MARGARET J PLEWS
PO BOX 20494
PHOENIX, AZ 85036

arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com

480-580-6807

Established: July 18, 2009
Editor: Peggy Plews


This site is to offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex in Arizona from a prison abolitionist's perspective. Abolitionism is an anti-colonialist articulation of a vision of racial and economic justice, one in which we don't submit to or depend on the prison industrial complex to brutalize the "duly convicted" (and their loved ones) as a response to harm, as a preventative measure out of fear, or as a means of assuring social order. It's an optimistic vision which presumes that our society collectively evolves, both morally and socially, such that the root causes of criminalization and incarceration are addressed before we produce more generations of people being allowed to hurt eachother. The current system doesn't prevent people from being victimized - it just prescribes rules for who does and doesn't get to hurt or be hurt in America. That's not a good enough foundation for a system truly based on achieving justice.

Prison abolitionism argues that we don't simply need to shut down the prisons: we need to rewrite the way the rules around perpetrating harm against people and property are made in the first place, so that humanity, not profit (or state "savings", as the case may be) comes first. From re-prioritizing our world, our ideas around what is crime and how to punish it would look much differently...Critical Resistance is a good source for more info on that.

I'm just a freelance writer and artist, by the way, but if you are the loved one of a prisoner and need help, feel free to contact me. Emailing me works best: arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com but 480-580-6807 is ok too.

AZ PRISON WATCH ACTION ITEMS:

RESIGN, CHUCK RYAN

RESIGN, CHUCK RYAN
Petition by the family of Tony Lester, victim of suicide in AZ DOC custody.

SUpport the Free Alabama Movement!

**************

AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Deaths in Custody: Rosario Rodriguez-Bojorquez, 29


UPDATE: I  received a letter a couple of weeks after this suicide from a guy in the same cell block as Rosario, who saw his body get carted out when he died. He said Rosario had just been told that his application for protective custody was denied before he hung himself. The ADC doesn't routinely debrief traumatized prisoners after someone is murdered or kills themselves inside, so it's no surprise that another prisoner at ASPC-FLorence who was seeking protection - Duron Cunningham - hung himself a week later.
If Rosario's family is out there and needing any support or assistance at all, please contact me. I'm no mental health professional or lawyer, but I will do whatever I can to help the survivors of prison violence, neglect and suicide. My name is Peggy Plews, my number is 480-580-6807, and my email address is prisonabolitionist@gmail.com.

-----------------------------------------------


ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
1601 W. JEFFERSON PHOENIX, ARIZONA 85007
(602) 542-3133

JANICE K. BREWER, GOVERNOR
CHARLES L. RYAN, DIRECTOR
NEWS RELEASE For Immediate Release

For more information contact:

Barrett Marson
www.bmarson@azcorrections.gov

Bill Lamoreaux
www.blamorea@azcorrections.gov
Sept. 27, 2010


Inmate Death Notification

Florence, Az- Inmate Rosario Rodriguez-Bojorquez, ADC#256497, died while in Arizona Department of Corrections custody Friday after apparently committing suicide.

Rodriguez-Bojorquez, 29, came to ADC on Sept. 3, after a conviction from Maricopa County for aggravated assault, kidnapping and 1st degree burglary. He was serving 12 years and housed at the Central Unit of ASPC-Florence.

The death is under investigation by the Department.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Remembering murdered prisoners and their families


Today is the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. The victims' rights organizations that assured this day would be recognized and murder victims remembered have done a good job of representing families destroyed by homicide.

My job, however, is to remember those families of prisoners killed in the care of the state who don't even have the standing as "victims" under our state constitution. Marcia Powell didn't even earn standing as a "victim", for all the suffering she went through before her death. I imagine that's so the state doesn't admit liability for neglect by acknowledging the special class of victims they create through neglect and abuse. Maybe if our constitution inferred that the same level of humanity exists in "people in custody for an offense" they wouldn't be getting killed by the desert in outdoor cages or ignored when being mutilated by cellmates so often.

A couple of these men were themselves in prison for murder or had otherwise seriously harmed others, but not most of them. None were sentenced to be executed. I have heard from or read messages left by many of their traumatized loved ones - their families were destroyed once by their convictions and imprisonment, now again by their murders.

I've also read a bit by family members of their victims, and from the victims of others. These deaths often open wounds for them, as well, including those not yet healed. I hope this doesn't have that effect for any of them.

I'll put together a later piece with links to relevant documents or blog posts on each of the murders I've researched. Today I'm just remembering homicide victims in prison, not what they did to get there. On some level, the public has already bargained that most prisoners get what they have coming to them. They don't. Most of the truly evil criminals aren't even in prison - some are actually running this show. A lot of people go to prison who never should have because they're just too poor to fight it.

I've decided that I'm going to ask the victims' rights organizations for help on this issue. Prisoners deserve safety, too, and are far too vulnerable to victimization - especially those who have been abused and exploited already.

I need to run this final list by the AZ Department of Corrections Monday to see if they can give me any more information from their own investigations, as the media did almost no follow-up on any of the ADC reports. I have more posts following the Hawaiian prison homicides than I do on the Arizona ones. This is a high prison homicide rate (national average 4/100,000 state prisoners per year), regardless on how those suspicious deaths pan out. The Phoenix New Times did good coverage of this issue after the four in 2008 - I hope someone in the media picks it up again.

The prisoner homicides that have been reported by the Arizona Department of Corrections in the past nine months alone follow. Our condolences to their loved ones. Please contact me if you want to share your story, connect with other prisoners' families, or think there's anything else I might be able to do.

If you contact the Department of Justice about your loved one's homicide, address your correspondence (always keep a copy; I certify my mail them, too) to:


Judy Preston, Acting Director
US DOJ Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Please specify that you want a CRIPA investigation into your loved one's death and the pattern of homicides and suicides at the AZ Department of Corrections, as well as into the death of Marcia Powell.


Anyone can write to them, by the way, and support a CRIPA investigation for us as easily as this:

1. Print out this blog post, and write "PLEASE CRIPA this state!" across the top. Also write in your own name and contact info.

2. Photocopy your final work, then put it in an envelope.

3. Address the envelope to the DOJ.

4. Put appropriate postage on the original and mail it.

It would be a big bonus if you send me a copy of your CRIPA request so I can post that here, too. All my contact info is in the column to the side.

