for him to appear before a judge. But the checked box in the Cary paperwork meant he never heard from the nonprofit Legal Orientation Program attorneys who might have picked up on his situation. William Cassidy, a former ICE prosecutor working for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, ignored Lyttle's pleas and in his capacity as immigration judge signed Lyttle's removal order. According to Lyttle, Cassidy said he had to go by the sworn statements of the ICE officers.

Meanwhile, Lyttle's mother, Jeanne, and his brothers, including two in the Army, were frantically searching for him, even checking the obituaries. They were trying to find Lyttle in the North Carolina prison system, but the trail went cold after he was transferred to ICE custody. Jeanne said, "David showed me the Manila envelope [he sent to the prison]--'Refused'--and we thought Mark had refused it." Jeanne was crying. "We kept trying to find out where he was." It never crossed their minds that Mark might be spending Christmas in a shelter for los deportados on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

ICE spokesman Temple Black first told me the list was "not releasable" and that it was "law enforcement sensitive," but coordinator for community outreach Andrew Lorenzen-Strait e-mailed me a partial list of addresses and no phone numbers. I then obtained a more complete list, including telephone numbers, in response to a FOIA request. That list, received in November and dated September 2009, is about forty locations shy of the 186 subfield offices mentioned in the Schriro report and omits thirty-nine locations listed in an August ICE job announcement seeking applicants for immigration enforcement agents. These include ICE postings in Champlain, New York; Alamosa, Colorado; Pembroke Pines, Florida; and Livermore, California. The anonymous ICE official neither answered questions about why I was sent an incomplete list nor accounted for the disparity in official explanations of the list's confidentiality.

ICE obscures its presence in other ways as well. Everyone knows that detention centers are in sparsely populated areas, but according to Amnesty International's Reynolds, policy director of migrant and refugee rights, "Quite a lot of communities don't know they're detaining thousands of people, because the signs say Service Processing Center," not Detention Center, although the latter designation is used for privately contracted facilities. The ICE e-mail stated that the "service processing" term was first used when the centers were run by the predecessor agency Immigration and Naturalization Service, "because these facilities were used to process aliens for deportation," ignoring the fact that these structures were and are distinctive for confining people and not the Orwellian "processing."

Even the largest complexes, which are usually off side roads from small highways, are visible only if you drive right up to the entrance. Unlike federal prisons, detention centers post no road signs to guide travelers. The anonymous ICE official would not provide a reason for this disparity.

ICE agents are also working in hidden offices in one of the grooviest buildings in one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Tommy Kilbride, an ICE detention and removal officer and a star of A&E's reality show Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force, is part of the US Marshals Fugitive Task Force, housed on the third floor of the Chelsea Market, above Fat Witch Bakery and alongside Rachael Ray and the Food Network. Across the street are Craftsteak and Del Posto, both fancy venues for two other Food Network stars, Tom Colicchio and Mario Batali. Above their restaurants are agents working for the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Someone who had been working in that building for about a year said he had heard rumors of FBI agents, though he didn't see one until nine months later when a guy was openly carrying a gun through the lobby. In November, at midday, he saw two men in plain clothes walk a third man in handcuffs through a side-street door behind Craftsteak. "It was weird, creepy," he said, adding that the whole arrangement made him uncomfortable. "I don't like it. It makes you wonder, what are they hiding? Is it for good reasons or bad reasons?"

Natalie Jeremijenko, who lives nearby and is a professor of visual arts at New York University, pointed out the "twisted genius" of hiding federal agents in the "worldwide center of visuality and public space," referring to the galleries and High Line park among these buildings. Jeremijenko was incensed. "For a participatory democracy to work, you need to have real-time visual evidence of what is going on" and not just knowledge by professors who file a FOIA request or even readers of a Nation article.

In response to a question about the absence of signs at subfield offices, the ICE e-mail stated, "ICE attempts to place signs wherever possible, however there are many variables to consider such as shared buildings, law enforcement activities, zoning laws, etc." Except for "law enforcement activities," the reasons did not apply to the facilities listed here, as evidenced by signs on adjacent businesses.

The Obama administration continued to ignore complaints about the LA subfield office known as B-18 until April 1, when Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as ICE officials, were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. In September, the parties reached a settlement. The ACLU's Arulanantham said, "I never understood what [ICE] had to gain. The fact that after we filed the suit they completely fixed it makes it more mysterious" as to why their months of earlier negotiation brought few results. At the time of the lawsuit, he said, the nearby Mira Loma Detention Center had space. When I asked if ICE was trying to punish people by bringing them to B-18, Arulanantham said, "No, no one was targeted," adding, "If it were punitive, it would be less disturbing."

Arulanantham's response is, alas, more than fodder for a law school hypothetical about whether intentional or unintentional rights violations are more egregious. In 2006 ICE punished several Iraqi hunger strikers in Virginia--they were protesting being unlawfully held for more than six months after agreeing to deportation--by shuffling them between a variety of different facilities, ensuring that they would not encounter lawyers or be found by loved ones. This went on from weeks to months, according to Brittney Nystrom, senior legal adviser for the National Immigration Forum. "The message was, We're going to make you disappear."

As an alternative to the system of unmarked subfield offices and unaccountable agents, consider the approach of neighborhood police precincts, where dangerous criminals are held every day and police carry out their work in full view of their neighbors. Not only can citizens watch out for strange police actions, and know where to look if a family member is missing; local accountability helps discourage misconduct. ICE agents' persistent flouting of rules and laws is abetted by their ability to scurry back to secret dens, avoiding the scrutiny and resulting inhibitions that arise when law enforcement officers develop relationships with the communities they serve.

Indeed, the jacket Kilbride wears during arrests says POLICE in large letters. Working out of a heretofore secret location--Manhunters has no exterior shots--one that his supervisor had requested I not reveal, gives their operation the trappings of a secret police. An attorney who had a client held in a subfield office said on background, "The president released in January a memorandum about transparency, but that's not happening. He says one thing, but we have these clandestine operations, akin to extraordinary renditions within the United States. They're misguided as to what their true mission is, and they are doing things contrary to the best interests of the country."

About Jacqueline Stevens

Jacqueline Stevens, a political theorist, is the author of the recently published States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals (Columbia). more...