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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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MCSO: More good use of tax dollars.

25 were smugglers? I'm sure.

I'm not paying a penny more in sales tax as long as this stuff keeps going on and both the Governor and the Republican legislature endorse it. We've got American-born rapists and murderers and kidnappers all over the place, and Arpaio keeps using all our resources to chase down and incarcerate impoverished migrants whose only crime is "smuggling themselves".

Does all this rounding up of migrants and neglect of real crime have anything to do with the Sheriff's lack of competence as a law enforcement officer? Or does it have more to do with the fact that ICE can be billed by the jail for migrants, whereas no one compensates him for arresting dangerous citizen criminals (well, except for the salary, expense account, etc.).

40 arrested during north Valley crime sweep

by Adam Wolfe - Sept. 29, 2009 05:49 PM
The Arizona Republic

Forty people suspected of being illegal immigrants were arrested during a four-hour crime sweep in the north Valley, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies conducted sweeps in four areas near Anthem Way on Monday night, according to a news release from the Sheriff's Office.

Twenty-five of those arrested face human-smuggling charges, officials said; the others were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

AZ Second in Corrections $$; 38th in Education

This what it means in Arizona to be "tough on crime" - stealing futures from kids. Look at where we invest our money: that's what flourishes. That's why this state is in such a serious decline. 
This is pathetic, but no surprise. Kavanaugh is an embarrassment to Fountain Hills; really to the whole state. He has no business handling our money, given the kind of ignorance this article (and every other one I've read with him in it) reflects. 

I just can't follow his "logic". The amount of money we invest in education is not a reflection of how much we value education or the quality of it? However, the exorbitant amount we spend on police and prisons is justified? That's what it sounds like he's saying - and he's the AZ State House Appropriations Chairman. He'd sooner put your kid in prison for $26,000/year at 21, than subsidize his college tuition for $5,000/year at 18.  

And why is he so proud about Arizona having a "very median educational performance record?" That's something to be ashamed of, frankly.


Census data: Arizona second in police, corrections spending, 38th in education

By Evan Wyloge, Cronkite News Service

Published: September 30, 2009 at 7:58 am

Arizona outspent all but one state on police protection and corrections as a percentage of overall state and local expenditures while its education spending ranked 38th in U.S. Census Bureau data released Wednesday (Sept. 30).

“You get what you pay for,” said Jeffrey Chapman, Arizona State University Foundation Professor of Applied Public Finance. “We’re a low-tax, low-expenditure state. We like police, we like corrections and we don’t want to spend money on public services.”

The census data, based on 2007 expenditures, shows that Arizona’s spending patterns remained fairly constant from previous years. Chapman said that demonstrates shortsightedness on the part of leaders, promoting construction and industries tied to growth and preparing people to work in those jobs.

“They’d rather see retail clerks, construction workers and corrections officers in Arizona,” Chapman said. “They’re giving no regard to our children or our grandchildren.”

The data also showed that Arizona ranked fourth among states in expenditures on fire protection, 21th on public welfare and 28th on highways.

House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, defended the state’s spending on police protection, which was second only to Nevada, and on corrections, which was second only to California.

“Of course we spend more proportionally on law enforcement than other states,” Kavanagh said. “We have to be tough with criminals, as a matter of justice and deterrence. And being a border state, we deal with cross-border crime and we have one of the largest populations of illegal aliens.”

Kavanagh also said it’s wrong to suggest that Arizona isn’t committed to education.

“We actually have a very median educational performance record,” he said. “I prefer to judge our educational system by performance, not spending.”

Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said Arizona would be better served by shifting its priorities.

“For four years I’ve been trying to change this,” she said. “And I think the public is unfamiliar with these numbers, so I’m glad to hear that they’re being talked about.”

Roger Hartley, associate professor of public administration and policy at the University of Arizona, said the money states spend on education correlates with earning potential, while poverty correlates with crime.

“We can see that we’re putting more money into putting people in prison rather than educating and thereby keeping people out of prison,” he said. Kavanagh called that conclusion overreaching, and pointed to Washington, D.C., as evidence.”

They have one of the worst crime rates, and they spend more than just about anybody per student,” he said.

Travis Pratt, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at ASU, said crime rates aren’t simple enough to link one-on-one with education, but he said it would be wrong to dismiss any connection with education.

He said spending on law enforcement pays political dividends much sooner than education.

“Budgets aren’t limitless, and Arizona devotes a greater portion of theirs to controlling rather than preventing crime,” he said. “And because spending on institutions like education and social services might not pay off for 10 or 15 years - not before the next election - politicians don’t see a reason for it.”

Middle Ground Prison Reform

I try to post a fresh link and reminder about this every so often. It's good to consider other perspectives and strategies, and though we have some similar concerns about the prisons and jails, I'm an abolitionist, not a reformer. Anyone interested in what happened with Marcia Powell, some of the history of the ADC, and the position of other prison activists here should visit the website for Middle Ground Prison Reform. They've been around AZ a long time fielding complaints from prisoners and their loved ones, have some good resources on their site, and have been addressing the ADC, the Governor's office, legislators, and the media on the issue of the prisoner abuse in a thoughtful, articulate, professional manner. They're the folks who filed a formal complaint about the cages two years ago, and - as I've referenced elsewhere - Dora Schriro took no action. We agree that she bears a good deal of responsibility for what happened.

As does Janet.

I do hope New York is paying attention, since that's where Schriro's headed to next.

Here's the link to the letter Donna Hamm at Middle Ground wrote Governor Brewer after the abuse report came out last week. It's worth a read. She also gives a synopsis of issues with the prisons arising from Marcia's death that still need to be addressed - these might be helpful. She's more willing to give Director Ryan a chance than I am, but I suspect they know each other better. We don't all sit at the same table. All I want to do at this point is upend it.

That's why we need people like Donna.

Middle Ground has done a lot of important work, and can be a useful resource. If you want a more rounded picture of what's happening here or want to support in a less radical way, look at what other advocacy strategies are being employed. Check out Middle Ground.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ADC: Safety is Job One.

This is what I found so disturbing: it's all about paying the guards to protect the public - only passing reference to inmate safety, despite this 3000-page report detailing how systematically, carelessly prisoners get neglected and abused.And all Ryan and Brewer are talking about is how brave and hard-working they are, and how they're keeping us "safe". Yes, short-staffing is a problem. But the prisoners are dying at a much faster rate than the guards. Who protects the prisoners from the conditions of their confinement?

And does the governor herself have nothing to say about the horrendous details on the death of Marcia Powell? No reassurances to the families of 40,000 prisoners that their loved ones are safe tonight, and will survive their prison sentences? No word to the women in that pit themselves that none of them will be next, left dying in their own feces begging for help as guards just mock them, passing them by? No acknowledgment to the officers that their ability to do their jobs has long been compromised by over-crowding, short-staffing, excess overtime, and burn-out? Look at the employee suicides out there.

Here's the Governor's happy announcement that the ADC can keep on keeping us all safe (as long as we aren't in their care). Good idea to hold off on releasing that report, Ryan, until after this news cycle passed.


State of Arizona
Janice K. Brewer Office of the Governor

Main Phone: 602-542-4331
Governor 1700 West Washington Street

Phoenix, AZ 85007 Facsimile: 602-542-7601

September 18, 2009
(602) 542-3464

Governor Brewer Announces first distribution of Government Services Funds

$50 million awarded to Department of Corrections for salary expenses of 1,305 officers

PHOENIX – Governor Jan Brewer today announced the first distribution of the State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (SFSF) Government Services Fund (GSF) monies to the Arizona Department of Corrections through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). A total of $50 million will be given to the Department to pay officer’s salary expenses incurred during the first five (5) pay periods of FY2010 in order to support officers needed to staff required security posts throughout the state’s prison system to ensure the safety of the public, staff and inmates.

“I have long emphasized that I will do everything in my power to see that public safety in the State of Arizona is not compromised,” said Governor Jan Brewer. “By choosing to award the Arizona Department of Corrections $50 million from the Government Services Fund, I have made good on my commitment to mitigate funding cuts to such vital services as public safety and support our dedicated correctional officers.”