Thanks,

- Peg

--------------------------------

Prisoners Murdered in the Care of the State of Arizona, 2010.
National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims (September 25, 2010).

Shannon Palmer, 40 (9/10/10) ASPC-Lewis/Buckley Transitional

Dana Seawright, 26 (7/7/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Stiner

Albert Tsosi, 35, (6/16/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Rast

Alexandru Usurelu, 23 (1/25/10) ASPC-Eyman/SMU

Ulises Rodriguez, 22 (1/25/2010) ASPC-Tucson/Cimmaron


Also reported as suspicious in that time with no media follow-up (post updated 11/04/10):

Carl Cresong, 49 (1/3/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Buckley (suspected accidental drug overdose by ADC records reviewed by me on 10/30/10)

Christopher Francis, 39 (8/17/2010) -ASPC-Lewis/Stiner (reported as accidental opiate overdose by ADC records reviewed by me on 10/30/10)

Armando Lugo, 36 (3/26/2010) - ASPC-Lewis/Morey (reported as homicide by ADC records reviewed by me on 10/30/10)


Not reported in media, but discovered in ADC records reviewed by me as suspected homicide:

James Jennings 59 (9/05/10) - ASPC-Eyman/Meadows (cause of death believed to be secondary to a fight with another prisoner who was angry about Jennings' psychiatric symptoms.)
------------------------

This does not count the Hawaiian prisoners in the custody of CCA facilities in Arizona, as they are not prisoners of the AZ Department of Corrections. The people of Hawaii are welcome to contact me, however, if you're organizing to have some of your prisoners sent home - and all of them kept safe. You clearly can't count on your government officials to act in victimized prisoners' or their families best interests - though at least your media has been covering the murders more closely. There's also that little thing about subjecting your citizens to the death penalty - if it's okay in Arizona, why not bring it to the Islands?

I'd really like to hear from some of you out there. Contact me at prisonabolitionist@gmail.com (phone 480-580-6807).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Protecting Developmentally Disabled Prisoners.

Judge rejects lifting disabled inmate decree.
Nearly nine years after a federal judge ordered California to protect mentally disabled inmates in state prisons, those inmates are still being beaten, robbed and deprived of food and sanitation, the judge said Thursday in refusing to lift the decree.

Developmentally disabled inmates are "verbally, physically and sexually assaulted, exploited and discriminated against," and are receiving little help from prison officials and staff, said U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco, who presided over a six-day trial in May...

(Read the rest at the SF Chronicle)


Neglect at the ADC: Special Litigation needed.

Hey all,

Here's what I'm sending off to Judy Preston at the Department of Justice's Special Litigation Section in the
Civil Rights Division re: a couple of CRIPA complaints. Here's what they did recently about Erie County's jail and the suicide rate I put up that Mother Jones article on a couple of weeks ago.

If you want to print out any or all of the posts below and/or newspaper articles about what's been happening in the prisons and send them to the DOJ and the AZ ACLU (addresses below) it may help move things along.

I'm keeping the letter accompanying this confidential since it references specific prisoners, but I'm posting the rest of this packet up here so pretty much anyone can pick up wherever I leave off - I'm researching the ADC homicides now to send in.

-------------------------------

Arizona DOC: Image is Job 1. Prisoners are expendable. 1/17/2010

Governor Brewer: Help Prisoner Tripati. 1/17/2010

Sanity, mental illness, and "crime". 9/17/2010

The restoration of Jerry Kulp. 9/23/2010

Shannon Palmer's murder: prisoners at risk. 9/13/2010

Prisoner Patrick Lee Ross' tragic death: more to the story 9/7/2010

Perryville SOS: Critical conditions for seriously ill women. 9/10/2010

ASPC-Tucson: Prisoners neglected in cages, again. 9/7/2010

ASPC-Tucson: The death of Tom Reed. 7/08/2010

Despair Behind Bars: Suicide in Arizona Prisons 9/10/2010


--------------------------------


Judy Preston, Acting Chief
Special Litigation Section - DOJ, Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

(877) 218-5228
(202) 514-6258



American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
P.O. Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011
(602) 650-1854

(re: Conditions of Confinement: 8th Amendment and health/mental health care)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The restoration of Jerry Kulp.



I looked and looked this week for memories in the ether from Jerry Kulp's short life. All I could find were his court and ADC papers. Jerry was a 17-year old prisoner on the Minors Unit at ASPC-Tucson last May when he committed suicide.


Jerry hadn't even been in prison a week; he must have just been terrified.
How could anyone on the Minors Unit miss all the signs he must have been broadcasting that he wasn't going to last long inside?


Jerry wasn't a gang member, from what I can tell. He was a seriously mentally ill child.he was only 15 when he was charged as an adult, and Jerry was so mentally impaired at the time that he required a guardian to make his legal decisions for him, and had to undergo several rounds of competency exams and "restoration treatment" in Joe's Jail over the course of 6-9 months to be fit for trial.


Does anyone else out there find that troubling? There seems to be a pattern here with mentally ill people being inappropriately prosecuted - kept in jail the whole time their trials are being postponed - (as if they already know that they're guilty and doing the time anyway) - while they medicate them into health. Once so restored, they promptly plead guilty and get sent to prison where they end up neglected or assaulted and killed.

I can't believe we prosecuted a mentally incompetent child as an adult, and then threw him into prison, but I guess we do that all the time. That can't possibly be legal. Why was this kid sent to prison instead of to a hospital, anyway? To teach him some kind of lesson? He seems to have suffered plenty enough. To scare the rest of us at his expense? No wonder we're so soul sick.


I'd like to speak to Jerry's friends and family, if you're out there. Some of us are organizing to make sure this doesn't keep happening to people like Jerry and me in Arizona's state prisons. My phone number is 480-580-6807. My email is prisonabolitionist@gmail.com. Peggy Plews.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

AZ Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted


Saturday, October 2, 11am
AZ Capitol Lawn

Join our fight to "free the innocent" and to restore fair justice in Arizona!

These Arizona cases involve overzealous law enforcement and prosecution resulting in wrongful convictions when Constitutional Rights are violated. The dire economic consequences of draconian mandatory minimum sentencing that puts non-violent, first offenders in prison for decades can no longer be ignored. Taxpayers can no longer sustain the alarming growth of the mass incarceration of Arizona's people, putting all at risk.

