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:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Prisoner abuse: Why haven't we evolved?

April 22, 2011

This doesn't help, folks...

Often when atrocious conduct by Department of Corrections employees is reported, there's a tendency to focus on the cruelty or indifference of individual guards. When under fire, in fact, the ADC will exploit that perception to create distance from their institutional responsibility for their employee's common practices and patterns of misconduct - the seven referred for prosecution over Marcia Powell's death, for example, were arguably scapegoated...

Which isn't to say that those individuals don't also have something to be accountable for; those people violated us all. The problem is that they were the norm for the day - sixteen people were disciplined over ignoring a woman in a cage for four hours in the 108 degree sun who was supposed to be on a suicide watch. The previous day they had left another woman in the cage for around 20 hours. That's indicative of a much bigger problem than a few inattentive officers.

And so, it is in this context in which the women of San Carlos, out at Perryville Prison, are being coerced into working at Martori farms under hazardous conditions, with poor access to emergency medical attention in case of an illness or accident - really, they're 1 1/2 hours away from the hospital the prison transports to, by ground ambulance, anyway, and they're too cheap to call for air evac from the fields, even in the case of a heart attack. There doesn't appear to be a portable defibrillator out there; I don't know if anyone is even CPR/First Aid trained on the prison or Martori staff.

Even if they're certified, there's no assurance they'd know what to do: one guard from Tuscon claimed that in 13 years he never learned how to stop bleeding in first aid class; along with four others, he just watched Tony Lester's life slip away...

Anyway, the harsh, punitive, and cynical institutional culture is responsible for shaping the conduct of employees, especially that which becomes routine, subverting official policies with unethical practices that are tacitly accepted - even encouraged - by upper level least, those are among the things that one of the employees' unions alleged last fall, in their call to Governor Brewer to sack ADC Director Chuck Ryan. The Perryville employees who got their jobs back successfully argued to the State Personnel Board that the prison system, not them, was at fault for Marcia's death.

The Arizona Department of Corrections and the state's prosecuting attorneys are engaged in a deliberate, explicit campaign to characterize our prisoners as predominately violent (by clumping them with all "repeat offenders," including chronic mentally ill people self-medicating with street drugs) in the infamous Fischer Report. They're responding to the larger community's thirst for blood sacrifice, though, for in truth, the moral fiber of the Arizona public has a sadistic thread running through it.

Until we confront our own voyeuristic fascination with the humiliation and suffering of those we deem un-deserving of the most basic human rights (as best demonstrated by the popularity of Sheriff Joe's latest foray into the entertainment industry), we will never dismantle this beast. We'll instead remain a society which is deeply invested in the continuation of victimization, and thus the perpetuation of crime and imprisonment. Until we stop mocking, dehumanizing, and ignoring those whose lives are being chewed up by the criminal justice system - as both victims and the accused - the young will keep dying hard in our prisons, killing the rest of us softly when their songs go unheard...

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