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:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Secure borders and AZ deserts kill record numbers of someone else's loved ones.

I don't how all of America can't be deeply disturbed by what is happening here. We think it can never happen to us only because we haven't yet lived through the economic devastation that NAFTA nations to our south have. We profited from their losses, in fact, blamed them for their poverty, exploited their labor, and then criminalized them when we decided they presented the white supremacist power structure with too much of a challenge. That's why Russ Pearce is all about changing the 14th Amendment: Latinos are the next majority.

I think we should at least try to walk in their shoes, though. After all, the gap between the rich and poor in America is wider than ever - more people are falling down the ladder than moving up.

Just imagine the US economy crashing further, and Obamacare, Medicare D, and Medicaid all getting rescinded under President Haley Barbour and Vice President Palin in order to protect corporate welfare and preserve the Bush tax cuts for the elite.
That's not an unlikely scenario these days - look at what's been coming out of the Republican party of late.

Pharmaceuticals and most medical services are already more than what most of the middle class can afford without insurance. What would ordinary Americans do?

We'd do whatever we had to for the people we loved - just as ordinary Mexicans have done.

If Mexico decided to apply our policies to us in such an economic downturn, those would be our bodies showing up in the desert, trying to cross a fortified, hostile border to get health care and purchase antibiotics, insulin, AZT, and other lifesaving drugs - including narcotics for patients in exceptional pain.

The pharmaceutical industry would try to get both the US and Mexico to crack down on us - they'd call us all criminals and drug smugglers and finish the border wall, send more armed soldiers, and push us further into the wilderness where the heat and bandits take their toll.

While it may seem good for Mexico's economy to have all that new business, the American Medical Association, pharmaceutical industry, and US government will quickly buy their elected officials off in order to develop a cooperative "crime-fighting" strategy to thwart the efforts of desperate people just trying to keep themselves or others alive.
We'll even arm their paramilitary border patrols.

Our own legislators, at the urging of Arizona's pharmacies and physicians, would establish harsh criminal penalties for bringing drugs like penicillin into the country from Mexico, throwing thousands more ordinary people into prison.
Increasing numbers of children - whether obtaining medicines for family, or smuggling large quantities for drug cartels, would be charged and sentenced as adults on both sides of the border to teach us a lesson.

Parents seeking medical care for their sick children in Mexico would have to show proof of Mexican citizenship or risk arrest and criminalization - not just deportation. At all costs, the medical industrial complex and the US government would try to prevent us from subverting their control over the American people.

But that wouldn't stop us from trying to save our dying children, or deter youth from supporting their family by making pharmacy runs for the neighborhood, or prevent sisters from setting out to find the brothers who never came home. Did they die in the desert, or are they languishing in a Mexican detention center or prison? We "lose" family members in our immigrant detention centers all the time, and Arizona alone presently has over 6,000 foreign nationals in our prison system as "criminal aliens." We take such pleasure in punishing people in Arizona that instead of deporting migrants we don't want, we spend over $20,000 per year to incarcerate each one - most of whom are non-violent offenders.

What if Mexico started losing or imprisoning our loved ones like that?

Of course, organized crime would be expanding their own black market with all it's attendant violence and exploitation. Americans who couldn't buy direct from Mexican pharmacies would no doubt get their needed drugs from them. Some communities will organize neighborhood collectives in sheds and church basements where people can share pharmaceuticals as well as non-traditional medicinal resources. Such collectives will be outlawed as well, as will herbal and alternative medicines. Cancer and AIDS patient support groups will be infiltrated by the FBI in an effort to catch dying people seeking relief outside of the mainstream economy. In fact, they already do.

A whole class of "law-abiding" citizens would suddenly find themselves choosing between saving the lives of loved ones, or maintaining their allegiance to the laws that would let people needlessly die - some spending their final days or weeks or months in agony. Insistent that violent crime is rising due to people illegally seeking health care, Russ Pearce will make sure that those who know of such activity on the part of a neighbor, relative, or member of their church will also be criminalized if they fail to report them to the authorities.

