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 who I've been supporting, Jessie Burlew.
I will miss my work and the people who have supported me - but I have been most especially grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I have 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. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
Arizona Prison Watch VIOLENCE and SAFETY blog posts
Arizona Prison Watch HEALTH CARE posts
- Corizons Deliberate Indifference: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
- Corizon's Deliberate Indifference: Prisoners and Families Fight Back
- The ADA and Disabled Prisoners: RESOURCES
- "DEATH SENTENCE": KPNX's Halloran and whistleblower expose depth of negligence at Corizon/AZ DOC.
- PARSONS v RYAN: AZ DOC health care class action settled!
Miscellaneous Prisoner Rights Resources
US District Court Section 1983 CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT
Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
By Cynthia Johnston
A disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself. ~ Hannah Arendt
At the 2011 dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, many speakers, including President Obama, quoted from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which King eloquently spoke out for freedom and justice. Yet almost fifty years later King’s son, Martin Luther King III, says his father’s dream has not been realized, that America has “lost its soul,” in part by “having more people of color in prison than in college.” He is not wrong. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the last decade nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 was under criminal-justice supervision, while more than two out of five had been incarcerated.
At his 1963 March on Washington Dr. King said, “We have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.” And so we have. Because today, with for-profit prisons a burgeoning growth industry, the incarceration rate of people of color can be extrapolated to the population at large. Indeed, one out of every one hundred adults in America today is incarcerated, and one out of every thirty-two is somewhere in the system – either on probation, on parole, or behind bars. Put another way, the United States has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. And more than half of these arrests are for marijuana.
The FBI puts the number of marijuana arrests over the last decade alone at 7.9 million. This was not caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for weed. This was caused by the laws of supply-and-demand for prisoners and, hence, for profits. Since 1984, when privatization of prisons was made legal again, after having been stamped out in 1928 due to gross abuses against prisoners in the name of profit, the for-profit prison industry has moved quickly to expand into as many states as possible before enough resistance could be amassed to stop them. And with each new prison constructed, there is a need for more prisoners to fill it.
In the intervening years, lobbyists for the corporate, for-profit prison industry have spent millions of dollars per year writing laws and implementing strategies to put people in prison for as long as possible. The harsher the policies and the longer the sentences, the more money flows into these corporations from the government. And nothing grows the prison population better than the War on Drugs -- a war funded by taxpayers, some of whom are later fed into the machine, including those you’ve met, and others you will meet, in these pages.
Big Money Machine
Back in my political days there was a running joke in Washington: the “building trade” unions would build their own prison camps for the jobs. Not so funny any more, given that California’s prison guard union -- the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, or CCPOA -- was a driving force behind California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, a law that requires a mandatory 25-years-to-life sentence for a third “similar” felony, even if that felony is shoplifting.
Three Strikes is one of a systematic web of laws designed to incarcerate the maximum number of people for the longest possible time; a web of laws that creates a self-perpetuating money machine for its creators – a cabal of corporations and lawmakers with the shared goal of growing America’s prison population for profit; a web of laws written by special interests and introduced by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions. Just one small example of the way our democratic system of government has been hijacked by the corporate thugs, greed-heads and fixers of America’s sprawling prison cartel.
Former Navy journalist and “conserva-tarian” co-founder of All American Blogger Duane Lester reports that in only three decades CCPOA has become one of the most powerful political forces in California. In an article published by FreeRepublic.com, he wrote that the union has contributed millions of dollars to support Three Strikes and other laws that lengthen sentences and increase parole sanctions (the sentences imposed when a parolee violates the terms of parole). After then-governor Pete Wilson backed Three Strikes, the prison-guard union donated a cool million to his campaign.
Don’t Look For The Union Label
On a much more insidious scale, a right-wing lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), writes ‘model bills’ (legislation to be enacted in one state and replicated in others, also known as ‘copy-cat laws’) for corporate sponsors like Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile, BP, American Bail Coalition, R.J. Reynolds, Wal-Mart, Phillip Morris, Pfizer, AT&T, and Glaxo Smith Kline, to name a few – including bills specifically designed to exploit cheap prison labor on behalf of profit-making corporations.
Writing for thenation.com, labor journalist Mike Elk and blogger Bob Sloan detail ALEC's “instrumental role in the explosion of the US prison population in the past few decades,” explaining how ALEC pioneered some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today – mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, Three Strikes laws, and so-called truth-in-sentencing laws, which require violent offenders to serve 85% of their sentences before being considered for release. After ensuring that more prisoners would be incarcerated for longer and longer periods, ALEC then “paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor.”
The “convict lease program,” instituted in the South after the Civil War, was the precursor to today’s for-profit prison industry. The then-governor of Mississippi imprisoned freed slaves and then leased them out to a private party who could work them to death, and often did, with no pay. It took churches, families, and civil libertarians sixty years to wipe these laws off the books and the Reagan Administration no time at all to bring them back.
Only a lobby funded by profit-driven corporations would replace preexisting laws with legislation like the Prison Industries Act, allowing “the employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing of certain products.” A federal program called PIE (Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program) conveniently certifies prison work programs for exemption from federal restrictions on prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce.
Prison labor for private profit was illegal before ALEC came along. Now the lobbyists have instituted two federal programs to regulate and certify prison labor. Just goes to show what money can buy.
In Florida, an outfit calling itself PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) now runs forty work programs where inmates manufacture “tons of processed beef, chicken and pork,” as well as office furniture and other commercial items – for twenty cents an hour.
Aside from the obvious slave labor issue, here’s another concept for you: the intersection of processed meat with prison hygiene. I’ve heard the stories about prison conditions -- a hundred-and-twenty to two-hundred inmates in gym-sized rooms; fifty or more sharing a single filthy toilet, without privacy or sanitation. “Some guys just shit in the shower,” said a friend who spent a few eye-opening nights at L.A.’s Twin Towers. And these guys are processing tons of meat that wind up, among other places, in school lunches.
