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 21, 2009


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.

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