It's time for immediate change from a system that has operated out of control with no accountability for decades and is destroying thousands of innocent lives and the future of Arizona. Help us restore fair justice for all in Arizona!

Falsely accused, wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned people in Arizona: It's time to "right the wrongs"!


Featured Speaker: Alison Hicks, author and producer, "Backspin" - her experience in a rush to judgment arrest by Sheriff Arpaio, shattered lives of mother and child, Tent City gulag and a warning to others. Successful women are vulnerable in Arizona. A movie in the works. http://www.backspinmymovie.com


Free Courtney Bisbee, "Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction", falsely accused in February 2004, of an "alleged" crime that never happened, never investigated in a rush to get a "high-profile" child molest case during a Presidential election year. A "he said, she said" case with no investigation and a total disregard for Constitutional Rights and established protocol resulting in a manifest injustice. New Evidence-Proof of innocence, recantations, affidavits and depositions - demanding a New Trial --is swept under the rug by an out of control Maricopa County Attorney's office that the public has been aware of for years.

How many millions of taxpayers dollars have been wasted on this bogus case? http://www.justice4courtney.com


Free William Macumber, an innocent 75 year old man, Clemency Board voted 100% to release; Arizona Justice Project has been working on his case since year 2000. Governor Brewer recently denied his release. Taxpayer dollars wasted on a person who is no harm to society.


Authors' real life experiences with the Arizona criminal justice system, jails and prisons:

Jim Rix, author, "Jingle Jangle", story of Ray Krone, exoneree, who spent almost 20 years in the Arizona state prison as an innocent man until he was exonerated. Raises questions about the integrity and competence of Forensic labs.


Daniel Horne, author, "Accidental Felons" and his story of overzealous prosecution resulting in shattered lives, horrific experience incarcerated in Tent City and lived to tell about it. A DUI, car accident and then "labeled" "violent felon".


Contact Camille Tilley at justice4courtney@mac.com


SIGN ONLINE PETITION FOR COURTNEY:


-------------From criminaljustice.change.org's blog-------------


DNA Tests Have Freed 260 Wrongfully Convicted People

by Matt Kelley August 17, 2010

In case after case, people who were wrongfully convicted are finally seeing their freedom.

In Virginia, Calvin Wayne Cunningham will soon be exonerated for a rape he never committed — 30 years after his conviction. In Texas two weeks ago, Michael Anthony Green was freed after serving 27 years for a rape he likewise never committed. In Minnesota, a man was freed earlier this month, after a judge decided a defect in his Toyota Camry could have caused an accident for which he had been sentenced to prison.

All in all, fully 258 people have been exonerated through DNA testing in the United States, while hundreds more — perhaps thousands — have been cleared through non-DNA evidence.

Now, more than ever before, the road to exoneration is starting in an unlikely place: a prosecutor's office, or even the governor's desk. In Virginia, though Cunningham had begun asking for forensic tests in 1982, shortly after his initial rape conviction, it took a state review of old cases launched by former Gov. Mark Warner that finally turned up Cunningham's file decades later for closer scrutiny.

And then there's the case of Michael Green. Convicted in Houston in 1983 of a rape he didn't commit, though Green requested DNA testing in 2005, his appeal languished for several years — until the Harris County Prosecutor's Office began reviewing innocence claims and requests for DNA testing. Eventually, such attention from the prosecutor's office proved Green's innocence. (Though proof of wrongful convictions may seem to put prosecutors' offices in harsh light, wise district attorneys know that the same evidence which frees an innocent person also often points to the crime's real perpetrator.)

Across the nation, efforts to overturn wrongful convictions are spreading. Milwaukee recently launched a Virginia-style evaluation of old convictions, using DNA testing. Several other counties and cities are considering this approach, as well. In Ohio, the governor recently called on judges and prosecutors to grant DNA tests in seven cases in which they were previously denied.

Is your local district attorney up for election (or reelection) this November? Ask them whether they support reviewing claims of innocence from prisoners or decades-old convictions. A progressive platform emphasizing overturning wrongful convictions can get a district attorney elected, help overturn countless injustices and point to the real perpetrators of crimes — all at minimal cost. It's a win-win all around.

Grieving Jessie Cota.

(January 29, 2011: Raymond - email me so I can send you something, or call. I don't have your number. - Peggy 480-580-6807 prisonabolitonist@gmail.com)

------------------------------------------


Jesus Cota was a prisoner of the state of Arizona when he passed away January 10, 2010. His death was ruled a suicide by the Arizona Department of Corrections. I've been doing some research into the prison suicides of late, and came up with a few things on Jessie, as he was known. I think it helps the community to know that prisoners have families and complicated lives, too.

First is his AZ Republic Guestbook, where his friends and family have been leaving messages for him since he died. Jessie loved and was loved by a good many folks. There are a few recent entries because it would have been his birthday September 1. These are the secondary victims of incarceration who never get counted - prisoners' families and communities. Here's a sample:

--------------------------

August 31, 2010

September 1st is here..and although theres no candles or cake here today..or presents for you to open I hope you know,and can see that you haven't been forgotten.. And if your looking down and wondering why, it's because you live in the memories of everyone wishing you a Happy Birthday today..Friends, family, everyone..A part of you is always here Jessie and today a little more than any other day your being thought of.. Happy Birthday.. Love Your Friend,"Lola"
-------------------
January 19, 2010

"Jessie you always reminded me of dad. your laugh just like his and now your with him and pappi.i wish i could have seen you one last time.to hug you and to tell you how much i loved you.and i want to let you know you will never be forgotten you will always be remembered love always your lil sister crystal a.k.a.tutu"

----------------------
January 14, 2010

DAD I MISS YOU SO MUCH..WHEN I HEARD YOU HAD PASSED.. I WAS VERY SAD BECAUSE YOUR MY ONLY DAD.. ILOVE YOU.. ME AND DAMIEN MISS YOU SO MUCH.. I WONT FORGET YOU AS LONG AS I LIVE NO ONE COULD REPLACE A COOL DAD LIKE YOU.. I REMEMBER WHEN YOU USED TO CALL AND SAY I LOVE YOU ANDDAMIEN.. THANKS FOR STILL BEING THERE FOR ME EVEN WHEN YOU WHERE IN PRISON.. THANKS FOR LOVING MY MOM SINCE YOU GUYS WHERE KIDS.. LOVE YOUR SONS : ALEX COTA, DAMIEN COTA....
-------------------------------------------
April 08, 2010