Granted, prison laborers featured on a recent exposé on CNBC, entitled “Billions Behind Bars,” worked in facilities outside the prison, and wore gloves. But that was a single example in Colorado – a 6,000-acre complex with fifty businesses, including a goat farm and a fish farm, staffed by inmates. Colorado Correctional Industries, a division of the state Department of Corrections, which runs the complex, is on “a mission to save taxpayers’ money while helping to rehabilitate Colorado’s inmates.” Perhaps. They also happen to garner $56 million per year in revenue. But elsewhere, and for twenty cents an hour, how motivated could long-term prisoners be to maintain pristine job-site sanitation standards? Especially when they work under threat of punishment if they refuse to work?
In a 2007 letter to prisonersolidarity.org, an inmate wrote that he and other prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary had been trying for seventeen months to call attention to inhumane conditions such as “broken toilets that leak profusely, the urinals that overflow onto our feet, and the lack of ventilation that results in fumes and condensation that are unbearable at times.” Even if they are transported elsewhere to work, how clean can they be? Yet, these are the living conditions many inmates endure. Conditions bad enough to cause one man to commit suicide at Dickens County Correctional Center in Spur, Texas – a prison run by the for-profit prison company, GEO Group, Inc.
How could GEO, or any corporation, justify making people live in such deplorable conditions? Because it’s cheaper, according to the inmates’ rights group Partnership for Safety and Justice in Portland, Oregon. In an msnbc.com article entitled "Suicide Reveals Squalid Prison Conditions," the organization’s program director, Caylor Rolling stated, “they cut corners because the bottom line is making money.”
Another way for-profit prisons make millions of dollars is by detaining immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security pays local, county and state prisons up to $200 per person per day to house “apprehended aliens,” reports The Huffington Post. Singling out another Los Angeles County horror show, HuffPost’s Gabriel Lerner says California’s prisons in particular “benefit from the largesse of the federal government and vie for a piece” of this profitable pie. He cited a detention center in Lancaster, run by L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, currently under federal investigation for prisoner abuse throughout the system, where immigrants rounded up in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were held for more than two years instead of the customary few days. According to a group of Latino filmmakers and “instigators” called Cuéntame (meaning both “count me” and “tell me your story,”) it doesn’t even matter whether these immigrants are documented or undocumented, “as long as they fill the detention facilities for days, months or even years.”
In the old days of publicly run prisons, it paid to let a prisoner go when his time was up or his rights were about to be violated. Not only was it the right thing to do, it saved the public money. And therein lies the rub.
In voters’ minds, the chief attraction of private, for-profit prisons is that they’re thought to save taxpayer dollars. Not so. In fact, just as health-care costs ballooned when corporations got in the game and began charging fifteen dollars per box of tissues -- as if a patient in a hospital bed were raiding the mini-bar in a luxe hotel rather than receiving medical care -- so have prison costs increased by virtue of the profit incentive of private-prison corporations. And where do their profits come from? Some come through the newly-legalized exploitation of the prisoners themselves, but the bulk come from you, the taxpayer. When prisoners, a public commodity, are managed by a private institution, the public pays. We are not creating savings. We are creating more prisoners and, these days, turning incarcerated human beings into corporate assets. Why would a private prison want to see a prisoner released if with him goes a piece of their income?
To find the really heavy hitters in the game of jailing undocumented immigrants for fun and profit, we must go to Arizona, where Republican State Senator Russell Pearce teamed up with ALEC and another for-profit prison company, Correction Corps of America (CCA), to create Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s notorious “Papers, Please” anti-immigrant bill. Courtesy of SB 1070, local detention facilities rake in $200 per inmate per day ($6,000 a month, or $72,000 a year). According to “Immigrants for Sale,” Cuéntame’s shattering exposé, “these private prisons have spent over $20 million lobbying state legislators to make sure they get state anti-immigrant laws approved,” thus securing an endless supply of immigrant inmates. Replicated in Utah, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and Iowa, ALEC and CCA have built themselves a “perfect money machine.”
Corporate Corrections Companies
Meet some of the players in the new, for-profit prison industry. Correction Corps of America (CCA), headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, touts itself as “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections.” CCA designs, builds, manages and operates correctional facilities and detention centers for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Marshall Service, a couple dozen states, and nearly a dozen counties across the USA. CCA pocketed $2.9 billion in 2010.
Management Training Corporation (MTC), headquartered in Centerville, Utah, with branches in Texas, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., operates twenty correctional facilities in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. They have the capacity to “secure and train 25,310 offenders and detainees at federal and state correctional facilities across the United States.”
Formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections, GEO Group, Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida, manages and/or owns 116 correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities, boasting some 80,000 beds. GEO ran the Texas prison where the previously mentioned suicide took place. Among the many services GEO provides are Secure Prisoner Escort and Secure Detainee Transportation. Since its inception in 2008, GEO has transported over 200,000 prisoners and detainees by land and air.
Among the three of them, these for-profit prison companies own over two hundred facilities with 150,000 bed-spaces, cranking out a tidy five billion dollars a year in profit.
A perfect money machine, indeed -- but only if the system keeps them supplied with prisoners. And how does it do that, besides detaining defenseless immigrants? By feeding more and more marijuana and medical-marijuana users into their giant corporate maw.
War on (Wonder) Drugs
It’s worth repeating here that cannabis was only outlawed in the first place as an accommodation to corporate interests. There was no moral imperative to make it illegal, nor is there one today. It doesn’t kill people, the way alcohol and tobacco do. According to Lester Grinspoon, M.D., Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has studied it extensively, cannabis is safer than aspirin! To quote him directly, “Compared to aspirin, which people are free to purchase and use without the advice or prescription of a physician, cannabis is much safer: there are well over 1000 deaths annually from aspirin in this country alone, whereas there has never been a death anywhere from marijuana.” He went on to say that “it will eventually be hailed as a ‘wonder drug’ just as penicillin was in the 1940s.”
Yet the practice of jailing people for growing, transporting, buying, selling or possessing marijuana, and locking them up for longer and longer periods of time, continues. In Louisiana this year, 35-year-old Cornell Hood II was sentenced to prison for life for having been caught four times for possession and/or distribution of a substance more innocent than aspirin and with fewer side effects than any pharmaceutical painkiller on the market. In Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, whose case we examine in an upcoming post, was sentenced to prison for ten years for having sold $31 worth of marijuana. Ten years. Second degree felony assault, in which a person bludgeons another person with a deadly weapon, causing severe bodily injury, carries five years. Yet you can sell a few “dime bags” of weed and get locked up for a decade, even when you have no prior arrests and four young children at home depending on you.
