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

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Weight

Though I may be complicit in the conduct of my government when I don't actively resist, I have never personally taken someone else's life, and can't imagine how that must be to live with. I've been thinking about that a lot lately - not just about what it meant to Marcia or to the community for her to die that way, but what it meant to those on duty in that guard station that day.

It must be an incredibly heavy weight to carry. It's the worst burden I can imagine. Working with people who were homeless for so many years, that was one of my greatest fears: not that I would be held liable, but that I might be responsible, for doing or not doing something that resulted in someone losing their life. Their health was so fragile, and in the streets they really had no place to hide from either cops or criminals; they were often brutalized or arrested, sometimes both. So, I feel for whomever carries even a portion of this weight.

Added to that is the probability that someone will face criminal charges - especially if this post about the "punishment cage" is true, and its author is able to produce eyewitness testimony, rather than hearsay on a website. Someone may well be criminally liable; I just hope that doesn't divert us from what created an atmosphere where treating prisoners with such disregard for their basic human rights - for their life - is so acceptable, or at the least, so routine.

So what will we do with Marcia's murderer? How about the one who gave the orders? And the ones who just watched her die? And anyone with information who has stood idly by? Shouldn't we keep at least a few prisons open for them? How does restorative justice work for people like them? How does it work for killers? How do you restore a life?

We don't. We can't, no matter how much violence we inflict in kind. We can contain and confront the killer, and move on, I think, if we're lucky. We can "pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living", as Mother Jones would say. A lot of people, I would imagine, die with the individual they killed. The guy who killed one of my best friends - and one of his best friends - by speeding and losing control of his car ended up blowing his head off.

It was an accident. Chris would have been the first to forgive him. He couldn't live with it. Prison would have been nowhere near as harsh as the punishment of this guy's mind. It would have also been unnecessary to protect society or exact "justice": he judged and executed himself.

A compassionate society would not only have embraced Marcia more readily; it would embrace those covered in her sweat and tears, hands dripping with her blood. It would have loved Bill R. back to life after Chris died, not driven him to suicide. We would not lynch Marcia's killers, or even call for their execution. We would learn from them about our own willingness to punish - to seek retribution - and we would learn about our own capacity to withdraw and detach from the secret suffering of the people we call criminals, those we banish to steel cages and the sadistic whims or quiet indifference of guards.

And from that insight, we would change, and in turn help others change. By working with people on what is essentially spiritual transformation and political and economic empowerment, rather than time-limited behavior management, we might reduce our reliance on the carceral regime, as well as reduce the risk of repeat offending. We certainly contribute to the spiritual development of humanity by attempting to speak to the condition and needs of each individual soul when they transgress. And we learn and practice mercy in the process, perhaps the only thing that helps crime victims truly find "resolution": getting their hands on the bad guy, and not becoming worse than him by seeking vengeance in the name of justice...

Our commitment to prisoner rights - and especially to prison abolition - isn't sustainable simply from the compassion we can muster for a woman who died so brutally. Until we can love the best in the worst of us, we don't really know love at all, and can't put up an effective, convincing fight. Only when we begin to seek alternatives to prison for them - including those we count among the oppressors - will we come to see the fascist that lives within each of us, and take another step in our collective moral evolution towards the end of this world full of prisons, spinning on fear.

As for myself, I'm not sure I'm ready to take that step. I still want somebody to pay...

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