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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Sunday, September 16, 2012

SOS: ASPC-Perryville Conditions of Confinement.

September 20, 2012 

My friend Christy, a prisoner out at Perryville / Santa Cruz, dropped me a letter late last week that just came in yesterday. It was dated 9/14/12. Here's the update:

"I was called up to the Deputy Warden's office to talk about my kites. Here is what has been done:

Water was turned down (hot water off)

Coolers were purchased but they ran out of money to install them so that is still a problem
I was given tape to tape my vent for roaches
the exterminator is supposed to come out & spray inside and out
the back window is still broken does not close (we have a bag with tape covering it)
they power-washed the showers 
we still only have 2 showers working - the lady who was fixing them was out here on 9/11...
the doors are still having to be keyed for a total of 48 rooms - that is a fire hazard!"

All that happened in response to earlier complaints filed by her and a few of the other women prisoners, and while I brought some things to the  DOC's attention a couple of weeks ago, this happened before I made the following post which had new information, so I can't really claim the credit for getting them to clean things up there. Christy and these women who protested their conditions of confinement have my respect for their courage and persistence.

I plan to organize a prison watching group for Perryville, soon, so stay tuned.

Peggy Plews

----------Original post (9/16/12)----------

I received this anonymous letter this past week from ASPC-Perryville/Santa Cruz yard, and have since challenged Richard Pratt, the Director of Health Services for the AZ DOC, to take the lead in cleaning up the place since so many chronically and critically ill women are trying to survive more than just their sentences under these conditions. I also asked him to set me up with a tour - suggesting we go together unannounced, if things are really as hunky dory at Perryville as they want me to believe. We'll see what he says once he gets a chance to respond. I'm probably now considered an external Security Threat Group leader, so my chances of getting in - sans the orange jumpsuit and chains the DOC would no doubt like to see me in - may not be too good.

In addition to the letter below from Santa Cruz last week, I received another one the week before from the same yard stating that there's a huge roach infestation problem that wasn't mentioned below, as creatures can easily enter through the cracks in the walls and window sills. 

Furthermore, I've been told by several sources that many women haven't been getting their medications for most of the time that Wexford has been in charge of medical services - that's been since the beginning of July. Hopefully, Wexford's brilliant administrators have finally figured out how to get their drugs to Arizona from Pennsylvania (or Columbia, or China, or wherever they're really importing their prescriptions from).

Also not articulated in the letter below is my concern about the high rate of suicide and deaths from sheer neglect at ASPC-Perryville. Most of those have occurred on Lumley yard, though, not Santa Cruz. Lumley is the maximum security yard where female prisoners who are seriously mentally ill, defiant, assaultive, or on death row are typically held in isolation cells. The ACLU's lawsuit Parsons v Ryan enumerates many of the additional concerns I have about the conditions of confinement and medical/mental health care for the women across the prison complex. Lumley is where Marcia Powell was killed by the desert sun after being left in an outdoor cage for four hours - theoretically while on a suicide watch.

I'm planning to set up a "Perryville Prison Watch 101" meeting this fall for community members who are interested in bettering the chances these women have of surviving prison and coming out able to lead lives as "responsible citizens" again; we aren't going to change any of this without help from more of the ordinary People out here who believe this kind of abuse and neglect - in our names, with our money - is unacceptable. And for Women's History Month in March 2013 we'll be celebrating the history of women's resistance in prison. Stay tuned for more on all that.

Remembering some of the women who have died out at Perryville, the following photos were taken from a mural laid out by community members in front of the Phoenix Art Museum for Prisoners' Justice Day in August of this year. Some things at Perryville can be fixed with caulk and elbow grease that the women would put into it themselves, given the right resources, but the culture of contempt for prisoners that fosters this kind of neglect is going to take a lot more to change.