SON THESE DAYS HAVE BEEN SOON PAINFUL, I LOST MY MOTHER FIRST, THEN MY FATHER, THEN YOU, SO MUCH PAIN IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. I REALLY DONT KNOW HOW BUT WERE STILL TRYING TO GET THOUGH IT, BUT .WERE STILL TRYING I DONT THINK THAT PAIN WILL NEVER GO AWAY. LOSING THREE PERSON WHO WE ALL LOVED AND MENT THE WORLD TO US THIS PAIN WILL NEVER FADE AWAY. WISH SOMEONE OUT THERE WOULD TELL US WHAT REALLY HAPPEND. ITS HARD FOR ME TO SLEEP, JUST WONDERING WHAT REALLY HAPPEND THAT DAY. I CLOSE MY EYES AND I PICTURE YOU IN THE POSITION THEY SAID YOU WERE IN AND I START TO CRY. WHY SON Y! I ALWAYS LOVE YOU. TAKE CARE OF NANA AND TATA GIVE THEM A HUG FORM ALL OF US. LOVE YOU. LOVE YOU SON FROM YOUR MOM
------------------

June 20, 2010

It's June 20th 2010, and yes today your being thought of Jessie.. "Happy Father's Day".. I know your kids are thinking about you and missing you today as well as everyone else..I've never been one to pray but I pray for you every night and I hope that your at peace... God bless you & sleep with the angels.. Love Always, Your friend "Lola"..
----------And a blessing for his journey--------
January 14, 2010
Jessie,

I remember you as a little boy always eager to read and learn. You were at my house doing your homework when I lived on 27th lane. I had gone to the drug store across your mom house and you wanted to come to my house. You were in the 6th grade and was going to Sutton school. That little boys who had dreams of being a teacher. You liked school so much then. After Tata's passing I found your report card in papers nana saved. You had made HONOR ROLL the whole year!!! I told Gloria I'm going to keep it and then I told her, no I am going to mail it to him.
But a few weeks later here we are now. As I never told you, I want you to know as I watch you grow older and farther apart how I wish you had the glow in your eyes to follow your dreams. How time has change and you change your destiny, but I am sure inside your heart those dreams were still there. We take different path in our lives and sometimes it is not our choosing but for comfort. I pray to God to fill your heart with your dreams in heaven, that were really meant for you here on earth. The plans that heavens has for you will soon be answered. Just reach for the sky and you will find your wings. Forgiviness for what took place here on earth has been answered. God Bless You Jessie, and he will bless you and recieve you with open arms.

Love Tia Nena
-----------------------------



The most pressing thing I found, however, is troubling, but shouldn't be discounted or ignored. It's a comment that was buried at the bottom of the Phoenix New Times article that covered Jesse's death. It seemed important to the discussion we've been having about prisoner safety to bring to the surface, where it can be more easily assessed. The allegations appear to be made by someone who knew Jesse pretty well and has the details on how this relationship unfolded in prison.

Here's an excerpt about the circumstances surrounding Jesus Cota's death (from "karma belief"). I do hope this is being investigated thoroughly:

"...I am hoping to bring attention to this matter, but more than likely this will go ignored or set aside. Below you will find an email I sent to several departments within the AZ DOC. The only response received from DOC is that Warden Larson retired as of 01/08/2010. They couldn't even reply that this was under investigation and they could not comment.

No one has bothered to question the fact that he was assaulted by Officer Apodaca (there were witnesses). Or how odd it is that as soon as SMU learned of the relationship he began with a former guard, he is suddenly found dead and they call it a suicide. Sure it may have been, but with all of the other information, why are there no further questions being asked? What if this had been your son, brother, father, or anyone else important to you? When a person called down there to check on him after he had been trying to reach them that day, why didn't the guard check on him? If he had been having issues earlier, and the person called, why were they told to call back on Monday and ask someone else? Had that guard got up and looked into this, this never would have happened...

(email follows)

How unfortunate yet another inmate has been able to succeed with possibly having committed suicide. What exactly are my tax dollars covering in these facilities? Obviously not education and training...

Let me get to the point. The death notification and news articles state that an investigation is under way. Are you going to do a proper investigation and start from the beginning? Are you going to take this back to the Lewis complex where Jessie was assaulted BY A CORRECTIONAL OFFICER for getting involved with one of the other officers? Where the assault took place AFTER she QUIT her job to be with him? And while DURING the assault, the guard made it clear as to why he was beating Jessie?

Are you going to go back to Lewis where SSU got involved after she quit and started doing everything they could to cut him off from recreation, where things as simple as a TV were taken from him, where he was cut off from mail, phones, and other family before they shipped him off to SMU? Are you going to look into why he was not being given his mail because the officers at Lewis took it upon themselves to share the letters and pictures he was sent? Again all of this happening AFTER she QUIT working there. They cut him off from the world during the same time his brother and grandfather passed away. During the same time his own children were experiencing hardships in life and he couldn't even contact them.

You may be thinking what this has to do with suicide and SMU... Are you going to look into officers being advised on 01/10/2010 that Jessie was not doing well and needed either attention or supervision? Are you going to look into him being pulled out of his cell for a brief time and then sent right back, all the while no one taking into consideration just how serious his mental state may have been. Why wasn't he placed on watch?

Are you going to look into why there are two versions of how he was found? One states he was found in his cell and the other claims he ran through the door and jumped when it was opened. Do all of your guards open a door and then stand to the side to allow an inmate such freedom of movement? And once again Jessie had been cut off from his family because someone let them know at SMU he had become involved with woman that had QUIT her job at Lewis to be with him. Did she mean that much to all of you?

Are you all satisfied that you not only broke him but cost him his life? And was whatever you were told worth a life? But let me guess, this will go nowhere because anyone that overheard or saw something will be too afraid to come forward. They will be afraid of either being assaulted themselves or losing time with their families. And once again, DOC employees will say either he was just an inmate or had been in trouble so it was to be expected. "
-------------------------------


Anyone who wants to help me fill in some of the blanks about Jessie's life and death, please contact me at prisonabolitionist@gmail.com or 480-580-6807. - Peggy Plews

Sunday, September 19, 2010

For Lasasha Cherry and her Heroes...

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
prisonabolitionist@gmail.com.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Executing Mercy: Saving Teresa Lewis.