The $50 million will go to ensure our Department operates with a full complement of officers to protect Arizonans," said ADC Director Charles L. Ryan. "The money released by Governor Brewer pays the salaries of our brave and hard-working correctional officers in this difficult economic time."

“I am extremely pleased, and so will my officers be, to know that Governor Brewer and the Arizona Office of Economic Recovery care enough about our safety and well being to fund such an important public safety agency,” said Michael Duran, State Executive President of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. “This stretches further than just safety for my officers - this helps us do our first and foremost job of protecting the public everyday.”

The Government Services Funds are one portion of the SFSF, aimed at helping states to provide maximum flexibility in addressing budget shortfalls. Funds are to be allocated at the Governor’s discretion as designed by federal law.

For more information, please visit the State of Arizona’s Recovery Act website at
Finally, Ryan et al: you need to be more concerned with protecting your prisoners than the "public" right now; the police are heavily militarized out here and seem quite capable of arresting whomever they want; all you need to do to keep the public safe is to not leave the keys lying around. Your bigger duty - especially now - is to keep your prisoners safe from each other, despair, and their guards.

ADC: Fearless and Thorough?

I gagged on most of this AZ Republic editorial today. 

If ADC Director Ryan was the one who said that the report on Marcia Powell's death is just the "tip of the iceberg", then maybe I'd think he was being honest with us. But the editors of the Arizona Republic don't have a clue what they're speaking of here, even if they read that report themselves. Either that, or they're complicit. 

It's just as impossible for the rest of us to see through ADC smokescreens now as it was four months ago. Ryan hasn't aired clean laundry in public, much less the dirty stuff. All that "candor" and "grit" is a bluff to make you think he's fully-disclosing; all the while he's deflecting attention away from the more entrenched problems in the AZ Department of Corrections ( which it is not clear was explored in this investigation despite the number of employees involved so casually in outright neglect and abuse).  

A pat on the back and a "carry on" is the last thing I'd be giving him now. They have a twisted institutional culture. Tell me that's inherent in running prisons, and I'll just use it to support my case for abolition. The whole system is evil. Incarceration in and of itself is violence.

Anyway, I'm with Stephen Lemons. I think Ryan should shine some real light on the place and come totally clean, or step down.

Ironic that Ryan just received a hefty sum of money to beef up staff and salaries for the "brave and committed officers of the ADC". Nothing was said by either him or Governor Brewer when she authorized it about spending a dime of that money on alleviating the brutalization, medical neglect, or substandard conditions of prisoners sleeping in "boats" on the floor in over-crowded, understaffed, poorly-maintained facilities. 

Before we go around congratulating him for hanging a few bad apples out to dry (while the rest of the orchard continues to rot), I think we should be asking why this came as such a shock to him in the first place. Listening to former guards, ex-prisoners, and family members of women currently in Perryville, I can say this report probably incites universal outrage, but hardly surprise - except at what we haven't heard it reference yet.

If Ryan's door were a bit more open and he really wanted to know if his employees were indifferent or sadistic towards their prisoners, he would know. Every one else knows what's going on in there, and while many people are afraid to speak of it, his ignorance is actually a little hard to buy. The scope of this corruption - the systematic dehumanization that resulted in Marcia's death - suggests that this is not just a "case" of abuse or a "series of miscommunications", but rather evidence of how the system typically works, not how it is broken. 

All those guards weren't just having a bad day - they treat folks like that all the time, and the rest are complicit whenever they are silent about the cruelty they see - which is far too often. Granted, this was Janet's and Schriro's mess left for Ryan to clean up in short order, but he's been a part of that institution long enough in influential enough positions to have played a role in cultivating the current culture there.

So, that's my intro to the Arizona Republic's attempt today to sweep this whole affair under the carpet and make Director Ryan out to be considerably more noble than he is. Clearly they won't be doing any serious investigations into the state prisons. That means it's up to the rest of us.

Corrections boss' candor laudable

Corrections officers at Arizona's prisons are entrusted with gritty, difficult, dangerous and largely thankless duties.

For that, they deserve our thanks.

But, like any of us, they are expected to abide by certain standards of behavior. As state employees, they have a public trust and explicit policies to guide them. As human beings, they must answer to their conscience.

A report last week on the death of a mentally ill inmate at the Perryville women's prison in Goodyear tells us 16 state Department of Corrections employees failed to meet many of those standards, including the ones regarding human decency.

The department's 3,000-page report tells us - often in surprisingly unvarnished terms - the depth of the abuse of Marcia Powell, 48, who died after standing, unprotected, in a holding pen in the searing heat for four hours on May 19.

There are details still not released. Because the 16 disciplined employees may appeal the report's conclusions, their names remain unknown. And there are facts still in dispute, such as whether Powell, whose body temperature when she was found had reached 108 degrees, was provided water.

But the report makes clear that established procedures and policies guiding prisoner treatment were ignored on that fateful day.

As a result, three employees have been fired, two have resigned in lieu of being fired, 10 have been suspended for up to two weeks and one employee has been demoted. Two others will face discipline upon returning from medical leave.

"This is the most significant example of abuse that I'm aware of that an inmate had to endure," said Charles Ryan, interim corrections director. "Frankly, that's just unconscionable. That is an absolute failure on the part of the department and its employees."

The thoroughness and bluntness of the report, which was prepared by the Corrections Department's Office of the Inspector General, are reminiscent of an investigation by the U.S. Marine Corps into the deadly crash of one of its fighter jets into a San Diego neighborhood last December.

Not everyone will be satisfied. Longtime prisons watchdog Donna Leone Hamm acknowledges the depth of the investigation but contends it reveals only the "tip of the iceberg" regarding problems with the prison system. Perhaps so.

Whatever the outcome of this tragic incident, the final chapter must begin with a thorough review of the facts. Investigators have done a good job of starting us toward that conclusion.

But one of the most gratifying outcomes of this tragedy is the determined sense of openness and honesty displayed by the interim director of the Department of Corrections. Charles Ryan aired a lot of dirty department laundry in authorizing this report. Tough as that might have been, good will come of his grit.

Friday, September 25, 2009

AZ Prison Punishment Cages: SOP

Been hearing this all summer...

Outdoor confinements common

Inquiry: Officers regularly left unruly inmates in sun-exposed cages beyond 2-hour limit

Before Marcia Powell, there was Vanessa Griego.

Powell died from heat-related causes on May 20, a day after she spent nearly four hours exposed to the sun in an outdoor cage at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville prison in Goodyear.

Just three days earlier, Griego was confined to a similar cage at Perryville for 20 hours, an incident that alarmed staff members and fellow inmates but was not investigated until after Powell's death.

Griego, 24, endured her stay in the outdoor cage without needing medical attention.

But a Department of Corrections investigation showed that lengthy confinements in outdoor cages had become a common practice over the past two years as officers tried to "wait out" prisoners who, like Griego, were agitated or refusing to return to their cells.

"Waiting out" prisoners meant corrections officers did not have to use force to return inmates to their cells. But it also meant inmates were regularly left outdoors for longer than the two-hour maximum dictated by prison policy.

The practice has since been discontinued as part of a raft of reforms initiated in the wake of Powell's death. (Unlike Griego, Powell was awaiting transfer to a psychiatric unit when she collapsed; earlier, she had actually asked to be returned to her cell.)

A criminal investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is ongoing in the Powell case.

But friends and family members of Perryville inmates say they continue to worry about the safety of their loved ones, particularly in the wake of charges that corrections officers there have denied food, water and bathroom privileges to inmates confined outdoors.

"The bottom line is, they just don't care," said Michael Beam, whose fiancee is an inmate at Perryville.

"They're supposed to be professionals, but they're not."

Beam said the death of Powell - who would have turned 49 today - devastated many of the inmates at the prison.

"There but for the grace of God, one of them could been in that situation," he said.

Angelina Goodman regularly visits a close friend at Perryville. Some corrections officers there are very cordial and professional, she said. But others act like bullies and brag about how tough they are, she said.