Just as the for-profit health-care industry relies on sick people for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them sick, the for-profit prison industry relies on prisoners for profits, and thus has an interest in keeping them incarcerated. And though a recent Gallup poll shows that fully fifty percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana and another seventy percent favor allowing doctors to prescribe it, the fight will really heat up when all those who profit from the War on Drugs mobilize their efforts against legalization.
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
~ Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”
No Defense for Grumbine and Byron
Meanwhile, back in Long Beach, California, Judge Charles D. Sheldon on September 22, 2011, denied Joe Grumbine and his former partner Joe Byron an affirmative (medical marijuana) defense against the felony charges they face for operating two legally compliant medical marijuana collectives. Consequently, the jury who decides their fate will not hear a single word about their activities in providing medical marijuana to patients with a legitimate prescription. The two Joes will be presented as ordinary street-level drug pushers. In a political climate where state and federal law enforcement agencies are targeting dispensaries and their landlords in an apparent effort to wipe out medical marijuana dispensaries entirely, this is very bad news for the Joes. If convicted, each will face at least seven years in state prison.
At a pre-trial hearing on October 12, Judge Sheldon asked for a list of defense witnesses. Attorney Chris Glew, representing Joe Grumbine, told the judge that, because his client had been deprived of a defense, he had no witnesses. Incredulous, the judge repeated his request. Glew repeated the same answer. Commenting that he’d set aside time for a month-long trial, Judge Sheldon expressed reluctance to forfeit taxpayer dollars on a trial that would be considerably shorter than he’d expected. “We didn’t accomplish very much today,” he groused, and continued the hearing until November 2.
Citizen Outrage Grows
Outraged over “juror abuse,” a growing coalition of medical marijuana patients and advocates gathered outside the courthouse to protest the judge’s ruling. They claim that by denying the Joes an affirmative defense, Judge Sheldon is denying the jury the ability to return a fair verdict based on the facts. “A juror can not take back a guilty verdict,” said one of the protesters, citing the recent execution of Troy Davis in Texas. In similar cases across the country, countless jurors are forced to live with the pain of having returned guilty verdicts based on insufficient or false evidence. Along with the defendant, the juror pays the price for this abuse of judicial authority.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool's hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn't help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
~ Bob Dylan, “Hurricane”
Those wishing to join the rallies, participate in court support, or donate to Grumbine’s and Byron’s legal defense can do so at The Human Solution or phone 951-436-6312 for additional details.
Edited by Ellen Shahan for United States v Marijuana, via TrineDay Publishing Facebook
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Why the justice system does a bad job of separating defendants who deserve punishment from those who don't.
Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 26, 2011
How has the American criminal-justice system become one of the most punitive in the world without providing a corresponding level of public safety? In "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice," William J. Stuntz—a revered Harvard law professor who died of colon cancer earlier this year at the age of 52—offers a provocative big-picture answer.
Perhaps aware that "collapse" in the book's title requires justification, Mr. Stuntz begins by reviewing some statistics. As he shows, in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, amid the largest crime wave in American history, the U.S. prison population declined. Imprisonment rates plummeted to some of the lowest ever seen in the modern Western world. High-crime neighborhoods, as Mr. Stuntz puts it, were "abandoned to their fate."
The backlash to this crime wave was equally striking. Since the mid-1970s, America has punished crime more and more severely. New York's imprisonment rate, for example, has sextupled. In a span of a little more than 30 years, "America first embraced punishment levels lower than Sweden's, then built a justice system more punitive than Russia's."
Mr. Stuntz readily acknowledges what many legal scholars do not: America's current lock-'em-up philosophy has dramatically helped to reduce urban crime. Since 1991, violent-crime rates have declined roughly a third nationwide and as much as two-thirds in a few cities (New York among them). Even so, Mr. Stuntz counts these declines as a pyrrhic victory, given that violence per capita in the U.S. today remains significantly higher than in 1950. And he is unwilling simply to assign all the credit for recent crime drops to increased punishment. He wonders, for example, why crime rates began falling only around 1991—two decades after prison populations started steeply rising.
To unravel such complexities, Mr. Stuntz tries to place America's contemporary criminal-justice problems in their historical legal context. He first looks at the 14th Amendment's effort in 1868 to ensure that newly freed slaves received "the equal protection of the laws"—a promise that fell apart a few years later when the Supreme Court eviscerated the equal-protection guarantee and left generations of Southern blacks to be victimized by Klan violence. Mr. Stuntz argues that narrow equal-protection jurisprudence helps to explain why, nearly a century later, Chief Justice Earl Warren began spinning constitutional restrictions from the 14th Amendment's other important provision, the Due Process Clause.
Justice Warren faced a Southern criminal-justice system that treated blacks unequally. More generally, he was dealing with an American system that did little for indigent defendants. But rather than address racism and poverty head-on as equal-protection matters, the Supreme Court let old precedents divert its attention to due-process claims. The court ended up dealing with such problems indirectly through an array of new procedural requirements. For example, the Warren Court tried to rein in questionable police evidence-seizure tactics by imposing an exclusionary rule on the states (in Mapp v. Ohio). The court likewise responded to unequal treatment during police questioning by creating its famous warning and waiver requirements (in Miranda v. Arizona).
This web of new procedures had an important effect: Defense attorneys, embracing the new rights, did not bring forward evidence of their clients' innocence but instead sought to suppress evidence of their guilt. Whatever the other merits of the procedures, they were bound to make the justice system do a worse job of separating defendants who deserve punishment from those who don't.
Mr. Stuntz powerfully argues that such decisions have perversely worsened inequality in the criminal-justice system. The Miranda rule, for example, gives sophisticated suspects—mainly recidivists and white-collar defendants—the ability to "lawyer up" and avoid questioning altogether. Many other suspects—including the innocent but poor—waive their rights and receive less protection than they did before Miranda.
These excessive procedures contributed to a new punitiveness in criminal sentencing, Mr. Stuntz says. With fewer violent criminals successfully prosecuted under Warren-court restrictions, those who are convicted are incarcerated longer. And because of the difficulty of finding witnesses willing to testify against gang members and other violent criminals, easily proven "surrogate" crimes (namely, drug possession) are punished more harshly.