I received word tonight that the Governor of Virginia has declined to grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, a mentally-impaired woman who was sentenced to death for murders she took full responsibility for planning, but did not perpetrate. The men who actually did the killing got life in prison, instead. Below is my effort to appeal to what he has said his faith is, responding to what Teresa has declared hers to be, in hopes that it helps when joined with others.

Please go to his website and leave your own message - not just a name to be counted against the many more who will register their support for the death penalty in his state, but a voice that might move him to reverse this grim decision. Whatever or whomever she is a channel for, Teresa has been a blessing to other women doing time, and could continue to be so.

You needn't be "born again" yourself - or even speak the same language - to try to save this woman's life. I honestly don't know what it will take - if anything at all will work a miracle with this man. I do think that it matters in the greater scheme of things that we take the time nevertheless, to show that we care.


Teresa is to be executed on September 23, so please act today.


Thanks,

Peg.

-----------------------------

Subject: Executing Mercy

Dear Governor McDonnell,

As you know, Teresa Lewis is scheduled for execution on September 23, 2010. Only you can stop this from happening. She has taken more responsibility for her conduct than most adults ever do, though she has the cognitive abilities of a child.

For centuries people with developmental disabilities have been treated as less-than human; objects of ridicule or curiosity; subjects for experiments and involuntary sterilization; workers to be exploited at slave-wages; scapegoats to carry the burden of our collective failings.

We've come a long way in recent decades in how we treat the mentally disabled. Our readiness to execute them, however, indicates that we still have a ways to go.

Virginia has a precious opportunity to secure a place in history by deciding not to dispose of the life of this humble woman who has given of herself to others at a time of their deepest remorse and despair, despite her own predicament.

Teresa is not the one begging you to spare her life - we are. By her faith, her death on earth will reunite her with the Christ in Heaven whose love she is clearly a vessel for now to other women in prison.

What message will carrying out her execution deliver? That there is no room in American justice for mercy, or in the human spirit for transformation, or in the hearts of our people for grace?

We aren't asking you to end the death penalty in Virginia, or to save this woman's soul - the latter has already been done. She will die more free than many who demonstrate twice her mental capacity. We're simply asking you to be a vessel of God, too.

His justice would not exact more of her than of those "normal" men who committed the actual murders. His justice would not value her life less than theirs. He would look across this country at the countless Americans who have taken the time out of their lives to fight for hers, and hope that humanity is on the precipice of learning mercy for the condemned - particularly for those who are so visibly touched by His grace.

Teresa Lewis committed a horrible crime that she cannot compensate her victims for, even by surrendering her own existence, as she did the day she took responsibility for what she had done. If given life in prison she would not harm another human being again, and could even help others heal. It is not her who threatens us any longer - it is our need for vengeance that endangers this nation now.

It takes power to exercise mercy which - throughout the course of human history - has been the quality that distinguishes those who conquer from those who lead. Please reconsider your decision to allow this execution to proceed.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Margaret J. Plews
Phoenix, AZ

No New Private Prisons in AZ - for now.

Sorry to be slow on getting this out, folks...this isn't over yet, though - it looks like they're just tweaking the design of the next generation of prisons in Arizona. Follow the link for the whole article.

----------------------

Globe prison bid and others officially rejected

Posted: Wednesday, Sep 15th, 2010

BY: Ted Lake/Staff Writer AZ Silver Belt (Globe)

"The Arizona Department of Corrections has made it official. Four bids to build new private prison complexes in the state for up to 5,000 beds for DOC inmates, including a 1,000 inmate prison in Globe, all have been formally rejected..."

(Thank you, Silver Belt)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Deaths in Custody: Anthony Clayton Lester.

This is the beautiful young man who reportedly killed himself at ASPC-Tucson/ Manzanita on July 12 of this year. I didn't know anything about him at the time he died except for the short press release the Arizona Department of Corrections put out, which is always limited to the prisoner's name, ADC number, age, crime, and sentence.

I did a little more digging after speaking to his family tonight, though, and came across this obituary. Whenever I can I like to include things about prisoners who pass away that speak to who they were, instead of just the "criminals" the ADC feels a need to portray them as when they die.
Just because Tony had been criminalized does not mean he was a bad man. By his aunt's account, he was a very good soul.

I'll have more on this young man's story at some point down the road; his actual cause of death has yet to be determined, it appears. For now, please just think good things for his grieving family - especially for the little girl who he never even had the chance to hold.

-------------------------------

Name:
Anthony Clayton Lester

Date:
June 16th, 1984 - July 12th, 2010

Obituary:

Anthony Clayton Lester, born June 16, 1984 in Tucson, AZ, left our presence July 12, 2010 in Tucson, AZ after spending most of his short 26 years in Scottsdale, AZ. He was a music enthusiast, an extremely talented writer, a caring shoulder to cry on, a protector from all evil and an adoring father. He was preceded by Uncle Clayton Lester. He is missed and loved by his daughter Dawn, mother Eleanor, fiancée Samantha, Aunt Patti, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and puppies.

Memorial/viewing services will be held July 20 from 6 - 10pm @ Memorial Hall @ SRPMIC, Scottsdale AZ. Mass on July 24 @ 10am @ OLPH Scottsdale, AZ and funeral services to follow at St. Francis Cemetery, Phoenix, AZ. Arrangements by Bunker’s Garden Chapel.

"Lord, I am the bruised reed, the smoldering wick. May I believe more deeply in your compassionate guidance."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

MTC being sued by Haas Family for Murders

Private Prison Blamed for Two Murders

By JAMIE ROSS

Courthouse News

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Last Update: 6:40 AM PT


PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona prison breakout that led to the killing of two campers was caused by "lax procedures and incompetent management" of the private prison operator in Kingman, the mother of one of the victims says. Vivian Haas, whose son, Gary and his wife were shot to death, claims that Management and Training Corp. admitted in an Aug. 13 letter its responsibility for the escapes, and that the circumstances "were shocking and egregious."


Haas claims that one of the escaped inmates, John McCluskey, killed her son and his wife in New Mexico in the days after the escape. Haas says the private prison operator "had duties to protect the general public in employing proper incarceration policies and procedures to assure that violent offenders stayed locked up and away from the general public."


