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, June 12, 2013

GEO Group/ CACF corruption & retaliation: business as usual...

The following information showed up in my email box this afternoon, after Donna Hamm disseminated it to her listserve. It refers to the Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) run by GEO Group under contract with the AZ Department of Corrections. It will be interesting to see how far this goes. I hear about staff corruption so often and yet they are so seldom busted or punished when they are caught - the prisoners are the ones who are always disciplined when they try to speak out about these kinds of employees, as you can see below.

Prison staff LIE all the time, just like cops like Armando Saldate do - and they seldom ever have to suffer consequences for it, while the prisoners pay and pay. Note that prisoner Josh Lunn ended up getting reclassed to a higher custody level and shipped out to the Supermax, ASPC-Eyman after his boss wrote him up for refusing to participat ein his criminal enterprise. Please remember this the next time you look at a prisoner's disciplinary record and think "yeah, look at all that bad stuff he's been up to inside -he should be in Supermax".

Remember this the next time you find yourself assuming that just becuase someone wears the uniform of the state and a badge they must be some kind of noble public servant, too, and therefore can always be trusted to tell the truth.

This guy Lewis is poison - and most of the staff working around him probably knew he was lying about those prisoners when he wrote them up, but they went along with it anyway. This infuriates me not because it's so outrageous, but because it's way too common that prisoners get treated this way by the people who hold the keys to their cages and chains...they are the far more dangerous criminals, I think - the ones who will take their power and run over whomever they want with it.

Glad you jumped on this one, Donna. Now the DOC needs to make things right for those prisoners who were so wrongfully treated in all this.

JUNE 12, 2013: The document below has been edited since the original posting to protect innocent prisoners. The main suspects need to answer to the community for this, though, for violating the public trust, so their names are out there. 

I hope the media picks this one up...


To: Charles Ryan, Director
Subject: Theft, Corruption, Retaliation
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2013 16:38:18 -0700

Mr. Ryan:

The following information has been submitted to Middle Ground.  In italics, I have quoted the information  exactly as it has been provided to me.

During the first week of May 2013, two Central Arizona College employees were fired at Florence  for their part in stealing from the college and providing gifts to corrections employees/officials in exchange for favors.  Brad Ellsworth, the former Director of Prison Programs, was arrested on Tuesday, April 30, 2013, on theft-related charges stemming from over five years of mis-appropriating tools intended for prison vocational programs and stealing materials to build furniture and other items for his personal use, and to give as gifts to Florence wardens and staff.

Chris Lewis, a former Arizona DOC ADW, hired by Ellsworth, to manage the welding program at South Unit, was terminated May 2, 2013, after CAC officials discovered him returning tools previously reported as  missing/stolen.  Lewis is apparently cooperating with authorities in their investigation.

Ellsworth was known for having fine furniture and welded goods produced in the vocational schools within the prison, then rewarding correctional staff who "looked the other way," with these items as gifts in exhange for their blind eye.  Ellsworth was fond of specialty woods such as dark walnut and he built kitchen cabinets and living room furniture using CAC-purchased materials.  Other items, such as a gun tote box for his truck, were also built using CAC purchased materials.

The investigation into Ellsworth began after CAC administrators learned of over $1,300 in purchases by Ellsworth on CAC accounts for Corvette car parts.  When questioned about these purchases, Ellsworth attempted to explain their purchase by stating that the parts were purchased for his "work vehicle." Ellsworth also purchased tools for the various prison vocational schools, often purchasing the same item twice and keeping one for his personal use.  Sometimes these tools were given as reward or gifts to corrections staff or friends or sold to them at discounted prices.

Lewis began his tenure as the welding instructor in January 2013 by making immediate changes to the school's curriculum and program design.  He spent thousands of dollars remodeling the welding area from a student-oriented teaching environment to a production line for "special projects," built by inmate workers.  Students' welding time was reduced from 5 days/week to less than 2 days in order to accommodate the building of mini-smoker grills, bumpers for off-road vehicles, and vehicle gas tanks being built by the inmate workers for Lewis' friends and family.  

The cash paid for these items went directly into Lewis' pocket.  Several of the mini-smoker grills were given as gifts to corrections administrators or employees to facilitate the changes Lewis made to the vocational program.  Lewis came to the attention of CAC administrators after numerous complaints were made by inmate-students and when stolen tools were placed back into the college's inventory at the prison.  A fellow instructor discovered the tools and learned from Lewis that these tools were given to him by Ellsworth to "hide."  The instructor...alerted his superiors at the college.

Lewis also used his position and his knowledge of internal DOC procedures to retaliate against inmates who refused to assist in the illicit activities, while rewarding those inmates who were compliant with perks -- such as food and jobs.  Prior to Lewis' tenure, only one inmate had been removed from the CAC vocational area in the previous two years, while six (6) were removed in the four months that Lewis was an instructor.  Lewis rewarded inmate-students who assisted his activities by calling in favors with staff and having the inmates assigned as workers who would receive higher pay ($.40/hour instead of $.15/hour).

