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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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Supporting detainees and their families while rejecting Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

(edited 5am 4/1/14)

As noted in a recent post, I appreciate the critiques that have been shared with me about immigration reform and indigenous rights in response to my uncritical coverage  of the Puente hunger strike. I was directed to some pointed blog posts that examine the movement for ComprehensiveImmigration Reform from an indigenous perspective. The posts themselves, as well as the ensuing dialogue, were really helpful in explaining exactly what CIR is and how it may affect people indigenous to the border region.  These are the most pertinent ones:

 IN A BORDER WORLD: Colonization under the guise of “immigrant rights”

CIRCULAR MOTION: Why I'm Not Sold on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Package
CIRCULAR MOTION: Their Dream is Our Nightmare: How the Prison Industry is Holding the Human Rights Movement Hostage

The ensuing conversation around the hunger strike and the potential it could reinforce passage of horrible legislation like CIR also reminded me that as much as I like to think I understand indigenous concerns, I really have no clue. I have no idea what it means to feel a sacred connection to land tended to by generations of my people - “my people” are the ones who immigrated here in droves and appropriated pretty much everything they came across on this continent for themselves and their heirs. What I’m so quick to offer to share with the world became “mine” only by way of genocidal practices and continued colonization of this region by my ancestors. Those ancestors aren’t all from the 19th century, either - it includes my beloved grandparents from Iowa, who helped settle Sun City in the 1970’s with the kind of nice old folks who perpetrate unspeakable violence on oppressed communities by voting for men like Joe Arpaio. Because they were here, my mother and I came and settled out here, too. 
Deeper in my genes I found the Pilgrims and Mormons - the leaders among them, even. Some people take pride in such heritage - my mother and grandmother even joined the Mayflower Society. I was mortified by what I found in my family tree, however - like the eyewitness account of William Bradford, first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, narrating and justifying the brutal slaughter of the Pequot in 1637. The ancestor that qualifies me as a “Daughter of the American Revolution” (should I choose to join) fathered another prominent settler, Brigham Young, responsible for considerable harm to indigenous people. And I grew up in the US Army, raised by a military intelligence officer who spent his life fighting Communism in other lands...really, as a kid I was pretty well-indoctrinated with the notion that the descendants of this nation’s founders had a special duty to rule the world, since only we could do it right. So, I guess it’s no wonder that as much as I try to shake my settler mentality, I both identify with the immigrant story and think that this territory I’ve come to inhabit is something that I have the right to even consider “sharing”. That was something of an awakening, realizing how entrenched that mindset is.
My angst about my family's legacy of colonization and complicity in genocide is for another post, though. This one is mostly to clarify what I think are a couple of factual errors about the hunger strike itself, and explain my support for the families and prisoners on strike, as well as my thoughts on the upcoming walk to Eloy

I had several conversations with Puente members this week about the criticisms that have been shared with me of the current immigrant rights movement in general, some of which seemed clearly directed at their group in particular (though Puente wasn’t identified by name in all the posts), which I summarize here. My take on the "Trail to end detentions" evolved as I worked on this post, so there are several concerns I have not yet discussed with Puente members or organizers.
Carlos Garcia, Puente's director, was out of town last week and I didn't ask people to articulate the organization's position in his absence - this post really just deals with the opinions of the friends I have who are a part of the Puente community. I do hope to have a conversation with Carlos  in the next few weeks: I'd like to hear his thoughts on the criticisms of indigenous activists who have raised them, as I believe those voices are vital to the dialogue about CIR and both migrant justice and indigenous rights.

 From my experience, Puente is driven by its members’ needs and wants and willingness to work. Most of those members are people who have been directly affected by arrest and criminalization, detention or deportation.  Yes, Puente is allied with Dreamers, but most of the people I know from Puente have loved ones who fail to fit into the neat “Dreamer” or “model immigrant” packages, and are disillusioned with what is really Comprehensive Immigration Reform, (CIR). Even if passed today and signed into law, the CIR proposal offered by the Senate and celebrated by organizations like The National Council of LaRaza and Fast 4 Families won’t improve the very real and desperate circumstances they face right now. For many the passage of CIR will only make their long “path to citizenship” more precarious, if not impossible. That's why they aren't fighting for CIR to be resurrected and passed in the House. 
Puente members' concerns about the criminalized migrants they love were marginalized pretty quickly early on; this si their push-back. I hope in the process of doing so, they help humanize other criminalized groups in this state as well, and shed light on the inherent violence of imprisonment and inhumanity of exile from one's family and community, whatever the reason such penalty is imposed. I do hope the families of AZ DOC prisoners take note and organize to fight back against the system, too – together, you could have so much power.

