THIS BLOG is NOW RETIRED

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

David Rovics: We Are Everywhere

To my fellow activists now struggling through life - let this be a reminder that you are not alone and that we desperately need you here. All the injustice, grief, war, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it - you can't help us anymore when you're gone. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.
BLOG POSTS

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hitting the Radar

I was going to post Governor Brewer's public schedule for this week, but the current one isn't on her website.

Go figure. I'm sure that's just because of all the uncertainty about the budget negotiations.

A big part of me wants to camp out at the Capitol overnight and harangue all the Republicans as they do their dirty deeds in the morning, but it just isn't worth the trouble it would bring, and I'd advise other folks against it. Those people criminalize anyone who disagrees; they'll just laugh at us and throw away the key.

Along those lines, I don't think I'm under the radar anymore, so my friends who have not already been acting as if my communications are hot should now proceed on that assumption - and certainly don't take seriously any suggestions or inferences I make about demonstrating (like at the FBI's office or the Governor's appearances) unless you plan to dance with the sheriff, the feds, or the state police; I want to empty the prisons, not fill them. I honestly don't know what the law says is okay anymore in terms of protest.

As for myself, once I give them reason I'll be lucky if all that happens to me is a booking and a trip to Tent City. Copwatchers, please track me down if they take me away. I waive all rights to confidentiality if you show up at the asylum gates. In all probability I'll be getting strapped down and slated to have high voltage sent through my brain (everyone knows that women who resist domination are clinically insane). Even if you hear me say I want them to hook me up, storm the damn place! Otherwise it'll take me two years to regain my memory.

Okay. Enough histrionics. Leave the psych wards and good doctors alone. My family will begin to get worried. Just know that none of us are really "safe". You might even want to steer clear of me for awhile.

I'll keep posting pertinent (or just entertaining) information about government activities as long as I can locate it; I do think it's healthy for our public servants to expect to be held accountable - all in accordance with the finest of American (non-violent) traditions - and to know that we can find them as easily as they can send goons after us. As far as I'm aware, there's nothing against the law about knowing where our elected officials are doing their public duties.

Not yet, anyway.

In that spirit: Russell Pearce's office in the State Senate is in room #110. His phone number there is 926-5760. His email is rpearce@azleg.gov. I understand he's not at all the hateful, racist ogre some have made him out to be. Since this is the end of the regular legislative session - and he's worked so hard on our behalf - send him some dandelions or something if you can swing it, and tell him I said hello.

Last thing: if you really plan to hit the legislature (that's just a figure of speech, folks) before the final, final budget deal is made, look for the Education Committee meeting - the Appropriations Committee wouldn't pass the leadership's agenda last night, so Burns (President of the Senate and long-time champion of a Woman's Right to Choose) just moved the budget package to a committee that I imagine will rubber-stamp it by the time the day is through.

So, as evidenced by that move (and the governor suing the legislature), even diversity within the Republican party isn't tolerated. End of discussion; Arizona-style democracy inaction triumphs once again. Our last great hope is the continued immigration of enlightened beings (or a mass alien abduction of the right-wing....).

Goodnight, June.

Arizona Reinstates Use of Outdoor Cages

The new and improved policies for keeping people in cages ("temporary holding enclosures") are described under Department Order 704.09 on the ADC website. Director Ryan identified the location of this policy for us to examine himself, which I do appreciate, even though at this hour I drip with sarcasm.

Also interesting are the policies under Department Order 804 on Inmate Behavior Control, lest there be any doubt about the necessity of routine violence to operate a prison. We will never have peace so long as we depend on prisons to maintain it: violence begets violence.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dear Director Ryan;

My name is Peggy Plews. We met briefly at Marcia Powell's service last night at Shadow Rock; I believe I may have interrupted you as you were contemplating a prayer. My apologies if that was the case.

I appreciate that you took a minute to speak with me about the status of the investigation into Marcia's death, and current polices on the use of outdoor desert cages for containing human beings. You didn't have to do so. I realize that you have been in frequent communication with Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform, and that her organization has some standing in the state as a voice for prisoner rights. I claim no such standing. I'm just a concerned citizen who believes that what happens in your prisons is as much our collective responsibility as it is yours.

I should preface the rest of this letter with an explanation that I am not a prison reformer wanting a seat at the table. I am a prison abolitionist. It is my explicit goal to help expose and dismantle the prison industrial complex that you have invested your career in. That is, of course, an extremely complex and ambitious undertaking; I am not so naive as to think that such a task can be accomplished simply by unlocking jailhouse doors, decriminalizing drugs, or gaining a better understanding of how our society produces so many sociopaths. There are indeed vicious people among us, and we will have to find some way to prevent them from hurting others. Too many are allowed to run amok as it is, occupying positions of considerable power and prestige - some, I would argue, in law enforcement and the State House. In any event, prison abolition requires creative problem-solving and massive social change, but there is sound scholarship and theory underlying the movement, and I believe the effort is worth it.

Still, I remain deeply troubled by what happened to Marcia, and by some of the things I've learned about Arizona's prisons since then - particularly Perryville. I cannot just turn and walk away, content to work on the bigger picture while so many people continue to suffer day to day. Besides, I could just as easily be behind bars as some of them. Hence my attempt to engage in dialogue with you.

You would have every reason not to communicate further with me. I am pointed and can be antagonistic, though I am hardly threatening. I have no political power and am of no consequence to this legislature, particularly as long as I live in a district represented by Democrats. I don't write on behalf of a group, constituency, or organization. Still, I do vote and pay taxes, and theoretically when the government makes the laws, prioritizes state funding, and employs professionals such as yourself to administer institutions in accordance with our community's values, it does so as a representative of the people. I am one of the people. Since no one seems to be representing my voice - not even those I voted for - I feel obliged to exercise it myself. Whether you bother to listen or not is entirely your prerogative.

I, myself, anticipate that we will have to contend with each other somehow through the years, so long as we both remain here - and I'd rather have a dialogue with words than a battle involving direct actions and reactions that could escalate and result in my own incarceration. That may well be awaiting me further down the road, as this legislature continues to pass laws that I believe are unconscionable, such as those which call for the prosecution and lengthy imprisonment of humanitarians. Those in power today are small, desperate people who must know they are slowly losing control. It is not the illegal immigrants so much as it's the citizens like me who frighten them most. I expect that it will get worse for some of us before it gets any better.

I would imagine that a prison full of "criminals" poses enough of a challenge. Fill it up with community organizers, though, and you'll be in for real trouble. It is not my desire to be one of those progressive prisoners, however. I'm deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of the people you incarcerate - and even that of their keepers, such as the two Perryville COs who recently suicided - but the focus of my activism will be much more on the electorate than on you. I want to depopulate the prisons, not make them nice places for more people to be packed into.

I suspect that some of the things on our wish lists may overlap: like reducing recidivism, alleviating pressure on overcrowded facilities, not privatizing Death Row, and allowing for the compassionate release of seriously, chronically, or terminally ill non-violent offenders whose incarceration and care must consume a good portion of your budget. I'll let Middle Ground have the lead on those issues, however. My role, for the most part, will be to seek greater transparency in your department's operations, leverage funding for community-based alternatives to incarceration, educate the electorate on the toxic effect that the carceral regime has on our economy, our social structures and our humanity, and stand by those who challenge the authority of draconian laws and their enforcers.

My methods are non-violent and generally not even criminal, but I realize that has not protected peace and justice activists from infiltration, entrapment, and prosecution under questionable laws before. So, on the outside chance that I should ever end up in the custody of your department, I wanted to clarify a few lingering concerns I have.

