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, July 20, 2009

The Crime of Being a Young Latino Male.

This young boy, Edgar, was arrested at the age of 15 and charged with gang-related activities, at least one of which was apparently sufficiently serious enough to warrant his adjudication from juvenile court to adult court, where - at 16 years old - he accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to five years in prison.

I haven't had much of substance to say since he died because I was waiting to learn more, and because what little I knew just broke my heart. Tonight I decide to do some more digging myself, rather than wait for what the ADC might ultimately decide to share. I'm more concerned with how he got to prison, right now, than how he died there. I imagine an autopsy will answer the second question in time.

According to court records, Edgar was given two concurrent five-year sentences to be served in the state prison system, one for "Assisting a Criminal Street Gang", and the other for "aggravated assault". Upon release from prison he was also to serve five years on intensive probation for yet another count of "aggravated assault"; the available records have no details on what exactly occurred that led to these charges been deemed so serious that he had to be sent to prison. Among his other court orders, he was told to stay away from the 9th Street Eastside gang.

As posted previously, Edgar died in prison of unknown causes about three months into his sentence. His record shows an ICE hold on him, suggesting that he was an undocumented immigrant. It doesn't not appear as if anyone in the court system even knew he might be undocumented until after they adjudicated him as an adult.

Because news reports were mixed about his immigration status and whether or not his family was even found after his death, I was rather distressed at the notion that he ended up going through this whole legal ordeal alone. At his sentencing hearing, however, six people stood up and addressed the court on his behalf, including a family member of the same last name. That's actually a lot of people for a young hoodlum adjudicated as an adult to find to speak for him. That's just a small sampling, I bet, of the people who loved him.

In researching the court records about Edgar, and wondering what criteria prosecutors used when they decide to adjudicated a youth as an adult, I came across an interesting report written in 2008 by the Children's Action Alliance about "Racial Disproportionality in the Juvenile Justice System in Maricopa County". Analyzing statistics of youth processed through juvenile courts - as well as those adjudicated as adults, it concludes that Latino youth are more disproportionately represented in both populations for similar offense as Anglo youth. In other words, if Edgar was a white kid - and if indeed his death was from "natural causes" that were unavoidable - chances are he would have died at school, or while playing soccer, or while helping his folks around the house; not while sweeping the kitchen floor in a state prison.

Over the course of the past ten days as I've patiently waited for more information on what happened to this boy, I've grown increasingly angry at the Arizona Department of Corrections for failing to care for him properly. But the greater crime is in how he ended up there - shuffled between judges and attorneys, aggressively adjudicated then pursued by the prosecutors' office to plead out as an adult, dependent on translators to help him understand the implications of being sentenced as an god, the Supreme Court not long ago determined that children under 18 can't even be executed because their brains haven't developed fully enough for them to comprehend the full scope and consequences of their crimes and punishment. Yet a 15-year old is supposed to get all this, even though English isn't even his native language?

The experts in his case were actually divided on that - one said he was not competent to stand trial and assist in his own defense, the other said he was, so a third exam was ordered, this one clearing the way for what would ultimately be his death by incarceration.

That seems to me to be cruel and unusual - and, based on the report I linked to above - it is also discriminatory. Where we needed to intervene to possibly save this young man's life was long before he ended up in court. Just look at him: how could prison be the best solution for either him or the community. Why are we so willing to invest our resources in punishing kids like him instead of educating, employing, or engaging them productively in the community?


  1. Rest in Peace, Edgar, so sad!!
    Thank you for sharing this news, it is heartbreaking!

  2. We leave you Edgar. You will be missed....