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, April 4, 2012

Native America and AZ State Prisons: Remembering young warriors..

American Indians make up 4.6% of Arizona's residents, according to 2010 census figures. 5.0% of Arizona's prison population is Native American. The highest concentrations of them are at Perryville women's prison in Goodyear (7.6% of women are native American). There the highest concentration of indigenous women is being kept in the Lumley maximum security Special Management Unit - they constitute 14.3% of prisoners under lock down in that unit. 

Indigenous men are most heavily concentrated in the supermax complex, ASPC-Eyman, in Florence (6.4% of that population is Native American). In SMUI, where many of the seriously mentally ill are confined and neglected, often in solitary cells, they make up 9.7% of those locked down. 

One has to wonder if we aren't just trying to break the resistant and deviant ones, which is part of the genocidal pattern.

The author of the article below is the uncle of Alfonso Farmer, who recently committed suicide in prison as well. Our condolences to him and all of Alfonso's loved ones...

-------------from Indian Country Today----------

A Needless Death: The Tony Lester Story

As a Lakota, I was taught to respect life and death. Living on the reservation, death is all too common. From young to old, we have all felt the pain of losing loved ones before their time. Death on our reservations in one way or another touches each and every one of us, even if we live elsewhere. The death of a young Indian man also tells me, we mustn’t forget Tribal members who are out of sight out of mind in shockingly high proportions in the criminal justice system and that their deaths touches us, too.

When I was contacted in reference to a young Indian man, Antony “Tony” Lester, 26 years of age, who lost his life by suicide while in prison in Arizona, it brought back memories of my 23-year-old nephew, Alfonzo Lee Farmer, who also lost his life by suicide in an Arizona prison and whose funeral I attended just last month.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 5.2 million Native American Indians, and we make up 0.9 percent of the total population. In many states, we are incarcerated in great disproportion to our population numbers. In my state, South Dakota, we make up we are 8.8 percent of the population and yet we make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively of all inmates and 50% of female prisoners are Native American Indians. In Wyoming, we are 2.4 percent of the population and we make up 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, we are 6.3 percent of the population and we are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women in prison. According to the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Native children make up 50 percent of youngsters in the federal prison system.

Let’s place these percentages in prospective and make one of these numbers a real person. Antony “Tony” Lester was an only child. His father was an enrolled member of the Salt River/Pima Reservation who did not have contact with him and his mother. His mother Eleanor is a Sioux/Assiniboine from Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Tony’s mother devoted her life to Tony, raising him as a single mom and always providing the best. He graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then later attended Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Tony was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in high school, struggled with his condition, and was a self-harming as a teenager. He told his family that the voices were “getting worse.” Tony was loved and cared for by his family throughout his illness and it was this illness that gave the state of Arizona a reason to send him to prison.

Tony Lester never had any prior convictions and yet he never stood a chance. In 2010, he was sentenced to 12 years in state prison on assault charges stemming from a suicide attempt during a psychotic episode the previous year. Two of his very close friends who tried to stop him from cutting his throat got hurt while grabbing the knife.

Tony was mentally ill and the state of Arizona knew this. Instead of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, Tony was put in jail. Nine months of medication restored him to sufficient competency to be deemed fit for trial. He was found guilty by a jury. During this time, it was discovered that Tony was struggling with seven voices telling him to kill himself or he would not go to heaven and that his family would be harmed. Worse yet, says his family, the voices were not just talking to him but to each other, and he felt he could no longer control them.

The judge and court-appointed psychiatrist advised that Tony should be housed in a facility where he would receive the necessary mental health treatment. Yet this was ignored, and he was sent to the Arizona State Prison in Tucson.

Tony was placed with the general prison population; he went off his medication and was sent to a unit for behavioral problems. He was on and off suicide watch. The family recalls vividly that at 11:45 pm on July 11, 2010, they received a phone call informing them that Tony had been taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. A few hours later, at 3:15 am, they received a call saying Tony had died from injuries he had sustained. They learned he had cut his wrists, jugular vein and groin with a razor he was mistakenly provided in a prisoner hygiene pack.

The Lester family battled the state of Arizona for almost two years to gain access to footage filmed by one of the guards, Umberto Hernandez, on the day Tony died. The video shows that the guards did not at any time provide medical assistance. The video is very graphic and watching it, my prayers go out to Tony’s family. A year-long inquiry by Wendy Halloran, investigative reporter with KPNX (Channel 12 Watchdog News), in Phoenix, uncovered much shocking information surrounding the passing of this young man. Click here for the story.

Tony’s aunt, Patti Jones, along with his family throughout Indian country, are now his voice. His family is asking for your help in exposing the inhumanities Tony suffered. They ask you to view Ms. Halloran’s investigative report and post comments to and to Brian Williams at You may also contact Ms. Jones at

This story is far from over, looking at the statistics listed above many more Native prisoners must have met this fate as well. The statistics show extreme disproportionality from the beginning of the contact with the justice system, more apprehensions, more arrests, more adjudication’s, more convictions, harsher sentencing, deficiencies in legal advice. Getting involved in helping the Lester family is the first step in learning what we need to do in order to help all of our people.

I leave you with a comment placed on by a person who self-identified anonymously as one of the jurors: “We could see that he was ill, and we thought that he would get probation and get the help he needed.”

Oliver J. Semans is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

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