I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Because She Matters

I was visited by the blogger at today. Her site also appears to have come up in the wake of Marcia's death, out of a desire to do something for other women in the sex trade. Since I didn't get an email address from her, I just wanted to say thank you. Perhaps our paths will soon cross.

The service for Marcia today was well-attended: I'd say seventy-five to a hundred people came in all. There was an interesting cross-section of the community - not only were there prisoner advocates, but Women in Black, Code Pink, anarchists and the Department of Corrections were all represented, as was the faith community. Stan Hemry, a longtime local peace activist, described meeting Marcia while serving people meals for "Phoenix Food Not Bombs"

(Food Not Bombs is worth supporting; they salvage food from local stores and restaurants, cook it up and serve it for free in public places frequented by hungry people. Cities all over the country have been trying to pass legislation banning them from feeding people because what they do is political, it's not charity. They make hunger visible, and challenge the popular notion that nothing can be done about it. They reclaim the commons. They put food to use that would otherwise go to waste. And most of their meals are vegan, so that no animals are hurt in the process of making them.)

Anyway, if anyone knows hungry people on the street, it's the folks with Food Not Bombs. Stan's memory of Marcia was so distinct because of her missing teeth: she needed help finding food that was soft enough to eat. He said he remembers her being nice and saying thank you - which is more than any of the rest of us could say, having come to know her only through the eyes of those who have seen her criminal records. Given that, however, it was good to see how many people turned out to pay their respects, to show they cared, and to commit themselves to seeking changes in the systems which have let so many people down, Marcia only being the latest to die as a consequence.

Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform was quite emphatic that no outdoor cage - covered or not - is an acceptable place to hold human beings. Right on. And the AZ DOC has over 200 of them scattered across 10 prison complexes in the state. Marcia's treatment wasn't exceptional - it was the norm. She just happens to have died from it. Donna also maintains that an independent investigation needs to be done into the incident and the AZ DOC's policies, and has called on the AZ attorney general to initiate a criminal investigation.

I wonder if Marcia had lived to complain about it if any of us would stop and listen. Who would know what complaints have already been lodged against the DOC for inhumane treatment? How would the public ever know?

Hundreds of prisoners - nearly two thousand at one point - in the Maricopa County jails have been on a hunger strike for weeks over food and conditions. People inside and outside alike having been protesting human rights violations by the MCSO. How is that man still in office?

How much of our outrage over prisoner rights is evoked by the image of a battered white woman that isn't aroused by the image of a latino man in chains? Is one any more or less deserving than the other? I guess each of us has to ask that question of ourselves as we consider how far we're willing to go now for justice: justice for Marcia and every other prisoner of the state.

Donna called for Arizona to pass "Marcia's Law", one or more pieces of legislation to assure protections of prisoner rights. I guess the prisoner's right to life is probably one that needs to be made explicit. I'd shoot for restoring civil rights of prisoners, amending the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment, and prohibiting prison privatization. So long as they're considered less than full citizens and their exploitation profits someone, prisoner's rights can't really be protected.

In addition to helping to channel the energies of the community into a call for action, I think the point of Marcia's service was to reinforce a community standard that every life has value, and that every human being should be treated with dignity. We don't like to see ourselves as perpetrators of torture in America, yet we allow people to needlessly suffer. Getting justice for Marcia means more than holding people responsible for the immediate circumstances of her death. The brutality that Marcia endured lasted more than a few hours or a day, as evidenced by the traumatized woman's eyes in that haunting mug shot. She was punished all her life.

As for the Department of Corrections: Ryan (who was present for the service) is lucky there wasn't a massive call for his resignation today. That will probably come this week. In the meantime, we need an outside investigation and full disclosure of records of prisoner complaints against the DOC. Why assume that the cages were the only means of punishing unruly prisoners? And why assume it would only happen once or twice?

Whether or not a punishment is "cruel and unusual" under the 8th Amendment is gauged in part by whether or not it "comports with human dignity". What exactly that means is open to debate - not even the Supreme Court has reached consensus about that - but boiling prostitutes alive was out of practice before the Bill of Rights was even written. I hope that most people would agree we've evolved - morally, as a society - beyond criminalizing, caging and killing "deviant" women and the mentally ill, which is what it comes down to. Now we just have to put that standard into practice. If our state lawmakers don't take advantage of this moment to lead criminal law reform, then they'd better at least learn to follow. The forces united today to pay respect to Marcia Powell could be much more formidable tomorrow, and will be armed with an agenda for change.

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