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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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Real Lives Loved and Lost: "Criminals" and Suicide.

I'm extremely impressed with the humanity evident in this journalist's view on this man's struggle, and with the way he integrated it seamlessly into the narrative of the larger community. Austin Moffett wasn't just a petty criminal, he was a man whom others could identify with in his struggle and despair, which not everyone is criminalized for - and I don't doubt that criminalization resulting from his addictions and subsequent struggles paying the court were huge barriers for him getting on with his life. The court wants to be paid before they want you to even pay your rent.

I'm watching a good friend go through that right now with Maricopa County. They're threatening to put her in jail for falling behind on payments despite documentation that her employer stopped paying her with anything but promises for 4-6 weeks. She's into the court for $1500; her employer owes her $2,000, and the judge might pull her out of her job, cause her to lose her housing, and put her in a setting that could kill her (she has a compromised immune system because of cancer treatment) - all to punish her (at great expense, since she requires highly-specialized medical care) for not having their money on time despite her best-faith efforts to earn it. Then she'd come out of jail owing more than she did before, living on the streets with no job - and probably a serious opportunistic infection. Anyone who puts someone like her in Arpaio's jail should be charged with medical abuse.

Tell me who should be going to jail here, really. It's the guy with the keys.

Anyway, being criminalized can bring about some serious despair. The punishment never seems to end, whatever the sentence. Some judges seem to have very little appreciation for how much damage a criminal record and a few weeks in jail can do to a person's life - especially those who just spent the past year rebuilding it from the ground up.

Anyway, we need more journalists and articles like this.  Thank you, Pete and the Payson Roundup.

Thanks to the Moffett family, too, for having the courage to share this with us. It helps others immensely when you defy the shame and stigma that so oftens leaves families grieving in silence.

 The holidays and aftermath are a hard time for a lot of folks, especially those working on rebuilding bridges home. Take care of yourselves, and each other. 

- Peg


Payson Roundup

Residents battle suicidal thoughts

December 29, 2009
This was the last photo taken of Austin Moffett (fifth from the left, back row) before he took his life in August. Austin’s family posed with Austin during a birthday party at Kohl’s Ranch. (From left) Lauree Moffett, Barry Moffett, Amber Moffett, Sydni Moffett, Austin, April Ray and Ammecy Ray.
This was the last photo taken of Austin Moffett (fifth from the left, back row) before he took his life in August. Austin’s family posed with Austin during a birthday party at Kohl’s Ranch. (From left) Lauree Moffett, Barry Moffett, Amber Moffett, Sydni Moffett, Austin, April Ray and Ammecy Ray. 

Austin Moffett loved skateboarding, the outdoors and most of all his family; however, after various setbacks, Moffett gave up on life and killed himself in August 2009. Before, he did, Moffett reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

The night he took his life, Moffett texted a friend he was “going to do it” but it took that friend three hours to check up on Moffett and when he finally did, he found Moffett hanging in the garage.

If someone had taken Moffett’s threats seriously and told someone, he might still be here.

Just over the holiday weekend, three people attempted suicide and another three threatened to in Payson, said Sgt. Don Kasl.

Like so many people battling depression and suicidal thoughts, Moffett, 21, took his life when he was just starting to turn things around.

After his release from jail he moved to Arizona to be closer to family, was looking for a job and was excited about a fresh start. After 10 months in Payson, he did not receive support from the probation department, his mother said. He also got rearrested several times for minor offenses and was abusing various substances.

Regardless, Moffett’s mother, Lauree Moffett, and sister, Amber Moffett, say Moffett wanted to succeed and was excited for the future. So what would drive a 21-year-old to hang himself and why didn’t anyone see it coming?

Lauree and Amber say they did not see Moffett’s suicide coming, but his friends got several warning signs including a text message and an earlier failed attempt. They hope telling their story will raise awareness about an issue rarely discussed, but desperately needed.

So far for this year, the Payson Police Department has responded to 10 suicides, 39 attempts and 72 threats.
Just in the last weekend, three people attempted suicide and three made threats, Kasl said.

Nanci Stone, vice president of Rim Guidance Center, which provides behavioral health services to residents in Northern Gila County, said a lot of people who commit suicide do so when they are just beginning to feel better because they have the energy to go through with it. Ironically, when someone is really depressed, they often lack the energy to plan their own death, she said.

Since “it is very unpredictable,” when someone will commit suicide, Stone said any threats or comments of suicide should be taken seriously.

“Suicide doesn’t have a type, any person at any time who says they are thinking of harming themselves needs to be taken seriously,” Stone said.

In Moffett’s case, he had reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

A week before he hung himself in a friend’s garage, several of Moffett’s friends and his girlfriend interrupted his first attempt. Although they successfully talked him out of it then, they told no one about the incident. Then on the night that he hung himself, Moffett texted a friend to say he was going to kill himself. Three hours after getting that text, his friend showed up to check on Moffett, but he was already dead.

The Northern Gila County medical examiner said often families and friends do not see the signs of suicide until it is too late.

“The signs may be there, but people ignore them,” he said.

Looking back, Lauree said she still does not see the signs leading up to her son’s death.

In November 2008, he moved to Payson after being released from a Kansas jail, and was working at Lauree’s workplace, Kohl’s Ranch.

However, after arriving in Payson, Moffett got in trouble with the law again for “petty crimes,” was living at various friends’ homes, had no car and was struggling to make court payments, Amber said.

Both Lauree and Amber admit Moffett had low self-esteem and struggled with substance abuse, but “he was someone worth salvaging,” they said. He was caught in “a vicious cycle.” Amber partly blames his substance abuse for his mental state the night he killed himself.

“He wanted a family and wanted to give everyone else the best,” Amber said. “He tried to make everyone happy and didn’t want to see them struggle.”

Amber said she talked with her brother hours before he hung himself and he gave no indication what he was going to do. Looking back now, she wishes Moffett had known it was OK to express his feelings.

Stone said it is crucial when someone begins to feel suicidal to talk to someone right away.

“When someone is suicidal, there are three critical things; they feel hopeless that things will not get better, hapless that they can’t do anything right and helpless that they do not know where to turn; however, those feelings pass,” Stone said.

The medical examiner pointed out there are at least five counselors in town available for help and various churches have members trained to deal with crises.

“Our job is to show them they have options,” Stone said. “We are here to help.”

Rim Guidance Center operates a 24-hour crisis line, (928) 474-3303, and counselors are available every day.
In early December, Lauree and Amber along with friends and family participated in the 2009 Out of the Darkness community walk in Phoenix to prevent suicide. They hope to start a suicide prevention walk in Payson. For more information on Out of the Darkness, visit

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