Like the use of those cages.

I read the policy you referred me to - and am posting the link to it on my website for others to evaluate themselves. I remain disturbed by the appearance that these cages simply function to compensate for inadequate staffing to provide supervision, and for overcrowded conditions which have robbed the women in particular of indoor space.

Shade, misters, and a continuous water supply are all improvements, but speaking as a woman on medications which predispose me to heatstroke, I would be nonetheless concerned that as a prisoner I might end up in dire jeopardy - not so much due to the criminal negligence of individual guards as due to the risks inherent in institutional policies that assume staff can remain attentive to those they place in potentially life-threatening settings throughout the course of the day. I have seen too many institutionalized people die that way. I would think that over the course of your career you have as well.

Furthermore, it is extensively articulated throughout the prisoner and family/friends community that despite policy prohibiting the use of these cages as punishment, they have long been used precisely for that purpose, which is extremely difficult for a prisoner to prove or obtain remedy for. Who, in fact, is the prisoner supposed to trust to address their grievances fairly to if their access to the outside world is so limited, and if the practices which are brutalizing them are couched in terms of official policy?

These cages have been complained about on numerous occasions in the past, and it took a severely impaired woman's highly publicized death - and Governor Brewer's embarrassment - for anyone to respond. You could attribute that to the failings of previous administrations and chart a new course from here. My expectation, however, is that rather than facilitating an atmosphere of greater transparency and prisoner/community interaction in the future around the problems Marcia's death made visible, you will work to assure that the release of information is much better controlled than it was in this instance. That possibility troubles me.

Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Ever since Marcia's death red flags have been flying at Perryville. What has the department done to the women who set their mattresses on fire in organized protest? It is my understanding that they are in administrative segregation now (commonly referred to as being put into the hole), and may only receive legal assistance if charged in criminal court; they are on their own defending themselves in internal disciplinary proceedings, even though the outcome could seriously affect the kind and length of time they end up doing in the long run.

What were they so distressed or agitated about that they would risk arson charges or worse in order to get outside attention directed at your prison? Would you allow a journalist in to speak with them? Would you allow someone in to interview them who researches women's resistance in prisons? Is Perryville an institution that needs to be shrouded in secrecy in order to continue to function? Or is it a place where human rights and needs are respected enough that you would have no hesitation about allowing prisoners to air their grievances openly and without fear of retaliation?

Yes, retaliation. That's part of the culture you are now responsible for too. Administrative and guard retaliation even scares their parents into silence. Guards who blow the whistle are also at considerable risk, or at least perceive they are. I may even be setting myself up for trouble; I just probably won't get hurt as badly as anyone else if I get pushed off this particular limb, as I don't have far to fall.

I'm sure that the reliance on the prison system as the default place to contain the mentally ill and drug addicted among us presents you with some concerns that I share. As the president of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill back in Ann Arbor I worked on the local level to divert non-violent offenders with mental illness from the criminal justice system into community-based settings, like supported housing. The county sheriff, the D.A., district judges, human service providers, and even left-wing radicals worked together to make this possible. This could have worked for Marcia had this state prioritized its spending in such a way. I do not think that you are so cold as to have been untouched by how she died, and therefore suspect that you might endorse a program which could have saved her life.

As the head of the Department of Corrections, you are in a uniquely authoritative position to speak to the human and economic costs of warehousing the mentally ill in prison versus the investment necessary to keep them safe in the community. Is there something that prevents you from embarking on an aggressive campaign to educate the public and the legislature on this matter?

That question applies equally to the elderly and critically ill population of prisoners. Your department will never be funded to adequately care for them in prison - which is where criminals go, and this state is divided on whether or not they even deserve adequate nutrition, much less essential health care. But you could help make it possible for the community to take responsibility for their care out here.

Additionally, as a woman whose life trajectory nearly paralleled Marcia's for a time, I'd like to know - should I ever end up in your custody - how you would know whether or not I was safe under your policies and in the hands of your employees. Would you ever come ask me or other prisoners about our treatment? Or would you simply monitor facilities through quarterly reports delivered to your office? Would you recognize that in your care, because of my disability, the chances that I would suffer neglect, abuse or death are higher than those of other women there? Would you allow as a matter of policy an outside entity - such as the American Friends Service Committee - to come into the prison to see me regularly, to review my treatment, to hear my grievances, to check on my health?

Or would I - as Marcia was - essentially be at the mercy of whomever happened to be on duty, writing me up on violations for the symptoms of my illness, and drawing out my sentence if I questioned their treatment of myself or my fellow prisoners? As one of 40,000 prisoners across this state, I don't imagine I would even show up on your radar unless it hit the papers that you killed me. And even then, it appears, all you would know about me is what is written in my criminal record. There are lifers out at Perryville who knew far more about Marcia's essential nature than you or your staff did.

I would appreciate an opportunity to discuss these concerns with you in person, or at least to receive a written reply that I can then share with the rest of those who - like me - lack the necessary status to rub elbows with you or the governor or our legislators. That means, you should know, that unless I explicitly tell you otherwise, I would be posting any written reply to this letter on my website, just as I am posting this letter to you.

Regardless of your response (or a lack thereof) I will proceed to take a more active role in educating and organizing the community to dismantle your regime. I just want to give you a reasonable chance to articulate your own position on these issues, lest I paint you and the department in an unfair light, as you may feel I have done already and would continue to do regardless.

No matter how fair I am, frankly, I don't think the light I paint the ADC in will be ever be flattering. Perhaps you have overwhelming evidence that would persuade me otherwise, but based on what I know I'm fairly convinced that the prison industrial complex in its totality functions as a tool of social repression used to divide the classes while employing racism, sexism, and a whole range of prejudices in order to perpetuate the status quo - protecting the positions of those already in power, themselves alone able to define what constitutes "crime", and what constitutes "justice". So long as the law is made by the few and punishment is arbitrarily doled out to the many, even those who think they are free among us live in chains.

I do realize I may be making a mistake by writing to you, especially when I am this deeply moved; my wiser friends would tell me not to make myself known - and certainly not to be offensive - because you are a potentially dangerous man. I have been unable to discern, as of yet (from rumor and limited observation), whether you are more a servant of the public or a knowing perpetrator of injustice, however; you are a particularly hard fellow to read. Perhaps you do what you do in the best interests of humanity. But it is this choice of professions - the violent control and confinement of tens of thousands of people - a number of whom you must know are either harmless or innocent - that gives me pause. I have a dear friend who devoted her life to corrections administration, however, so I haven't completely condemned you as a sadistic character. If I had, I wouldn't bother with writing to you now. I am holding out hope that you could actually be an ally on some matters, or that at the least we don't have to be adversaries.

But that is a very small hope.

Thank you for your time, if you have read this far. I may be provocative, I confess, but my aim is to be emphatic about the scope and gravity of the situation I believe that you - and I - are responsible for. Perhaps no one knows that better than you, except for your prisoners and their loved ones. If you don't speak with me, then I hope you are at least listening to them.

Sincerely,

Margaret J. Plews

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Next of Kin

I am an educated woman. I've studied the prison industrial complex extensively, compared even to people more educated than me. I've read the works of scholars like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, and Joy James. I've struck gold with books put out by collectives like Critical Resistance and Incite! Women of Color Against Violence.

I consider myself to be an abolitionist. There's no such thing as a good prison, etc. etc. I'm as much of a skeptic as I am an idealist. I was originally radicalized in my 20's doing outreach to people with mental illness who were dying in the shelters, jails, and streets. I think our society is - by and large - racist, classist, elitist, and of course misogynistic and patriarchal. I suspect that the criminal justice system functions exactly as it's intended to, even when it incarcerates the "innocent", and kills the people we so casually toss aside. It keeps all the potential riff raff in line to know that even they could go to prison any time.