Even the most trivial traffic stop or noise complaint will give the police reason to search for medical contraband and evidence that drugs or health care may have been criminally obtained - the poor and middle class, the sick and disabled, will be the likely suspects they profile. Then more of us will begin to understand a little more about what it is like to be Latino in Arizona right now.

That's the most comparable and truly possible scenario I can imagine in which large numbers of "honest", "decent" Americans would suddenly become criminal aliens, drug smugglers, and unidentified bodies in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico. Then they would begin to understand why people migrate here for life-sustaining resources, like jobs, and why that act alone does not make them dangerous, evil, or criminal.

Then perhaps the number of people being forced to cross our border in increasingly treacherous regions will be seen by the public and lawmakers as evidence of failed border and health care policies and unjust distribution of wealth and resources in our hemisphere, not evidence that we need more walls. Even though most Americans can't see it yet, we really are in this together with our neighbors from the South, and should hope that they will deal with us more graciously should we cross their border illegally than we have dealt with them. Those bodies we keep finding belong to someone's loved ones. It is only by way of fortune and grace that we and our loved ones have not yet had to face the same fate.

The following AZ Daily Star article comes via No More Deaths-Phoenix. They try to keep border crossers alive long enough to reach safety. Join them every Tuesday night if you can.



these are the numbers of migrant deaths for Fiscal year 2010. As we know, there are hundreds of remains that will never be recovered. Please keep these migrants, and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Remember, NMD-Phoenix is meeting tonight at 7:30pm at the Central United Methodist Church.

AZ border saw record 252 deaths in fiscal '10

Brady McCombs

Arizona Daily Star

Posted: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 12:00 am

The recently completed fiscal year set a record for deaths along a stretch of Arizona's border with Mexico.

The bodies of 252 illegal border crossers were found along Arizona's border from New Mexico to Yuma County from Oct. 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2010, the Arizona Daily Star's border death database shows. The database is based on information from Southern Arizona county medical examiners.

The 2010 total breaks the record of 234 set in 2007. It has been a deadly decade in Arizona's desert for illegal immigrants, with the bodies of nearly 2,000 men, women and children found since 2001.

The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office handled most of the bodies again this fiscal year: 228 of the 252. The office receives bodies found on the Tohono O'odham Nation and in Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties.

The office recovered the bodies of 59 illegal border crossers in July alone. This summer tied with 1996 as the second-hottest Tucson summer on record.

It's difficult to determine exactly how much it costs taxpayers to perform the work because the recoveries, autopsies and investigations are blended with the rest of the county-funded office's work. But each autopsy runs about $2,000, which means the 228 done over the past fiscal year would add up to about $456,000.

The record for deaths comes during a fiscal year when the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector recorded reduced apprehensions for the sixth consecutive year. The downturn in arrests is one of several indicators that show significantly fewer people are illegally crossing the border, perhaps due to the U.S. economic recession.

Yet more people are dying than ever, which has led many experts to conclude that illegal immigrants face a deadlier trek than ever across Arizona's desert.

Border-county law enforcement, Mexican consular officials, Tohono O'odham tribal officials and humanitarian groups say the buildup of border fencing, technology and agents has caused illegal border crossers to walk longer distances in more treacherous terrain, increasing the likelihood that people will get hurt or fatigued and left behind to die.

The Border Patrol agrees that illegal immigrants are crossing in more remote areas because of the increased presence but says the blame should be placed on greedy smugglers leading them there, not agents protecting the nation's border. The agency points to its rescue efforts as evidence that its presence prevents deaths rather than causes them.

On StarNet: Search an online database of individuals who have died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at

Record year for border deaths

Here are the number of bodies of illegal border crossers recovered in Arizona's desert from New Mexico to Yuma County, by fiscal year:

2002 142
2003 177
2004 196
2005 233
2006 189
2007 234
2008 185
2009 215
2010 252

Source: Arizona Daily Star's border death database, which comes from data collected by the Pima and Cochise County medical examiner's offices. Pima County handles bodies found in Santa Cruz, Pinal and Pima Counties. The federal fiscal year runs Oct. 1 - Sept. 30.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or

Laura Ilardo
No More Deaths-Phoenix

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