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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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Killing of Shannon Palmer: Criminalization, victimization, and the damage done

This is a re-post of a piece from last fall, which I wrote shortly after Shannon Palmer's homicide then updated in March 2011. Pay particular attention to the comments at the end. Please also visit the survivors of prison violence at, for more on this crisis of escalating despair and violence in the Arizona state prisons.

Thanks to Paul Rubin for his incredible investigative article about Shannon's life and death at the Phoenix New Times this week, including his interview with suspect Jasper Rushing. Please check it out for the most comprehensive and current report of the treatment of the mentally ill in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections under Chuck Ryan. The ACLU is already investigating Ryan's abuse of isolation in place of treatment for our mentally ill prisoners. This is right up their alley.


Shannon Palmer: Criminalization, victimization, and the damage done
Arizona Prison Watch
September 15, 2010

"Fight Real Power"

Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse, Phoenix (November 2010)
Chalk Art by Peggy Plews Photo by Robert Haasch

Updated March 2011

I've done a bit more research this week, and heard from Shannon Palmer's family, so wanted to update folks on his story. It's pretty heartbreaking. I hope the following information answers a lot of the questions people have had. I still have more, myself, as does Shannon's family, of course; we have a ways to go.

It's clear to me from my conversations with people this week and letters from prison that we need to really mobilize on behalf of these prisoners with mental illness, regardless of how they got criminalized. They're getting killed or left to die without adequate treatment in there. I keep hearing that they're being taken off their meds and put into environments where they're more likely to suicide and acutely vulnerable to predators. We have to insist that they get better psychiatric care as well as protection, or they'll keep dying as they have been.

What I saw when I worked with the homeless in Ann Arbor - and what I think I'm seeing in the prisons now - is that people with serious mental illness make attractive vic
tims to people, especially those doing killings for status. The mentally ill don't tend to be gang members so other prisoners won't intervene or retaliate, their aggravated symptoms provide abusers with the excuse of provocation for hurting them, and the state is less likely to seek the death penalty if the victim can be readily dehumanized like Shannon was.

At worst, guys like Rushing may lose their TV and phone privileges, get sentenced to life where they've already made their home, and end up assigned to a one-man cell - in addition to gaining the esteem of their twisted friends. In other words, for killing someone like Shannon, they stand to gain more than they lose - especially if they're already in prison for murder. I'm not advocating the death penalty here - I'm advocating prevention.

This is fairly urgent now, since gang members and random sadists will feel they have to top this last murder with something even more grisly. Prisoners and their families are rightfully terrified that they aren't safe from them - and the ADC seems to be quick to confirm that they won't assure anyone's safety in their custody. That, frankly, should be one of the primary things they try to guarantee - especially for the most vulnerable and disabled of their prisoners. The environment, after all, is supposed to be under their control.

I'll post more soon on how and where we might connect to take more collective action. In the meantime, if you're interested in this issue for any reason - especially if you have a loved one in prison - contact me. My number is 480-580-6807.

That said, much of what follows I originally posted as comments in response to the Phoenix New Times article touching on Shannon's murder; what a disappointment, considering that they're the most progressive paper the Valley has. I'm pretty much taking what I left there and pasting it here verbatim, or I'd never get this stuff up, so keep in mind that I'm either addressing the author of the PNT article and the editors of the paper, or responding to one of the other readers who left a remark.
Thank you to those folks who spoke up there on behalf of victimized prisoners, far too many of whom have psychiatric or developmental disabilities.


Posted by me to the Phoenix New Times website on September 13, while I was still figuring out who Shannon was and what happened to him.

"Wow, New Times, this is a really disturbing article. Do your homework next time. Shannon Palmer was mentally disabled, in prison for petty bullshit instead of in a hospital, and never should have been housed with a sociopathic killer. The method his cellmate, Jasper Rushing used to end his life was intended to humiliate and torture him. You needn't help him inflict that same kind of suffering on his family by publishing your sarcastic musings. They'll be reading this article as they try to make sense of what happened, of course, as well as the mindless comments sure to follow. Survivors tend to linger over these things, especially when there's nothing else but a criminal record left as a public narrative of their loved one's life.