McCluskey was sentenced to 15 years in 2009 for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and discharge of a firearm, and was sent to the private prison, according to the complaint. His fellow escapee Tracy Province was sentenced in 2009 for murder and robbery, and escapee Daniel Renwick was sentenced to two 22-year sentences for second-degree murder, the complaint states.


On July 30, McCluskey, Province, and Renwick escaped from the Kingman prison through a door wedged open by a rock, "climbing one improperly protected fence, hiding behind an inappropriate building in 'no-man's land,' and cutting through the wire of a second chain link fence," according to the complaint.


Haas says that Management and Training Corp.'s officers failed to check an alarm that sounded when the men cut through one of two security fences surrounding the prison. She says the alarm system set off false alarms so often that the guards ignored them.


Haas adds that the "perimeter fencing was substandard," and that patrols of the perimeter "were scattershot at best." Light poles around the prison were routinely burned out, and "intrusions by outsiders near the fence perimeters were common."


On Aug. 2, McCluskey and Province, allegedly with help from Casslyn M. Welch, "confronted" Gary and Linda Haas while they were "in or near their pickup truck towing a camping trailer." Gary and Linda Haas were traveling from Oklahoma to Colorado.


McCluskey and Province ordered Gary and Linda Haas into the truck, and forced Gary to drive to the west, his mother says. McCluskey directed Gary to leave the highway and drive to a secluded area, then took the couple into the camping trailer and "brutally shot them, killing each of them," Haas says.


McCluskey, Province, and Welch then allegedly drove the camper on the highway until they noticed blood leaking out of the trailer door. The escapees and accomplice "drove to a remote location, disconnected the trailer and intentionally set fire to the trailer with the bodies of Gary and Linda Haas still inside," according to the complaint.


Haas says the escapees abandoned the stolen truck in Albuquerque. Province was captured on Aug. 9 in Meeteetse, Wyo. McCluskey and Welch were captured on Aug. 19 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.


On March 22, 2004, the Arizona Department of Corrections awarded a contract to Management and Training Corp. to operate the private prison which was "designed and constructed for 1,100 minimum security beds and 300 medium security beds to house DUI inmates," according to the complaint.


Haas seeks punitive damages for negligence and recklessness. She is represented by Christopher Zachar.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shannon Palmer's murder: prisoners at risk.


This in from Phoenix's KPHO Channel 5 this morning, telling us that Shannon Palmer was castrated by his cellmate. I was kind of annoyed last week that the AZ Department of Corrections felt it necessary to notate that Palmer was in prison for the fourth time, since it seemed to have nothing to do with the fact he was murdered. Now I realize why they may have wanted to make him look like a more dangerous criminal than he was - he was being housed with a REAL serious criminal, which they're responsible for doing. Turning around and telling us all how many times the victim has been to prison before was just a way to make us care less about what happened to him, once the truth came out. That's pretty despicable, frankly.

What the ADC didn't tell us is that when Palmer was charged with criminal damage this last time, his mental capacity was in question enough that the judge ordered a competency exam twice under Rule 11 before allowing him to plead guilty, and again before sentencing him. The first time he was found to be not competent and had to be medicated to be deemed competent. All of that tells me he had a psychiatric disability. If fact, early on in the legal proceedings against him Palmer couldn't make it to the court hearings because he was in a "mental health setting".

Palmer's
cellmate, on the other hand, was an apparent sociopath in for FIRST-degree murder and kidnapping, among other things, and had a history of violent behavior while in prison. Some of Palmer's prior court records are sealed because of his mental illness, but he apparently had no violent misconduct charges on his prison record.

I did some reading up on the ADC's policies about custody levels and housing recently because I've been investigating all these murders in the prisons of late, and was disturbed to see how easy they've made it for violent offenders to have access to people who can be easily victimized - presumably they did that to cut costs by cramming as many guys into a cell or dorm area as possible. It appears to have begun under Stewart or Schriro - the latter is the one who initially authorized putting medium -custody murderers in Kingman to begin with, not Ryan (though before the escapes happened, Ryan seemed to take pride in the ADC risk assessment instrument he helped develop that put those guys there).

Another interesting thing about this cellmate match-up is that both of the guys were just moved last month, after the escapes, to the Transitory Unit at Lewis. If there are any insiders out there who can fill me in on this unit, please do. According to the ADC daily count sheet for 9/8/10, that particular unit is very small and is ranked as a minimum custody unit (much of the rest of Lewis is close custody or protective segregation). Like the murderers who escaped from Kingman this summer, Palmer's deadly cellmate was listed as only a 3/3 internal/external security risk. Palmer was a 2/2. My bet is that they were part of the shuffle to appease the public's sense of security, but no one took into account the safety of the prisoners. Just looking at their records would tell you that these two guys weren't at all "similarly situated" in such a way that would justify putting Palmer in with Rushing, even temporarily.

My bet is that an insurance risk assessor determined that the state would save more money by bunking first-degree killers and mentally ill vandals together than they would lose from lawsuits if a prisoner was murdered - especially if they put people with no voice or family to care about them in with the real bad guys. Besides, how often does the public object to prisoners being murdered here? Unless it was another prisoner that did the killing, we won't even prosecute them, apparently. I hope Palmer has family that will sue the state for everything that Marcia Powell's mother wouldn't for housing him with Rushing. I'm sorry that won't bring him back home to them, though. The poor guy was almost done with his sentence when he was killed.

Please register your dismay about Palmer's murder wherever you see the news on it pop up, so the state gets the message that it's NOT okay to put vulnerable people at risk this way. This is especially disturbing because I recently received a letter from another prisoner with a mental illness who's terrified that he's being moved to a unit where he'll be murdered, too - it came Saturday, and was written before Palmer was killed. "Manuel", who has no family to fight for him, says it's the gangs doing all this killing - and he's not the only prisoner to write to me for help about their housing or custody arrangements out of fear of being set up for a gang hit or otherwise victimized. Apparently the killers and gangs have more control over the prisons than Director Ryan and his people do these days.


-------------------------------


CBS 5 News has learned that an Arizona prison inmate who was found dead on Friday was castrated by his cell mate. Shannon Palmer died from his injuries Friday at Lewis Prison in Buckeye, according to prison officials, who would neither confirm nor deny that he was castrated.

