("Who was Brenda Todd?" Arizona State Capitol/Wes Bolin Memorial Plaza, Phoenix. February 17, 2011)
I haven't received word from any of the AZ state prisons for a week now - which hasn't happened in months. I seem to be persona non grata at the ADC these days. I think they've stopped my mail from prisoners because I was encouraging people to fight for their rights and offering to help them gather evidence they aren't aware is out here for their 8th Amendment lawsuits. Either that or they think that I might be scheming a Georgia-style action or something (wouldn't think of it - prisoners aren't allowed to strike, anyway). In any case, I suspect they are not pleased with me.
Anyway, as some people know, state prisoner Leona Nieves, who told Stephen Lemons all about Brenda Todd's death, was violated on her probation with the state the morning the article came off the presses, so to speak - before it was even on-line. She'd only been free for a few days. She's back at Perryville for another 3.5 years now for violating probation. Since I'm not getting my mail out of there, though, I don't know how she is.
I naturally wondered if the ADC tracked Leona down and had her PO dig garbage up on her as soon as we started making inquiries for records about Brenda's death that week - and made that allegation pretty directly, asking a couple of legislators to investigate. The ADC was no help in clearing that up for us (they're ignoring my emails, now, too - it's creepy), but the court records are all on-line now and I spent some time with them, as did Stephen. Here's the scoop, to the best of my understanding:
Leona had just done her time in prison on a DUI from LaPaz, but that offense was a violation of a 2009 probation she was on in Maricopa County from 2009...my math tells me she should have seen this coming, but I really don't think she did (or she would have probably tried to stay under their radar before going back in there). I doubt she expected the consequences to be so severe, in any case, since the probation was originally only for two years. She plead guilty and was on her way back to prison within four minutes of appearing in court...nice to know that judges put so much time and thought into sentencing before they chew up a piece of someone's life; she was probably just following the ADC PO's recommendations, though. Can't imagine why they came down so hard on Leona like that.
Anyway, since my communication with prisoners has apparently been cut off (I'll retract that one, too, if I'm wrong), let's try this: Renee, a courageous blogger at Jon's Jail Journal (awesome prisoner journal hosted by an ex-Tent City resident from Great Britain) happens to be a prisoner at Perryville in Goodyear, where Marcia Powell was killed, and where Brenda Todd just died. I'm posting the link to one of her latest pieces here, in which she comes out and talks about the loneliness of prison. Leave an encouraging comment for her; the Journal will get the word to her somehow, and she can let the other women inside know that folks are listening to them out here. It makes a huge difference.
I think this would be important because even if the ADC didn't target Leona for speaking out, all the women must know she was the one by now, and saw her come back in just days wearing orange and chains. For all I know they stopped writing about the conditions in there on their own, fearful of the possible consequences. Bottom line is that no matter our intentions, there's little we can do to protect them from the state if it really wants to hurt them, short of trying to bring their struggle to public light and asserting our expectations that their rights are to be respected. Knowing someone is bearing witness also makes resistance to one's oppressors stronger.
It would be especially cool if folks would write to Leona to thank her for going out on that limb that just got cut out from under her, since I don't know if my mail is getting in to prison, either. She wasn't picking fights with power, like I do, and probably doesn't want to be a "political" prisoner (which would kind of suggest she was a threat to the institution, which could restrict her movement and activities) - Leona was just trying to do the right thing by the women she thought she left behind. Just give her some credit for putting her name out there to give Brenda's death a real witness. Her address is:
Leona Nieves 259842
PO Box 3000
Goodyear, AZ 85395