"It's very unnerving to leave my loved one there, knowing that these are the people who are supposed to keep control, when their mentality is such a perverse type of bullying," she said. "We just pray a lot.

Griego was placed in an outdoor cell May 16 after blocking her window with a mattress. After searching her cell, corrections officers told Griego they wanted to return her to the cellblock, but she refused.

After initial attempts to get her to return, corrections officers appeared to give up. She was granted one bathroom break at 2 a.m. There is no record of officers asking Griego to return to her cell between sunrise and 8 p.m., when she was finally returned to her cell.

She had not been able to use the restroom for 18 hours.

The office of Gov. Jan Brewer did not respond to a request for comment on revelations in the Department of Corrections' investigations into the Powell and Griego incidents.

Middle Ground, a prison-reform group based in Tempe, called for an end to the use of outdoor cages nearly two years ago after inmates said they had been left in the cages for 12 hours at a time at Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis.

Donna Leone Hamm, the group's director, said prison officials should take greater action to ensure that department policies are followed.

"Staff and administrators don't have any compunction to follow the rules," Hamm said. "They're completely absent any sense of responsibility. That has to be resolved."

Prison officials said policy changes instituted after Powell's death would ensure that inmates are no longer left outdoors for long periods of time.

Reach the reporter at casey

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PHX New Times: Ryan Resign

Marcia Powell Cage Death: Gov. Jan Brewer Backs Charles Ryan at ADC, Despite Ryan's Ordering Plug Pulled on Powell

Charles Ryan, known to detractors as "Darth Ryan," has the full confidence of Arizona's lame -- if not yet lame-duck -- Governor Jan Brewer  

Charles Ryan may have pulled the plug on Macia Powell too soon. He may have overseen an ADC staff that denied her water for hours in a shadeless wire cage, a staff that allowed the severely mentally ill Powell to defecate on herself in captivity, that allowed her to perish in 107-plus degree heat while under the influence of psychiatric drugs, making her even more vulnerable to the heat. But he still has the support of Arizona's Governor-for-the-moment Jan Brewer.

According to Brewer's top flack, Ryan -- who is currently ADC's Interim Director, despite describing himself as ADC's official "Director" on ADC's Web site -- remains Brewer's pick to be ADC's top administrator. Never mind him stepping over a dead inmate to grab the brass ring.

"He was not submitted or confirmed in the last session," wrote Brewer flack Paul Senseman in e-mail Wednesday. "It is expected that he will be submitted to the legislature and likely confirmed in the next legislative session."

(How Ryan's current bureaucratric supremacy will play with the possible sale/leaseback of the state's prisons is unknown.)

Asked whether Ryan should resign his interim position because of the way he's mishandled Powell's grotesque demise in state custody, Senseman was positively blithe.

"I'm not aware of any independent person or organization who is suggesting otherwise," tut-tutted Senseman.
Senseman did not reply to follow up questions inquiring if the Governor was in any way remorseful over Powell's death, why she remained confident in Ryan's abilities in spite of his obvious bungling, and if she supported Ryan ending Powell's life support without consulting with Powell's court-appointed guardian, Maricopa County's Public Fiduciary.

An extensive search by the fiduciary's office after Powell's death found a living relative -- Powell's adoptive mother, and the possibility of other relatives yet to be located. Though Powell's adoptive mom did not wish to take custody of Powell's remains, one wonders what her response would have been if she had known earlier that her estranged daughter was on life support.

The Arizona Republic has apparently snagged a copy of the 3,000 page ADC report on Powell, describing the morbid details of Powell's last hours on this earth. The persistent neglect of some ADC employees for Powell's welfare is evident. But are those fired and disciplined by Ryan simply the fall-guys?

According to what the Rep is reporting, there's plenty of blame to go around. An ADC sergeant failed to report the fact that Powell had collapsed. Powell's fellow inmates said she was denied water while in the human cage. Powell's request to be taken back to her indoor cell was ignored. And so on.

One person definitely not taking responsibility for Powell's death is Ryan.

Here's a novel idea for the former Bush administration flunky, used to overseeing Iraqi prisons for the U.S. State Department: Do the honorable thing and resign.

Otherwise, may the ghost of Marcia Powell forever haunt you...

ADC Prisoner Death Notification

Arizona Department of Corrections
Inmate Death Notification
September 20, 2009

Tucson, Ariz. - Inmate James Burbey, 66, ADC#076342, died Sunday of cardiac and respiratory failure at St. Mary’s hospital.

Burbey, sentenced to 126 years in prison from Gila County for molestation of a child and sexual conduct with a minor, was housed at ASPC-Eyman.

Powell tortured to death in AZ prison.

I'm glad this is finally out there.

Needless to say, Director Ryan, given the news, the cease-fire is off. Sorry it was so short-lasted. I now have a better idea why you no longer wanted to speak to me. You don’t really care what I say – you just need to be careful not to incriminate yourselves. Even if I did hit a few nerves, I think I gave you a break, all things considered. I hope you’re all under a federal civil rights investigation, and can expect Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at your door.

This may be about as far as I can go as an abolitionist. Set free the check-bouncers, shop-lifters, drug addicts, and other petty criminals. I even want to set free a few old "terrorists" and Black Panthers. But these people I want to put in prison for a good long time. In Arizona, where we can be fairly sure their lives will be made as difficult as possible, and that they will be neglected, abused, and brutalized for their crimes - whatever their degree of complicity or criminality.

These ADC employees were bred by the Arizona Department of Corrections' culture. They aren't aberrations we can dismiss; they're a troubling but pervasive and natural manifestation of an institution that systematically dehumanizes people in order to justify the circumstances and conditions of their confinement. What we do to prisoners day in and day out all across this country is inhumane.

As for Ryan - this responsibility is his. He has precious little time to bring about substantial institutional change. His saving grace is that he's not the one who's been running this show for so long. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano has a huge chunk of responsibility for this, too, as does her sidekick, Dora Schriro. All she ultimately did to reform state prisons during her stint appears to have been cosmetic surgery.

But Ryan hasn't exactly been a minor player all this time. Nor is he new to the scene. For this to come as such a shock to him - if it does - suggests that perhaps he needs to listen a little more attentively to what former employees and prisoners have to say about his institutions, because I've heard a lot of it before, myself, and I don't have anything like the kind of access he does to his people. 

This could have been prevented.

Abuse. Neglect. Cruelty. Punishment cages. 


No one wanted to believe it could happen here.

Too bad there weren't any investigative journalists really on top of this from the beginning. They were all over it for a few days, then before Marcia’s ashes were even put away, the story, as it were, was dead. 

For those who missed it, in the wake of Marcia's homicide last spring, an officer killed himself out at the complex, and 3 women in maximum security set their mattresses on fire (from prison, that's usually an SOS). Every sign of disturbance at Perryville was quickly repressed; the investigation was all the more reason to restrict access to information.

Women living there had no reason to believe they were safe in the hands of their keepers. Families who could get news to the outside were afraid their loved ones might be identified and retaliated against. The department knows of these concerns. I'd like to know how they intend to go about addressing them. 

The institutional culture at the ADC that allowed this to happen - and far more occasions of neglect and abuse we'll never hear about (it’s damn near impossible for prisoners to get rights' protections in court anymore) won't be changed by tweaking the policies, putting shade on the cages, and hanging the bad apples out to dry. I'm not sure it can be changed at all - that's why I'd vote to smash the state apparatus and start over, myself, without prisons and a system entrenched in retributive justice.

Except, perhaps, for people like those responsible for Marcia's death. Them I would condemn to a long, slow death by incarceration and slavery.

Call me a hypocrite, but this is a barrier I can't seem to get around just now. I just don’t know what restorative justice would look like for people like them.


Details emerge in inmate's heat-related death

Report describes mis-communications, policy violations

Disturbing new details emerged Wednesday in the death of Marcia Powell, an Arizona state prison inmate who died of heat-related causes after being left in an outdoor cage for hours.

