Pinal county program helps inmates deal with issues.
by Lindsey Collom - Jun. 19, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Donald Hill says this will be the first time his name has been published in a newspaper for something positive.
Hill is a maximum-custody inmate in the Pinal County Adult Detention Center. His name was last inked on newsprint March 18 in the crime-log section of a local paper.
The report said officers were dispatched to a Florence neighborhood early Feb. 28 after a call about people trying to break into empty apartments. When police arrived, "Donald Hill allegedly assaulted an officer and was stunned with a Taser," the article said.
He is now charged with aggravated assault and weapons misconduct - the latest in a line of criminal cases against Hill going back to at least 1997.
"I'm 32 years old, and I've spent most of my life in prison," Hill said recently. "I'm tired, and I want a better life, and I'm allowed to get rid of my demons."
For six weeks, Hill and 11 fellow inmates addressed their demons in a voluntary rehabilitation program to help them identify and make positive choices. Facilitators used a book - Houses of Healing: A Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom - to guide inmates as they confronted the root causes of their behavior.
While there are a number of inmate-rehabilitation programs at Arizona jails, this is the first time one has been offered to maximum-custody inmates in Pinal County since a new administration took over the jails in January 2009.
"We felt like we needed to offer something," said Elke Jackson, correctional health director. "In most jails, they go in and they sit there until they get sentenced and they move on. We have a different philosophy."
James Kimble, chief deputy of adult detention, said the Sheriff's Office has a responsibility to help inmates "change so they do not continue to be a burden to society" and can go on to lead "productive, pro-social lives."
"People ask me, 'Do you believe in rehabilitation?' " Kimble said. "My response is, 'How do you rehabilitate someone who's never been habilitated?' . . . Sobriety, education, employability - if we can do any of those things, we can take a chink out of their armor."
Program participants studied the book and met for two hours each week to discuss topics including anger management and domestic violence. Inmates could also meet one-on-one with correctional health staff to discuss individual issues.
David Cruse, 29, said he studied the book in the mornings "when I had a fresh mind. Sometimes I could open it up and incorporate something positive in my day."
Cruse, who is being held in jail on an aggravated-assault charge, said the studies have helped him "discover the roots of the problem."
"It's really hard to look inside of your self," he said. "Everybody has an inner child, and it helps to go back and be a friend to that kid."
The dozen inmates who completed the program had a graduation ceremony last week in a jail recreation room, followed by coffee and doughnuts.
"It's not as hard out there as it is in here," Jackson told them. "Take what you learn. If you survived it in the (jail) pod, take that into the real world."
Time will tell whether the program is effective, Kimble said. Studies have shown slight reductions in recidivism rates for inmates who participate in rehabilitation. Previously, three groups of Pinal County inmates went through House of Healing, but staff has not followed up with participants.
Donald Hill said that when he gets out, he plans to take the lessons he learned with him.
"I'm missing my life," Hill said. "It's done for me. After this, I won't come back."
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)