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

Friday, July 3, 2009

Director Ryan Replies

Director Ryan sent me a very polite, sincere reply to my letter this evening, inviting me to make an appointment next week to discuss my concerns with him, and to perhaps tour one of the prisons. I must say I received this with considerable relief; I would much rather establish a relationship with dialogue, and appreciate that he was able to look past my antagonizing tone to attempt a connection. I wasn't sure if he would bother to do so. In fact, a part of me expected two shady looking fellows in suits and sunglasses to show up at my door accusing me of stalking the man and conspiring to do all sorts of benign things that have been criminalized since, well, actually since Clinton's reign.

So, for his willingness to first meet and talk, I am grateful.

I don't think I have any illusions that I might turn Director Ryan into an abolitionist, nor do I think he expects to change my fundamental orientation towards the mechanisms of crime and punishment in today's society. But there are things I don't understand about how prisons operate - and how prison administrators see their role - which could be useful insight to have, since my ignorance certainly doesn't help me. And it may be reassuring to him that for the most part he - personally - is not my target, per se. He may represent the department and be responsible for certain kinds of reforms, but I do not expect him to transform society in such a way as to make incarceration less and less necessary. That's really the job of the rest of us.

Still, I do have a wish list, which I outlined in my letter to him below. Even abolitionists sometimes support reforms - so long as they don't just serve to strengthen the prison industrial complex. Only some of it involves policies which I believe he may be in a position to implement, or at least influence. And I would be quite curious to know what his wish list is. If there is a place in which they overlap, then we will have the benefit of common ground.

Anyone with concerns you'd like me to give voice to, please email me, and I will try to raise them. Most of my attention has been directed on the women's prison, of course, but it has not escaped me that some of the men have been brawling and killing themselves of late, which I know has been terribly troubling to families and loved ones.

The full range of (non-violent) direct actions I've been considering and discussing with friends to bring attention to the number of deaths in custody and the continued - albeit modified - use of those cages are still on the table. I'm sure Director Ryan has a few options at his disposal as well, if we get too obnoxious to ignore. Still - as much as I truly enjoy good guerilla theater and clever protest - demonstrations are but one tactic, appropriate to a given time and place. I believe it will be most important to engage the community - non-confrontationally - in the kinds of tasks that can lead to changes in the way we run our schools, in how we define and respond to "crime", in the changing roles we want our police to play, and in how restorative justice and reconciliation looks at the local level - especially when it comes to the difficult issue of violence. There is so much work to be done, and if Marcia's death has accomplished nothing else, it has introduced people to each other who are willing to do it.

I don't expect that we will put Director Ryan out of a job anytime soon. I do hope he will take up the cause of expanding compassionate release for the critically ill, elderly and dying prisoners who pose no risk to society, so they might take their last breaths as free beings able to hold family in their arms. That would be assuming that Arizona is willing to make the investment in their care in the community instead of behind bars. I would also hope he'd use his influence and knowledge to dispel legislative and judicial delusions that long sentences in hell actually produce better citizens. Some good people emerge from prison not because of prison but despite it. Fundamentally it is a traumatic, oppressive, disturbing experience for most.

I also hope he will create more indoor space for prisoners to wait and recreate by working on the legislature to depopulate the prisons - not build more or just ship some folks out. Those cages are really unacceptable. And I would like to see an environment of greater transparency, one in which an independent evaluation team - like researchers with the university or advocates with the American Friends Service Committee - can go in and talk confidentially with prisoners and staff about concerns they may have.

In the meantime, perhaps this fall would be a good time for a big prison abolition conference at ASU's School of Justice and Social Inquiry (or whatever it's called by then). Anyone, near or far, who is interested in participating in or organizing that can shoot me an email - we'll need to get to work on it pretty soon.

Thanks again, Director Ryan, for extending your time and energy to offer to meet with me, knowing I may yet have more difficult questions to ask, and that there will likely be plenty of places we disagree. I hope you end up feeling that extending yourself it was worth it.


  1. Well done and go for it! You have voiced the concerns a lot of us have very well. We need a human system if we need one at all, where people are treated humanely, and where those who work there are not trapped in ridiculous rules and left alone to keep "safety" and solve difficult dilemma´s, afraid to loose their jobs. It cannot be that difficult to do! And more people or "tax payers" should get involved.

  2. You can look for functions where oversight and accountability can be implemented. Maybe, answer the question: How would an independent citizen's commission audit the Dept. and it's administrator?