The Arizona Department of Corrections' internal investigation of Powell's death on May 20 runs about 3,000 pages. The department announced this week that it has disciplined 16 people in connection with the incident, with five employees fired or forced to resign. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

Interviews with prison staff members, inmates and medical personnel illustrate how a series of policy violations and miscommunications led to Powell's collapse at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Good- year. She later died at West Valley Hospital.

Among the report's findings:

• Powell passed out in her cell on the morning of May 19. A few minutes before, she had announced she was suicidal. She was taken to an outdoor cage to await transfer to a psychiatric unit. But the sergeant who saw Powell lose consciousness never reported the incident to supervisors, despite the fact that Powell said she was having trouble breathing.

• At least 20 inmates told investigators that Powell was denied water for most or all of the time she was in her cage, despite regular requests. Corrections officers said Powell was given water.

• Powell was taking psychotropic medications that made her particularly sensitive to the heat, but medical personnel did not convey that fact to corrections officers.

• After more than two hours in the sun, Powell requested to be taken back to her indoor cell. Her request was denied.

• Powell was apparently denied a request to use the restroom and defecated in the cage. A corrections officer discovered that Powell had soiled herself but left her where she was. Medical personnel would later discover feces underneath her fingernails and all over her back.

• The psychiatric unit to which Powell was awaiting transport should have accepted her hours before she died, the report found, but a series of miscommunications prevented her from being taken in.

Powell, who was serving a sentence for prostitution, said she felt suicidal at 11 a.m. on May 19 and was escorted to the outdoor cage to await transportation for psychiatric care at the prison complex detention unit.
Officers seeking to move Powell to the unit were first told that it did not have available beds. Later, another inmate in the unit refused to put handcuffs on to be taken back to her cell, causing the staff to trigger its incident command system. The incident took more than 90 minutes to resolve, during which time no other inmates were brought into the unit.

Officers monitoring Powell were wary of asking psychiatric-unit staffers to accept another inmate during the standoff, even though three beds had become available. But investigators said it would have been possible to transfer Powell, since the uncooperative inmate was locked in a secure cell.

Prison policy calls for inmates to be kept in outdoor cells for a maximum of two hours. The cells had no shade, and on the day Powell died, temperatures hit 107.5 degrees.

Officers did not properly log Powell's time in the outdoor cell or when they checked on her. When she collapsed, no one could say for certain how long she had been there.

Doctors on the scene said Powell's body temperature was at least 108 degrees but may have been higher, since their thermometers topped out at 108.

Charles Ryan, corrections department director, called Powell's death "unconscionable" and "an absolute failure."

The most bitterly disputed aspect of the case concerns whether Powell was denied water.
Nearly all of the inmates interviewed by investigators reported that Powell screamed out for water regularly but was repeatedly denied. Others said she was granted water only once or twice in nearly four hours.

"I need some water - just a drop," one inmate overheard Powell tell a corrections officer, who reportedly ignored her.

Another inmate reported that a corrections officer mockingly repeated Powell's requests for water back to her, without giving her any.

All of the corrections officers interviewed for the report said Powell had been given water throughout her outdoor confinement.

Both inmates and staff members said Powell's history of mental illness and frequent erratic behavior meant that some of her requests were not taken seriously. She did not get the staff's undivided attention until she collapsed at 2:40 p.m.

Timothy Johnson, a physician's assistant who attempted to revive Powell, swore repeatedly at investigators when asked about Powell's death.

"This should not have happened," he said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Prison Abolitionist and Marcia Powell.

For those of you just surfing by trying to figure this site out, and for law enforcement officers trying to figure me out, the following post, from four months ago, is how the Prison Abolitionist, my first blog, began: with Marcia Powell's death. I've posted over 280 times on that site since then, started up several other blogs, and collaborated with radical prison activists from around the planet in the process, all the while waiting for the news of this investigation.

The world has been waiting, too.

Now we wait some more. How can they possibly still not know if they're filing criminal charges?

And what would be the implications if they do?

I've learned a lot since writing the entry below, but for the most part, it explains where I am on all this and how I got here. Other than posting this today, I'm going to try to take the day off from writing and just listen for awhile.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Until Every Desert Cage is Gone

Greetings. I hope you found your way here because you share a desire to abolish the prison industrial complex, or are at least curious about what prison abolition is. It took me a number of months of research and feedback from a couple of professors who are abolitionists to figure out what the movement was about, and to clarify what abolition meant to me.

I fell into this first through taking a class on capital punishment, taught by a former judge who had once helped author Arizona's post-Furman death penalty statutes. The weight of the evidence that capital punishment was so often applied in a racist, classist way (which not surprisingly catches the innocent) ultimately compelled him to change his position on the death penalty - something I found out only after the semester was over, as he didn't want to sway students by articulating his own position. He did a good job of just presenting evidence for both sides of the argument. Presenting both sides is not my intent here, however.

I understand the impulse for vengeance and retribution, and have heard the case that state executions still serve as a deterrent to potential murderers, but I don't know how any thoughtful American could examine the institution of capital punishment - I mean, really dig into Supreme Court cases (including dissents) and law journals - and not commit themselves to ending it.

At the same time I was getting deeper into my research (which focused primarily on the death penalty and the Bible Belt) I was taking a class on Social Movements and another class on Wealth Distribution and Inequality. From these I learned more about race and class in the broader criminal justice system, COINTELPro, political prisoners, and the PIC Abolition Movement. I not only read work by abolitionists such as Angela Davis, Joy James, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, but I also read some of the works that seemed to originally radicalize some of them.

I considered whether or not I was really an abolitionist myself, or just a reformer. That question got into some deeply held beliefs and buried traumas that were necessary to confront before I could answer it. Bottom line, after I did all my research, is that the question I had to ask myself was whether I was just another white liberal who didn't condone (or actively work against) racism or classism, or if I was an anti-racist who fought against it in all its forms - beginning with racism's manifestation in me.

I came out an abolitionist, and signed up for a class on Prison Social Movements.

Most of us can agree, I think, that prisons are an extraordinarily expensive way to deal with manifestations of drug addiction, the consequences of poverty, and the fear of people who act on political or religious beliefs outside of the "mainstream" (white middle-class America). I suspect that those of us who abstain from "criminal activity" do so not because of what the state might do to us, but because we grew up believing it was morally wrong to steal, kill, cheat, and so on. Christian or not, most of us have some version of the Golden Rule in our conscience, and we strive to get through life without hurting others - an impossible task, given all the levels of hurt there are. But we try.

When one's ethical standards are compromised by trauma, mental illness, addiction, grief, desperate economic conditions, and fear we collectively respond with police to remove that person from our presence, instead of confronting them with a community norm on non-violence and proceed to exemplify it by helping them find other ways of meeting their needs, instead of subjecting them to the terrifying potentials of state violence.

For example, Marcia Powell, a 48 year old mother diagnosed with manic depression and treated with psychotropic drugs was sentenced to 27 months in prison for prostitution. 27 months. That seems extreme, even with prior offenses and a history of addiction. What actually happened to her was worse.

I never would have known about Marcia and her prison sentence except that she died this week after 4 hours in an outdoor, unshaded chain-link cage (like a dog pen) in midday desert heat. AZ corrections officials assert that the cage was solely being used as a temporary holding place for prisoners being transferred, implying that her involvement in a disturbance just necessitated segregation, perhaps for her own protection - and explicitly denying that she was caged under the Arizona sun as a form of discipline. According to a volunteer there, prisoners complain that punishment is precisely what the cages are used for.

Arizona's prison policies actually allow the use of such outdoor cages (though not for discipline), so long as prisoners are provided water (shade is not required) and stay out no longer than 2 hours. Ultimately she died within 20 feet - within eyesight - of the air conditioned prison guards responsible for monitoring her through their window.

One of the linked articles did note that though she was diagnosed bi-polar she was on medications "used to treat schizophrenia". There's often an overlap of symptoms and treatment regimens for those illnesses. In any event, such medications (psychotropics) almost always warn of an elevated risk of heat stroke. People being treated with these drugs shouldn't even be left in the sun for two hours. The fact that the Perryville prison complex incarcerates a number of folks with mental illness suggests medical malpractice on the part of a prescribing physician if he/she failed to advise against caging prisoners in the sun. This is basic pharmacy 101 - the link I provided to that info isn't even a medical site.

