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 13, 2009

On the Eve of the Revolution...

I sent an e-mail to Director Ryan today (cc'ed to Counselor Klausner, and Deputy Director Flanagan) thanking him and his staff for their time and assistance last Friday. Also e-mailed Betty Cassiano, the Constituent Services Officer, this afternoon about the men on lock down sweltering in Tuscon without being allowed to have their fans, just in case their families didn't get the info about contacting her yet. Hopefully she will be able to get them some kind of relief before another case of heat stroke.

Earlier today I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with some of the things I've been trying to take on - like setting up an Arizona Prison Watch site (akin to Nevada Prison Watch) and trying to network with the immigrant rights communities about what to do to keep everyone in this state from getting criminalized and incarcerated before this legislature can be voted out (I think it'll still take a few election cycles). Been talking with folks working on Nevada's prisons about some regional collaboration, which is pretty exciting - but just mapping out the prison industrial complex in AZ - with all its points and players - seems like a monumental task in and of itself.

That seems like the place to start, though - especially now, as the state's looking at privatizing the prison medical services and the feds/private sector are looking at more immigrant detention centers. If we don't have a map of who's doing what in this state, how are we going to know when and where to file public comments, who to lobby, what to protest, and just generally how to turn this monster around?

And there's no separating what's happening with the explosion of citizens in the state prisons from the racial-profiling, anti-immigration laws, anti-humanitarian laws, and massive round-ups of people with brown skin and those damn insisent litterbugs with water jugs. Dealing with reforming what's happening inside the prisons is a whole lot easier, I think, than dealing with what leads up to prison - and with what keeps these archaic structures in place. Like racism. Fear-mongering. Patriarchy. Capitalism and greed. Entitlement of the privileged class. The vindictiveness of our society. The vestiges of slavery. And so on.

Most people seem to think it's the "other" that goes to prison, but damn, 1 out of every 100 adults in the state right now is in prison or jail. And they aren't all poor, Black, Latino, Native American or even mentally ill - though that does cover most of them. That's like one out of every 100 sixth graders going to prison when they grow up - way more than that if they're from poor schools or communities of color, where they tend to be better prepared for prison life than for college. At least they are led to expect that one is more likely than the other, and "discipline" is conducted accordingly.

Thank god for the minority community organizing that's already been going on to regain control of community resources and to challenge draconian laws and punishments. They've been up on what's going on for a long time - white people are just really slow because we think we're already liberated. Except for Quakers, Unitarians, and the community of families of the wrongly convicted, I don't know that there's a whole lot of political organizing going on against the prison industrial complex among whites across the state. That which is happening - like creating caring communities to engage youth constructively instead of cracking down on pre-teen hooligans - probably isn't thought of as being anti-prison, but it is. So is the effort to get universal health care, the lobbying to yank Arpaio's immigrant-bashing powers, every effort made between citizens to resolve disputes without involving the police or other agents of the state, living wage and unionizing campaigns, anti-war protests, self-sustaining collectives, and global justice activities - inequality is at the bottom of it all, and that's what needs to change in order for prisons to lose their purpose and power to punish. We just need to come together from our disparate parts to recognize our common visions. Some groups have already begun to do that.

Now, if that sounds pretty radical, read some of the authors I've linked to on the left. They're serious about a more beautiful world being possible, and pull no punches about what it might take to bring it about. Hard Work. Perseverance. Hope when all seems lost. Belief in the strength of the little guy when partnered with the Truth - including those little guys (and strong women) still working for the liberation movement from within their torturous Supermax prison cells.

There are powerful forces in opposition - not all necessarily organized or in a conspiracy - just really entrenched, like "tough on crime" politicians, correctional officers unions, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the people who keep voting for Arpaio and Russell Pearce and Andrew Thomas. And, of course, the corporate giants who profit from the privatization of incarceration - right down to the companies selling prisoners $3.50 candy bars that might cost $.55 in the drugstore. And that's from prisoners who earn maybe forty cents a day. Now that's criminal.