"The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" concludes that our system suffers "from the rule of too much law and the wrong kind of politics." Mr. Stuntz recommends a host of reforms, including decentralization that would encourage local control responsive to local crime. He also argues for expanding city police forces—because the increased police presence would discourage the commission of crimes.
But he seems to back away from his argument that excessive proceduralism is part of the problem. While critiquing decisions such as Mapp and Miranda, Mr. Stuntz never urges that they be overturned or restructured, even though such changes could lead to the decentralized decision-making that he supports. Instead, he singles out for overruling Supreme Court precedents limiting equal-protection argument by defendants. He targets United States v. Armstrong, for example, which barred drug dealers from arguing that prosecutors must be racially discriminating when statistics indicate disparities in charges being brought. But overturning the law would lead to precisely the kind of procedural litigation that Mr. Stuntz deplores.
Nonetheless, the overarching themes of "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" deserve wide discussion, and the book as a whole can be rightly seen as the capstone to a distinguished legal career. Americans may debate whether our criminal-justice system has truly collapsed, but few would argue that it can't be improved.
Mr. Cassell is a professor of criminal law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Unfortunately, there are more than a few minor issues with the county jails that remain unresolved. There continues to be a culture of abuse among MCSO officers and a larger CJ system which minimizes such behavior, a poison which seeps from the top on down. The conditions in the jails today - particularly the medical neglect and the abuse that the mentally ill have been subjected to - are still unacceptable. Even I didn't get my medications in jail.
Sadly, that won't be likely to change much until Arpaio is out of there and someone who respects human and civil rights is in. We'll see if this electorate has it in them to do better than him next time around.
Last issues don't need hearing, attorneys say
The Arizona Republic
That legal action, which over time changed the way Maricopa County holds and treats inmates, appears finally to be coming to an end - if the Sheriff's Office can attend to a few minor issues in the next few months.
Attorneys for inmates and the Sheriff's Office scheduled to present their cases to a federal judge last week in the decades-old fight canceled the hearings after lawyers on both sides agreed they were close enough to resolving a final few issues that they did not need to go before a judge.
"If, in fact, we do what we intend to do, it should be done - no hearing, nothing," said Jack MacIntyre, a sheriff's chief deputy.
It would be a milestone. For years, county jails have been subject to court-ordered oversight to ensure that inmate conditions improved. While a separate piece of the lawsuit targeting Correctional Health Services - a taxpayer-funded agency that provides constitutionally mandated health care to inmates - will continue under court oversight, the fact that the rest of the Sheriff's Office's jail operations could emerge from oversight is significant.
If the Sheriff's Office can, by early March 2012, increase the caloric intake of inmates, address overcrowding in a holding facility and prove there is proper sanitation, the agency will emerge from court oversight. Those requirements were part of an amended judgment issued by a federal judge.
"We're pleased to see that the sheriff is agreeing to cooperate and resolve and come into compliance with the second amended judgment," said Sharad Desai, an attorney representing the inmates.
Advocates say it has been a long time coming.
Three inmates held in the First Avenue Jail brought the original lawsuit against then-Sheriff Jerry Hill in 1977, asking a federal court to intervene over conditions they claimed were "degrading, inhuman, punitive, unhealthy and dangerous."
Court documents and news reports from the time depict jails that appear brutal compared with the spartan facilities Sheriff Joe Arpaio now proudly operates.
The unsentenced inmates complained in court filings of cold food that could contain glass or spit and meat that was sometimes uncooked or dropped on the floor and served for dinner; of rodents and insects living in 136-square-foot cells with up to eight inmates who weren't allowed to shower for days; and of going days, weeks, even months without seeing the sun or getting the chance for recreation.
Patrick Schiffer was a young attorney at the time working in a Community Legal Services office when he took the case in 1979, and while he calls the case the most fun he has had as a lawyer, he also recalls the horrid conditions.
"They had 8-by-21-foot cells with eight people and a toilet at the end, so only about three guys could stand up at a time and they spent 24 hours a day in there because the day rooms between the cells were stacked with mattresses," he said.
Schiffer's work on the case also made him skeptical about the county's commitment to change the jail system. Correctional Health Services' ongoing court oversight and Arpaio's inclination to make life hard on inmates leave Schiffer wondering about the effect of the court orders to improve conditions over the years.
"That's been the problem from Day One of the judgment," Schiffer said. "They don't follow what they promise to do. They do some of it."
The condition of jails in Maricopa County was not unique at the time.
In the early 1970s, federal judges began getting involved in cases about prison conditions at the state and county levels, and what they found was shocking, said Michele Deitch, an attorney and University of Texas professor who served as a court-appointed monitor in Texas prisons.
By the mid-1980s, nearly 40 states were operating all or parts of their prison and jail systems under some sort of court order, she said.
"A lot of these problems were invisible for a long time. I think there were abuses in these facilities for many, many years. A lot of it was sort of swept under the rug," Deitch said. "When all the testimony about these conditions started coming out, they couldn't be ignored. So judges started imposing remedies to fix these conditions."
Many of the cases, including Maricopa County's, took decades to resolve because it took years to get funding, build new facilities and change the culture of jail systems to meet the court-ordered remedies, she said.
A federal judge first issued guidelines on legal compliance for Maricopa County jails in 1981. That judgment was amended in 1995. Then in 2001, the Sheriff's Office tried to terminate the judgment under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which states that decrees on jail conditions are up for dismissal after two years unless inmates can show their constitutional rights are being denied.
That led to U.S. District Judge Neil Wake's 2008 ruling that unconstitutional conditions persisted in the county's jails. Wake issued a second amended judgment, which the Sheriff's Office is now trying to prove it has complied with.
Despite the long-running legal battle and the millions spent to litigate the case, MacIntyre said the lawsuit has had a lasting impact on jail operations.
It played a role in the county's decision to seek funding for new jail facilities, including the Lower Buckeye and Fourth Avenue jails, and caused detention officials to closely examine the way they treat and house inmates, he said.
"There's certainly been some benefit from that. But it's time," MacIntyre said. "The system has benefited from it, but it's time to return all the management back to the Sheriff's Office."