My first response to Marcia's death was outrage - I wanted those responsible from the guards on up to be prosecuted and punished for their "reckless disregard" for human life. I wanted them imprisoned for at least the 46 years that the leader of a local burglary ring got for stealing rich people's possessions (so far as I know he never assaulted them). Then I thought, if a new way of responding to violence doesn't come out of this, then what will it take for me to really change? What would justice for Marcia look like? And what would it mean to those responsible for her death and their families? And would it keep this from happening again?

Justice doesn't begin and end with prosecution and punishment. As convenient as it may be to see this incident as an aberration - like we thought Abu Ghraib was, until more evidence of torture emerged - it's not uncommon. And it's not all about the guards or prison administrators, I figured; it's about us, too.

What is it we do as a society that reduces those we select for removal, isolation, and confinement to subhuman status in the eyes of their keepers, and the minds of the rest of us. Every news article about this woman showed her dissheveled, terrified mug shot, described her troubled life, identified that her kids (if they acknowledged her motherhood at all) are "lost" in the foster care system - their abandonment is presented almost as another of her long list of crimes, which presumably justify her incarceration and being subject to abuse.

Marcia's picture exposes her fear, poverty, confusion, despair, shame, and a host of missing teeth suggesting a history of victimization. Her eyes are windows to a soul who looks as if she's been trapped behind bars, walls, and locked doors most of her life; never really free - never really safe - whether on the inside or out. She sure wasn't free and safe selling herself for survival.

Sadly, we never did right by people with severe mental illness even before de-institutionalization. 40 years ago Marcia would have probably been getting neglected or abused in a state psychiatric facility instead of a prison. Maybe she was. We can learn from that era of de-institutionalization - if we don't do abolition right, then deviant and desperate people just go from one oppressive institution to another. That's called transinstitutionalization. We don't want to go back to what used to be called psychiatric hospitals.

So I asked myself what I could do to help get justice for Marcia, and for all those other folks - people's moms and dads and kids and siblings locked away - who suffer and die in the custody of the state. Rally outside the prison with mental health activists? Lobby local legislators on jail alternatives for the mentally ill? Demand the prosecution and incarceration of those responsible, so that they might know the feelings of helplessness, humiliation and dehumanization prisoners endure? So that they might be raped, beaten, drugged, murdered or - for their own protection - placed in solitary confinement for years and go mad?

In other words, does going from one bad option to another really set people free? And does inflicting the same kind of harm on Marcia's killers that the PIC inflicted on her constitute justice? And does not invoking the full force of the PIC against DOC employees mean that they're "getting away" with her murder? Won't it embolden other corrections officers and cops if there's no criminal charges filed for their extreme indifference to human life?

Or is there something, perhaps, that the community can do to find out how this happened, challenge the policies of the department of corrections, and hold the individuals involved responsible for coming up with solutions - alternatives to putting people in cages - and for pouring their blood, sweat and tears into making prison alternatives work. "Sentencing" them to the years of hard labor it takes to restore run down housing so people like Marcia can live in it is hardly typical "community service", because it's not just about hammers and nails - it's about zoning ordinances and business opposition and people worried about more crime and neighborhood resources being inadequate to support high needs individuals - whether they're 'criminals' or ordinary senior citizens.

Going through something like siting a supported housing program (which can take years of 60-hour work weeks) can change a person in a fundamentally more positive way than rotting in prison for manslaughter. It forces one to make personal sacrifices, to take a stand for social justice, and to interact with other social justice activists. That kind of work sure changed me. And I think it would be a better way to make amends to the community than putting Marcia's killers in prison. It's too late for them to make amends to her.

If they succeed, we will all be the better off for it, and they will have perhaps evolved beyond the point where they might abuse power like that again. By thinking outside the narrow confines of what we've been told is justice, we could not only eliminate the use of these cages and promote systemic life-saving reforms, but we could use the need for 'offenders' to make restitution and some kind of reconciliation by creating more safe places for the vulnerable people in our communities. Prison sentences may satisfy a certain amount of vengeance and make us think we're safe, but they were never designed to allow for restitution and reconciliation (even when judges order restitution, prisoners make pennies a day - they can't support their own children, much less compensate for the loss of someone's property, freedom, limb, or life.)

Before I heard about Marcia I had learned that there are impoverished city blocks in sections of New York on which the state spends 1 million dollars a year on keeping residents from those neighborhoods in prison. New York is but one state that spends more on incarcerating people of color than it does on educating them. I wondered what that money could do if invested directly in the community, and how things would look if the community took direct responsibility for creating alternatives to "criminal justice", like Neighborhood Watch groups that serve not to catch or surveille potential criminals, but that instead serve as back-up support for neighbors who have no food, families facing foreclosure, youth exploited by the drug and alcohol industries, former prisoners shut out of work and educational opportunities, latch-key children, and all those most vulnerable to becoming victims of both interpersonal and state violence - the young, the old, the homeless, the disabled, the poor, women, and people of color.

Abolition isn't just about closing prisons and turning molesters and murders out on the streets - I too would have a problem with that. It's about local control over public funds that improve public safety, implement options for reconciliation, restitution, and treatment for those who harm others, assure that basic needs (housing, food, safety, health care, etc.) for community members are met, educate all ages on non-violent conflict resolution approaches, and transform our seige mentality about crime into an understanding of the complexities of human needs and behavior and an earnest sense of responsibility to eradicate the physical, social, and ideological structures that perpetuate both individual and state violence in American society.

At least that's what PIC abolition means to me right now. I still have a lot to learn, and am aware I need to be changing my thought patterns and language when referring to parties and institutions affected by or constituting the prison industrial complex. Reading abolitionist literature helps - much of it is quite scholarly and sound. Critical Resistance (see links) has been a fabulous resource for developing an abolitionist consciousness and concrete tools. Many of the "books to prisoners" projects are organized by anarchists and other abolitionists, rather than libraries, and my correspondence with some of these groups has been quite eye-opening. I'm considering trying to form such a collective here in Tempe (hence my email, 'radicalreads'), which would serve not only as a mechanism for filling book requests from prisoners, but also as a way of gathering with like-minded people over our shared humanity with prisoners to figure out how our community can stop depending so much on cops with guns locking scary people up in cages.

So, if this is your calling too, I'd love to hear from you - my email is at the top of the page. In the meantime, I'll try to keep current on posts about Marcia Powell's life and death and where we go from here.


Should Director Ryan Resign?

This would be the coverage to follow, and posits some of the questions I'd ask: 


Marcia Powell Cage Death: Charles Ryan Fires Three, Disciplines Others, but When Will He Resign?

Less than a month after the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Arizona Department of Corrections inmate Marcia Powell's May 20 human cage death an "accident," ADC honcho Charles Ryan has fired three employees, forced the resignations of two others, and disciplined 11 more. This according to an ADC news release issued today.

Specifically, the release states that Ryan "dismissed five employees, two of whom resigned in lieu of dismissal, demoted a captain to an officer and suspended another 10 employees" because of Powell's death from being left in a shadeless, waterless outdoor cage at Goodyear's Perryville Prison. Powell collapsed May 19 after at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. Ryan later made the decision to suspend her life support, even though Powell, 48, had been assigned a guardian by the court  -- Maricopa County's Public Fiduciary.

None of the names of those fired and disciplined have been released. In addition to news of the firings, ADC also announced that it had "completed a criminal investigation into the matter," which had been reviewed by the Department of Public Safety, then submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office on August 20.

Ryan's quoted in the release as saying of those disciplined, "These supervisors and officers to varying degrees failed to properly perform their duties." Left unsaid is any mention of the fact that Ryan ordered Powell's plug pulled before consultation with her guardian. Ryan has stated that he did not know Powell had a guardian at the time.