We'll spend $26,000 per prisoner per year on incarceration - about 10% of Arizona's state budget. That's a real commitment. That's more than a year of grad school at the University of Michigan costs. That tells me that mass incarceration is paying off for someone. It's an investment. We're talking about leasing prison facilities for 50 years. We're reserving room for our great grandchildren there.

I think a lot about the implications of that.

Marcia's death triggered me to start this blog, to reach out to others, and to at least try to take meaningful action after years of trying to tame my own demons. But it also distracted me from the central tasks of abolition, which are not located in individual crisis-intervention or reforming our prisons; the real work to be done is in transforming our communities. As Montini points out in his column today, the challenge that Marcia Powell represents has to do with how she lived, not how she died.

I know if I go to her service I will cry, but perhaps it is time. Grief still dwells in me for so many people I know who lived and died alone, virtually unknown to all but their keepers and fellow travellers in the various institutions we erect to confine or correct them. For several I was next of kin. I was one of the few who witnessed Love manifest in their lives in moments of profound generosity and kindness towards those who suffered with them. A salvaged cigarette butt shared around the fire. A seat given up to an old solider or a young mother at the free meal. A word of concern about a sick neighbor to a shelter worker. A few bucks hustled up to pay for an elder's medication. A makeshift memorial in tribute to a street preacher. A smile. A hug. A friend. Half of nothing to someone who has even less.

Those good souls deserve far more respect and consideration than the swaggering politicians and upstanding citizens who toss pennies, platitudes, and criminal sanctions at the poor when they beg on the sidewalk and make up new life stories - lies to justify their existence - on signs at freeway exits.

It isn't that I don't see the bigger picture. It's that I've been riveted to thousands of tiny pieces through the years, an intimate observer to so many tortured minds and shattered lives, and I know it doesn't have to be that way. No one "deserves" to be thrown away. It is us, not so much "them", who need to change. Perhaps then we will finally elect a government that represents the heart of The People instead of the financial interests of the petty, selfish, Privileged Few.

"An Invisible Woman is Laid to Rest"

Ed Montini's column for today.


For most of her adult life, 48-year-old Marcia Powell was invisible. Then she died, and slowly came into view.

If you were required in school to read H.G. Wells' science fiction masterpiece "The Invisible Man" you'll recall that the troubled scientist called Griffin formulated a recipe for invisibility that, we learn tragically, wears off after death.

As it turns out, the same holds true in real life.

The diabolical concoction that lead to Marcia Powell's invisibility was a mixture of mental illness, drugs and ignorance. (Ours, not hers.)

Today, At Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix, Powell will be laid to rest. She was a troubled adopted girl when she first ran away from home in California.

She showed early signs of mental illness. But as a young adult with no family – or at least none that wanted any part of her – “treatment” took the form of self medication by way of everything from alcohol to methamphetamine. To pay for it, she became a prostitute.

Mental illness is not a crime. Most of those who suffer from the disease are able to keep it under control and function perfectly well with the help of doctors and prescription drugs.

Powell and many others are not as fortunate.

Left on their own they spiral into homelessness, petty crime or worse.

After offering oral sex to an undercover police officer in exchange for a few dollars Marcia Powell found herself in what has become one of Arizona's largest de facto mental health facilities – state prison.

It wasn't the first time she was behind bars. Or the second. Or the tenth. Powell had been in and out of jail for decades, all of which went unnoticed by you and me. She and those like her roam our streets, alleys, parking lots and city parks in plain view but unseen, shrouded by their delusions and our indifference.

All of which changed for Powell when she was placed in a cage-like outdoor enclosure at the prison in Perryville and left to cook for four hours. Invisible. Forgotten.

It was only after she fell into a coma and died that any of us learned she had been alive.

Even now, as the Department of Corrections investigates what went wrong, it is the manner of her death that concerns us. Not her life.

Ken Heintzelman, pastor at Shadow Rock, told me, “It's unfortunate that it sometimes take a spiritual kick in the pants to make us stop and see what is going on. Maybe through Marcia we can address some of the systematic things that caused this to happen to her. It's more than simply about this one person. It's about what kind of society we want to be.”

The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary's office spent weeks trying to find relatives of Powell. The only family members they found were even less interested in her after death than they had been while she was alive.

So burying Powell fell to some good-hearted local people, including folks at Shadow Rock, at EncantoCommunityChurch, at Hansen's Mortuary and at the fiduciary's office.

Most, like Donna Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, only heard of Powell after she was gone.

While helping to plan Powell's funeral Hamm told me, “We believe that Marcia deserves a little dignity, something she didn't get while alive.”

If all goes according to plan, Powell's cremated remains will be placed in a niche at Shadow Rock sometime around dusk on Sunday.

The church is located south of Thunderbird Road on Eighth Avenue. The desert landscape rises up like a wave behind the building, cresting at the edge of an unending sky. It's an open, airy place. No prison cells. No barbed wire. No cages.

(Column for June 28, 2009, Arizona Republic)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Freedom Dreams

I have been accused more than once of being an idealist; it is usually not leveled as a compliment. I have been advised that certain strategies for social change were ineffective, antiquated, even counterproductive. I am not and have never been a political insider. If anything, politicians hide from me, sometimes seeking solace in the arms of my more moderate allies. This is okay with me, so long as the movement continues to move in the direction of greater liberation and respect for all life. I don't need to be the one who gets us there. I'm satisfied with my place in Left field and the knowledge that once in awhile a friend veers from the center to see what it is I'm looking at, listening to, talking about, dreaming of. Their objective is usually to bring me back into the fold, into the mainstream of activists. But occasionally they linger, considering possibilities they'd abandoned for more practical objectives years ago. We so desperately need artists and dreamers in the movement - to keep the vision alive in the midst of a sometimes brutal struggle to just survive.

This month I turned 45. I have been an activist for over a quarter of a century, and I just got started. I've seen the tide of social change rise and fall, flood and recede, over and over again. I know that demonstrators get gassed in the streets, radicals get thrown into holes, and idealists get dismissed or ignored. It doesn't matter what party is in power: whomever it is, they want to keep their power and often go to extremes to do so - as we see with Arizona's Republicans today, plotting ways to lengthen prison terms for citizens who betray their country by offering humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants. They are desperate, and its not the immigrants they're afraid of - it's the American sympathizers. The "race traitors". The Latino citizens. The Native Americans. And those damn Black radicals. The people who actually have the power to vote now - and to purchase. The generation that will soon be making new laws, and deciding what to do with its more twisted elders.

That's why they gut the schools, screw the poor, and arrest all the radicals leaving jugs of water in the desert so others don't die on their journey to the Land of Opportunity. They are from the privileged class, and feel so entitled to their way of life that despite the lip-service paid here to good old American democracy they don't even pretend to represent the rest of us - making deals behind closed doors, passing budgets in the middle of the night. They are invested in keeping the vast majority of us ignorant and desperate to stay afloat - too desperate to critique how we ended up here in the first place, and too ignorant to know that there's another way to live. Many other ways.

Thank god for the "little" people - the "powerless" ones - the dreamers and idealists and inmates who chart alternative futures, then put themselves on the line trying to clear new paths. The hunger strikers in Arpaio's jail, for example, were inspiring but faced overwhelming odds. The "smart" prisoner would quietly do his time and try not to return. These fools, though, risked getting more time, harder time, even time that could kill them, for what?

For Justice.