Brenda Todd, 44. 
Victim of institutional indifference.
(January 21, 2011)

 Susan Lopez, 35. 
Victim of suicide and psychiatric neglect.
(March 25, 2011)

Victim of a 10-minute suicide watch, bad policy, 
unconstitutional practices, and cruel and abusive guards.
(May 19, 2009)

-----------------received 9/13/2012--------------

"In the winter months, the heat is turned on by date rather than temperature. The heat runs full blast and the rooms get to be unbearably hot. The officers do not have the authority to turn the heat off, even if it is an unseasonably warm day. On a "warm" winter day, the room temperatures can reach the 90+ degree mark. The window cranks in most of the rooms are broken and do not open so there is no way to get any relief. This is absolutely cruel and unusual punishment.

In the summer months, the evaporative coolers or air conditioners are turned on by date rather than temperature. Some rooms have coolers, others have AC. In the early spring, the rooms are very cold. In the heat of the summer, when the humidity rises, the coolers do not work well. Once again the temperatures inside the rooms can reach the 90+ degree mark, with no way to get any relief. When the AC works, the rooms that have it are comfortable in the summer. The challenge is that they are often broken. As of this writing, the temperature outside is 113. The AC In my room and the 7 other attached rooms is not functioning at all. It has been out of service for the past 2 weeks. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I do not perspire very much. Extreme heat causes my muscles to cramp. I get very light headed and dizzy and ultimately vomit. I do not know if there is a medication of any kind of solution since I cannot seem to get to medical. Often we live in exceedingly hot, or exceedingly cold rooms with windows that do not open. Just another example of cruel and unusual punishment.

The Arizona sun can be punishing,. especially for those of us that have little or no tolerance for heat exposure. Lines for medical appointments, property pick up, state issue, and the store are often long. In the medical waiting area, shade and water are provided. Not much can be done to reduce the heat since the waiting area is outside. The wait can be several hours. The lines for property, state issue, and store are not in shaded areas. The wait is usually a couple of hours at best.

The mattresses in most of the cells are worn out. They are leaking black material of some kind. The coverings are cracked. The mattresses are thin and do not provide any kind of support or much protection from the metal bunks.

Many of the cells have cracks in the walls that leak rain water. In my cell, water seeps in only one corner so I am lucky that mine is not one of those that floods. However, in that corner mold is growing. In one of the rooms next to a shower, the mold is so bad that it is growing down the outside walls as well as the inside.

The showers leak gallons of water daily. Some of them have been leaking for years. The erosion of both the concrete and the metal support beams is clearly visible. I am not a building inspector, but I can clearly see that the iron railings and support beams are rusted clear through.

Hot water for showers is not always available. Sometimes we have no hot water for days at a time. When this happens, there is no hot water for washing the trays or kitchen utensils either. This has been an on-going challenge since I have been here (1997). Budgets were not restricted for the majority of those years so I find it difficult to understand the situation. The trays, sporks, and cups in the kitchen are frequently dirty. Dirt is actually embedded in the trays and sporks where the plastic coating has been worn away.

On 16 yard, dinner "sacks" are passed out at 5pm Monday-Friday. Breakfast starts being served at 8 or 8:30 on Saturday mornings. 15+ hours between meals. ON weekends, we are provided with breakfast and hot dinner, just two meals. The ladies from 14 yard walk to our kitchen and eat breakfast around 7am. The kitchen on 14 yard has been closed and the building has been condemned. At 5pm the ladies from 14 yard come to our kitchen once again for dinner. Our yard has dinner after all of them have left the yard. That is usually around 6:30 or so. For those that do not have money to purchase food from the store, it is a very long time between breakfast and dinner.

Adequate clothing is no longer provided. I waited over 6 months to have 2 pairs of panties that were lost in the laundry replaced. per policy, we are allowed to exchange clothing or linens once every 90 days. The challenge is that most of the time, state issue does not have the size or the items that are needed. On this unit we have been out of medium panties, small pants and medium t-shirts for months. When I tried to exchange clothing I was told sizes 3x were the only one available. I weigh 120 pounds! Incoming inmates are not provided with the policy-stated issue.

Each inmate is provided with 1 roll of toilet paper for the week and 12 sanitary napkins for the month. Further discussion of this is probably unnecessary."