Most readers familiar with the crisis of violence and despair in Arizona's state prisons in recent years are aware of the story of Tony Lester. If you aren't please watch Wendy Halloran's emmy-winning investigation at the top of this page on KPNX/Channel 12 News / PHX. They have a follow up episode coming up tonight, February 22, at 10pm...
Tony was sentenced to 12 years in prison in May 2010 for hurting two ex-girlfriends who tried to prevent him from cutting his own throat when suicidal and psychotic on his 23rd birthday. He had been struggling increasingly with symptoms of mental illness, which went untreated until the crisis that sent him to jail instead of a psychiatric hospital. There they found him to be so severely mentally ill that it took over a year to restore him sufficiently to sanity to prosecute him as if he'd been sane all along. Then it took another nine months for him to recover from the trial enough to be sentenced.
This state is exceptionally cruel.
Once sent off to prison, despite recommendations from the judge that he be placed in a special mental health treatment setting, Tony's illness still wasn't treated properly. He was left to suffer in prison without his anti-psychotic medications while his paranoia mounted. He was placed on a general population yard where he was soon confronted by the Warrior Society, a prison gang which informed him he wouldn't be allowed to live safely on the yard, in part, due to being a known bi-sexual. Tony's assault convictions had been tagged as domestic violence, which was another big strike against him...
Violating each other in our honor is not how to reduce violence against women, by the way, gentlemen. It diminishes us all.
Not surprisingly, facing 12 years like this, the next opportunity Tony had to cut his own throat - when handed a razor by DOC staff - he was sure to do the job right. He was no doubt fearful that what the other prisoners had in mind for him was far more traumatic than any death he could bring on himself.
When Tony was discovered by AZ DOC staff, they just stood by and watched him die...
Tonight Wendy Halloran will be following up on this story with some of the footage of the last minutes of Tony's life, while five corrections' officers stood around and watched him bleed out. Please watch KPNX Channel 12 PHX Friday Feb 22 at 10pm, then send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let Channel 12 know we need to see more of what's happening behind prison walls, because what happened to Tony isn't the exception - this kind of deliberate indifference to - rather, outright contempt for human life is all too common at the AZ DOC. The suicide and homicide rates in state prisons doubled once Chuck Ryan took over, and haven't abated yet. Something is seriously wrong in there.
Ask them to look into the other deaths in custody, the practicality of a new supermax prison, the problems with privatizing the health care services for prisoners, and so on. Le tthem know there's an audienc eout here or that stuff, or the tone they'll hear from the community when they cover a prisoner's suicide will be left at "good riddance - give them all rope!". Let's not let those kinds of people dominate the dialogue on life and death for the most vulnerable in prison. Please watch the show AND give feedback.
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. email@example.com
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
17 year old seriously mentally ill prisoner Jessica Burlew has been held in solitary confinement, in the jails of Joe Arpaio, since January 2014 pending trial for the accidental death of the sexual predator who was exploiting her.