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, October 31, 2013

Endangered Queers: Communities organize; Ryan finally responds.

As many of you know, the Maricopa County NAACP, as part of a coalition of community members and groups concerned about the safety of LGBTI /queer prisoners, sent a letter to Director Ryan of the AZ Department of Corrections last month. Dianne Post, who volunteers with both the National Lawyers Guild and the NAACP, among other things, drafted the letter based on extensive correspondence we've had with queer prisoners who were being or had been repeatedly denied protective custody placement. 

Prisoners who identifed to the DOC that they were being persecuted in the GP for being gay or transgender were being told there was no evidence of a statewide threat against them - even though there's a well-documented intolerance of openly gay and transgender prisoners on the part of the prison gangs and general prison population. The PC reviewers were also denying some applicants who reported they had been brutally raped or assaulted already, implying that if there is no evidence of an assault (or complaint on record) it must have never happened. In short, the DOC says that rape victims who have no DNA evidence are liars.

On Manzanita in ASPC-Tucson, there is (or was)  a Lieutenant who likes calling rape victims "fags" and shaming them for inviting sexual assaults to happen - guys like him are one big reason so many prison rapes are never reported. He did that to one poor prisoner who got two years added to his sentence for biting a guard who took him down while the prisoner was banging his own head out of agitation at this cop. Interestingly, before he launched into humiliating the victim, this coward made sure the prisoner was cuffed and shackled and flanked by two guards - only then did he start abusing him. That's what the cowards of the AZ DOC do when they plan to deliberately provoke a prisoner to violence.

Given how pervasive the heteropatriarchy is in the AZ DOC, that brave, noble Lieutenant probably got a pat on the back, not a slap on the wrist, for his role in screwing over that prisoner. No doubt the junior officers he was setting that great example for covered for him if there were any questions raised about his conduct. The  Lieutenant should be as liable for his officer's injury as the prisoner was found to be. If anyone out there has heard other things about this jerk, please drop me a line. I'm making a list of who's naughty and nice, and he's definitely getting a chunk of coal this year for Christmas, if I have anything to say about it.

The prevalence of contraband cell phones across the prison system also makes escaping one's reputation in prison impossible. Gang and yard leaders check out all new arrivals, demanding their police papers and calling around to see if they PC'ed up or had any other issues on any yards. Even reporting a rape can brand them as a snitch.  

Where the officers have been corrupted (in many places) they often give intelligence to the gang leaders about who's snitching and set those folks up for assault by leaving cell doors open, skipping security checks, and so on. One of my correspondents was stabbed 13 times by a guy who paid off the guard $1000 to let him in his cell...which we know only because the guard was busted and actually prosecuted, while the DOC settled quietly with the victim for $50K.

Furthermore, it's well-documented by the DOJ and the corrections profession that LGBTQ people in prison are exquisitely vulnerable to sexual and other violence. Having been sexually victimized once is one of the characteristics that makes a person more likely to be assaulted again, too, which doesn't seem to be given any consideration by the staff deciding PC applications.

I reported not long ago that Mr. Ryan had completely ignored that letter from the NAACP, but apparently he was just a little slow gathering his thoughts on the matter. It now appears as if he actually takes our concerns very seriously, and is glad we shared our feelings with him. Isn't that sweet? I do believe he hopes we will now thank him and go away.

Meanwhile, a number of other organizations around the state - like the Sex Worker Outreach Projects (SWOP) in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona's Outright Libertarians1 in 10, 3rd Space, the Phoenix Harm Reduction Organization (PHRO), and This is HOW - all want to be part of the dialogue with both the prisoners and the state about the rights of queer people behind bars. 

We've begun meeting every 2nd and 4th Tuesday as the Seawright Prison Justice Project to follow up on queer prisoner correspondence, research issues and records, and strategize intervening at the AZ DOC on their behalf. That's at my place off Indian School and 9th st.
If you want to be a part of this particular outreach effort and volunteer your time (or postage stamps) to the cause, please let me know. I'm Peggy Plews (480-580-6807 / ).

Here's Director Ryan's response to the NAACP's letter of September 9 (sorry it's taken this long to post...he sent it out to Dianne on the 10th):