This didn't just happen to Shannon Palmer, either - just about every prisoner and their family will feel the reverberations of stigma and shame your remarks have left and invited others to join in. I doubt anyone would be joking if this man wasn't already discounted as nothing more than a criminal who probably got what was coming to him.

Palmer was in prison because of behavior secondary to his mental illness, which was most likely not being properly treated there. He was so impaired that it took three competency exams and extensive psychiatric treatment to get him to where the judge could accept his guilty plea and sentence him.

According to family members of other prisoners at Lewis, Palmer and his cellmate were in a space built for only one man and his property; the less-dominant prisoner would have been relegated to the floor and had his property removed. What should have been only a 24-hour "transitional" housing assignment turned into nearly a month of them being crammed together.

Take a look at Palmer's in-prison infractions - gambling and disobeying orders. Now look at his cellie's record. No comparison. Talk about being set up to be murdered. I just got a letter from another ADC mentally ill prisoner who is terrified that the same thing will happen to him - and I can't assure him that it won't.

This murder was brutal, senseless, tragic, and in no way imaginable was it deserved. It was also avoidable, once again, if the ADC had been following their own policies. I could use your help doing real research into what's happening with the ADC to prevent more of these vulnerable prisoners from being murdered. At the very least, don't help cultivate a climate in our community which dehumanizes this man further and joins his killer in laughing about his death. Support his family in their grief, instead, and help the rest of us retain our own humanity by protecting the most vulnerable, most disenfranchised among us from the very real evil of our ignorance and indifference."


Also added to the Phoenix New Times website on September 14 (with a few extra remarks). I found the Republic article on his "criminal damage" after speaking with his family.

"This is the "crime" that Shannon was given three years in prison for, only to be tortured and murdered for after doing two. His "victim" was a utility tower, which we seem to think should have more rights than he did as the accused. According to his family, Shannon climbed it in a thunderstorm because God told him to.

The real perpetrators of "criminal damage" to a human life were the Mesa police, for booking him on criminal charges instead of taking him to a hospital; the judge, Connie Contes for imposing the sentence of prison as if she was doing him a favor; the prosecutor, Clint Heiner for offering such a sweet plea deal in the first place, and the rest of us for being oblivious or indifferent to the fact that this kind of thing happens to the mentally ill in our community all the time..."

His defense attorney must have been pretty lousy, too.

Some "rescue."

Shannon's prior prison sentences, by the way - making him one of those "repeat offenders" that the ADC and the AZ Prosecuting Attorney lobbyists insist should be incarcerated for the sake of public safety - were also for the crime of having a mental illness. I think we actually sent him off to prison this last time for the delusion that, if he tried, he could get closer to God. That's a pretty sad commentary on this community and state.


August 25, 2008. Arizona Republic:

"Police on Tuesday identified a man who climbed nearly 100 feet up a high-tension electrical tower during a thunderstorm Monday night. Police persuaded Shannon Palmer, 38, to climbed safely back to the ground after they were called about 6:20 p.m.

The Mesa Fire Department responded to reports of a man climbing the tower near 1800 East Covina Street as a storm was rolling through, Chief Mike Dunn said.

When they arrived Palmer appeared agitated, but after shutting off the power to the unit, a Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in high-angle rescue, coaxed him to a ladder truck bucket and he was brought down.

The man was returned without injury to the ground shortly after 8 p.m. with no explanation for why he had climbed the tower in the first place. The man was released to the custody of the Mesa Police Department. He was booked on suspicion of trespassing, criminal damage and disorderly conduct."

KPHO's 2008 interview they did with Shannon in jail shortly after his above arrest, explaining why he climbed the tower and should be in a hospital, not go to prison. I just don't understand why we sent him to prison.


Here's Shannon's sentencing record:

I read it and wept.

Finally, an excerpt from an email that Shannon's sister, Dawn, sent to me yesterday, with her permission...
"...Last Friday, September 10, my mother received a call at 2:00 p.m. notifying her of my brother’s death and was told no details were available at this time. She was informed she would be contacted at a later date with more information once the investigation was complete, but confirmed it was a homicide. That call never came.