Should Ryan fall on his sword in this matter? After all, couldn't it be argued that Ryan failed to do his duty by not ensuring that Marcia Powell was treated safely and humanely during her 27-month stint in prison for prostitution?

Donna Hamm of the advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform said she wasn't ready to demand Ryan's resignation. Hamm said she first wanted to see the results of ADC's internal investigation, which is not yet public.

"The critical thing for us is whether there are going to be criminal charges brought," Hamm told me this evening. "Everything we know about this incident seems to point to the elements for negligent homicide. It's very hard to imagine how Michael Jackson's death is ruled a homicide and this one is ruled an accident. I don't really understand the difference, except in politics and coroners."

Powell's cremains were eventually turned over to Middle Ground after an investigation by the fidiciary's office could not locate next-of-kin willing to take custody of them. (Powell's adoptive mother is alive, but she told the fiduciary's office she did not wish to get involved.) Powell's cremains were committed June 28 at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Marcia Powell: Sixteen ADC employees disciplined

I agree with Director Ryan on the seriousness of the abuse - and I'm glad he actually used that word: some administrators might try to avoid it. But I'm not sure how we ever get transparency out of the ADC, since employee discipline is legitimately protected. I think given the potential consequences, though, prisoners' rights should be given deference. 

This wasn't entirely a failure of policy, either: it all began with implementing policy. So, I have more questions than anything. Like: how far up the chain does responsibility go? Who disciplines the policy-makers when they're careless?

And who deals with that judge that gave her 27 months for prostitution in the first place? She was so incompetent as a result of her mental illness that she had to have a guardian.

From KPHO's website, where you can find previous articles and videos on Marica's death. :

16 Prison Workers Disciplined In Inmate's Death

POSTED: 5:24 pm MST September 22, 2009
UPDATED: 5:51 pm MST September 22, 2009

PHOENIX -- Sixteen Arizona prison workers have been disciplined or fired for the death of an inmate left in an outdoor cage.

Three of those disciplined were fired, two stepped down in place of being fired, 10 received suspensions ranging from 40 to 80 hours, and one was demoted. Two others will be disciplined after they return from medical leave.

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced the moves Tuesday, calling the death "the most significant example of abuse" of an inmate that he's aware of within the department.

"That is an absolute failure," Ryan said Tuesday. "The inmate should not have been left in the enclosure that length of time.

Ryan declined to provide the names of the corrections employees who were disciplined, saying it would be inappropriate considering they have the right to appeal their punishments.

Marcia Powell, 48, died last May, about 10 hours after she collapsed in an outdoor, unshaded holding cell at the Perryville prison in Goodyear.Her body's core temperature had risen to 108 degrees, according to the autopsy report.

The autopsy revealed Powell had first and second-degree burns on her face, chest and arms.The report also turned up traces of medication in Powell’s blood for treating Parkinson’s disease and depression.Ryan said at the time Powell was left in the cell nearly twice as long as she should have under department policy. He placed three officers on administrative leave pending a criminal investigation.

Ryan said Powell's cell was 20 yards from a staffed control room from where corrections officers should have been watching her.

Powell arrived at the Perryville prison in August 2008.

Powell was placed alone in the cell while being moved to an onsite detention unit after seeing a prison psychologist. Ryan said a disturbance at the detention unit prompted Powell's placement in the holding cell. He would not elaborate on the nature of the disturbance.

Ryan said officers gave Powell bottled water, as required under prison policy. Investigators will try to determine how much water she was given and whether she drank it.

Officers did not remove her after two hours as they should have done under department policy, according to Ryan."It is intended to be temporary," Ryan said. "It is not intended to be a place where they are held for an inordinate amount of time."Powell had been in and out of state prisons and had a long history of mental illness, Ryan said.

Uranium and Genocide; Skull and Bones.

A profound and powerful article from Brenda Norrell, whose articles I've posted before, taken from  Counterpunch and brought to my attention by a prison activist friend in the Netherlands.
September 17, 2009

Uranium and Genocide in Indian Country

Cry Me a River

When Paul Zimmerman writes in his new book about the Rio Puerco and the Four Corners, he calls out the names of the cancers and gives voice to the poisoned places and streams.

Zimmerman is not just writing empty words.

Zimmerman writes of the national sacrifice area that the mainstream media and the spin doctors would have everyone forget, where the corners of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet, in his new book, A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.

“A report in 1972 by the National Academy of Science suggested that the Four Corners area be designated a ‘national sacrifice area,” he writes.

Then, too, he writes of the Rio Puerco, the wash that flowed near my home when I lived in Houck, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation in the 1980s. The radioactive water flowed from the Churck Rock, N.M., tailings spill on down to Sanders, where non-Indians were also dying of cancer, and it flowed by New Lands, Nahata Dziil Chapter, where Navajos were relocated from their homes on Black Mesa. They moved there from communities like Dinnebeto. Some elderly Navajos died there in New Lands, not just from the new cancers, but from broken hearts.

Zimmerman points out there was plenty of evidence of cancers from Cold War uranium mining and radioactive tailings left behind, but few studies were commissioned to document it. In the early 1980s, I asked the Indian Health Service about the rates of death around the uranium mines and power plants. No studies were ever conducted, according to the IHS press officer. I was shocked. Fresh out of graduate school with a master’s degree in health for developing nations, I really could not believe it.

This week, Zimmerman released a chapter of his new book to aid the struggles of Indigenous Peoples, after reading about the Havasupai Gathering to Halt Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon.
As I read his chapter, I am flooded with memories, memories of people dying, radioactive rocks and the deception and censorship that continues on the Navajo Nation.

In the 1990s, USA Today asked me to report on the uranium tailings and deaths at Red Valley and Cove near Shiprock, N.M. In every home I visited, at least one Navajo had cancer and their family members had died of cancer. In some homes, every family member had cancer. In one home, an eighty-year-old Navajo woman looked at the huge rocks that her home was made of. She said some men came with a Geiger counter and told her the rocks were extremely radioactive. Then, on another day, I walked beside the radioactive rocks strewn in Gilbert Badoni's backyard near Shiprock.

The dust we breathed at Red Valley and Cove was radioactive. When the Dine’ (Navajo) in the south and Dene in the north mined uranium without protective clothing, the US and Canada knew they were sending Native American miners to their deaths.

“Declassified documents from the atomic weapons and energy program in the United States confirm that official secret talks on the health hazards of uranium mining were discussed both in Washington and Ottawa. In 1932, even before the Manhattan Project, the Department of Mines in Canada published studies of the mine at Port Radium, warning of the hazard of radon inhalation and ‘the dangers from inhalation of radioactive dust.’ Blood studies of miners confirmed that breathing air with even small amounts of radon was detrimental to health,” Zimmerman writes.

When I moved to the Navajo Nation in 1979, I was a nutrition educator with the Navajo Hopi WIC Program. I had no intention of becoming a news reporter or an activist. Later in the 1980s, as a news reporter, I reported on Peabody Coal and its claim that it was not damaging the land or aquifer on Black Mesa.

Louise Benally, resisting relocation at Big Mountain said, “These big corporations lie you know.”
No, I didn’t know that then. But I know that now.

Earl Tulley, Navajo from Blue Gap, said something that changed my life. Tulley told me about the multi-national corporations, how they seize the land and resources of Indigenous Peoples, not just on the Navajo Nation, but around the world.

But it wasn’t until I covered federal court in Prescott, Arizona, as a stringer for Associated Press, that I learned of how it all continues. Covering the Earth First! trial in the 90s, I realized that federal judges and federal prosecutors are on the same team. The FBI can manipulate and manufacture evidence, even drive people to a so-called crime if the guys don’t have a ride.

During the federal trial of former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald, it became obvious: If you are an American Indian, you can forget about justice. Later, during the trials of American Indian activists it was clear: Federal prosecutors can just write a script and send people to prison.

There are parts of the American justice system concealed from most people: Distorted facts and planted evidence. News reporters seldom learn of the witnesses who receive federal plea agreements and lie on the witness stand. Few people except news reporters, ever sit through these long, and tediously dull at times, federal trials which can go on for months.