Friday, October 21, 2011
(I was ordered to leave then arrested soon after taking this shot)
Phoenix, Arizona / October 15, 2011
Submitted by bajin to Bring the Ruckus
Thu, 10/20/2011 - 00:11.
This piece was written by Joel Olson, a member of BtR-Arizona, as a contribution to ongoing debates about the occupations taking place in the U.S.
By Joel Olson
Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
Left colorblindness is the enemy
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
The white democracy
Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.
Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.
This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.
The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.
As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else.
In this system, whites praised freedom, equal opportunity, and hard work, while at the same time insisting on higher wages, access to the best jobs, to be the first hired and the last fired at the workplace, full enjoyment of civil rights, the right to send their kids to the best schools, to live in the nicest neighborhoods, and to enjoy decent treatment by the police. In exchange for these “public and psychological wages,” as W.E.B. Du Bois called them, whites agreed to enforce slavery, segregation, reservation, genocide, and other forms of discrimination. The tragedy of the white democracy is that it oppressed working class whites as well as people of color, because with the working class bitterly divided, the elites could rule easily.
The white democracy exists today. Take any social indicator—rates for college graduation, homeownership, median family wealth, incarceration, life expectancy, infant mortality, cancer, unemployment, median family debt, etc.—and you’ll find the same thing: whites as a group are significantly better off than any other racial group. Of course there are individual exceptions, but as a group whites enjoy more wealth, less debt, more education, less imprisonment, more health care, less illness, more safety, less crime, better treatment by the police, and less police brutality than any other group. Some whisper that this is because whites have a better work ethic. But history tells us that the white democracy, born in the 1600s, lives on.
The distorted white mindset
No one is opposed to good schools, safe neighborhoods, healthy communities, and economic security for whites. The problem is that in the white democracy, whites often enjoy these at the expense of communities of color. This creates a distorted mindset among many whites: they praise freedom yet support a system that clearly favors the rich, even at the expense of poor whites. (Tea Party, I’m talking to you.)
The roots of left colorblindness lie in the white democracy and the distorted mindset it creates. It encourages whites to think that their issues are “universal” while those of people of color are “specific.” But that is exactly backwards. The struggles of people of color are the problems that everyone shares. Anyone in the occupy movement who has been treated brutally by the police has to know that Black communities are terrorized by cops every day. Anyone who is unemployed has to know that Black unemployment rates are always at least double that of whites, and Native American unemployment rates are far higher. Anyone who is sick and lacks healthcare has to know that people of color are the least likely to be insured (regardless of their income) and have the highest infant mortality and cancer rates and the lowest life expectancy rates. Anyone who is drowning in debt should know that the median net wealth of Black households is twenty times less than that of white households. Only left colorblindness can lead us to ignore these facts.
This is the sinister impact of white democracy on our movements. It encourages a mindset that insists that racial issues are “divisive” when they are at the absolute center of everything we are fighting for.
To defeat left colorblindness and the distorted white mindset, we must come to see any form of favoritism toward whites (whether explicit or implicit) as an evil attempt to perpetuate the cross-class alliance rather than build the 99%.
The only thing that can stop us is us
Throughout American history, attacking the white democracy has always opened up radical possibilities for all people. The abolitionist movement not only overthrew slavery, it kicked off the women’s rights and labor movements. The civil rights struggle not only overthrew legal segregation, it kicked off the women’s rights, free speech, student, queer, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and American Indian movements. When the pillars of the white democracy tremble, everything is possible.
The only thing that can stop us is us. What prevents the 99% from organizing the world as we see fit is not the 1%. The 1% cannot hold on to power if we decide they shouldn’t. What keeps us from building the new world in our hearts are the divisions among us.
Our diversity is our strength. But left colorblindness is a rejection of diversity. It is an effort to keep white interests at the center of the movement even as the movement claims to be open to all. Urging us to “get over” so-called “divisive” issues like race sound inclusive, but they are really efforts to maintain the white democracy. It’s like Wall Street executives telling us to “get beyond” “divisive” issues like their unfair profits because if you work hard enough, you too can get a job on Wall Street someday!
Creating a 99% requires putting the struggles of people of color at the center of our conversations and demands rather than relegating them to the margins. To fight against school segregation, colonization, redlining, and anti-immigrant attacks is to fight against everything Wall Street stands for, everything the Tea Party stands for, everything this government stands for. It is to fight against the white democracy, which stands at the path to a free society like a troll at the bridge.
Occupy everything, attack the white democracy
While no pamphlet can capture everything a nationwide movement can or should do to undermine the white democracy and left colorblindness, below is a short list of questions people might consider asking in movement debates. These questions were developed from actual debates in occupations throughout the U.S.
- Do speakers urge us “get beyond” race? Are they defensive and dismissive of demands for racial justice?
- If speakers urge developing “close working relationships with the police,” do they consider how police terrorize Black, Latino, Native, and undocumented communities? Do they consider how police have attacked occupation encampments?
- If speakers urge us to hold banks accountable, do they encourage us to focus on redlining, predatory lending, and subprime mortgages, which have decimated Black and Latino neighborhoods?
- If speakers urge the cancellation of debts, do they mean for things like electric and heating bills as well as home mortgages and college loans?
- If speakers urge the halting of foreclosures, do they acknowledge that they take place primarily in segregated neighborhoods, and do they propose to start there?
- If speakers urge the creation of more jobs, do they acknowledge that many communities of color have already been in chronic “recessions” for decades, and do they propose to start from there?
Attack capitalist power—attack the white democracy.
Build the 99%!
People of color at the center!
No more left colorblindness!
I went to former Maricopa County Sheriff's detention officer Kevin Gerster's sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court today. He entered a plea deal in August in which the prosecution offered him 6 months in county jail and two years of probation for all his crimes. Both the assaults were ruled as "non-dangerous, non-repetetive", too, which is bullshit. He broke one guy's jaw and five months later beat another prisoner repeatedly. Judge Bill Brotherton took his assaultive behavior and pre-meditated crime (giving a buddy the address of a former prisoner, which the buddy used to find and assault him) more seriously than the prosecutor's office, though, and sent him to jail for a year instead.