To move the Free so deeply that we get off our asses and demand that prisoners be treated with dignity.

They did it not only for themselves, but also for us. They made us take notice.

Nothing I have done in my life - probably nothing I will ever do - rivals that kind of action in courage, vision, and uncompromising adherence the promise of our Dream of a nation which promotes equality, cherishes freedom, and values the rights and humanity of even the least of us. Righteousness comes from the strangest places sometimes: like these prisoners demanding edible food, demanding to be treated better than dogs.

And most of them weren't even citizens, nor were they trying to be. They're just trying to eke out a life. They could have just been put down without most of this state blinking an eye. Yet when it came down to it and it seemed they had no cards left to play, some actually found their freedom standing up for the rights of their fellow human beings in our desert jails. These were the least protected, most maligned people in this country up against the "toughest" most bigoted SOB of a sheriff I've ever seen. At one point nearly 2,000 inmates were striking. They totally undermined the authority of the bully they call a Sheriff here, and none of them had to pull a gun.

Those are the kinds of Americans we need more of, not less of, these days.

Rock on, brothers and sisters from the Global South. Don't believe it if they tell you what you've been trying to do is impossible, whether you are trying to change our land or your own; we are really all one.

If I had money I'd always be betting on those hunger strikers. This time I think they won, but even if they lost this battle - even if they lost their lives - they will have shaped the nature of the peace by affirming in the rest of us what this is all about. It is more than a dream they helped keep alive; it is a sustainable future for humanity. Only idealists would believe in such a possibility, and lay down everything for the fight.

This is why I'm an abolitionist, and not a middle-of-the-road reformer. I believe we'll end up where we're going, and I don't want a world with "better" prisons; I want one in which we don't need them. There are indeed horrendous prisons, but I do not believe there are any good ones. Their presence in our society reflects our collective failure, not the incidence of individual transgressions.

Some lament the middle for staving off the Revolution, but it would be a far more bitter, bloody fight without their dedication and moderation, and I myself may not have survived this long had they not pulled me back from the edge so many times. I value the work my moderate friends do because they keep people alive and help to ease their suffering. But without dreamers and idealists at their side, they risk becoming cold and jaded, or - worse yet - co-opted and settling for less while racism and capitalism continue to claim lives and gain ground.

Yes, I dream of a world with no prisons, as crazy as it sounds. A world that doesn't operate on violence. A world in which there are no bombs, not even smart ones. A world that raises children to love each other, instead of breeding hate and greed and fear. A world in which people are both free and responsible to each other and the planet. The kind of world that the better part of humanity has fought for over the course of centuries.

I believe that world may be possible some day, and I'm willing to do what I can to help build it. Even if I lay only one solid stone in my lifetime, and die at the hands of hateful disturbed men, I believe that dream is worth living for, and keeping it alive for future generations is my obligation. I will make mistakes; I will regret certain compromises. I will get discouraged, and may be consumed by despair. I will be discounted, discredited, and dismissed - sometimes by the practical "realists" who love me, sometimes by those further out on the limb than I dare to travel. The more I try to share this dream, the more others may try to silence me. I will meet resistance from all sides. But it's too late to temper me now. I have an extremely ambitious dream - a Freedom Dream - and I am hardly alone. From Robin Kelley to Angela Davis to the Freedom Riders and the Grimke sisters to Fredrick Douglass and those hunger strikers - and to my best friends and big brother - I am in the finest of company whenever I am true to the vision of that dream.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Committal Service for Marcia Powell

(This originates from Donna Leone Hamm at Middle Ground Prison Reform)

Many of you have asked to be notified of the committal service for the cremains of Marcia Powell. The service will take place on Sunday evening, June 28, 2009 at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, 12861 North 8th Avenue, Phoenix. (Off Thunderbird Road, South to 8th Avenue), at 6:15 p.m. Sunset is scheduled for 6:50 that day, and we hope to have Marcia in her final resting place at that time. The church phone is: 602 993-0050. Look for parking lot signs directing you to the Festival Garden area.

This special church is recognized for its attention honoring diversity, and to recognition of the uniqueness and greatness of everyone, no matter what their station in life. The FESTIVAL GARDEN is where the columbarium is located. Marcia will be placed at eternal rest in a niche that is located in a setting at the facility that embraces the beauty of the Arizona desert, and the grandeur of the distant mountains.

A brief ceremony will take place, and anyone who wishes to make comments may do so. After final benedictions by Rev. Liana Rowe, Marcia's remains will be placed in a niche for eternal rest. Everyone is welcome to attend.

To preserve the dignity and serenity of the niche wall area, no media cameras will be permitted. Instead, if television media wish to attend, a location off the parking will be designated which provides water and shade, and media may ask attendees as they leave the services if they wish to comment on camera.

Finally, thanks cannot be over-stated with regard to many generous groups and individuals who have made it possible for Marcia to be treated in death with the dignity and respect she was not shown in life. I will probably forget many people, but special thanks go to Encanto Community Church; Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, Hansen's Mortuary, the office of the Maricopa County Public Fudiciary, and all the individuals in the community who have come together to grieve over the tragic, avoidable death of one of our most frail members.

If you have any questions prior to June 28th, please feel free to contact Middle Ground Prison Reform at this e-mail address: middlegroundprisonreform@msn.com

Women Behind the Wall

Women Behind the Wall, a Blog Talk Radio show by and for incarcerated women, featured Donna Hamm from Middle Ground Prison Reform last night discussing Marcia Powell's death. A link to the show is here and at the bottom of the page where the Blog Talk Radio icon is. Donna has access to AZ DOC administrators and knows how to obtain available records; both her information and insights are useful.

One of the hosts of the show, Gloria Killian, was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in California for 17 1/2 years, and recounted an incident in California prisons in which two mentally ill prisoners died from heat-related illness, precipitated by the psychotropic medications they were on. Consequently California developed a policy of issuing ID cards to prisoners taking medications that disrupt their ability to regulate their body temperature so they could leave over-heated environments, have access to ice at certain temperatures, and receive a fan to cool their cell if they were indigent and unable to purchase their own. How Arizona failed to learn from California's mistake and corrections is beyond me.

Among other things, according to Donna Hamm the Department of Justice doesn't think they need to conduct an investigation into Marcia's death or the use of the "Tiger Cages" because her death was an isolated incident and prison policies changed such that it is unlikely to occur again - which I'm not entirely convinced of. So, the DOJ seems to be a fair target for protest on this issue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Officer Down

There is a press release on the AZ DOC website about the suicide of the corrections officer last week. I do not know what unit he was from or if his action had anything to do with the investigation - I know only that his family must be experiencing profound, inconsolable grief.

Donations can be made to the 100 Club in the memory of J. Barker. The 100 Club of Arizona helps support the families of public safety officers who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.

Torture Accountability Action Day

Just found this on the Democratic Underground: Thursday is Torture Accountability Action Day. Specifically, the national agenda is to get a special prosecutor for torture at the DOJ. Seems appropriate to parallel that with a request to the DOJ/FBI that they investigate the AZ DOC; both have already been asked at least once. Our own government is about to come to a screeching halt over the budget and I can't seem to get anyone's attention there, but there are reasons to focus on the capitol still, anyway. Here's several options for anyone interested. All it takes is a person and a good sign...maybe I'll throw together and post a petition to circulate that day, giving cause for interaction with passers-by.

The DOJ US Attorney for AZ is at Two Renaissance Square, 40 North Central Ave., Suite 1200 in Phoenix. (The DC demonstrators will march to the DOJ with their demands, so possibly media would show if they knew folks were heading to the local office too.)