A three month trial of American Indians, or environmentalists, will smash any romantic myth about justice for all in the US court system. The bias and politics embedded within the justice system, and the back door deals of Congressmen with the corporations who bankroll them, seldom make the evening news.

Arizona Sen. John McCain and company brought about the so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute, which was actually a sweetheart deal for Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa. When they emerged from the back door deals, they swiftly went out to throw candy to Native Americans in the parades, claiming they were the best friends of Indian country. Money is the reason the Navajo Nation Council went along with coal mining on Black Mesa. The revenues from coal mines, power plants and oil and gas wells pay the salaries and expense accounts of the Navajo councilmen and Navajo President.

While I was on Mount Graham in Arizona at the Sacred Run, I learned of another part of the story. I learned about Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society. Former San Carlos Apache Councilman Raleigh Thompson told me of the meeting with Skull and Bones. Thompson was there. Thompson told how the Skull and Bones members, including President George HW Bush's brother Jonathan Bush and an attorney, tried to silence the San Carlos Apache leaders. The San Carlos Apaches were seeking the return of Geronimo’s skull, during meetings in New York in the 1980s. Geronimo had asked to be buried in the mountains on San Carlos.

The more I read from the book Secrets of the Tomb, the more it became obvious that the Skull and Bones members weren’t just seizing money. Their desire was for power. They wanted world domination.

So, now years later, I see the Skull and Bones Society rear its head again in the Desert Rock power plant deal on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners, protested by Navajos living on the land in the longstanding protest Dooda Desert Rock. Follow the money at Sithe Global and it leads back to Blackstone and a member of Skull and Bones.

Skull and Bones members controlled production of the first atomic bomb, according to Alexandra Robbins, author of Secrets of the Tomb. Zimmerman writes of this time, “The Manhattan Project is inaugurated, physicists are secretly recruited, clandestine outposts spring up in the wilderness, and a fevered race against time ensues to transform abstract theories into a deliverable weapon.”
The proposed Desert Rock power plant would be in the Four Corners, the same “national sacrifice area,” where the Cold War uranium mines, coal mines, power plants and oil and gas wells are already polluting and causing disease and death. The air, land and water are contaminated and the region is desecrated. It is the Navajos sacred place of origin, Dinetah, a fact voiced by Bahe Katenay, Navajo from Big Mountain, and censored.

Navajos at Big Mountain, and the Mohawk grandmothers who write Mohawk Nation News, make it clear: The government initiated tribal councils are puppets of the US and Canadian governments.
Several years before Dan Evehema passed to the Spirit World, relaxing on his couch after protesting in the rain backhoes and development on Hopiland, at the age of 104, he shared truth, speaking through a translator.

Evehema said the Hopi Sinom never authorized or recognized the establishment of the Hopi Tribal Council, a puppet of the US government.

In the early Twentieth Century, Hopi were imprisoned at Alcatraz for refusing to cooperate with the US. In the latter part of the century, when the threat of forced relocation of Navajos was great, traditional Hopi, including Evehema and Thomas Banyacya, stood with and supported Navajos at Big Mountain. Mainstream reporters don’t like to report these facts, since it deflates their superficial coverage, based on corporate press releases.

As I was being censored out of the news business (at least the type that results in a paycheck) Louise Benally of Big Mountain once again revealed the truth of the times. When she compared the war in Iraq to the Longest Walk of Navajos to Bosque Redondo, she spoke of the oppression and deceptions of the US colonizers, comparing the torture and starvation of this death walk to what the US was doing in Iraq. Benally was censored.

It was more than just a censored story. It was a statement of the times we live in: Hush words too profound to be written. The times had come full circle. Indian people once oppressed by US colonizers were now serving as US soldiers for US colonizers, killing other Indigenous Peoples. Victims had become perpetrators.

During much of the Twentieth Century, Indian children in the US, Canada and Australia were kidnapped. Stolen from their parents, these children were placed in boarding schools. In Canada, the residential schools were run by churches. In all three countries, young children were routinely abused, sexually abused and even murdered.

On the Longest Walk in 2008, while broadcasting across America, we saw the marsh at Haskell in Kansas. Here, there are unmarked graves of the children who never came home. At Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, we read the tombstones in the rows of tiny graves, the names of the children who never came home.

In the US, Canada and Australia, children were forbidden to speak their Native tongue, which carried their songs and ceremonies. Indian children were beaten, locked in cellars, tortured and raped. Many died of pneumonia, malnutrition and broken hearts. Some were shot trying to escape.
At Muscowequan Catholic residential school in Lestock, Saskatchewan, Canada, a young girl was raped by a priest. When she gave birth, the baby was thrown into the furnace and burned alive in front of child survivor Irene Favel ( .)

In the US, the young boys who survived were militarized, made into US soldiers. Zimmerman writes that Australia, like Canada and US, carried out a holocaust of Aboriginal peoples. “What occurred in Australia is a mirror image of the holocaust visited on Native Americans. When the British claimed sovereignty over Australia, they commenced a 200 year campaign of dispossession, oppression, subjugation and genocide of Aboriginal peoples.”

Indigenous Peoples around the world targeted by uranium mining, including the Dene in the north, linked to Dine’ (Navajo) in the south by the common root of the Athabascan language. From the Dine’ and Dene and around the earth to Australia, there was a recipe for death for Indigenous Peoples by the power mongers.

The US policy of seizing the land and destroying the air, water and soil is clear in Nevada and Utah. While Western Shoshone fight the nuclear dump on their territory at Yucca Mountain in what is known as Nevada, Goshutes at Skull Valley in Utah are neighbors with US biological and chemical weapons testing.

Zimmerman writes, “Dugway Proving Ground has tested VX nerve gas, leading in 1968 to the ‘accidental’ killing of 6,400 sheep grazing in Skull Valley, whose toxic carcasses were then buried on the reservation without the tribe’s knowledge, let alone approval. The US Army stores half its chemical weapon stockpile nearby, and is burning it in an incinerator prone to leaks; jets from Hill Air Force Base drop bombs on Wendover Bombing Range, and fighter crashes and misfired missiles have struck nearby. Tribal members’ health is undoubtedly adversely impacted by this alphabet soup of toxins.”

Zimmerman makes it clear that the genocide of Indigenous Peoples was not an accident. Indigenous People were targeted with death by uranium mining and nuclear dumping. Indian people were targeted with destruction that would carry on for generations, both in their genetic matter and in their soil, air and water.

One ingredient in the recipe for death is division: Divide and control the people and the land. This is what is happening at the southern and northern borders on Indian lands. Just as the US continues the war in Iraq and Afghanistan for war profiteers and politics, the racism-fueled US border hysteria results in billions for border wall builders, security companies and private prisons.
It comes as no surprise that the Israeli defense contractor responsible for the Apartheid Wall in Palestine, Elbit Systems, was subcontracted by Boeing Co. to work on the spy towers on the US/Mexico border. Militarized borders mean dollars, oppression and power.

The US Border Patrol agents harass Indian people at the US borders, even murder people of color on the border at point blank range. More often than not, the murdering border agents walk away free from the courts.

Meanwhile, the US under the guise of homeland security, seizes a long strip of land -- the US/Mexico corridor from California to Texas --including that of the Lipan Apache in Texas. As Indigenous Peoples in the south are pushed off their lands, corn fields seized by corporations, they walk north to survive, many dying in the Southwest desert.

Another ingredient in US genocide in Indian country is internal political division and turmoil: Distract the people with political turmoil, to make it easier to steal their water and land rights. If that doesn’t work, put them in prison. In Central and South America, the mining companies have added another step: Assassinate them.

The US made sure that Latin countries were able to carry out torture and assassinations by training leaders and military personnel at the School of the Americas. Even Chiquita Bananas admitted in court that they hired assassins to kill anyone who opposed the company, including Indigenous Peoples and farmers, in Colombia.

So, when Zimmerman writes of uranium and the sacrifices of Indigenous Peoples, those are not just empty words. They are words that mark the graves, words that name the cancers, words that mark the rivers and words that give rise to names.