In arguing for the judge to follow the plea agreement recommendations, Gerster's attorney cited the mitigating circumstances that ultimately kept the guy from going to prison instead. He has has no prior record, considerable community and family support (two of his former colleagues were present), took responsibility for his actions (he actually reported these incidents to supervisors when they happened and they left him on the job caring for mentally ill prisoners). He won't ever try to work in law enforcement again, and is now driving a cab. She even tried to get his probation fees reduced due to them being a hardship because he has child support payments to meet (the judge wouldn't consider that until he's done with jail).
Gerster himself argued that he had been in a stressful job and was just "caught up in the moment" when he did what he did, and was sincerely remorseful that he had embarrassed his family and his employer (he said little - if anything - about regretting the harm he did to his victims - as well as to the public's trust.)
These excuses didn't go over so well with Brotherton, and Gerster received a stern lecture from him about how he had a higher standard of conduct to meet than non-public servants regardless of stress because of the power he wielded, especially since he was working with "vulnerable" prisoners in the mental health unit. Brotherton pointed out that all of Gerster's criminal actions resulted in people being injured, and that the tampering with criminal records charges involved pre-meditated criminal actions that hurt others. It's a wonder he didn't send him to prison, he was so articulate about why Gerster deserved more than just six months in jail.
But the guy has a young daughter and family members who have suffered through this prosecution and the public shame with him, which is unfortunate for them (his fault, not ours), and Brotherton seemed to really weigh the mitigating factors - some of which I'm sure I don't know about, like the supervisors failing to take action to remove him from his job when it was clear he couldn't handle it. That made me want to see them in court, too, not just Gerster.
I stayed to watch him be put into cuffs by his former colleague, but didn't get the sense of satisfaction that I thought I would from it - I'm still a prison abolitionist, after all, and it's uncomfortable arguing for prison for someone, even a bad cop. For all I know the guy is mentally ill and asked for treatment before he escalated to the level of assaulting vulnerable people. In any case the MCSO was negligent in ignoring his abusive conduct, and should take some responsibility too.
In the end here's what Gerster plead to:
Agg Assault on his first victim (the guy whose jaw he broke in June 2010): Class 6 felony. 2 years probation concurrent with 6 month jail term, and suspended prison sentence (he could face 2 years in prison if he violates his probation);
Agg Assault on his second victim (William Hughes, who has assaulted last November): Class 6 felony. 2 years probation concurrent with 1 year in county jail, and suspended prison sentence (could face two years on this, too);
Unauthorized access to the criminal database and release of information (I'm not sure exactly what this charge was called, but it's a class 1 misdemeanor, down from a felony). 1 year probation concurrent with other sentences; suspended prison sentence (again, this could be 2 years at the ADC if he violates his probation - though he'll be in jail all that year anyway).
I'm still disappointed with the county attorney's office on this - they could not have lost at trial because of the video evidence - the whole world witnessed these assaults on Youtube, so I don't know what their excuse is for being so soft on him, but I'm glad Brotherton wasn't. Just keep in mind folks, that if any of those prisoners were in a position to defend themselves and tried to, they'd be facing a ten year sentence for assault on a peace officer, so don't think I'm calling any of this justice. I wanted him to go to prison - just not bad enough to shout it at the judge.
More troubling to me is that the other assaultive officer caught on video, Alan Keesee, plead guilty to aggravated assault (a class 1 misdemeanor) last month and was sentenced to only 3 months of unsupervised probation. His judge was Gottsfield; the prosecutor of record was Ed Leiter. That's less of a punishment than a friend of mine got for disorderly conduct at a protest - she got 30 days in jail and a year probation. Even I'm facing six months in jail for refusing to vacate a city park - now that's ridiculous.
Finally, a reminder to folks that tomorrow (October 22) is National Day Against Police Brutality: there will be an action at the 4th Avenue Jail at 10am. Join us if you can.
"I was deeply disappointed with your vote on Senator Webb's Reform bill. The suicide and homicide rates in AZ prisons are at an all time high, as are assaults on both prisoners and staff. Arizona is second only to Nevada in the percentage of the mentally ill we incarcerate for their symptoms over those we hospitalize. We desperately need help - your help would be most appreciated. If you don't like Webb's bill, then come back and tell us what you plan to propose to do here instead."
Invoking “states rights” and the Constitution, Senate Republicans Thursday torpedoed an ambitious plan to create a national blue ribbon bipartisan commission to do a top-to-bottom review of the U.S. criminal justice system and report back potential reforms in 18 months.
The 57-43 roll call – three short of the 60 supermajority needed – dramatized again how politically divided the chamber has become.
Almost identical legislation cleared the House in the last Congress on a simple voice vote with Republican backing and had been approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee last year as well.
Given endorsements from the American Bar Association and many police and sheriffs organizations, proponents had hoped to clear the 60 vote supermajority required in the Senate. But under a barrage of last-minute attacks, Republican support wilted. And the chief sponsor, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), found himself deserted by even his long time associate and fellow Vietnam veteran, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“We’re not done,” Webb told POLITICO. “There were very specific answers to everything that was raised there. There is no states rights issue in convening the best minds in America to give you advice and observations about the overall criminal justice system.”
“I thought he was voting with us,” Webb said of McCain. The Arizona Republican argued in a separate hallway interview that the state-rights complaint was valid and also took issue with how the 14-member commission, seven Republicans and seven Democrats, would be chosen.
Indeed, Republicans argued that the White House would have too much influence, effectively creating a 9-7 majority for the administration. But Webb said the specific language that one set of commission seats be chosen “in agreement” with the White House had been the exact phrasing chosen by the GOP. And Republicans are specifically promised control over one of the two co-chairs.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) took the lead in the GOP’s attacks, describing the commission as “an overreach of gigantic proportions” and “not a priority in these tight budget times.”
“We’re absolutely ignoring the U.S. Constitution if you do this,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in closing. “We have no role unless we’re violating human rights or the U.S. Constitution to involve ourselves in the criminal court system or penal system in my state or any other state…I would urge a no vote against this and honor our Constitution.”
The scene was in sharp contrast with events before the 2010 mid-term elections.
In July that same year, nearly identical legislation sailed through the House with the backing of Hutchison’s fellow Texan, Rep. Lamar Smith –now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Support was so strong that the bill was called up under expedited proceedings and passed without any member even demanding a recorded vote.
By contrast, just four Senate Republicans backed Webb Thursday: Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Hatch is a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. And Graham, a close friend of McCain, is prominent as well on the committee which reported a similar version of the bill in January last year – also before the 2010 elections.
