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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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pedophiles and Abolitionists

May we all get a little more in touch with our humanity in the coming year.

Here's the latest about Ladwig's indictment. It’s not a pleasant thing to talk about – to even acknowledge it happened – but it’s out there. Looks like there were signs he was having trouble well before this happened, but I'm not sure that wearing women's lingerie in and of itself is considered criminal or indicative of a child molester in-the-making. But I’m no expert on pedophiles, and welcome any corrections that can be sourced.

I guess it should come as no surprise that three days after Ladwig's Christmas molestation of that little girl, a 47-year-old prisoner at ASPC-Eyeman, Monte McCarty, who was doing life for sex offenses against children, was found dead in his cell, the result of an apparent suicide. One can’t help but wonder if he was trying to escape the evil some such men feel courses through their veins when he took his life, or if he knew that he would be the target of a lot of men’s rage who would now be stigmatized and punished by the rest of us for Ladwig’s actions. 

First, what happened to that child is a whole lot worse than losing a little good time - no one is minimizing that. There are other places where her voice is being heard and her trauma is being attended to, so I don't feel a need to do that more here. The guys inside would not only be thinking about their own daughters or sisters being victimized in such a way - they have the same visceral reactions - but must have also considered the same potential fallout from this that I did, and more. No early release program; no compassionate releases; longer sentences for methamphetamine possession (and the presumption that one must be a sexual deviant); and the stink of a pedophile on all of them when they walk out the door and try to get on with their lives as 40-something men from Arizona’s state prison on parole. Who’s going to want to give them a job, much less a place to live, whether or not they can prove they aren’t sex offenders? Ladwig wasn’t classified as a sex offender before this, it appears. How will they ever be able to support their families again?

I know that the life of the pedophile must be a pretty wretched existence. They are the most hated among all of us – their crimes are most appalling, and they are thus most readily dehumanized. The rape, assault, torture, abuse, neglect, humiliation, and mental torment they end up suffering when incarcerated is what we all have come to expect to happen to them, and we let it. Never mind whether or not such violations make up the substance of what sickened his soul to begin with. 

Unfortunately, our silence about the safety and rights of prisoners is not indifference - it's condemnation. On some level we rationalize that “justice” is being done, and turn away from reports that suggest otherwise.  That’s why prisons are so far away from towns: it's not just to keep the villager safe in case of escapes - it's so we don’t have to hear the people inside scream. We don't want to hear it; that's what perpetuates rape and violence in prison - and to a certain degree out here, too.

I realize that not all the bad guys are just "victims" – they don’t all even have perpetrators in their own memories. Sociopaths and psychopaths - whether they’re pedophiles, batterers, or corporate executives, appear to simply derive sadistic pleasure from inflicting suffering on others, even if they’ve had perfect childhoods. Even people like me have an impulse that makes us want to see them get caught and watch as they suffer – which is why they suffer so much when they’re caught. As long as they don’t go after children, most sociopaths can hurt scores of people, though – millions at a time, even - and still get cut some slack when it comes to whether or not they should be tortured. Not child molesters. We'd still be lynching them if we could.

Once they’ve been identified as the personification of evil, it doesn’t matter what degree of rehabilitation or behavior management a pedophile may achieve, or what the specifics ever were of the case (is the one in your neighborhood the 55-year old who did 20 years for repeatedly raping his daughter, or is it the 17-year old kid who impregnated his 16 year old girlfriend? They should both be registered…). However apt or misapplied, the label pedophile or child molester immediately disqualifies them as human – even among other sex offenders.

And so, the real truth in sentencing for child molesters should account for what will probably happen to them once inside, and what their life opportunities will be reduced to if they survive incarceration intact and regain their freedom. Prisons should be tracking the victimization of such offenders while incarcerated, how they deal with it, and what kind of suicide, “success”, and recidivism rates they’re seeing among that population after release in light of the realities of their previous prison experiences.

Those perpetrators who were once victims themselves - especially the men, among whom childhood sexual abuse is vastly under-reported - have mutilated and killed themselves enough that I have no doubt that somewhere inside some “monsters” is a soul who desperately doesn't want to make another human being go through the same hell they experienced - especially not at their hands. Because their obsessions and compulsions run so deep and their “cure” is so elusive, some see no alternative to deal with their pathology but to spend a life in exile or prison - a place worse than hell for them - or to destroy the predator within by destroying themselves. Are any such souls worth redemption, or are all deserving of the same fate?

I've asked the ADC for data they may have gathered on rates of criminal behavior, convictions, and violent crimes by people who are classified as victims – or histories of victimization among the people they have classified as criminals. I just don't believe that the criminal/victim categories are mutually exclusive; designing our justice systems, programs, funding streams, and social rewards and punishments as if they aren't intimately overlapping categories is a mistake. 

Data about which criminals are victimized, and which victims end up criminalized, could have some far-reaching implications for how we deal with crime prevention and build communities around more restorative models of justice. It could also help us get at data on the crimes that so often go unreported precisely because the victim is engaged in criminal activity at the time: like a 16 year old runaway being exploited by a pimp who could end up in detention facing charges herself (or returned to the home where she was being sexually abused). Or a 15-year old silenced by the fear that the drug transaction which made her so vulnerable would be used to prosecute her if she reported the dealer who raped her - assuming she survived the consequences of being identified in the drug community as a narc. 

We can’t not talk about guys like Ladwig, as uncomfortable as they make us. What happened with Ladwig is going to be a big deal when the legislature starts talking sentencing reform again. Most people I talk about prison abolition with get a lot of the arguments for changes in criminal codes, drug laws, sentencing recommendations, post-sentence sanctions, and other reforms that would inch us closer to abolition – but they always want to know what we’re going to do with the sociopaths and child molesters if we don't have prisons. 

So do I. 

I may not have the answer to that just yet, but I’m starting to do more research, because I think we need to be doing something different with these guys at some point in their lives. Throwing the convicted child molesters to the wolves in the end not only condemns the innocent among them to the same brutal fate we hand to the despised, it strips the guilty of what humanity may have been left within them that could help prevent them from hurting others again. It also diminishes the humanity in us in the process.

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