To give voice to a name is to break the silence.

Thank you Paul Zimmerman for sharing this chapter with all of us.

Brenda Norrell is a freelance writer and Americas Program border analyst, Her blog can be found at

Restorative Practices: Family Group Decision-Making

 from the Restorative Practices eForum list-serve <>:

Family Group Decision Making
Helps Prison Inmates Reintegrate into Society

By Deni Thurman-Eyer and Laura Mirsky

Family group decision making (FGDM), known in New Zealand, the UK and Europe as family group conferencing or FGC, is proving to be a beneficial restorative practice to help reintegrate prison inmates back into society. This article addresses restorative FGDM/FGC programs in prisons in Adams County, Pennsylvania, USA, and in Hungary.

Beginning in New Zealand in 1989 in the youth justice and child welfare systems, FGDM/FGC operates according to the premise that the direct involvement of a family group works better to solve a family’s issues than the efforts of professionals alone to solve those issues for people. A key ingredient of an FGDM meeting is “Family Alone Time,” when the family group is left alone, without professionals in the room, to devise plans to solve their own issues. These plans are then evaluated by professionals for legal and safety concerns.

Community Service Foundation, a model program of the IIRP, provides FGDM conferences for youth and families in Pennsylvania. (Please see for links to articles about FGDM/FGC.)
It Takes a Village, a private service provider based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, provides FGDM for youth and families. Agency program manager Dewaine Finkenbinder began using FGDM with adjudicated prisoners in Adams County in 2003. Adams was the first county in the nation to utilize a cross-system approach involving both the department of children and youth services and justice agencies, said Finkenbinder.

In FGDMs at Adams County Prison, family members meet with the prisoner and prison officials. Prison officials have an opportunity to relate the inmate’s positive behaviors and accomplishments during his or her incarceration, enabling the family to focus on achievements rather than the behavior leading to imprisonment. Finkenbinder said that this strength-based approach is proving transformational in Adams County’s criminal justice system.

Finkenbinder discussed FGDM’s impact for a family when the breadwinner goes to prison: FGDM meetings provide a structure for developing a support system to keep the household going. A children and youth (C&Y) caseworker approached Finkenbinder when a mother of three children was about to be re-arrested for driving while intoxicated and was facing 45 days in prison and 45 days’ probation. Anticipating the family’s needs during the mother’s incarceration, an FGDM meeting was held to bring the extended family together to work out a plan, which C&Y accepted. The plan provided a way for the children to stay with family members rather than be dispersed to different foster families. After the mother was released from prison, an adult probation officer found her drinking – a violation of probation. Since a plan was already in place as a result of the FGDM conference whereby family members would care for the children, the probation officer needed only to make a call to redeploy that plan. The family was able to prevent a crisis.

The FGDM process also supports the needs of inmates entering the work release/reentry phase of their incarceration, allowing them to spend part of their assigned work release time in their homes, so they can pay bills, make meals and otherwise keep their households going. Concluded Finkenbinder: “This is a practice, not a program. This is the way we do business in Adams County.”

Community Service Foundation (CSF) and the IIRP have introduced FGDM to prison populations in Hungary, led by Vidia Negrea, director of CSF Hungary. (Negrea’s first work with CSF Hungary was a two-year demonstration project with delinquent and at-risk youth []. She has since provided restorative practices training to thousands of prosecutors, judges, lawyers, probation officers, teachers and administrators throughout Hungary, using IIRP videos and other materials translated into Hungarian, as well as interactive exercises.)

In 2008, supported by the Hungarian Ministry of Justice, Negrea trained 20 prison probation officers (POs) in FGDM, i.e., how to develop a plan with inmates and their extended family for reentry into society.
Negrea said that there was some resistance to the training among the POs, who were used to a more authoritative stance. Of the 20 officers in the initial training, five were ready to try FGDM. Those five are continuing to spread the message of the success of FGDM and build their own network, showing key colleagues how to succeed with the practice and spreading FGDM throughout the prison system.
During the initial project 17 FGDMs were held and 16 plans were completed, including concrete postrelease strategies, with family members agreeing to take responsibility. The FGDMs improved relationships and increased communication among family members, between family and professionals and among professionals themselves.

Negrea has since trained 50 more POs in FGDM — at least two POs in each county in Hungary. About half the POs in Hungary are using FGDMs for inmates leaving prison. The referring PO works with a PO who’s been trained in FGDM and who facilitates the FGDM.

Most POs are very impressed with how well the process is working with families, said Negrea. Before they used the process, they doubted that families would be able to deal with their issues. Before FGDM, inmates were too fed up with the system to make use of the services available to them. FGDM helped them view the professionals as human beings who might actually be able to help them. Also, since the families come up with the plans themselves, they are more motivated to follow through with them.

The first prison FGDM in Hungary was held April 2008 with a 38-year-old man with substance abuse issues who was being released after five years in prison. (His fiancée had been killed when he was driving under the influence, and he was sentenced for vehicular homicide.)

Negrea and a newly trained PO co-facilitated the FGDM, which went extremely well. “It was very emotional,” said Negrea. The man’s family was happy to attend, as they had not been allowed to see him since he had been incarcerated. His mother, sister and brother-in-law came, as did four of his childhood friends. Professionals attending included the newly trained PO, the inmate’s new PO for home supervision, a prison counselor and Negrea.

The POs had these concerns regarding the inmate: How is his family going to support him? What will be done about his unresolved issues? How will he avoid further crime and drug use? How will he earn money?

The FGDM began with a “go-around” (where each person in a circle is able to weigh in on a topic, uninterrupted). The group addressed the question: What has happened in the last five years (since the inmate had been in prison)? The group covered both high and low points; everyone related what had been easy or hard for them. The inmate’s sister said it had been hard for her to face people in her village and at work because everybody knew that her brother had killed someone who had lived there. The counselor shared how hard the inmate had been on himself, blaming himself for what had happened. She also said that he had been easy to work with, and that he had been kind and helpful to others.

Hearing this, the inmate’s mother began to cry. She said she knew that her son wasn’t a bad person or a “criminal,” and hearing the counselor confirm this gave her renewed hope and trust in him.

The professionals provided information for the family about available services: help for the inmate to find work, get drug treatment and therapy, for example.

His sister asked about services for herself for the trauma she’d been through regarding problems in her workplace. The family agreed to go to therapy together.

Before leaving the room so the family group could have their “Family Alone Time,” the professionals suggested a main discussion topic for the family: rebuilding connections. Since the meeting was in prison, they watched through a one-way window.

After coming up with a plan — a long one including psychological services — the family presented it to the professionals. The inmate’s friends said they would find a job for him by the time he left prison, adding that their attitude toward him had changed because of the nice things his counselor had said about him.

The family had also decided to write a letter of apology to the victim’s family, and his sister took responsibility to deliver it in person.

The new PO was very satisfied with the plan. The old PO gave all the inmate’s data to the new one for the future. It was a very good transition from one to the other, said Negrea. Everyone who attended the conference gave it the highest possible rating.

In May 2009 Negrea held a meeting with about a dozen inmates who were about to be released from prison to tell them about FGDM, facilitating two go-arounds. In the first go-around she asked: “What are your thoughts and feelings about being released?” Some answers included: “I’ll finally be free.” “I won’t have to share a cell or a toilet.” “I can be with my children.”

The second go-around question was: “Who was most affected by your imprisonment?” In their answers, said Negrea, the inmates showed that this was the first time they weren’t thinking of themselves as victims, but rather about how their wives, children and parents had suffered due to their imprisonment. Said one inmate, “My boy is six; he was one when I left. He’s in a bigger jail than I am. I know he’s scared,” and he began to cry. Realizing that he needed to restore his relationship with his son and be a good father, he volunteered to participate in an FGDM.

Concluded Negrea: “For me, all these FGDMs have been learning opportunities showing the huge impact such meetings can have on a family. Many of the families felt united again. At a minimum they realized that they could build a network to support them in solving their conflicts.”