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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Solitary: Buried Alive in Colorado - and AZ.

This comes from our friends at Solitary Watch, the best blog to follow on the subject. Another excellent source of information on supermax prisons is the Tucson American Friends Service Committee (AFSC-Tucson) report "Buried Alive: Supermaxed." Additionally, the National ACLU has announced taking on the abuse of these types of custody arrangements to manage or punish the symptoms of serious mental illness.

Please contact me if you are concerned for a loved one with a serious mental illness who is imprisoned in Eyman or one of other the special management or detention units. My number is 480-580-6807.


Fortresses of Solitude (Part 1)

February 28, 2011
Solitary Watch Blog
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

Cañon City, Colorado, is the Solitary Confinement Capital of the Western World. Now, a Small Group Lawyers, Legislators, and Activists Is Challenging This All-American Form of Torture.

Part 1: The Alcatraz of the Rockies

"Control Unit" by Thomas Silverstein

On the wall opposite Laura Rovner’s desk at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law is a large framed drawing depicting her as the Angel of Justice. The artist is Thomas Silverstein, a onetime armed robber who is serving multiple life sentences for the murders of two fellow prison inmates and a guard. Silverstein made his meticulously detailed ink drawing–which shows a winged Rovner holding a sword, surrounded by slain bodiesin his 7 x 12-foot cell at the notorious United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, in rural Florence, Colorado. A talented self-taught artist, he has had plenty of time to hone his craft. For the last 27 years, Tommy Silverstein has been literally buried alive—held in an extreme form of solitary confinement in the depths of the federal prison system, under a “no human contact” order. The man who was at one time known as “America’s Most Dangerous Prisoner” is now described, on a web site maintained by his supporters, as “America’s Most Isolated Man.”

He is also Laura Rovner’s client. Rovner, teaching fellow Brittany Glidden, and a group of student attorneys from DU’s Civil Rights Clinic have filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Denver, arguing that Silverstein’s 84 square feet of utter and permanent isolation violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as its guarantee of due process. The suit is just one of several brought by the clinic on behalf of various inmates at ADX and at the nearby state supermax prison. Along with a small handful of other cases in Colorado and around the country, the work of DU’s Civil Rights Clinic represents the leading edge of a legal challenge to solitary confinement. As such, it has the potential to affect the lives of the 100,000 or more prisoners who are held in some form of solitary on any given day in prisons across the United States.

In person, the Angel of Justice is a petite, brown-haired woman who chain-swigs Diet Pepsis and pauses to glance at her computer, which incessantly pings for her attention. Rovner has spent most of her career teaching in civil rights clinics at Georgetown, Syracuse, and North Dakota Law Schools, defending the rights of the deaf and other people with disabilities who had been victimized by discrimination, as well as the rights of prisoners. As she talks about her work at DU, she buzzes with energy, yet chooses her words carefully, measuring them against her clients’ best interests.

After pointing out Silverstein’s drawing, Rovner displays some samples from a pile of hand-knit afghans, scarves, and mittens, also made by Silverstein (and notable for the absence of red, blue, and black, which are banned at ADX as “gang colors”). She shows us a recent photograph, in which Silverstein sports long gray hair and an even longer white beard, his eyes squinting out above weathered cheeks and a friendly smile. Dressed in loose white clothing, he looks like an angelic hipster, maybe an aging yoga teacher, or at worst an over-the-hill biker—certainly not a man more dangerous than the host of convicted terrorists, spies, mobsters, and drug kingpins housed with him at ADX.

Silverstein never killed anyone before he got to prison, and he contends that he did so then only when he felt his own life was threatened. He also says that, nearly three decades later, he is a changed man (he does, in fact, meditate and do yoga in his cell). This transformation is something his attorneys seem to accept, and they make a point of it in their suit. But ultimately, Rovner believes, if the Constitution is to mean anything, then it must apply not just to people and causes that engender sympathy, but to men like Tommy Silverstein, who have been written off as “the worst of the worst.” It must prevail not only in the light of day, but in the fluorescent-lit dungeons of ADX.



Solitary Watch:

Part 2: Showdown at the Colorado State Penitentiary

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