Sasha was the 23 year old woman from Coolidge who ended the pain of this leg of her journey in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections on September 6, 2010. According to records from the ADC she had been sentenced there in July 2009, and would have been released within another month or two, had she lived.
She was housed on Lumley at Perryville, where the maximum security yard is, which is where Marcia Powell (killed when locked in an outdoor cage in 2009) and Geshell Fernandez (the only other woman in ADC custody who appears to have committed suicide this year) resided at the time of their deaths.
Based on minutes retrieved from the Maricopa County Superior Court, Sasha was originally given 10 years probation under an agreement with the Comprehensive Mental Health Probation Court. Her records pertaining to her competency remain sealed, but it appears that she struggle with both a substance abuse disorder and psychiatric disability, and was to be placed in a 24-hour dual diagnosis treatment program through Magellan once she was put on probation.
I don't know what happened with those plans, but Sasha apparently violated probation when charged with a new crime within six weeks, and was consequently sent to prison. Sasha's final sentence took all of six minutes to impose. That was after a process lasting more than a year from the time she was charged with her original crime, during which period it appears she was in MCSO custody (presumably in chemical restraints) where she had to undergo mental health treatment and several rounds of competency exams before being allowed to enter a guilty plea.
In light of that, I suspect that Sasha must have been pretty impaired when first charged. My guess is that the court's primary concern was for her ability to care for her young child, though, if she wasn't institutionalized or successfully engaged in a recovery program. We've got to come up with something more responsible than prison terms for dually disabled moms.
I tried to find out more about who Sasha was this week, other than what the courts had to say, but haven't heard from anyone who knew her, and couldn't afford to subscribe to the paper that lists her obituary. I did, however, find her Myspace page. There's only a page on her interests and some photos there - it hadn't been updated since 2007. But you can see the little boy she adored, Malachi, who was born that spring. Her mother's astonishingly beautiful artwork is there, too, as are a handful of photos of herself, her and Malachi, and her child's father. She shared a lot of herself in that very small space, perhaps the most telling things being that she liked movies that made you think, was a proud parent, and that her heroes "are people that stand by your side no matter what and grab (you) when they see (you) slipen."
Sasha seems to have wanted to do right by her kid, but struggled to because of her disabilities. The last statement of hers, though,suggests that she had some pretty important heroes in her life, who had been there for her many times before. To Sasha's heroes (you know who you are), I'd like to say that I'm sorry for what you're no doubt going through right now. No matter how strong or faithful or courageous one is, sometimes it's just not possible to save those we love from addiction, depression and despair - especially when they are physically out of reach.
I don't know if Sasha received any treatment in prison or what compelled her to take her own life so close to release, though I can certainly empathize with the desperate feeling that one is slipping hopelessly into inescapable pain. I know what it is to long for freedom, and that the most important kind has nothing to do with other people's chains. Most of all, though, I know how it feels to survive a loved one's suicide, so my heart especially goes out those she left behind. I can't imagine the grief that her mother must feel, however, or the confusion and loss her child will struggle through.
I borrowed the photo above from Sasha's Myspace album, since the only other material we had on her life and death were from the ADC. With her mother's permission, I'd like to post the artwork of hers that Sasha so admired. I try to help people understand who ends up in prison in America and how, but I think it's important for visitors here to see more than just prisoner's mugshots and criminal histories, especially when they pass away. They are more than just numbers to be counted three times a day.
Anyone who wants to share more about this young woman's life is welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. email@example.com
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)