So, all this started, I think, with feeling overwhelmed with the task at hand - just dissecting Arizona's prison industrial complex. I must say that I am subject to soar to exuberant heights and plunge into profound depressions, and the only thing that's kept me moving steadily forward on all of this are the families who have not abandoned their loved ones to die in prison, the parolees who are doing everything they can to help those they left behind, the idealists who keep plugging along as if prison abolition is the most natural social aspiration in the world, the political theorists who can plot a course through the darkness to the light that the dreamers keep alive, and the prisoners themselves who struggle honestly to find that balance between what they are responsible for changing within, and what we are responsible for transforming together...those prisoners whose stories leak out and compel us to reach in and find our own forgotten humanity long enough to consider another way through our fears.

Not everyone who supports the prison industrial complex has any idea what they have a hand in perpetrating - and few have ever considered that there might be an alternative. Even among most prisoners and families there's an internalized shame that tells them whatever befalls them in prison or throughout the course of their lives as "ex-cons" is a result of their own bad choices - not in any way a result of our collective lack of imagination for restorative justice and community reconciliation. So, an awful lot of abuse of accused "criminals" and prisoners is tolerated or ignored by the community at large, and those of us who see it as unacceptable are often marginalized or ridiculed as being too soft on crime or having our heads in the clouds.

Funny, though - it's those jerks who always have abusive things to say about people like Marcia Powell or undocumented immigrants who never use their real names when they post hostile comments to the AZ Republic or other on-line sites - as if they are ashamed of what they have to say. It's the anonymity in today's society, it seems, that allows people to so readily detach from their own humanity and inflict or condone unspeakable cruelty and suffering on others without any idea of what they've really registered their voice for - not "safer communities" or the "protection of American jobs" (or the sanctity of our marriages, for that matter), but rather the disenfranchisement, exploitation, and abuse of a large segment of the population which they - we - could join in the blink of an eye: all it takes is the incompetent debriefing of a victim of molestation, the mistaken perception of a witness, the desperation of addiction, hunger, or their infant's need for formula or medicine, or a wrong turn while distracted by one's cell phone two weeks after smoking a joint at a party (drug-related criminally negligent homicide gets you into prison, no matter how sorry you may be).

We could become criminals and prisoners of the state through a stupid, irrevocable mistake, or a desperate act of survival - we needn't have a criminal mind to cross the line. We could even become criminals and prisoners of the state for what we believe are humanitarian acts - like leaving water in the desert, driving immigrants to get medical care, defending sacred land from corporate designs, helping a family resist an eviction order, or attempting to thwart our country's ability to wage war on helpless people. And even if we are among the privileged elite, we could become criminals and prisoners of the state if we turn on our own - we're generally left to perpetrate harm if we just exploit the powerless. It is not the class or even race of the criminal that matters so much in law enforcement as it is the class or race of the victim. The killer of a Latina or a Black woman has much less to fear in most states than the killer of a white higher-class woman, or a white cop.

Now, isn't that shocking? Wouldn't that make you look twice at who ends up with the death penalty or life behind bars - or what cases even get closed at all?

And so it goes...I could write on. I will, in fact, just on another day. Soon I'll retire this blog - my place for thinking out loud, finding kindred spirits, making the dream visible - for the next blog I write will have to be more about the potentials of our communities than it is about me working out my identity and new life goals. For those of you who have followed and encouraged me along the way - including my professors, anarchist friends, Lois Ahrens, Nevada Prison Watch comrades, and my big brother and Mom - Gracias. You have filled my days with hope, my nights with Grace. For the first time in years, I feel I am in the right place, at the right time, heading in the direction I want to go, and in very good company. I know I am where I need to be right now, in the service of something much bigger than myself.

Finally, to everyone out there who reads and throws in on this with me, a hug and a blessing, brothers and sisters. I am so looking forward to sharing with you any portion of the rest of this journey. It is nowhere near as impossible a dream as it appears to be. Believe me. Trust me. However long it takes to dismantle the carceral regime, the process of building something new will itself will be worth a lifetime of work - so long as we clear the path and leave the dream alive for future generations to realize truly universal human rights and freedom.

1 comment:

  1. Hey PA! Rome was not built in a day, and we shall overcome! One Day!
    You are an inspiration to us all who are digging ways out of there (no pun intended). I am looking forward to the next stage in your mapping.