The FBI is at 201 E Indianola Ave. in Phoenix. I'm not sure why I even note that, except that I think it would be good for the FBI to face a few angry citizens about prisoner rights and abuse. How often does anyone occupy their sidewalk? Just don't get too radical.
The AZ Department of Corrections HQ is at 1601 West Jefferson in downtown Phoenix. They have been conducting an internal investigation for over a month now with no public report or appearance of accountability. I think they need a cemetary on their sidewalk representing the 79 prisoners who have died in their custody over the past year, but getting further press attention to the prisons may necessitate a promise of civil disobedience and arrest as well.

The Capitol is hard to miss and will probably have media already camped out there hoping for a fist fight between legislators and the governor, and may thus be the best target. Ultimately the governor should take the lead in running the executive branch and shining some light on what's going on with Perryville. She can blame the mess on Janet if she wants and take the credit for cleanup for all I care, but she's running out of time to do it right. Evidence has already been corrupted and people have been compromised. Another person is dead (though possibly not related), and three women are probably in the hole. Governor Brewer can either be responsible now, or guilty later.

I guess that can be said for all of us.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Governor Brewer, and Death by Incarceration

Governor Brewer will presumably be fighting with legislators this week, but she can also be found speaking at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, June 24, at noon. The event will be held at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, 7200 N. Scottsdale Road.

The Governor's speech at this affair is of the utmost importance, and will likely go on as planned, no matter who else dies.

Not that I'm necessarily advocating any kind of protest or demonstration at that time and place - that would be terribly disruptive and rude, and might make people uncomfortable. I just think it's good to keep up with our elected officials. I don't have a grievance with the Governor so much as I think she has the most power to take meaningful action on these issues, and I can't tell if she's not listening, doesn't care, or just doesn't agree.

Maybe someone out there has some better ideas, but short of crashing various parties or throwing one of our own, I'm not sure how else ordinary, non-elite Arizonans become visible or relevant to government officials or get to ask the questions that the press fails to.

Are we not also entitled to access our elected officials, or do only Chamber of Commerce members and political insiders have that right? Do only certain people speak for the interests of prisoners and their families, such that everyone else's voice becomes null and void? Has either the Governor or Director Ryan even entered a room full of people directly affected by the policies and conditions of incarceration that they are responsible for? Aren't those the people the Governor should be directly addressing? And shouldn't the legislature be engaged with them - with us - as well?

Since the Governor does so much public speaking, perhaps she and DOC Interim Director Charles Ryan would grace the rest of us with their presence at a town hall meeting to discuss Marcia's death, prison policies on cages, overcrowding, budgetary effects on inmates and families, privatization, notoriously poor health care for women - with serious consequences - and the creation of an independent oversight citizen's committee to address issues with the DoC, for starters. I would think the local PBS and NPR stations would also be happy to interview them on call-in shows.

Seventy-nine prisoners have died in DOC custody since July 2008. That's a lot of families affected. Three were considered suicides, three were homicides, two are under investigation, one was a drug overdose, and the rest were "natural causes". I wonder: is heatstroke a "natural cause?", or would they call it an "accident"? How often do inmates die from accidents? How do they characterize death from a heart attack after being tasered, or a stroke while being held down by six guards? What is choking on one's vomit while seizuring in 4-point restraints in an unsupervised cell considered?

How about cancer that became terminal because an inmate couldn't afford the cost of their medical care (which is soon to rise, even as inmate wages are being lowered), or because diagnosis and treatment were delayed by understaffing and misplaced priorities? Is that a "natural cause", or "neglect"? Or the folks who contract Hep C while incarcerated due to unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, then get inadequate care - is that "natural"? What would it be if it was our own family member?

Who investigates every time a prisoner dies, and who decides how to classify for the DoC what killed them? Why don't we ever hear about it? There's a whole day and a ceremony set aside every year for fallen peace officers; the Governor attends that, too. What about people that are killed by the state without due process? What about the innocent caught up in the system too? Who honors them? How do we even learn their names? Why should dying in custody reflect shame on prisoners instead of on their keepers - or on the society that created the conditions in which they died?

Why do only rich criminals get to die at home?

And who will ever know why that officer shot himself on prison grounds last week? Did he fall in the line of duty? Or did the DOC's policies and practices kill him, too? We know prison takes its toll on guards. Was his voice ever raised? Was he ever heard? Are there other COs concerned about how things are going down out there? Are you organizing? Do we have some of the same things on our wish lists (prisoners and COs)

For those not inclined to engage in public protest, guerrilla theater or the like, please write to your local papers and national media outlets and urge more in-depth investigation into these issues - and call legislators continuously. They need to know we are still waiting for answers, and while they probably threw the Perryville 3 in the hole for setting those fires, we have a wider range of tools available to us than prisoners do, and cannot be simply locked away and ignored.

Hopefully not, anyway.

WTF???

It has been over a month since Marcia Powell died, and there's still no public information about the Department of Corrections investigation into the incident, nor has there been a coherent articulation of the policy of using outdoor cages as holding cells - or the alleged practice of using them for punishment (see also this interview). Preliminary results of an investigation were originally expected at the end of May. What is taking so long?

Exactly what the policy is on the use of cages at present is rather confusing, in fact. First they were going to be retrofitted with shade. Then the governor ordered them mothballed permanently. Then, days later, the DOC announced that the cages would be used again, only guards would be required to sign a log showing that they checked on inmates every 30 minutes (which is what they were supposed to do when Marcia died...). And yet, since that last announcement the news has still circulated around the globe that Arizona is ending the use of these cages permanently (except in cases of riot).

The DOC should clearly, publicly post their policy on the use of outdoor cages if indeed they are to be used. Clearly the rest of the world thinks Arizona just moved into the 21st Century by abandoning the practice of caging people in the desert sun. If we in fact have not evolved in that direction, we should at least issue a clear press release informing the rest of humanity as to why we are the only state in the country that does this. Maybe then Amnesty International will take up the case of Arizona state prisoners - citizens and immigrants alike - with the same fervor they have shown over Guantanamo.

The DOC should also explain what necessitates the use of these cages. Some argue they are necessary to accommodate the recreation needs of maximum security prisoners. But that's the kind of semi-supervised arrangement made when there are problems with short-staffing, or a loss of recreational space due to over-crowding. Space indoors can easily be freed up by releasing the elderly, the critically and terminally ill, and other low-risk offenders. How is society served by incarcerating a 60 year old pharmaceutical addict who may well die of cancer before their sentence is up?

If these cages are to be used, how will Ryan assure they aren't abused again? The routine use of harsh environmental conditions as punishment comes into practice out of an institutionalized disregard for human dignity, not just the pathologies of individual guards. What, in that regard, has changed? Was an investigation conducted in 2007 when complaints were made about prisoners being kept in them for up to ten days? By failing to close the cages at that time - or any time since then - don't administrators share responsibility for Marcia's death with whomever was working the yard that day?

Some insight into how this incident occurred could be critical at this point in time, given the threatened DOC budget cutbacks, the failure of the legislature to address excessive sentencing this session, the number of inmate deaths that have occurred since July 2008 (seventy-nine), and the increasing use of prisons to warehouse the seriously mentally ill, whose community treatment and housing are grossly underfunded by state and local entities. Chances are, the judge who gave Marcia 27 months for prostitution thought he was helping her stay "safe" (i.e. off the streets) for awhile. I doubt he/she would have sent Marcia to prison if there was a suitable community-based alternative.