Individual Republican senators said they had come under pressure from local district attorneys and judges in drug courts to oppose Webb. But the Democrat countered that he had strong support from the drug court judiciary and the model for his proposal was the influential presidential commission on crime and the judicial system in the mid 1960’s led by then-Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach.
Webb said that 40 years later it is reasonable to have a second review, especially given the high incarceration rate in the U.S. at a time or relatively low crime rates.
“Our criminal justice system is broken in many areas,” he told the Senate in his own floor comments. “We need a national commission to look at the criminal justice system from point of apprehension through reentry into society of people who have been incarcerated.”
Monday, October 17, 2011
Margaret T. Hance Park
(October 15, 2011)
sign and post-production rendition by margaret j plews
Neither the City of Phoenix nor the negotiators appointed by the Occupy Phoenix General Assembly to interface with them seemed pleased with my decision. Nor did the police - three of whom in succession approached me to warn me that I was violating the Phoenix Camping ordinance and could be arrested. The third cop was most emphatic - at which point I began yelling to the crowd for help:
"Mic Check!" "Mic Check!" (that's how you signal you need the floor and the group lets you know when you have it). I hollered that my tent was in protest against the camping ordinance and the criminalization of homelessness, and asked them to protect me from being arrested. I pointed out that if I was a tired, 47-year old woman with no place to sleep and no energy to walk any further, I could be arrested for laying down there to sleep - and that's anywhere in Phoenix. The crowd converged and the cops backed down.
I began talking more about the city's homeless but was cut off by a couple of apparent organizers or representatives of the larger collective trying to de-escalate the potential for a conflict with the cops. Even as one officer was threatening me with arrest, my comrades were reassuring the gathering crowd that an agreement had just been reached with the city that no one would face arrest for putting up a tent (only later did we learn that was only for so long as the park would be open - after closing we were arrested for just being there).
Away from the circle, after erecting my tent, I asked members of the negotiating team (I think that's who they were, anyway) to please seek amnesty for all the campers in Phoenix that night, not just us. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that part was heard. I'm hoping we can get the abolition of the camping ordinance on the larger group's agenda - more likely, now, I think, that more people have experienced first hand a small taste of the police harassment that our homeless brothers and sisters get on a regular basis.
photo by robert haasch (who saved my ass by being there)
I went on to provoke the police a little more that night just before the mass arrests. Unlike most of my fellow occupiers, I was not seated and linking arms with the group - I was out filming the columns of riot police sweeping the park. Another protester, Cody (our flag handler) and I strayed too far from the collective and into the path of the police, and got nabbed early on. They yelled a warning right at us that if we didn't leave the park we'd be arrested (that was pretty clear), but before I managed to take two steps back I was apprehended by Officer Chad Shiply (at least, that's who got the credit on my booking papers) - in fact, I think he was yelling at me ("you in the red hat") even as our warning was being issued.
Cody got pretty roughed up when they tackled him - I think he was hit in the head and they kept yelling at him to let go of his flagpole, all the while pinning it between his body and his arms. A cop stepped so hard on his neck that he was wheezing all the way to jail, and his flex cuffs were on so tight he lost feeling in his hands.
Whoever it was who arrested me wasn't very gentle, either, by any means - my left arm is pretty bruised up from where he twisted it behind and under some piece of equipment (it felt like the rim of a riot shield, but I don't think he was carrying one), and the skin around my wrist is broken from where he put the flex cuffs on too tight. I told him it was cutting me, but his answer was simply "It's supposed to be tight", and put me in the wagon. I got another cop's attention, though, and he and a couple of other officers tried to cut it off, only to find that it was so digging deep into my skin that they couldn't remove it until we got to the station where they had a special tool. They loosened the pressure by cutting the other piece off my right hand and pulling out my bracelet from under the remaining plastic band, putting me in regular cuffs for the ride.
From there on out, any mistreatment I was subjected to was the same that all the other prisoners I was with was subjected to: extremely cold cement slabs and floors to discourage sleep or even simple comfort, over-crowded and filthy holding cells, and two meals of barely-edible food (an oatmeal creme cookie, a small container of peanut butter, two small loaves of funky bread, two moldy decorative oranges, and a "blue hug" - the syrupy concoction that's also known as "bug juice", to those of you who went to summer camp). Being moved from one cell to another repeatedly and never finding ourselves in the view of a clock or window, we were constantly disoriented as to time and space.
Only a couple of our guards seemed to enjoy abusing their power and being mean; most were just matter-of-fact or indifferent to prisoner complaints and questions, and in the course of giving us orders - although some were curious about our protest and increasingly bemused at the crowd growing outside the jail awaiting our release. I felt blessed that we were kept together; I so needed the company of the other women who chose this same path. They kept my spirits up, and my heart warm.
That's saying a lot, given my condition. I reported upon intake what medications I needed every day, but didn't get any of them. With my thyroid level falling Sunday morning, I spent most of the time shivering in a deep freeze. I don't know if denying me two doses of my mood stabilizers made much of a difference, but I sure had moments of pretty deep demoralization and despair. At the very least it threw me off my schedule; I skipped a few beats.
I didn't even bother asking for aspirin or motrin for my withdrawal headache - that seemed to be the least of my worries. I was exhausted, stressed, and my body temperature and mood were crashing hard. I was acutely aware that it would not look good to my judge, if informed, that I already have a case in municipal court for another act of civil disobedience involving 3 charges of criminal damage. I felt incredibly vulnerable to being trapped there, and missed my Mom so much that I silently cried. With her gone, I realized I knew no one here who would be sure to bond me out if I wasn't released on personal recognizance - most of my closest friends are just too poor.
Some of you who know me well are aware that while I was a delinquent and trouble-maker from a young age, I was never criminalized. Instead, for using drugs, running away, and trying to kill myself so often I spent my adolescence locked up in psychiatric institutions, being rehabilitated instead of just punished. Relapse part of the recovery process from alcoholism and addiction (I started drinking at 13), so while I was a traumatized, deeply depressed youth, I could have also easily gone through the juvenile justice system (like my big brother) and landed in prison at 18 for all my drug-related crimes. Instead I pretty much sobered up and became a responsible citizen at 20. With my history of institutionalization, my mood disorder, my addictions, and lack of any resources by which to survive, I could have so easily lived and died like Marcia Powell - there but for the grace of God go I.
