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:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truth in Sentencing and Human Rights.

Upcoming Events

December 10: International Human Rights Day.
December 15: 5th Special Legislative Session to screw the poor and working classes even further.

December 17: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (Tucson Memorial).
December 18: Sex Workers Outreach Project Protest at the AZ DOC in Phoenix.


I appear to have stopped posting the inmate death notices in August sometime. It wasn't a conscious decison;  think it was just particularly heartbreaking, and I couldn't seem to keep up with them. But people often come back here again and again searching for links about their loved ones, sometimes posting final messages or explanations so that others might understand what happened to them, and know that they weren't a bad person just because they died in prison. 

I think we should be here for them, so even if it makes us all a little uncomfortable, so I'm going to start putting these folks back up on AZ Prison Watch when they die. We need to know what's killing them, and while they don't give us many clues in the press releases, we do get a little closer to the human suffering part of their experience. 

I always wonder how differently a judge might have sentenced someone if he or she knew that it could be the last few years of their life because prison is harder to survive when you're ill or your immune system is compromised...Maybe judges should have to include statistical probabilities with each sentence that they hand out which informs defendants of their likelihood of being raped in prison, contracting a deadly infectious disease, dying of an otherwise treatable cancer for a delay in diagnosis or inadequate medical intervention, or being otherwise terribly compromised or violated. That would be real "truth-in-sentencing".

Those odds could all,be calculated out - they probably already have been by risk management experts who determine whether or not it's cheaper to let someone get injured and try suing (fat chance if you're a prisoner suing for rights), to settle a case or fight it in court, or to fix the potential hazard in the first place (why bother if prisoners can't sue?). Having to speak aloud the atrocities they must know occur in American prisons may at least make judges think twice about the sentences they were handing out, and what they really expect to accomplish by incarcerating addicted survivors of trauma, for example, with those who would be their perpetrators. What kind of lesson does that teach to whom? 

Even if the judges don't learn from such disclosure of what prison really does to people, the public would. Most of us would not condemn a mentally ill teenager to being repeatedly raped or to endure a long slow death by Hepatitis C for pulling a pen knife out when he thought someone was trying to kill him during a manic episode. Most of us would probably wonder why he was in prison instead of  a psychiatric hospital. 

Most everyone in court when he was sentenced wondered that too. 

Some of us just don't have lives that seem worth saving, I think, or we are viewed as being so helpless and pathetic that we need to be protected from ourselves by being put in prison for awhile, which too many Americans actually think is a "safe" place for people like Marcia Powell (and myself, for that matter), someplace where we would get presumably good dental and health care, be fed three times a day, and been seen by mental health staff... I think that's mostly just fantasy in America, though. Many prisoners only get fed twice a day, small portions of empty calories full of sugars and cholesterol  - for which they may even have to pay from their fifteen-cents-an-hour job.

Social Workers who think they are doing their clients a "favor" by conspiring with courts and cops to help them "hit bottom" via the brutal path through jail or prison may just be setting them up to crash through their bottom and die.  If you're going to mess with people's lives like that, then remember  first, to do no harm.

Even those of you with the best intentions impose your own version of order on us as we try to navigate an increasingly insane world with minimal resources for survival, while you ignore our resistance and cause for protest, and blame us for "non-compliance" if we reject the promise your prescribed pharmaceutical solutions offer to make us nauseaus, give us uncontrollable tremors, numb us to our loved one's smile, touch, or words  of comfort, or silence us in a drugged stupor for months or years.  

We really don't need those kinds of favors, no matter how many recovering addicts swear by "tough love" saving their lives - it was the love part, not so much the tough, that saved most of the hardest cases I knew. For every one who was saved by 12-Step ways, many more were lost along the same road to recovery; their families left in the wake of suicides and drunk driving accidents interrogating themselves about whether or not they were tough enough, too tough, or loving enough.

If every social worker, lawyer, judge and cop had to do a stint as a prisoner or involuntary psychiatric patient, there'd be a lot more sensitivity coming from those directions, and probably more effective solutions to engage someone in treatment would be tried - coercion should be the absolute last resort to protect life and limb.

So, we're going to be looking at you, too, my friends on the bench - if you're up for re-election this year, we'll be taking notes in your courtroom and gathering data on your sentencing practices, finding out who among you has accepted the responsibility of weighing multiple and competing views of justice, tuning out political pressures, and come up with creative and meaningful responses to human crises more in the vein of restorative than retributive justice - especially those of you in juvenile justice. 

Prosecutors, be on notice too. And any court-appointed attorneys that give their indigent clients the short shrift - we'll catch you. And you well-meaning social workers. CourtWatch is coming to Phoenix soon. What you do will no longer be visible only by way of your own press releases - we'll have inside accounts of how you treat people, and just how some of these pleas are arrived at that result in so many people - including the innocent - giving up their rights to trial out of fear, just to put another notch in Thomas' belt of "convictions".  From what I hear, he's got an awful lot of innocent people tucked underneath that belt. The new Maricopa County Attorney, if they have any guts, will start opening innocence claims once Thomas is run out on a rail, if he doesn't take the responsibility to deal with them himself first. The latter would seem to be the more responsible and noble course of action.

Anyway, regardless of their crimes, convictions, or time, I think the folks dying in prison deserve to be at least noticed by us - we may be the only people to whom their passing matters - except perhaps their victim, if there was ever one other than themselves to begin with. So, with today being International Human Rights Day, I thought it was time to go back and catch up on the names of those who have died in state custody over the past few months. I'll be working on this one all day, I think.

I may take a lunch break to do something down at the AZ DOC - call me if anyone's interested in joining me - just want to make sure the prisoners know that they're being thought of today.


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