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 7, 2009

Smoke Signals in the Desert

Three inmates set their mattresses on fire at the Perryville prison complex Saturday. All at the same time.

That's usually a distress call, which should be taken fairly seriously since the women who organized it and carried it out are going to face severe disciplinary consequences and most likely additional criminal charges.

Things must be pretty bad out there.

I've been told that women have been afraid of dying in those cages in the sun; that heat emergencies weren't that uncommon. I wonder if the fires had to do with re-instituting use of the cages on Friday, or if something we haven't heard about yet is going on.

They were at Lumley, the maximum security facility where Marcia died.

If anyone has any way of getting word in, let the women know someone hears them, and that they have to keep talking and showing solidarity. They aren't alone. There are people out here pounding down the Governor's door to get outside investigators in there to find out what's going on. There are good people on the inside, too - I hope - who will put it on the line when the time comes.

There's talk of prisoners' rights and "Marcia's Law", plans for protests and demonstrations against the cages. We've lobbied our legislators not to privatize or cut critical services for state prisoners, and to expand community-based alternatives to incarceration.

But I don't know if that means that anything will really change, except that a few more radical women get thrown into a hole. I do know things would be a lot worse if no one ever took the chance to push for it to happen, and that it takes a lot more courage and creativity to do that from behind bars than from a laptop...

I wish I could be certain that those women were okay.

Know this: There are thousands of people across the country organizing for your rights, for your safety, for your freedom - recognizing that our rights, our safety, and our freedom are joined with yours. Feminists, anarchists, current and former prisoners, pacifists, HIV/AIDS advocates, families of prisoners, global justice activists, anti-racists, the faithful of many creeds, and even the damn-near-hopeless are all working on this. Now that I'm looking, abolitionists seem to be everywhere.

We know you are not safe. We know some of you have grown very ill. We know that health care is inadequate, that facilities are over-crowded, that food is on the cheap and getting worse, that punishments often exceed the severity of the crime, and that the whole system is racist and classist and entrenched in self-righteous patriarchy. We know that homophobes and bigots often lurk below the radar, and that given the power - which too often comes with a badge and a gun - will turn their hate into your extra charges and time.

And I'm sorry to say that we've known this for a long while, and that we've still got a way to go.

That means some things may not change soon enough. Just don't give up on yourselves or each other. I'd also like to say don't stop talking to us; each woman needs to weigh carefully the risk. Prisoner activists take a lot of heat. Some really get burned. It may be hard to tell what you're getting into, so know what you're willing - maximally - to lose.

Choose your battles - and your "weapons" - carefully. Lay low if your intuition tells you to do so. If you must resist, non-violence is always the best way to go. If you have the privileges, ability, and desire to make your voice heard, I'll do whatever is in my power to amplify it. Others will stand where we fall. Discover the soft power of resistance through the arts, poetry and prose - that can be the most effective path to the hearts of the people who end up getting a vote in what happens to you. Some of the most powerful liberation movement works I've ever read were written by prisoners and former slaves. We get nowhere unless we lift as we climb; our fates are intertwined.

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