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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The State, Violence, and prisoners.

Lest there be any doubts about the potential for staff-to-prisoner violence, and the difficulties prisoners have protecting themselves from retaliation while incarcerated. This ties into the letter I'm posting to the warden at USP Lewisburg about Oso Blanco. These folks at the Cesar Rodney Institute Blog (from Delaware) are pretty tenacious - they've been on their DOC constantly agitating for oversight and legislative changes. 

I think the inmates needed to direct this letter to the US Department of Justice, though, to request a Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) investigation, given the evidence of a pattern of abusive behavior by guards. So, I'll print this up and send it in myself - Department of Justice, consider yourselves served with notice that you're responsible for following up on this. 

It's that easy to do, folks - anyone can trigger a CRIPA investigation. You may just have to be persistent about it before they finally respond - and in the meantime, keep in touch with the prisoners involved to assure that they're still able to communicate if there are any problems, and remind them to send copies of all their grievances and other documentation of abuse home so it isn't confiscated and destroyed by the prison.


(Editor’s note: this story can also be viewed in CRI’s Special Reports section.)
Victim of the assault by guards still suffering from injuries received during the beating, according to his written statement obtained by CRI.

BREAKING NEWS: Retaliation begins against 42 inmate whistleblowers at SCI

By Lee Williams

After 42 inmates at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown came forward telling state officials they witnessed an unprovoked assault by three guards on one inmate – an attack they claim was started by the guards – retaliation has begun against the whistleblowers.

The inmates documented the assault on a Department of Correction (DOC) grievance form, which bears their 42 signatures. It was sent to Attorney General Beau Biden, Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, the NAACP and Dover attorney Steve Hampton.

They specifically asked Biden and Danberg to shield them from retaliation from the guards, who remain assigned to the tier.

The 42 inmates want criminal charges brought against two guards and a sergeant “who assaulted inmate Usef Dickerson on 11/11/09, in front of about 43 inmates on A-Tier.”

Their grievance states the guards, “violently punched and kicked inmate Dickerson to the body and about the head and face.”

Dickerson’s statement of the events provides more detail. Both complaints allege that the guards verbally provoked the assault, which began with an exchange of words.

In his statement, Dickerson said a guard sergeant “grabbed me by the head and pushed me into the chow hall. Then he quickly tried to slam me to the ground, but I ended up falling on top of him. At that point, I knew he was trying to hurt me, so I held him on the ground with one arm close to his body, so that he couldn’t do nothing to me.

“Seconds later, one officer who I cannot identify because he came from behind me, put me in a choke hold an began choking me while the other officer began punching me in the face. That’s when I let Sgt. [name withheld by CRI] go, closed my eyes and they continued to punch and choke me until I was either knocked out by a punch or until I passed out from lack of oxygen, because I was choked so long. I cannot say which it was, because I was being choked and punched at the same time.

“When I finally regained consciousness, I was being pepper-sprayed and punched in the face, but I was not being choked. I don’t know how it happened, but around a minute later, I was being escorted out of the building in handcuffs by an officer not involved in the assault.”

He strongly denies fighting back during the assault.

Several days prior to the attack, Dickerson said the guard sergeant told him, “I’ll beat you like your daddy should have.”

Dickerson filed grievances about the assault, sick call requests for medical aid, and asked to have his battered face photographed. He claims to suffer from constant headaches and broken blood vessels in his eyes.

Intimidation begins

Acquaintances of the inmates who reported the assault say staff has started to retaliate against the 42 whistleblowers.

The retaliation ranges in severity from the minor – making an inmate dump his food tray before he has had a chance to eat – to the serious.

One inmate, CRI was told, was watching a football game Sunday. He did not hear the guards announce a head count, and remained behind. The guards threatened to charge him with attempted escape, which could add years to his sentence.

Throughout the tier, the guards are asking all of the signatories “why did you sign?”

Dover attorney Hampton said, “The mere mention of the petition by staff to the inmates who signed it is itself intimidation.”

The DOC is also trying to suppress more information about the assault from leaking out of the prison.

The Caesar Rodney Institute has learned that a Delaware news reporter requested to interview three of the 42 inmates who witnessed the assault.

Tuesday evening, CRI has learned, the DOC’s internal affairs investigators pulled the three inmates whom the reporter sought to interview from their cells and interrogated them about Dickerson’s assault.

Department of Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Danberg has said the investigation into Dickerson’s assault will take months.

SCI has a reputation for abuse, especially if the inmate is small, non-threatening and mentally or physically ill.

Dickerson stands 5-foot, 4-inches, suffers from severe asthma and weights 130 pounds.

In June, guards at the facility nearly beat Laurel businessman David Sully to death, by raining down blows to his head and face. Several wounds on Sully’s face required stitches to close. When he left the facility, he was covered with dye used in the guards’ pepper spray.

Despite horrific photos that chronicled the assault, Danberg said his guards did nothing wrong. He implied Sully had done something to merit the repeated beatings. Sully is 5-feet, 5-inches tall and weighs 140 pounds.

Last month, Gianfranco Carta said guards at SCI shot pepper spray directly into his mouth, and then smacked his head into a concrete wall several times as he walked blindly down a hallway. Carta stands 5-feet, 7-inches and weighs 140 pounds.

Danberg’s internal affairs unit has said Carta’s story is “under investigation.”

In 2006, several guards attacked inmate David Kalm. Sometime during the assault, one of the guards shoved a nightstick or similar object down Kalm’s throat, tearing his trachea. Kalm is 5-feet, 7-inches and suffers from asthma, COPD and severe anxiety.

Danberg’s internal affairs unit investigated and found the guards did nothing wrong. Kalm has since sued the DOC. His case is pending.

The guards – defendants in the civil suit – are represented by the Attorney General’s office, after the office concluded they did nothing to merit criminal charges.

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or

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