Lewis used his relationship with staff to push through disciplinary actions or have inmates transferred to other prison units if they refused to aid his activities.  When inmate student AE complained about not getting enough welding time, Lewis erupted and screamed at AE to leave the class.  Lewis then wrote a disciplinary violation claiming AE was "confrontational" and that AE "threatened him."  AE is stick-thin and probably weighs 130 lbs or less.  Lewis is over 6'3" and weighs about 260 lbs.  AE was found guilty of the disciplinary, despite witnesses testimony about what really happened, and AE was removed from the welding school.

Inmate "MW" was written up by Lewis for "refusing to attend" when a Warden at "MW's" previous facility called Lewis and complained about "MW".  Despite attending every class, "MW" was removed from the welding school and reduced in privileges due to Lewis' write-up.

A third inmate, "JL", signed up as a student and was almost immediately promoted to worker status by Lewis.  When JL discovered Lewis' illicit activities and began documenting them, Lewis caught him and wrote a disciplinary violation stating that JL was writing disparaging things against him.  Lewis called in a favor with staff and the violation was handled as a Major disciplinary ticket.  JL was found guilty, lost all privileges, was removed from the welding school, and transferred to a higher custody unit.

Lewis also targeted inmate workers who refused to help him by getting them transferred.  Lewis enlisted the help of CO Gxxxxxx, who was assigned as South Unit's SSU.  SSU is tasked with identifying gang activity and illegal behavior, and thus has wide lattitude to transfer troublesome inmates between prison units in isolated moves called "one - for - ones."  The first inmate targeted was "SC".  SC is a high profile inmate who worked in the CAC carpentry program.  Lewis asked SC to produce wooden handles for the mini-smoker grills.  SC refused because the CAC carpentry program teaches general construction and SC did not want to participate in any illicit behavior.  A few days after refusing, SC was transferred to (another) Unit in a one-for-one movement.

The second inmate targeted by Lewis was SH.  SH is a high profile inmate due to an escape almost 13 years ago, and he had been working in the CAC vocational programs as a porter for over 2 years.  Lewis knew of SH's past history, including SH's involvement in facilitating staff theft of state property prior to his escape, because Lewis had worked at Eyman Complex while SH was incarcerated there and prior to his escape.  

Lewis asked SH to work for him, but SH declined, citing over 8 years of a clean record.  Lewis attempted to have SH transferred, but (SSU officer Gxxx) was unable to do so because SH's past history requires any move to be approved in advance by Central Office.  When the transfer failed, Lewis instructed Ellsworth to send an email, dated February 8, 2013, to Florence Complex Warden Lance Hetmer, targeting SH's past history of escape (emphasizing the escape). Ellsworth used his position with the college to make it seem that SH's presence in the program threatened the college's reputation, and the college did not want him there.  Reacting to this email, Hetmer removed SH from the CAC vocation program area and banned him from all good jobs in the prison.  SH was jobless for over a month before being assigned to a lower paying, less skilled position.

Lewis then approached inmate CM.  CM was asked to falsify DOC documents he had access to as the Inmate Hazmat Clerk. CM refused and a week later was transferred to (another) Unit in a one-for-one move.

The actions of Brad Ellsworth and Chris Lewis were brought to the attention of CAC President Doris Helmich.  An investigation was commenced and strong measures to end this spree of theft and unprofessional behavior.  Ellsworth and Lewis were dismissed from the college.  At this time, DOC has taken no action to rectify the harm caused to those inmates that Lewis targeted for retaliation.   Warden Hetmer seems oblivious to both his manipulation by Ellsworth and the illegal activity that occurred under his watch.  

Mr. Ryan, my question is:  Isn't it a crime of bribery or conspiracy for a contract employee to provide gifts or sell items that are the fruits of stolen property to a state employee?  What investgation, if any, has taken place regarding the above incidents as they implicate your own employees?  Please provide all investigative reports.   

What is particularly noteworthy is what happened with high-profile inmate SH.  He apparently was able to escape 13 or more years ago (I remember the intensive news coverage) by using insider-corruption and information to facilitiate his escape....  Now, after learning his lesson -- which is what we all hope he would do -- and refusing to participate in corrupt and illicit activities, he is punished for his appropriate, lawful conduct.   Do you find this ironic?  Inmates are, after all, "students of (DOC's) behavior."

There needs to be a full-scale investigation into this matter if it has not already taken place. If it has taken place, then I want to examine the entire record of the investigation pursuant to public records law.

Please advise when the investigative reports are ready for my review at the Central Office.