And then, of course, there is the recent suicide of the DoC officer out at Perryville, throwing more red flags into the mix

DOC employees deserve a full, independent investigation of how their employer's policies failed them as well as Marcia, and how the AZ legislature's longstanding mean-spirited politics and indifference to prison conditions contributed to Marcia's death and a criminal investigation of DOC line staff. Most legislative discussions regarding prisons in recent years, in fact, have had to do with how to spend less per prisoner and incarcerate more people, not how to decrease staff or prisoner mortality or address human rights violations.

Now the state's even trying to balance their budget by decreasing the wages of people who only make 40 cents a day, or by raising the price of vitamins in the canteen (which even prisoners dying of cancer have to purchase in order to receive, if they are well enough to work and lucky enough to make more than the prison reclaims for its expenses like clothing and toothpaste...) Is everyone aware of how it works in there? There is no dental care apart from tooth extractions. Hepatitis C - treatable on the outside - is ignored as a fatal illness on the inside, presumably because of the expense of treating it and the prevalence of the illness in prisons. Why prolong a drug addicted criminal's life with even moderately exceptional means?

We killed Marcia before she even stepped foot in that cage. All of those women are under a potential sentence of death because health care is so notoriously lacking, as are decent cleaning supplies and blood-borne pathogens protection and education. Some of those women are going to leave prison with Hep C even though they never engaged in using needles or risky sex just because conditions are so poor. Surely they and their families don't "deserve" that.

We may think we're saving money if we incarcerate on the cheap by withholding medical care, charging inmates outrageous prices for toiletries and essentials, cutting officer salaries and benefits, double and triple-bunking in cells meant for one person - or turning dining and recreation areas into large congregate dorms - and increasing medical co-pays so those who can't afford it go without, but we'll end up paying an even higher price by turning the sick into the disabled and dying. By failing to provide even a minimally humane foundation from which people can reconcile with the community, rebuild their lives and recover from their addictions and compulsions, we virtually guarantee that a large portion of them will be returned to prison for violating parole - requiring us to spend more on warehousing them in snake pits than we would spend if we paid for their dorm rooms and tuition at ASU (which has a greater potential for rehabilitating non-violent criminals than prison does...).

This is in part a reflection of the indifference and ignorance of so many Arizona citizens about the consequences of being caught up in the criminal justice system, whether one is guilty or not. On Saturday, June 27, there will be a rally at the capitol for the wrongly-convicted; they, too, are subject to all the abuse and exploitation that the "guilty" are. Shall we walk away from them, too, rationalizing that they are probably getting what they deserve?

It took Marcia nearly an hour and a half to die after she was removed from life support by Director Ryan. That's a long time to lie there dying. That sounds like a soul reluctant to leave this planet, though we had all pretty much concluded that her life wasn't worth living based on the few things we knew from her criminal record and her missing front teeth. I believe if she had been executed by lethal injection and it took an hour and a half for her organs to finish shutting down and her heart to stop (she probably never really stopped cooking), that would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

No one deserves to go that way.

Based on the numerous reports I've read from prisoners, former prisoners, their families, and even guards, plenty of people have been stowed in a cage in the sun and forgotten before, fearing they would die. That's cruel and unusual punishment, too - threatening to boil someone to death when you have the power to really do it.

Damn. A lot of these people are just doing a short stretch for non-violent crime, hoping they can still get back to their families before their kids grow up and their parents die. Prison is hazardous enough to try to survive - especially if you have some kind of health problem in the first place. Ryan's investigation needs to give those folks answers about how Marcia died and a meaningful guarantee that none of them are next. If anyone had been listening to prisoner complaints before this happened, Marcia might still be alive today. So any recommendations coming out of this investigation need to include amplifying - not silencing - the prisoner's voice.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Perryville Takes Another Life

Officer commits suicide at prison complex in Goodyear

A Department of Corrections Officer committed suicide Thursday night at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville, said Bill Lamoreaux, spokesman for the DOC.

The officer reportedly killed himself a little before 9 p.m. in the outside perimeter of the prison.

The officer had been with the DOC since 1999.

An investigation is being conducted regarding the circumstances of his suicide, Lamoreaux said.

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Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. In March of this year, just a few months ago, another officer from Perryville (the count/movement officer at Lumley) also took his own life.

That makes 2 officer suicides, 1 prisoner death, and 3 fire-setting protesters all in the span of 3 months. And that's all we know about.

What was the reason the Governor didn't order an outside, independent investigation of what's going on at that prison?

Latest on Budget and AZ Prison Privatization

More on selling prisons, courtesy of Frank Smith (Thanks, Frank). Now would be a good time to contact the governor's office with opposition to any prison privatization and new prison beds.

http://azcapitoltimes.com/blog/2009/06/18/privatization-proposal-for-maximum-security-prisons-raises-concerns/

Privatization proposal for maximum security prisons raises concerns

By Jeremy Duda - jeremy.duda@azcapitoltimes.com

Published: June 18, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Arizona is no stranger to prison privatization, but the stakes are higher now that lawmakers have proposed turning over maximum security facilities, including the state’s death row, to private prison companies.

One of the budget bills passed by the Legislature on June 4, S1028, calls for the Department of Administration to issue a request for information on the feasibility of privatizing state prisons, including maximum security facilities. An earlier version of the budget package included the privatization of the Eyman, Perryville and Yuma prison complexes. Eyman’s Browning Unit houses Arizona’s death row.

Private prisons in Arizona have housed DUI offenders and other low- and medium-security inmates since the early 1990s. But to Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan, privatizing maximum security and “close-custody” inmates – the second-highest security level in the corrections system – is a step too far.

“The private sector will probably tell you – certainly one of the legislators has told me – that they think it’s less expensive to have the private sector operate these systems, these prisons,” Ryan said. “Maximum security units are very staff intensive – control rooms, cell blocks, sally ports, gates, hands-on direct-contact supervision with inmates. … There are no staff efficiencies when you go into these facilities.”

Michael Duran, president of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, said private sector guards often lack the experience and training of their DOC counterparts, a critical factor when dealing with the types of people housed in maximum security facilities such as Browning or Eyman’s Special Management Unit. Ryan said maximum security prisoners commit 43 percent of all assaults against DOC personnel in Arizona, and close-custody prisoners account for another 34 percent.

“Sixteen percent of our prison system beds is where 77 percent of the assaults against our staff occur,” Ryan said.

But Steve Owen of Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America, which contracts with the state to house Arizona inmates in out-of-state prisons, said the private sector can handle maximum security prisoners as well as DOC, if not better. For example, he said, CCA runs a number of maximum security facilities, including the U.S. federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., and the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility, which houses inmates of all security levels up to death row.

“Our correctional staff and our correctional officers … contractually are required to meet or exceed the standards of our customers,” Owen said. “We receive the same level of training as our public counterparts. Also, it’s not uncommon to have people who come from a public-sector career in corrections, and come to work in the private sector.”

Prison personnel at CCA and other private companies are trained at or above the standards set by the American Correctional Association, Owen said. Additionally, states can require whatever training levels, staffing levels and staffing patterns they deem appropriate, he said.

Duran of the peace officers association said there are numerous areas where private sector companies can cut corners. Things such as education programs for inmates are often casualties to cost cutting, he said. Pay for prison guards is often lower as well, Duran said.

“They consider the inmates getting up in the morning and going to chow as part of programming,” Duran said. “That’s not programming.”

Charles Seigel of Cornell Companies, a Houston-based private corrections company, said his company operates several facilities that mix inmates of different security levels. Owen said it is more efficient for companies or departments of corrections to use “one-roof construction,” as opposed to multiple buildings that are more staff-intensive. One-roof complexes can be designed in a way that maximizes the efficiency of the staff, as well as reduces infrastructure costs in areas such as electricity, water and food service.