His cell mate, convicted murderer Jasper Rushing, is believed to have castrated Palmer, someone with knowledge of the incident told CBS 5 News. Palmer was serving a three-year sentence for criminal damage out of Maricopa County. It was the fourth time Palmer was in prison, according to a Department of Corrections spokesman. The spokesman said that an investigation is ongoing.

Bring Oprah to perryville this season.

Friends of Marcia Powell and AZ prisoners:

I actually wrote this weekend to invite Oprah to help us pass Marcia's law (a bill of rights for AZ prisoners), feeling that drawing her into the scene at Perryville would open up the avenue to all other prisoner rights' issues, there and elsewhere.

You should write as well,
(that link goes to "who do you want to see interviewed?") especially if you have loved ones enduring conditions at Perryville, so they know it's more than just me concerned. Mention Marcia's death, in case they miss my email. Try to get others to do the same. If enough of us (women and men alike) write about these issues from across the country (world), I bet her producers look into covering an angle. We need mainstream attention to elevate prisoners rights to the level of public discussion here before the legislature convenes in Jan. If Oprah comes, the rest of the media will follow.

Please take a minute and hit her site - we have nothing to lose if we're ignored, and prisoners everywhere have a lot to gain if our collective voice is heard.

Here's what I said in the first category I made an entry in (who to interview - meaning as many women at Perryville as possible):

"Marcia Powell was nobody - just a mentally ill, drug-addicted prostitute and prisoner of the state of Arizona when she was locked in an outdoor cage in 108 degree heat last May after stating she was suicidal. For nearly four hours guards ignored and mocked her as she begged for water, pleaded to get out of the sun, and defecated on herself. She died with second degree burns on her body, and no family willing to claim her remains. No one responsible is being prosecuted; some have their jobs back. Please remember her and the women still suffering in AZ's Perryville state prison. Help us pass Marcia's Law so that this never happens again. http://freemarciapowell.blogspot.com. I could have been Marcia Powell."



Here's the link for the most incredible cancer survivor story. I submitted Sue Ellen Allen's story in that category... here's what I said there:

Sue Ellen Allen is an extraordinary woman who survived cancer in jail and prison in AZ. Her essay on the experience (http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/3610/prmID/1622) won a PEN American Center prison writing contest in 2009:

(excerpts)

"Someone told me there are 365 references in the Bible to fear. Basically, all of them say, “Fear not, for I, the Lord thy God, am with you.” So, with my faith that I treasure, why am I afraid, always afraid?

It started in (Sheriff Joe Arpaio's) Estrella Jail where the incessant noise, violence, hostility, and indifference overwhelmed me. It is a hellish place for a healthy person. Everyone is in black and white stripes and the conditions breed anxiety and stress....

All of these women are going to court. Not me. I am going to Maricopa Medical Center for a mastectomy...

That’s the real fear . . . my helplessness in the face of a medical department that is incompetent and apathetic. My life is literally in their hands and I’ve come to feel they don’t give a damn. I am not a patient with cancer. I am an inmate with cancer and that is full of hidden meaning..."


Sue Ellen's 25 y.o. cellmate, Gina, died in Perryville prison for lack of diagnosis and treatment - all too common a story there. She formed GINA's Team (http://sueellenallen.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/on-my-birthday/) when she got out, to help other imprisoned women. Sue Ellen is a truly amazing survivor giving back to those the world would just as soon forget are dying inside.


Please pass this email on to anyone inside that you can. Women writing from prison should send their suggestions directly to:

Jon Sinclair/Vice President

Keisha McClellan/Director

Kathleen Penny/Associate Director

Harpo Creative Works
110 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60607



Finally, please let me know if you or someone you know left her producers a plug for Perryville or Marcia's law, so I can blog updates on our efforts. It should only take 5 minutes.
Use my name and number (Peggy Plews 480-580-6807) as a contact or back up number if you want.

------------------------------------

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."

- Arundhati Roy

Sunday, September 12, 2010

All my friends have FBI files: Policing prisoner support networks.

This heads up to prisoner support networks came today by way of the Freedom Archives' Political Prisoner Newsletter. I lost track of all the watch lists my friends and I should be on by now, but this might be an added motive behind anyone feeling particularly surveilled, harassed, or abusively prosecuted. Apparently if the feds really have it in for the prisoner we correspond with (like Marilyn Buck, whom one likely cop left me a disturbing comment about recently) - they'll just send the local and state police after us, wherever we may be in the world.

It all smacks of COINTELPRO and is probably legitimized under the Patriot Act.
Ironic that anyone would be so worried about our kind of "extremists" in this state - it's the ones holding office who really threaten public safety, not the Anarchists.

I shouldn't really have to say this, but no matter how "innocent" you think are, don't let anyone in uninvited without a proper warrant.


---------------------------------


From: sacprisonersupport@riseup.net
Date: Sun, September 12, 2010 4:16 am

Recently we began receiving documents in response to a FOIA request we filed with the FBI about Eric McDavid. The documents have uncovered a few alarming pieces of information, but one in particular we felt it necessary to share with the public as soon as possible. For years people have been speculating that writing political prisoners would result in a person being “put on a list.” Unfortunately, it seems that those speculations were not unfounded.

We have received perhaps hundreds of pages documenting Eric's correspondence with other people. These letters are not just kept on file ­ the Sacramento County Main Jail forwarded all of these letters to the Sacramento FBI field office, which then forwarded them to local field offices around the country (and to law enforcement internationally) to warn the FBI in other cities of a “possible environmental/ animal rights extremist” or “a possible anarchist extremist” in their community.

Originally, the FBI's communications included a statement that “Sacramento is forwarding this communication for information purposes only.” But later, they began including a much longer statement which read, in part: “this information has been determined to be of such a nature that some follow-up as to the possibility of criminal activity is warranted...” These statements were included no matter what was the content of the letter ­ often the documents include the statement that the letter was “benign in nature.”

It is unclear whether or not the FBI is still forwarding Eric's correspondence to local field offices. We have not received any documents dated after his move to a federal facility. It is also unknown whether or not all correspondence with political prisoners is treated in the same
manner. What we do know is that if a person sent Eric a letter to the Sacramento County Main Jail with their full name and address on it, the local FBI field office more than likely now has that information.

We are not sharing this information to raise alarm or spread fear. We have every intention of continuing to write political prisoners, and we urge others to do the same. That said, we hope to expose the FBI's politically motivated investigations and, unlike the FBI, we believe people have a right to know when they have been spied on. This kind of government intrusion could cause the “chilling effect” so often thrown about in conversations about 1st amendment activities. But when we give in to those fears, political prisoners are the ones who suffer. And this is exactly what the government wants.

