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

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.

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