Ryan, however, prefers the way Arizona’s prison complexes are set up, with separate units for offenders of different security levels that are tied together by centralized support systems such as administration, motor pools, wastewater treatment systems and other infrastructure. Ryan has no objection to the privatization of lower-level security facilities, but he said it would be unwise to turn over lower-level security units to the private sector while having DOC continue to run other units in the same prison complex.

“It is not good public policy to think in terms of contracting maximum security inmates and, for that matter, close-custody inmates to the private sector,” Ryan said. “It’s also not a good public policy when you look at the model of how we operate and how we have clustered our prison units together in complexes that reflect … what the efficiencies are of shared services.”

Another concern Duran has with the privatization proposals being floated by the Legislature is the pension and retirement systems used by about 9,000 DOC personnel. If the state lays off prison guards so private sector companies can hire their own personnel – Eyman, Perryville and Yuma have a combined 2,000 employees, he said – it could create a serious drain on the Correction Officer Retirement Program, or CORP, when all the laid-off DOC employees pull out of the retirement plan at once.

“You want to displace 2,000 officers for what? They’re going to making half the pay that they were, and then … CORP’s going to pay out,” Duran said.

Privatization was proposed as a way to bridge Arizona’s budget deficit, estimated at $3 billion by the Legislature and $4 billion by the Governor’s Office. Lawmakers who included prison privatization in the budget package they approved June 4 noted the state could generate about $100 million for each prison complex it privatizes.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who has expressed skepticism about the plan, believes the state would be better off with a sale-leaseback agreement for state facilities, including some prisons, under which DOC still would run the prison complexes.

Ryan said the Legislature’s plan would be a raw deal for the state, giving Arizona $100 million for facilities that cost more than $1 billion to build. But he believes Arizona can generate revenue through privatization without shortchanging the state or handing over maximum security facilities to the private sector. He proposes taking vacant land at the Perryville and Yuma complexes – Perryville alone has 600 acres available – and awarding concession agreements to private companies for low- and medium-security facilities on the land.

Facilities on that now-vacant land could accommodate 5,000 new beds for low- and medium-security inmates, Ryan said, and the new facilities could tie into the infrastructure already in place at Perryville and Yuma. Such a plan would allow the state to meet the needs of its growing corrections system – it adds more than 1,800 inmates a year – and house more than 4,600 Arizona inmates who now are incarcerated at prisons in Colorado and Oklahoma.

Ryan said his plan could bring in about $300 million for the state, while giving DOC an opportunity to observe the effectiveness of private prisons that operate alongside state-run counterparts.

Regardless of what, if any, proposals move forward during this year’s legislative session, the prison privatization battle is likely to continue long after the budget crisis is over. In early July, the GEO Group formed a political action committee. GEO Group Political Action Committee Chairman Louis Carillo said the PAC was not formed to influence the proposals currently included in the Legislature’s budget, but will “contribute to various political campaigns that are of interest to the PAC.”

Happy Birthday Aung San Suu Kyi: FREE BURMA!

America has plenty of company when it comes to incarcerating political prisoners. Please click on Aung San Suu Kyi's picture to the left to connect with Amnesty International's campaign to free the leader of Burma's democratic opposition.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a nobel peace prize winner, has been detained 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest or in prison due to her political resistance to Burma's ruling military junta and the tremendous popularity she has with the Burmese masses. Her party claims to be the legitimate victors of the last democratically held elections in Burma in 1990.

With the military junta seeking to run and win the latest round of elections (none of which have been considered legitimately won by any of them), Suu Kyi is suddenly on trial again, and being held in the infamous maximum security Insein prison (yes, that's pronounced "insane") in Rangoon. She has just turned 64.

Burma - renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the junta - presently has an estimated 2,000 political prisoners detained, and has murdered countless others. Burma is the site of the Saffron Revolution in which there were mass protests in 2007 by Buddhist monks whose blood spilled everywhere in the streets following the brutal government crackdown.

Blessings to all the good people of Burma. May your country someday be free.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Racist, Criminal Lawmakers

I'm a little slow on the draw because I've been with family these past couple of weeks, but I just came across this info about SB1175, and had to pass it on. For this you have to go to a friend of mine's blog: here. She's really on top of the immigration issues; reading her blog was how I found out about this bill.

Here's the conservative response and legislative strategy (bookmark that page - very interesting site - glad they blog too).

It should come as no surprise that Republican legislators are pushing through more racist legislation like SB 1162 was. No wonder we need so many more private prison beds. Criminalizing immigrants is big business, especially in Arizona.

The implications of SB 1175 - this latest bill Pearce got through the senate are, of course, more racial profiling, inappropriate arrests, private detention facilities, overcrowded local jails, and missing family members. Any Latino not carrying proof of citizenship would be vulnerable to arrest and detention as a "trespasser" (which would be redefined under state law to specify undocumented persons. So much for AZ tourism, I would think). Since Latinos are presumed guilty on sight (especially two or more together), I can't imagine they'd be set free once arrested unless they fought the trespassing charge and showed actual proof of their citizenship to the court.

This is what Pearce thinks should be done with law enforcement resources? Chase trespassers down public streets? Arrest people who left their identification at home?

They can't just keep criminalizing people for being brown and think we won't see it for what it is. It's racist.

Check out this article too, about halfway down - they also want to send people to prison who might "harbor" an illegal immigrant for a sentence of 5 years. This is like the 1850 fugitive slave act. This is insane. It's like accusing abolitionists of sedition and hanging them.

So, let me sum up the bigger picture. Arizona's experiencing huge budget shortfalls - partly because we have so many people in prison, and we're going to criminalize undocumented persons further, while also throwing those who help them - say, get them to a physician when they find them dying in the desert - into prison. We're going to have to build a lot more cells just for the civil disobedience that invites.

Not everyone harboring immigrants would go to prison, of course. That's where the prosecutor's "discretion" comes in. Only the "political" people will go to prison; those who know something about the immigrant activist network but won't cooperate. And they'll end up in isolation in a maximum security hellhole, justified by this law being passed around under the radar. (Community organizers are serious security threats in prisons.)

I think if these bills go through then citizens from all over the state will have to leave their ID at home, take the 5th, refuse to post bail, and start filling the jail cells - make them prove that we aren't citizens instead of offering evidence that we are. Are we not already presumed innocent? They can only hold and prosecute so many of us. It would be a citizen's nullification of the legislature's last-minute blindside.

This is such a strange state, I must say. Very mean-spirited, the politics are. I'm at a loss as to how they think they can ultimately keep so many people down. This state isn't turning Blue, like they fear - it's going to be Green and brown soon, and we're going to raise a rainbow flag over the capitol building and then throw down with the scared straight liberals about whether or not all the queers can finally get married.

Those of us not in the legislative brawl will begin bringing prisoners home.

Lucky for men like Pearce (who will likely live to see Arizona progressives in power), most of us think that even old racist, sexist pigs have the right to food, health care, shelter and other life-sustaining resources. We wouldn't just hang him out to dry because he was old and broke and did so much harm in his lifetime.

Someday maybe he'll learn a little something about mercy and grace. We will certainly have to if we really aspire to tear down prison walls.

But I'm not going to hold my breath and wait - that man and too many of his colleagues feed on hate. And I've already seen what this state does to non-citizens and prisoners - we leave them to die in the desert and criminalize those who would try to help them. I'm beginning to see where that ethic grows from - the one that turns big profits on false promises and fear; getting paid by the head for people it disappears for months and years.

