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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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Limits on free speech at the AZ State Capitol...

Was down at the Capitol yesterday following the announcement that our prisoners and survivors have filed their class action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections; this was the day when I planned to finally lay down one of my murals on the plaza between the two legislatures. Dana Seawright's mother, Kini, joined us. I managed to get the main part of it down - sans the names - before the cops stopped to hassle me. 

Fortunately, there were a couple of cameras trained on me at the time Officer Anderson of the Capitol Police confronted me, and ultimately - after giving me the new list of protest rules- they backed down. While trying to dissuade me from finishing my project he fumbled over what law, exactly, I was breaking by chalking the walk, despite his repeated threats to arrest me if I didn't "take it out there" (gesturing to the city sidewalk out by 17th Ave. and Wes Bolin Plaza, where I usually chalk). My response to his directions was to maintain that the free exercise of political speech is meaningless if we are relegated to places where no one can hear us before we're allowed to speak - for which reason, I refused to take my protest elsewhere, and challenged him to ticket me, arrest me, or leave me alone to finish my task. 

Anderson made sure to let me think I'd been both warned and trespassed, telling me I'm not allowed to return to the Capitol grounds unless I have "legitimate business" to conduct there. I asked who made this decision to ban me, who I appeal to, and who, exactly, determines each time I come to the legislature whether or not my business is "legitimate". As far as I was concerned, what I was doing at that moment was a very legitimate effort to communicate information to my lawmakers and governor. All the information I could get out of Anderson, though, was the name "Joe" - that's apparently who's in charge of the Buildings and Grounds department. 

So, how is it that the guy in charge of lawn maintenance is also the one who determines whether or not my exercise of free speech is constitutionally protected? That doesn't seem like it would fly in court, so I plan to challenge it this spring - stay tuned for that one. Besides, it's hard to take cops seriously whenever they go the whole gamut from being Mr. Nice Guy doing me the favor of cutting me a break by letting me go if I stop chalking immediately, to aggressively posturing and threatening to arrest me if I don't comply, to backing off and saying things like "I'm not going to arrest you because you WANT me to arrest you - I'm not talking to you anymore. We're just going to wash this off as soon as you finish so no one that you want to see it will see it" (Anderson's final answer to me yesterday - after which I finished my mural in peace and took photographs so everyone can see). 

I've had way too many cops try to bullshit me into believing that whatever they say is law that I've learned to insist that they cite the law and apply to me it if they really think I'm breaking it - but to otherwise leave me alone. There's also a big difference between rules or codes of conduct and "laws", and cops like to act as if they can arrest me for the former when I haven't broken the latter. I guess I can be trespassed from a property for violating rules, but I don't think they can outright arrest me unless it's also a violation of law.

Anyway, here's the new list of rules for "ACTIVITY" (read: "Protest") at the Capitol. I think we should have a day this spring to do nothing up there but protest them for trying to silence their dissenters, breaking every rule in the book in the process. Until then, my friends, if you plan to protest at the Capitol, be sure to have someone backing you up with a camera rolling on the cops - and the Buildings and Grounds crew - when they come after you...

As far as I'm concerned, the importance of alerting  the right people to what's going on trumps the need for the Legislature to have an "orderly" sidewalk. As long as this Governor denies the severity of the crisis of violence and despair in the state prisons, I'll keep on trying to get the message across in as many ways as possible. If we have to wait for this lawsuit to be settled before anything at the ADC changes, too many more people will needlessly die. Chuck Ryan and his henchmen all need to go now.

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