Now, at 47 years old, I'm more radical than I was as a teen. I think that's because I see what's at stake for the people so much more clearly now - not just what's at stake for me. This was my first arrest and booking into the county jail. It was a disturbing experience, even though endured with friends and comrades - I don't look forward to this again. I'm afraid that given the persistence of my disobedience I'm likely to end up doing more than a few hours next time, if there is one.
Though I haven't been arrested before, I have been confined as a patient. No matter how good the conditions or how kind my keepers are, I never much liked being treated like a prisoner, which is what being a psychiatric patient entails as well - only our sentences and subjugation to a higher authority on the appropriateness of our conduct are indeterminate and not subject to effective appeals - nor does our imprisonment garner much public sympathy. Think about it: it's just not the same trying to rally people to "free Peggy" if I'm in the nut house than if I'm in jail for taking on the riot police - few people are willing to second-guess the good judgement of anyone who calls themselves a mental health professional and declares one of us to be a danger to ourselves or others.
With limited rights as subjects in mental health court, we can be placed under surveillance of the psychiatric system indefinitely, be forcibly injected with mind-altering drugs that stay in our system for weeks at a time, be deprived of some of our civil rights (like convicted felons), and be violently seized by police and put back into state custody without even being suspected of a crime. It's chilling to know how easily they can still do that to me - especially since I walk a fine line some days between outraged artistic expression and just plain madness.
That does not mean I really aspire or prefer to take a stroll through the criminal justice system as a defendant, though. I just felt that in both cases an act of civil disobedience was essential to bring attention to serious problems that the law enforcement community, for one, needs to take some responsibility for. That means everyone from the beat cop on the street to the head of the Maricopa County Superior Court should be part of the conversation about the escalating violence and despair in the state prisons, and the tragic deaths of so many people who never should have even gone there - like people who are criminalized for their mental illness or housing status.
Prisoners like Shannon Palmer and Marcia Powell could have been helped long before heading to prison with outreach and supported housing programs, like we developed in the 1990's. If prosecutors like Bill Montgomery want to reduce both victimization and criminalization, they'll support more resources going into our mental health system than into building new prisons, and cops should support legislative changes that take them out of the role of social workers by insuring social workers are around to prevent crisis from escalating to police attention.
Anyway, I'm now in rather deep trouble, I think, over too many minor infractions, and must behave myself - so next time you hear me taking on the Phoenix police, remind me to chill myself out. I've been booked, printed and detained once already - I even have a mug shot now (I'm a serious criminal here). I'm really kind of a wimp, and don't want to go through that all again.
I'll still be out there, though - just not fighting with the police. Look for me chalking Power downtown or handing out Real Cost of Prison comic books, promoting the November 30 ALEC Resistance. The people need to tune into that one quick if they really want to make a difference in our current social state.
For those of you doing any kind of jail support for Occupy Phoenix, by the way - I think we all have our arraignments on October 26, 2011 at 10am (phoenix Municipal Court 300 W. Washington St). At that time some may both plead guilty and be sentenced, hopefully to time served (or have a sentencing date set). Some will no doubt plead not guilty and ask for a bench trial (no jury for misdemeanors like this). We have to be facing probable jail time or probation in order to be appointed an attorney if we can't afford one. Since there could be up to six months of jail time and a huge fee involved, I'm asking for an attorney, myself. In any case, a little support for us defendants that day (I believe there were 46 arrested) would be appreciated.
In the meantime, there are stipulations to our freedom (these are mine, anyway). The first one is the only one that worries me, since that can be subject to interpretation at the discretion of a cop...but at least she didn't order us to stay away from the scene of the crime:
1. Obey all laws.
2. Appear at all court hearings and follow all court orders.
3. Notify the court if you move from the address listed on the complaint.
4. Do not harass or threaten alleged victims, witnesses, and/or arresting officers.
Remind us to stay out of trouble please, folks. We won't be released on PR again if we don't. There's a whole lot of damage we can do without being criminal anyway, and we need to be employing a diversity of tactics, as the anarchists often say - and not everyone can afford to be arrested. To those of you who think you can - please be careful not to get hurt out there. The cops can be brutal, and it's really no fun going to jail. Here are some tips if you expect to be arrested, though:
- Don't let any of what I just said scare you from taking action: we really need more arrestable citizens willing to step up when others get taken out. Just go in with your eyes wide open.
- Give all your stuff to a friend ahead of time who can greet you as you come out - they'll probably need to take you to the impound of the police department that arrested you. Just keep your license handy - everything else, including your shoelaces, will have to go.
- Have your jail support team planned out, including some clue about the possible legal consequences you may face, and where, other than the PD's office, you can get legal assistance.
- Write the phone numbers you may need with a Sharpie on your arm - including the person you need to drive you. You may want to include the number of a bailbonds-person, too. I'll post a link to one when I hear of a good one to refer you to. The jail staff are NOT likely to let you pull any numbers off your cell phone, so be prepared.
- be well-layered for your action, erring on the side of being too warm. Everyone is freezing in jail, and there's nothing soft on which to sit or put your head. Extra, warm clothes are priceless.
- save all food you are given, even the moldy oranges. You may get hungry enough to eat it before they feed you again, or another prisoner may come in without having had food in days.
- bond with your comrades and fellow prisoners, to the extent they are comfortable doing so. It makes the time pass and can pull you out of your own misery. Almost everyone was in a worse predicament there - with more to lose - than me.
- let supporters know it could be up to 24 hours before you even see a judge, so they aren't hanging from the get-go. Tell them when your initial appearance is scheduled for, and that they probably won't be able to get you until 2 hours after that - if you get released. Again, my little stay was about 18 hours from pulling into the jail to my release.
- once free, getting your property will probably take time - it may take your entire workday. Be careful what you promise your employer - you may not have your car keys in the am following your release (if at night or on a weekend), and need to deal with all that.
- and, this should go without saying: don't talk to or trust the police, before or after an action, be it solitary or a collective one. Their job is to shut us down - period. They'll do it with their gas and clubs or simply with their smiles - the latter is most insidious. Don't let them in your head either way.