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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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The long way home: Catching up to Davon Acklin.

Some of you may recall Davon Acklin, the Arizona state prisoner who let us use him as a poster child when his mom, Julie, was fighting to get him treatment for Hepatitis C. I corresponded with him for a year while he was in Tucson prison, and had the wonderful experience of greeting him with his family as he was freed this spring. Then my own life fell apart and we lost touch.

Today I saw Davon for the first time since the day he headed home. Sadly, it was to visit him at the 4th Avenue Jail. He's facing at least four felony charges, and - needless to say - violated his probation. He's going away for a long time this time; it may be more than ten years before we see him walk free again...except that he was once a free man in prison. I keep telling myself that, hoping that wherever he lands he can find himself again - what's he's been wearing lately are the worst kind of chains, anyway.

I still don't know just what happened over the course of the past five months, and will leave that story for him to tell when he's ready. I can say, though, that when I saw Davon today he was calm, rational, and appropriately remorseful for hurting those who love and believed in him. He reports that he's getting his psych meds, at least; the place is just a miserable place to be, and he's sick as a dog right now. I suspect he's going through withdrawal. He denied being suicidal, expressed appreciation for those who have tried to help him, and apologized "for being such a fuck-up". I tried to reaffirm that some folks still haven't bailed on him, and that his mom isn't about to give up.

Despite his effort to begin to make amends, I don't think Davon has any idea of how badly he really hurt people this time - I'm figuring out just how to tell him, though. The hurting from this binge has only just begun, too. He didn't just break Julie's heart and devastate his sister, he invited violence into his family's home that may not leave with him when he goes. He compromised the fight to overcome all the barriers to getting Hep C treatment for people with psychiatric disorders and addictions by giving the state a reason to say "I told you so." He may lose his own battle to get interferon now. His mother may well have to recover his body from prison, or see him buried there.

Davon is not responsible for having a mental illness, or even for being an addict any more so than if he had diabetes. He is responsible for his recovery, though, and made decisions when he was well that compromised his ability to make good choices in a very short period of time. Whether or not he was competent at the time he committed the crimes he's accused of is for him and the courts to work out - we didn't discuss any of that. Today he seems to be in his right mind, though - and almost relieved at the prospect of going back to prison. I think he copped out on us all early on, frankly, and I'm mad as hell at him. I'm also angry that I wasn't able to be there for him when he came home myself, though. There were a lot of things I had wanted to share with him, and before I knew it he was gone again. I know it's my egocentricity that makes me think I might have changed this outcome had I been more present for him upon his release; I wish I had been, though.

I never really expected a fairy tale ending to Davon's relationship with the criminal justice system. He grew up in it - he even accidentally referred to returning to prison as going "home". There's absolutely no meaningful treatment or rehab in prison for the vast majority of dually-diagnosed young men like Davon - or for the women, for that matter. He had a lot of good community support - the probation department was awesome, I guess - but few new tools for coping with stress and expectations when he got out. That's not to excuse him from what he needs to own here, but that's the way it is for far too many prisoners I see who have cycled through the system more than once, so I think there's more at work than just Davon's pathology here.

This isn't the end of this young man's story or his struggle to keep from succumbing to either despair or Hep C - nor is his life yet over. In recovery from addictive disorders - especially for those with mental illness as well - relapse is common, and is often so much worse than before because one has to be sicker in order to go back into denial. But Davon doesn't necessarily forget what he learned before - he matured once, and can continue in that direction wherever he lands. Even in prison he can be a positive influence in the lives of others, if he's given the right support so he's able to make informed and capable decisions. Psychiatric disability or not - in prison or at home - Davon can still choose what kind of human being to be. Only when he surrenders that will I believe he's really lost his freedom.

Anyway, I'll let you know when he moves, but will otherwise be giving Davon and his family a break from my blogs while they sort things out. If you've been a correspondent of his, I think it would help him to know that even in back prison he's accountable to his fellow beings for his behavior and commitments. You can trust his mom and I to kick his ass over this, so to speak, but feel free to do so as well if you've been hurt, too. Just try to keep a door open for him if you can; he should be safe, but he really doesn't deserve exile. He needs to make amends and reconcile with not only his family but the community that supported him in order to grow and reduce the chances of this happening again.

Summer Solstice 2011
Firehouse Gallery and Cafe'
Phoenix, AZ

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