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

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Free Man in Prison: Visiting Davon Acklin.

Wanted to let folks know that I was finally allowed to see Davon at ASPC-Tucson this weekend, and we had a really nice visit. Considering my recent protests and letters, I was kind of surprised that they didn't greet me with all sorts of bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs, hostile guards, petty rules, and unpleasantness falling just short of a strip search to get in. The whole affair was pretty low-key, though: the men and women in brown were civil - even friendly - as they checked me in and told me to keep my feet on the ground (they were killing me and I kept stretching them out on the bench).

Davon looked gaunt and pale, but his smile was warm, his hugs were strong, and our conversation flowed as if we had been friends for years. He's mature, insightful, bright, and kind. I correspond with a lot of prisoners, some of whom have committed pretty heinous crimes, but many of whom are either innocent or have been abusively sentenced. Davon is one of the few who takes responsibility for the decisions and conduct which led to his arrest and ultimate incarceration, even though his prosecution was inappropriate and the sentence was excessive - in my book, anyway.

Rather than ruminating on how unfair life has been to him, Davon's spent a lot of time learning what he can from being where he's at, and thinking about what things he needs to do differently once he's free again. It's not just that he wants to avoid returning to prison - he spoke both humbly and eloquently of his remorse for what he's put his family through, for stealing from others who worked hard to acquire their possessions, for letting addiction run his life and wreak havoc in the lives of others. We talked about our respective sources of spiritual strength and understanding, and struggles managing our moods and minds. I was AA-raised and he was prison-raised, but somehow we both ended up with similar conceptions about our responsibilities to our families, our communities, and ourselves.

Davon isn't in a 12-step program, nor is he enrolled in any kind of formal treatment in prison. But he's spent a bit of time studying religion, reflecting on his own values, exploring the world through the Discovery Channel, and growing despite his confinement. He is as engaged in the process of recovery as I was at his age, going to meetings every day and celebrating sobriety anniversaries (my 3 and 6-month ones over and over again the first few years) only he may well be more mature than I was at the time. His wisdom has come at greater price than most have to pay, though - and he'll likely be paying for it for awhile.

Davon worries more about his mom and little sister (whom he adores) than he does about his health. He wasn't nonchalant about it - he really hasn't been feeling well and as much as he wants a job to occupy his time and pick up a few more bucks a week (which is all it amounts to, literally), he admits he doesn't have the energy to be a predictable employee right now. The day we visited he said he was having a good day - that was evident by the life in his eyes and all the cupcakes he consumed. But once you get a job there, if you fail to show up for it you start accumulating tickets - there doesn't seem to be any real accommodation for someone who is struggling with fatigue, weight loss, and other symptoms like he is.

It was clear from our conversation that Davon's been studying up on Hep C and taking responsibility for not exposing others to his virus. A few months ago I sent him a calendar for prisoners about Hep C, which he read through and has been using. He talked about the different recommendations they made for preventing transmission in prison - like not sharing tattoo equipment, razors, or other items that could have blood on them. He observed that they were good recommendations for preventing HIV infection, too, so he's trying to protect both himself and others from further harm.

It was also clear to me that he doesn't have his hopes up about a pardon - I'm not sure he's convinced he "deserves" one. Davon sees men suffering around him every day who have heavier burdens that he thinks he does, and less help to carry them. He takes responsibility for his crimes and has accepted his sentence; he's not expecting to get out until his scheduled release date, though he appreciates everything that Julie and others are doing to try to spring him. He does hope to be better educated about his medical status, to get a full workup, and to have some kind of choice about treatment to rid his body of this virus - he realizes that the sooner that happens, the better his chances are of successfully recovering. He doesn't like being sickly and wasting away, and he's concerned about the implications of the labs that have come back thus far, as is Julie. He doesn't want to be an infectious threat to the health of others, nor does he want to die at an early age of liver or kidney failure. He wants to work in construction with his step dad and have a family someday; he wants to have a life after prison, and put what he's learned into better use for others than he has thus far. That doesn't seem to be too much for a young man to yearn for.

Davon is still good-natured about being a poster boy for Hep C in prison - he figures that with all the work his mom has done to get him decent health care, at least his misfortune can help educate and serve others. He seems to have the respect of his peers, and has managed to avoid being sucked into the gang scene. He stands on his own two feet, but I can tell there are plenty of fellows there watching his back, too. According to him, that's as much due to the help his mom has given the other guys and their families as it is to his own reputation and character. He chuckles knowing that he's probably experienced some retaliation by guards as a result of Julie's activism as well, but sees a certain amount of that as unavoidable.

Not that he's happy about that, but he seems to think that it's still better to be mistreated because of something good he or a loved one does than to be ignored for being indifferent to injustice or suffering. He's not stupid and running to everyone's rescue, but his value system tells him that doing nothing when something is clearly called for can be worse than getting in trouble for doing the right thing. That's the kind of person he is.

I have no idea how long we ended up visiting Sunday, and there's a whole bunch of stuff we talked about that I can't even begin to get into, but that pretty much sums up the heart of it all. Davon apologized for not writing back to everyone who's written to him - those letters really do mean a lot, and he loves the pictures he gets of other places in the world. Postage is hard to negotiate sometimes - especially for letters overseas. And he just doesn't have as much energy or focus as he used to - even I don't get as much mail from him now. He asked me to extend his appreciation, though, to everyone who's written to him, signed his mom's petitions, joined his cause, and pulled for him in one way or another. He's especially relieved to know that Julie isn't in this alone, for her sake. He loves her and worries about her a lot. He doesn't want her to worry so much about him. Because of that, I suspect that he's feeling worse than he lets on most days.

Davon's rap sheet would tell you that he's an out of control drug-addicted, mentally ill violent criminal - a repeat offender, even - who some would say shouldn't ever see the light of day. But a closer look at him reveals a compassionate, responsible, maturing young man who has become a better human being despite, not because of, the dehumanization of life in an Arizona state prison. Perhaps his good character shouldn't have any bearing on whether or not he gets medical treatment for his Hep C infection, but we all know that value judgments figure into equations like that anyway. Why else would the state eliminate AHCCCS funding only for those liver transplants needed by people with Hep C, if it wasn't because the population is made up largely of those who have been criminalized for their addictions? It's the same reason we took so long to do anything meaningful about treating AIDS: the twisted logic goes that these are society's undesirables, anyway, who did it to themselves, and therefore deserve what they get. Some sick pups would even call such a fate divine justice. They've clearly never lost anyone they love before.

Davon is a more free man in prison in many ways than a lot of us - he chooses who to be and how to conduct himself without making excuses like so many do. He deserves better than what he's getting now, I can assure you, whatever standard you measure that by. They all deserve better, but he's the one in my sights right now.

As for Divinity's role in this young man's future - God is Love, as I understand it, and works miracles through the actions of ordinary people. Davon seems to be doing his part. So, please join the cause, visit the new page Julie's friend set up for her urging that he gets treatment now, and sign the petition to the Clemency Board if you haven't already - then spread the links to your friends. If you've done all that and want to take it a step further, write Governor Brewer a personal letter urging better treatment for all those with Hep C, and send a copy to Julie, the AZ Department of Corrections and your local paper. Remind them that prisoner health is public health, too. We need to be educating everyone else about this, before it's too late.

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