Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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AZ Prison Watch BLOG POSTS:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Private Prisons and Resistance in Arizona

People interested in doing something with AZ Prison Watch after the holidays should get in touch with us in the next few weeks. Several for-profit prison operators – including Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's (and one of the world's) largest – are aggressively trying to grab Indigenous and small-town land in Arizona, exploiting fear and profiting from our down times, as incarceration rates rise with unemployment. They also lobby for more money to be spent on immigrant detention, which is where the real fortune is right now.

Where will it be when we’ve deported or naturalized everyone? Who will fill those prison beds then? Our grandchildren will be next in line.

Helping communities make informed decisions about hosting new prisons could be done in any number of ways: from researching or working on a community website, to helping with public meetings and materials, to documenting the sociopolitical terrain and the process of organizing resistance: the story always  needs to be told.

Those of you who are resisting must already know that you can build better things for the future than what you're being offered today as the town's only hope. You're just going to have to work harder for it - it's not going to come courting the way that the prison industry will.  

Here are just some random ideas I had this morning for those fighting the siting of private prisons in their communities right now. The best sources of information are already linked to this site: the guys at Private Corrections Institute, the American Friends Service Committee–Tucson, the Business of Detention, and the Real Cost of Prisons Project. These are just supplemental thoughts:

First, as for the potential wealth in the property being looked at as a site for the prison: Help your neighbors re-envision that land as untouched community space - as a "Field of Dreams". Who do you want to come there? Don't begin with the prison on the horizon and figure out how to make the town fit into it now – prison profiteers can paint that pretty picture for you; they already have, I guess. Put your kids' future on the clear horizon, instead, then re-create the landscape around them based on their hopes and dreams.  

Don't let them settle for less - at least not while we're still dreaming. What do you want to build there that will outlive you, for future generations to draw their livelihoods from, for your grandchildren to play in the shadow of, and perhaps spend their lives working at - or living at, if they turn out to be mentally ill, developmentally disabled, poor, a minority, chemically dependent, or otherwise vulnerable to being criminalized?

It’s tragic that as a whole, we will pay almost any price for the immediate gratification of hurting the “bad guys,” yet we hesitate to make investments in things that will really pay off for our communities in the long run. That’s similar to the thinking of an addict – who we punish in that same way. Look at how budget priorities are being set right now. Where are all the conservatives on that one? It doesn't have to be a prison we leave for younger generations as their default solution to the things we gave up looking for answers to, or that we thought were too much of an up-front investment to make.

I’ve been well-advised in my life not to believe a wealthy, handsome stranger who says he has come to help me if there's a trail of wreckage in his wake. Make visible the already-powerful lobby that more private prison beds reinforce in the state. They will be putting more money into criminalizing people and delivering "justice" through mass incarceration (championing “public safety” and “victims rights”) – we know that always comes from money we wanted to use for education. What legislators are profiting from the industry of incarceration, anyway? And what kind of industry is it? Look at CCA's record all over the country - the world. It speaks for itself. 

There are so many layers of effects that people need to be aware of before they let this prison in. Once being a prison town becomes your identity - there is absolutely no avoiding it - it will not be possible to shake if you (or your children) collectively change your minds. It would be easier for the town to move than to get the prison out of there. It will reflect on you, whether or not you have any oversight or interest in its operation; lack of either will speak volumes for the character of the town. Private prison or state-run has a similar effect: Goodyear will always be associated with what happened to Marcia Powell and the guard who shot himself out there soon afterwards.  

Regardless of who runs that prison, then, in many ways it will still be yours, so everyone should be concerned about what kind of place it will be, as it will affect who you become. Is the prison a "corrections" center, or just a warehouse to be set far enough away that you don’t have to notice that there are children going out there to visit their parents each weekend? Will prisoners or their families be a part of the larger community, rather than being shunned and set apart from the rest of you – seen only as a means to bolster your own economic base? What will that kind of detachment from other human beings teach your own kids?

Will your prison be a place which helps damaged or oppressed people rebuild broken lives and their abilities to be responsible citizens? Or will it be the place ignored in your own backyard where  people will languish indeterminately, the sick and elderly dying of abuse and neglect, the young and vulnerable emerging even more traumatized? We have too many places like that here in Arizona already.  Examine the atrocities of prisons; they take on the names of the communities they're a part of - abuse, prison rape and suicides will forever Google back to the town that hosts it. It cannot be that easily undone.  

You have some difficult conversations to have and decisions to make that will have implications not only for your own community, but for all others where this insidious mantra of fear reigns that blinds us to the human realities of what it means to individuals and communities when we mass incarcerate. Some criminals are pretty malevolent and the public needs to be protected from harm. But not all of the real bad guys are behind bars, nor is everyone behind bars necessarily “bad”, so much as they are poor or addicted and desperate.

Remind your neighbors not to let the hard times harden them to those who are also suffering, and not to assume that embracing the task of imprisoning so many people – among whom are always the innocent - won't affect a community’s character and soul. Mass incarceration is an industry which profits from a growing supply of both victims and criminals (not mutually exclusive categories), and therefore has no investment in treatment alternatives, restorative justice, real crime prevention, or meaningful immigration reform. Just incarceration: it turns the best profit. Having one’s community derive its primary sustenance from the misery of those caught up in that machinery – even if they are someone’s else’s kids - will trouble some people very deeply.

As it should. Even Israel’s high court recently found that allowing prisons to operate for profit would inevitably compromise the human rights of prisoners, and outlawed it. That’s something serious to think about, given how poorly they treat their prisoners. Where do we stand on prisoner’s human rights? 

Most prisoners in America are just "ordinary" people with families, hopes, and a few more amends to make than some of the rest of us. Prisoners and families could really  use some allies in the effort to address sentencing reform, public mental health services, education, and sustainable employment options so we don’t end up needing so many new prisons down the road. For now, though, I guess you have your hands full just trying to protect your own...

I do believe that we have far too much talent and capital in America for your only economic hope to be a prison.  You each have some awesome potential, in both people and property, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting scoped out. Any leaders who think a prison is the answer to this economy are looking for the easy way out, and fundamentally lack vision for a better tomorrow. I would work next on seeing that they get replaced. 

Good luck to all you communities out there making these kinds of decisions right now. Let us know if we can help. We'd even help you build your own private prison watch website - just say the word.

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