Do we know anything about the good senator's investment portfolio, by the way? Maybe we should check out the whole slate of senators that voted for SB 1175. Investments and campaign contributions: Someone's got their hands in deep with the private prison industry. Or - like Sheriff Joe - has a budget that depends on the number of bodies ICE will pay to detain. Hmm.

So, again, follow Chaparral's blog for the info on immigration legislation. This is where we should put on the brakes. This guy went way too far.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Women Behind the Wall

Came across this Blog Talk Radio show, Women Behind the Wall (4justicenow), on women in prison. This week's episode is on compassionate release issues. Next week they'll be featuring a piece on Marcia Powell:

Tuesday, June 23 at 6pm. The call-in number is (646) 378-1432.

Below is info from their website:

"Women Behind the Wall is the only show in the country that is by, for and about incarcerated women. Your co-hosts are 2 women who share the mutually horrifying experience of being sent to prison for crimes that they did not commit. Mary Ellen served 5 years in Florida State prisons and Gloria Killian spent 17 1/2 years in a California prison. Women Behind the Wall brings you the real truth about women in prison, who they are, why they are there, what should be done about them, and why many of them deserve their freedom. The costs, the conflicts, the politics and the payers will all be covered in this unique program...

Staked out In The desert and left to die: What happened to Marcia Powell? An Arizona prisoner named Marcia Powell was put into a human cage in the broiling desert sun and left there to await transfer; 4 hours later she collapsed. Where were the guards? Where was the Water? Why did the DOC immediately take her off life support if she had family? We search for the answers in this grisly case of prisoner abuse and torture. We will try to find the answers in this human tragedy."

Parole The Move 9

Remember the MOVE Family?

We've had more than thirty years to forget - unless you count the day the Philly PD dropped a bomb on their house. That was May 13, 1985. No one paid much attention to it then, either.

Most people probably don't know who I'm talking about, I guess.

Not long ago I saw MOVE; the 2004 documentary narrated by Howard Zinn.

They were revolutionaries.

They still are.

We have to raise our voices to set these people free.

If you don't take my word for it, then watch the film, scan the net, check out Mumia, try YouTube hit Wikipedia, do what you need to do to be "well-informed" (there are plenty of anti-Move sites too) - but do it soon. Here's the alert I received from the Jericho Movement about the Move 9 today:
-----------------------------------

"Call the PA Parole Board all day tomorrow, Wednesday. Ask for names and write down the content and response of your call. If you’re on Facebook blog about your call on the wall of the Free the MOVE 9 cause. Help us keep a record of these calls so we can better strategize on behalf of the MOVE 9!"
Don’t forget to write your letters to the parole board in conjunction with this action!

(717) 787-5699

Chairwoman Katherine McVey
Charles Fox
Michael L. Green
Jeffry R. Imboden
Matthew T. Mangino
Benjamin A.
Martinez
Gerald N. Massaro
Judy Viglione
Lloyd A. White

[name of Board member]
Board of Probation and Parole
Attn: Inmate Inquiry
1101 South Front Street, Suite 5300
Harrisburg, PA 17104

(717) 787-5699


Since the prison system insists on having DIN numbers, make sure to have them on hand when you call or write.

Charles Simms Africa #AM4975
SCI Graterford, Box 244, Graterford PA 19426

Debbie Sims Africa #006307
451 Fullerton Ave
, Cambridge Springs, PA 16403-1238

Delbert Orr Africa #AM4985
SCI
Dallas Drawer K, Dallas, PA 18612

Edward Goodman Africa #AM4974
301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932

Janet Holloway Africa #006308
451 Fullerton Ave
, Cambridge Springs, PA 16403-1238

Janine Phillips Africa #006309
451 Fullerton Ave
, Cambridge Springs, PA 16403-1238

Michael Davis Africa #AM4973
SCI Graterford,
Box 244, Graterford, PA 19426-0244

William Phillips Africa #AM4984
SCI Dallas Drawer K, Dallas, PA 18612


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Merle Africa died while incacerated in Indiana.
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Finally, this wasn't part of their ask but I think it's okay to say: Historically the parole board has stipulated that the MOVE family dissociate from one another and have no contact with eachother on the outside.
They are being told they must disown their family.

MOVE has argued unsuccessfully - but I think rightfully - that such a requirement is a violation of the freedoms of religion, speech, and association. I believe this prevented their parole before.

It seems to violate something even more fundamental than constitutional liberties to keep people in chains until they betray loved ones, forsake their religion, or otherwise completely submit to the will of the state. That's a violation of human rights.

MOVE and supporters have been family to eachother over years and across countless prison walls; their love must be deep and renewing to sustain the brutalities of incarceration. Their faith - their adherance to their beliefs - must be more sound than most, that they would spend another year in prison before they renounce them.

The MOVE 9 (now 8) are no threat to neighbors or the state.

What kind of twisted society really wants to punish these politics, anyway? Love, radical ideas, and sustainable living are so hard to come by anymore: we might as well be locking up all the writers and artists too (oh, wait - we are. See all those links on the left....).


Just something to keep in mind when you make that call or write that letter for MOVE 9 members tomorrow. Thanks for whatever you can do for MOVE

Monday, June 15, 2009

Newsweek and Webb on Prison Reform

Our Real Prison Problem
Why are we so worried about Gitmo?
Dahlia Lithwick NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Jun 15, 2009

The public-opinion two-step on the wisdom of closing the prison camp at Guantánamo is fascinating, and not just because, as recent polling shows, Americans are inclined to keep it open forever. The current legal meltdown over what to do with the 240 prisoners shows that Americans actually care a lot about prisons, prisoners and prison reform, but only when the inmates threaten to tumble out into their backyards.

That's what Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) may be counting on as he launches an ambitious effort to reform U.S. prisons. In addition to proposing a massive 18-month review of the prison system, Webb wants to work toward reducing the overall incarceration rate while refocusing efforts toward locking up truly dangerous criminals and gang leaders, decreasing prison violence, establishing meaningful reentry programs for ex-offenders, reforming the nation's drug policies and improving treatment of the mentally ill...

Here are the facts about America's prisons, according to Webb:

The United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, houses nearly 25 percent of the world's prisoners. As Webb has explained it, "Either we're the most evil people on earth or we're doing something wrong." We incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents—nearly five times the world average. Approximately one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail or on supervised release. Local, state and federal spending on corrections amounts to about $70 billion per year and has increased 40 percent over the past 20 years.

Webb has no problem locking up the real baddies. He just wants us to recognize that warehousing the nation's mentally ill and drug addicts in crowded correctional facilities tends mostly to create a mass of meaner, more violent, less employable people at the exit. The Justice Department estimates that 16 percent of the adult inmates in American prisons—more than 350,000 of those incarcerated—suffer from mental illness; the percentage in juvenile custody is even higher. Justice statistics for 2007 showed that nearly 60 percent of the state prisoners serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence, and four out of five drug arrests were for drug possession, not sales.

Webb also reminds us that while drug use varies little by ethnic group, African-Americans—estimated at 14 percent of regular drug users—make up 56 percent of those in state prison for drug crimes.

So why does the senator from one of the country's most rabid "lock 'em up" states believe that with two wars raging, an economy collapsing and America's Next Top Model beckoning seductively, Americans are ready to grapple with his new legislation—the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009—which establishes a blue-ribbon panel to review the nation's entire prison system?

Perhaps public opinion is finally shifting away from fear-based appeals to personal safety. If Americans actually have the conversation about our disastrous prison policies, we'll understand the trends all move in very dangerous directions: we lock up more people, for less violent crime, at ever greater expense, breeding more dangerous criminals who often come out unemployable, violent and isolated...

(click back on title to link to original article)