As for the pro-CIR organizations capitalizing on the attention Puente and similar actions around the country got: its my understanding that some tried their best to discourage Puente from that plan in the first place. While the Not1More campaign that Puente's hunger strike hashtagged under is run by the National Day Labor Organizing Network, that particular action at ICE in Phoenix wasn’t planned by NDLON or Dreamers as a stunt to promote CIR. It originated in the anguish of an area mother who decided to fast for her son's liberation, as every other attempt to free him had failed. This mother knew she couldn’t sit around and wait for CIR to help her - if anything, the passage of CIR would assure his permanent deportation. 
The other family members of prisoners facing deportation – most of whom had criminal records - organized around her, as did their loved ones in detention. As I understand it, that was part of an escalating campaign to push back against the national CIR promotions that threatened the many Puente members already affected by criminalization. Here in Arizona that's especially common because of racial profiling (not just by Arpaio's people, either) and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's decision to charge people arrested in workplace raids with as many felonies as possible - a practice Puente has drawn attention to and challenged more aggressively than anyone else in the community. 
CCA and ICE weren’t behind the release of Arturo Castenada, the one prisoner who was set free at the end of the strike, either - though it would have been a brilliant strategy, if they had been. The community had just finally managed to raise enough to bond him out. None of the prisoners in question have been released due to the hunger strike, in fact – and I'm not sure anyone really expected that they would be; they must have anticipated the probability of retaliation instead. 
And indeed, there were consequences. Prisoner organizers were placed in solitary and threatened with tube-feeding if a hunger strike dragged on. In fact, one hunger striker behind bars, Jaime Valdez, was deported in the middle of the 9th night, at the same time as the encampment at ICE was raided and the organizers on site were jailed. Despite Jaime’s deportation, the same families and prisoners continue to agitate.
Now, honestly,  I personally don't think that militarizing the border and offering migrants a "path to citizenship" - even if the path really led there - is the best solution for millions of people being forced from their homelands due to poverty and our exploitation of their labor, violence from the war on drugs, fallout from our decades-old war on communism, and so on – but then, I reject borders and nation-states in the first place, and advocate the overthrow of capitalism as the best solution to many of our social ills.  I'd like to see more local energy go into stopping further colonization, abolishing the border altogether, overturning NAFTA/aborting the TPP, and halting the development of the Sun Corridor – a critical piece of the CANAMEX superhighway which, along with CIR, will make the extraction of indigenous resources and the exploitation of desperate workers throughout the hemisphere all the more efficient - and destructive - in years to come. That would promote both migrant justice and indigenous rights.
Saying all that to detainees and their families in the middle of this struggle, though, is like talking prison abolition to prisoners who have been repeatedly assaulted in custody and are trying to get to safety, or who are dying for lack of medical attention – my ideal may be a great objective, but it doesn't help them survive the here and now. My role in relation to prisoners and their families when they fight the state on their own terms tends to be supportive - at the very least, I dont try to re-direct their actions or help the state invisibilize them. Rather, when prisoners and their families take action to make themselves seen and heard, they get my attention and respect - even if I dont completely agree with them. I hope they get yours as well. 

The Puente members I've met over the past few years are sincere, earnest people fighting incredible odds to reduce criminalization and incarceration while offering real support to prisoners and their families - that's where we connect the most, of course. Those who are fasting and walking and fighting today's deportation machine as best they can deserve better than to be dismissed as pawns or demonized as collaborators because the pro-CIR movement has exploited or tried to co-opt their actions. Nor is it necessarily their fault that the organization which has helped amplify their voices has such a complicated history and politic.  

That said, the organization Puente is still fair game for criticism.

I have issues with the name of this weeks' journey to Eloy ("Trail to End Deportations"), which seems to compare the experience of migrants with an explicitly genocidal forced march of indigenous people across the country so Anglos (from earlier generations of immigrants and colonizers) could claim their resources. It does seems to confirm that the struggle of the indigenous people from this region really doesn't register when Puente plans actions around immigration reform; I don't know how else to explain that.

And I have yet to hear a competing proposal for immigration reform - they wont advocate for CIR, as I explained, but I haven't heard anything from the organization taking a stand explicitly against it; it seems as if this campaign is limited to getting a stay for as many people as possible until CIR is passed, and wont address the other areas of concern raised by indigenous activists.  So I am conflicted again. I need to know more.

Whatever the White House does in the meantime, I see Congress at the end of this journey (during the height of the election season) taking up CIR and tweaking it a little to appease the Latino voting block, and maybe add a few more billion to border militarization without the national immigrant rights groups batting an eye...and that troubles me.  I have to agree with my indigenous comrades on this - I think we need to do everything we can to stop anything like CIR from passing. The Trail to end Deportations and the Not1More campaign is leading straight to CIR, regardless of whether or not it succeeds in its immediate aims. 

I'll let you know what I learn when I drop in on the walk to Eloy, and maybe have a chance to chat with Puente organizers a little more. They will be leaving Wednesday morning at 9am from ICE, and rallying Saturday at 10am in front of the Eloy Detention Center.

Below are links to indigenous voices on border issues, including the two blogs from above. 

O'odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective

O'odham Solidarity Project

Circular Motion

In a Border World

Tohono O'odham and U S Border Patrol (youtube video)

Imaginary Borders, Real Obstructions (youtube video)

And these links come from chaparral respects no borders a really good blog on immigration issues.

Understanding Immigration Issues: Fliers and Articles