The state is constantly trying to expand its reach by gathering information about social movements and those who participate in them. Instead of letting this new information scare us
into silence, we should use it to make informed decisions about how we support and prioritize political prisoners. This kind of repression has implications for more than just people involved in “activism.” Millions of people are incarcerated in this country. It is possible that the government uses similar tactics to investigate other communities that they actively repress. Writing our friends, family members and comrades should not be a justified excuse for investigation ­ no matter who our friends are.

If you would like to view some of these documents, you may do so at:
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/09/12/18658489.php

If you would like to find out if the FBI has been collecting information
on you, here is a website that explains how to request information under
the freedom of information act.

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/press/information/topic.aspx?topic=how_to_FOIA


Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

www.Freedomarchives.org


Questions and comments may be sent to claude@freedomarchives.org

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Youth on Fire: Heroin and Hep C everywhere.

I read this last night and wept. This thing is going after our kids with a vengeance. It's already bigger than AIDS. What's it going to take for us to step up the to fight with everything we've got? How will kids get help while they still have hope if they're too afraid of arrest?

We can't just keep throwing addicts into prison and leaving them to die there, but in America, chains and cages for our people seem to be all we're willing to invest our resources in. How is that either good public health policy or justice?


---------------------------

Hepatitis C Spikes Among Young Heroin Users

WBUR
Sep. 9, 2010, 6:27 AM

BOSTON — Heroin, a drug that claims nearly two lives in Massachusetts every day, killed a young woman in Cambridge late last month. She had just turned 18 when she overdosed alone in a bathroom.

“It was a real tragedy, it always is,” says Michael May, the outreach coordinator at Youth on Fire, a teen drop-in center in Cambridge. “She was really young, had been using for a long time and was a pretty key fixture in the community around here.”

May worked with the girl he can’t name and worries that the epidemic he fights every day is gaining steam.
“This summer has been very intense for heroin use in this area,” May says. “And we’ve been getting a lot of kids who, rather than a slow progression into injection drug use, have kind of jumped right into it.”

Needle Use On The Rise

This signals trouble for diseases transmitted through needles, which are also on the rise. The Department of Public Health says infection rates for Hepatitis C in 15- to 25-year-olds have almost doubled since 2002. But there’s no money in this year’s budget for Hep C prevention or to treat new patients.

Hepatitis C is passed through blood in needles, on cotton and on other equipment drug users share. It is 10 times more infectious through a needle stick than HIV. If untreated, Hep C inflames, scars and can ruin your liver.

Dan Church, an epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health, says a spike in Hep C among young heroin users is an urgent matter.

“It’s very alarming to see these numbers of cases with a disease that we really have not seen in this age group for quite some time.” So I think it’s very important that we start thinking about how we can prevent Hepatitis C and provide them education so they will not continue to transmit this disease unknowingly to other people,” Church says.

That is happening. Heroin users and counselors say Hep C is everywhere.

“Once I found out about Hep C, it was just like, yeah, everyone has Hep C,” says Gabe, a 23-year-old who fears arrest if he gives his last name. He started shooting heroin nine years ago but says he only uses occasionally these days.

Gabe does not have Hep C. He tries to keep a few clean needles on him as he moves between Boston and his other home base, Chicago, hopping freight trains, but it doesn’t always work out.

“I’ve definitely gone back and grabbed my old needles off the ground; I don’t know if someone used them, or somebody else’s got dropped there,” Gabe says.

“I generally kept them hidden in one spot but sometimes, you know…”

In Cambridge, and in the the state’s three other needle exchange programs, counselors work Hep C into their prevention talks even though state funding was eliminated this year. May, from Youth on Fire, has a list of precautions he urges users to take. But he knows they may not stick to them in the heat of the moment.

“If somebody’s in a hurry, if they’re sick, it’s just now, now, now,” May says, “and then after they get well is when the rational thinking comes back into play.”

What’s also scary, May says, is that many users aren’t too worried about Hep C.

Johnny, a 24-year-old who also won’t give his last name because he worries about being apprehended by police, sleeps in the woods and hangs out at “Youth on Fire” during the day. He has Hep C.

“It just makes you tired, that’s it. I mean, people can live with it for the rest of their lives right and not die,” he says.

Johnny may be able to manage Hep C with a good diet, rest and no drugs or alcohol. But even if he gets worse, he says he won’t seek treatment because “I heard it makes people really sick and it can kill you.”

Treating Hep C

Hepatitis C is difficult to treat. The drugs won’t kill but they can make patients feel like they have the flu on and off for six months to a year and are only effective in 30 to 40 percent of cases. But on the medical side, things may be looking up.

“We’re really on the dawn of a new era of treatment for Hep C,” says John Ward, director of the division of viral hepatitis at the Centers for Disease Control. “The drugs we have now aren’t specific for the virus.”
Ward says new drugs that are specific to Hep C could be on the market next year.

“When those [new drugs] come on, it will probably double the likelihood of being cleared of this virus and having to go through about half the weeks of treatment,” Ward says.

Ward is understandably excited about better treatment options. In addition to the new wave of young people infected with Hep C, one in 30 Baby Boomers have it, according to the CDC. They could have been infected through a blood transfusion if it occurred before 1992 or in a non-licensed tattoo parlor, but the main way people get Hep C is through intravenous drug use. Cynthia Jorgesen, who runs education and training programs at the CDC, says many people don’t want to recall a past that might have included Hep C.

“Because of that association with negative connotations,” she says, “a lot of people don’t assume they’re at risk because they’re not ‘one of those people.’ ”

Baby Boomers And Hep C

Sixty-five to 75 percent of Baby Boomers who have Hep C don’t know it. Ward says that’s because “they call Hep C the silent epidemic. You can live for decades and don’t know you are infected. The liver doesn’t complain much until it is very, very ill. So you don’t get sick often until it’s too late to help the liver.”

The CDC says death rates are expected to triple in the next 10 to 20 years if the Boomers don’t find out they have Hep C before they get seriously ill.

Most health insurance plans cover a Hep C screening if there’s reason to think you need one. The Department of Public Health is hoping word about Hep C will spread faster than the virus until there’s money again for prevention and new treatment.


.