To add further insult to injury, my mother had to hear about the details of my brother’s death from the news media, Channel 5. On Saturday, September 11, unable to sleep, she turned on the TV, and there on the news was my brother’s pictures with the horrific news of how he died and the details of his cellmate who committed the crime along with details of his violent past.

We are outraged that they put a violent criminal in with my brother, who as you stated, had no history of violence. My mother has been fighting the system for years trying to get my brother the proper medication and care while incarcerated, to no avail. Prior to this event, my brother was taken off medication all together. The prison Dr. communicated he no longer required medication. How does a Paranoid Schizophrenic person with a long history of the illness no longer need medication?

Shannon's voice may be silent, but ours is not. We will fight to change the prison system policies in how inmates are housed and getting the proper care. He should never have been in prison in the first place..."


Anonymous said...

for the mother ,sister, family,my heart goes out to you, I am also going through the same situation with my son, this was a wrongful death,that should of never happened
I hope we can make a difference,and I pray for your son and your family,
God bless you and your family and your son,
sincerely,Elizabeth Felber

Anonymous said...

I am one of the"murders" family members. I was there at his birth, through his childhood and up through his young adulthood. He is a struggling mentally ill person fighting to survive as well. He was a beautiful baby with an inquistitive, intellent mind. He grew to be a troubled child with many issues that his family attempted to deal with. As a young adult he seemed like the average boy/man. He was loving and kind through out his first 20 years. I'm not sure to this day what changed...I love Jasper and always will, but I dont know who this man is. I know he's been begging for months to be taken out of general poulation because he just didn't feel safe himself. I am sorry to the family of Shannon, I am horiffied and ashamed...your family is in my prayers along with our family who is at a loss as to where our beautiful boy went...

Anonymous said...

This is so tragic. Heartfelt condolences to Shannon's family.

How can we consider our society to be in any way 'civilized,' when a situation like this can happen to any one who lives in it?
We have a long way to go.

God help us.

Anonymous said...

I was an inmate on this yard at the time of the murder. I have been housed in those very same isolation cells before. First I have to say if you read the article and havent been to prison some very important lingo's value to article and what really happened never gets fully comprehended. Let's start why both were in an iso cell to begin with. They were given disciplinary infractions for "refusing to house". What this really means is you went to administration and said that you felt like your safety was in danger and you were requesting to leave the yard. The supervisor you talked too said "so what go back to your assigned housing unit or get a ticket for refusing to house". You then decided a disciplinary ticket was better than dying. At least that is what Shannon Palmer thought at the time. So from the very start ADC is negligent and it is no surprise this happened. They are already disciplining you instead of protecting you at the start of this whole process. Now once you are sent to hole for discipline you are considered 5.5 inmate (highest classification score). then essentially you could be housed with anybody because when they get to hole they are 5.5 inmate as well. so essentially in the minds of the idiots who run the prison they are housing 2 5.5 custody inmates together. This happened to me many times while I was fighting for protective segregation. I was in prison for forging $1500 check and was housed with convicted murderers many times, and assaulted many times too. I could write a book about this but I am going to stop here for now. Think about it, Shannon Palmer was in this situation bacause he went to prison officials for help, and instead of helping him they killed him. Make no mistake ADC killed Shannon Palmer, because it was their system that also created the monster Jasper Rushing. I'm going to go for now cause I cant type, but anybody who wants to talk about this get a hold of me.

IZZY said...

Dear Ms Henderson (Palmer)and sister Dawn Palmer I Was a good friend of Shawn as you may have remembered. My name is Ian Irizarry aka IZZY I just got done doing a 13 year sentence in Washington state. I just got out April 14th. And I looked on-line to see if I can look your son up, and much to my suprize I found out Shawn had passed away. I did not know how until today. I don't have the words for you other than my deepest condolences and sympathy. If there is anything I can do I am at I will always have very fond memories of shawn and I on all of our journeys. I am so sorry this happened to you IAN C IRIZARRY