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)


ANTICOLONIAL zines, stickers, actions, power

Taala Hooghan Infoshop

Kinlani/Flagstaff Mutual AID


The group for direct action against the prison state!

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO

Black Lives Matter PHOENIX METRO
(accept no substitutions)



PHOENIX: Trans Queer Pueblo


AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Betty Smithey: Free at last...

Congratulations to Betty, and blessings to Donna Hamm for sticking with this fight all these years. Now we need to figure out how to get Brewer to let Bill Macumber go, too, before he dies...he doesn't even have a freedom4bill website anymore - I think he gave up.


Betty Smithey with advocate/criminal justice consultant Donna Hamm 
after the clemency board decision Monday. 

Woman walks free after 49 years in Arizona prison

Nation's longest-serving female inmate was granted clemency

Bob Ortega 
Aug. 13, 2012

After 49 years behind bars, the nation's longest-serving female inmate is free.

Betty Smithey, 69, whose prison term began following her conviction for the murder of a 15-month-old Phoenix girl in 1963, appeared at a parole hearing Monday morning and by that afternoon walked, with the aid of a cane, out of the gates of the Perryville state prison in Goodyear.

"It's wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire," Smithey said by phone as she traveled with relatives to her niece's Mesa home, where she will reside. "I am lucky, so very lucky."

"Like I told the (parole) board, I know it's going to be a big adjustment, but I'll take it and I'll make good," she said.

Members of Arizona's Board of Executive Clemency agreed that Smithey had proven she is no longer the troubled woman who at age 20 murdered Sandy Gerberick on New Year's Day 1963, while working as the family's live-in baby-sitter, or the woman who that same year threatened to kill herself after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Board members voted 4-1 to grant an absolute discharge, not only freeing Smithey from prison but also any community supervision.

Smithey became eligible for discharge after Gov. Jan Brewer granted her clemency in June, reducing her sentence to 49 years to life.

"I really see no value in keeping you in prison any longer. I really see no value in keeping strings on you any longer," Parole Board Chairman and Director Jesse Hernandez told Smithey before voting to grant her discharge.

Monday's vote was a rare occurrence. Sentenced to life before August 1973, Smithey was numbered among the so-called "old-code lifers" who are eligible for parole only if first granted a commutation by the governor. She is only the third such inmate to be granted clemency since 1989.

In 1994 and 2003, boards recommended clemency for Smithey only to have first Gov. Fife Symington and then Gov. Janet Napolitano deny it.

Last spring, not long after the board unanimously recommended clemency for Smithey, Brewer replaced three of its five members; on Monday, the new members in particular sought reassurance that Smithey doesn't pose any danger of violence. Much of their questioning of Smithey, her attorneys and supporters and psychiatrist Elizabeth Kohlhepp focused on Smithey's youthful mental state, whether the board could be sure she'd changed, and whether she could handle the stress of returning to the outside world after five decades.

As the deciding vote came down in her favor, Smithey crossed herself and looked down briefly as if in disbelief that the moment had finally arrived.

Smithey endured a horrific childhood of abandonment, abuse and mistreatment by foster and adoptive parents, creating, Kohlhepp said, a fragile youth with poor coping skills who became psychotic under extreme stress.

In her early years in prison she was rebellious and troublesome, escaping four times from three different prisons between 1974 and 1981.

But Kohlhepp, who evaluated Smithey's mental health in 2003 and again recently, said that over the decades Smithey worked hard to transform herself.

"She has no risk factors for violence," said Kohlhepp. "She doesn't have a criminal mind-set."

The key moment, said Smithey, came in 1983 when she received a letter from Emma Simmons, Sandy Gerberick's mother, forgiving her for the crime.

"She made me feel that I wasn't a monster," said Smithey. "I felt if she could forgive me for taking her child's life, I could forgive myself. ... It was my responsibility to try to become a better person than I was."

Dozens of supporters turned out for Monday's hearing.

Andy Silverman, a University of Arizona law professor who has known Smithey since working on an appeal for her in 1971, said, "I've changed over those 41 years, and I can assure the board that she has as well. ... She's a good and caring person. She always shows more interest in others than in herself."

After Monday's vote, Smithey smiled and waved to her supporters, mouthing "thank you" and then clutching her niece Rebecca Henderson in a tearful hug. Smithey shook each board member's hand and thanked them before being led into the prison to prepare for her release.

Family members said they painted and decorated a room for her to live in.