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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shannon Palmer: Criminalization and the damage done

"Fight Real Power"

Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse, Phoenix (November 2010)
Chalk Art by Peggy Plews Photo by Robert Haasch

Slightly updated and edited.
Originally Posted 9/15/10.


I've done a bit more research this week, and heard from Shannon Palmer's family, so wanted to update folks on his story. It's pretty heartbreaking. I hope the following information answers a lot of the questions people have had. I still have more, myself, as does Shannon's family, of course; we have a ways to go.

It's clear to me from my conversations with people this week and letters from prison that we need to really mobilize on behalf of these prisoners with mental illness, regardless of how they got criminalized. They're getting killed or left to die without adequate treatment in there. I keep hearing that they're being taken off their meds and put into environments where they're more likely to suicide and acutely vulnerable to predators. We have to insist that they get better psychiatric care as well as protection, or they'll keep dying as they have been.

What I saw when I worked with the hom
eless in Ann Arbor - and what I think I'm seeing in the prisons now - is that people with serious mental illness make attractive victims to people, especially those doing killings for status. The mentally ill don't tend to be gang members so other prisoners won't intervene or retaliate, their aggravated symptoms provide abusers with the excuse of provocation for hurting them, and the state is less likely to seek the death penalty if the victim can be readily dehumanized like Shannon was.

At worst, guys like Rushing may lose their TV and phone privileges, get sentenced to life where they've already made their home, and end up assigned to a one-man cell - in addition to gaining the esteem of their twisted friends. In other words, for killing someone like Shannon, they stand to gain more than they lose - especially if they're already in prison for murder. I'm not advocating the death penalty here - I'm advocating prevention.
Rushing was also mentally ill and not getting treatment, according to family. He had been begging the ADC to protect, as had Shannon. So they put them in a cell together where no one but other prisoners could hear either of them scream...

This is fairly urgent now, since gang members and random sadists will feel they have to top this last murder with something even more grisly. Prisoners and their families are rightfully terrified that they aren't safe from them - and the ADC seems to be quick to confirm that they won't assure anyone's safety in their custody. That, frankly, should be one of the primary things they try to guarantee - especially for the most vulnerable and disabled of their prisoners. The environment, after all, is supposed to be under their control.

I'll post more soon on how and where we might connect to take more collective action. In the meantime, if you're interested in this issue for any reason - especially if you have a loved one in prison - contact me. My number is 480-580-6807.

That said, much of what follows I originally posted as comments in response to the Phoenix New Times article touching on Shannon's murder; what a disappointment, considering that they're the most progressive paper the Valley has. I'm pretty much taking what I left there and pasting it here verbatim, or I'd never get this stuff up, so keep in mind that I'm either addressing the author of the PNT article and the editors of the paper, or responding to one of the other reade
rs who left a remark. Thank you to those folks who spoke up there on behalf of victimized prisoners, far too many of whom have psychiatric or developmental disabilities.


First, however, an excerpt from an email that Shannon's sister, Dawn, sent to me yesterday, with her permission.
"...Last Friday, September 10, my mother received a call at 2:00 p.m. notifying her of my brother’s death and was told no details were available at this time. She was informed she would be contacted at a later date with more information once the investigation was complete, but confirmed it was a homicide. That call never came.

To add further insult to injury, my mother had to hear about the details of my brother’s death from the news media, Channel 5. On Saturday, September 11, unable to sleep, she turned on the TV, and there on the news was my brother’s pictures with the horrific news of how he died and the details of his cellmate who committed the crime along with details of his violent past.
We are outraged that they put a violent criminal in with my brother, who as you stated, had no history of violence. My mother has been fighting the system for years trying to get my brother the proper medication and care while incarcerated, to no avail. Prior to this event, my brother was taken off medication all together. The prison Dr. communicated he no longer required medication. How does a Paranoid Schizophrenic person with a long history of the illness no longer need medication?
Shannon's voice may be silent, but ours is not. We will fight to change the prison system policies in how inmates are housed and getting the proper care. He should never have been in prison in the first place..."
Comment posted by me to the lousy Phoenix New Times article about Shannon's death
September 13, 2010.

"Wow, New Times, this is a really disturbing article. Do your homework next time. Shannon Palmer was mentally disabled, in prison for petty bullshit instead of in a hospital, and never should have been housed with a sociopathic killer. The method his cellmate, Jasper Rushing used to end his life was intended to humiliate and torture him. You needn't help him inflict that same kind of suffering on his family by publishing your sarcastic musings. They'll be reading this article as they try to make sense of what happened, of course, as well as the mindless comments sure to follow. Survivors tend to linger over these things, especially when there's nothing else but a criminal record left as a public narrative of their loved one's life.

This didn't just happen to Shannon Palmer, either - just about every prisoner and their family will feel the reverberations of stigma and shame your remarks have left and invited others to join in. I doubt anyone would be joking if this man wasn't already discounted as nothing more than a criminal who probably got what was coming to him.

Palmer was in prison because of behavior secondary to his mental illness, which was most likely not being properly treated there. He was so impaired that it took three competency exams and extensive psychiatric treatment to get him to where the judge could accept his guilty plea and sentence him.

According to family members of other prisoners at Lewis, Palmer and his cellmate were in a space built for only one man and his property; the less-dominant prisoner would have been relegated to the floor and had his property removed. What should have been only a 24-hour "transitional" housing assignment turned into nearly a month of them being crammed together.

Take a look at Palmer's in-prison infractions - gambling and disobeying orders. Now look at his cellie's record. No comparison. Talk about being set up to be murdered. I just got a letter from another ADC mentally ill prisoner who is terrified that the same thing will happen to him - and I can't assure him that it won't.

This murder was brutal, senseless, tragic, and in no way imaginable was it deserved. It was also avoidable, once again, if the ADC had been following their own policies. I could use your help doing real research into what's happening with the ADC to prevent more of these vulnerable prisoners from being murdered. At the very least, don't help cultivate a climate in our community which dehumanizes this man further and joins his killer in laughing about his death. Support his family in their grief, instead, and help the rest of us retain our own humanity by protecting the most vulnerable, most disenfranchised among us from the very real evil of our ignorance and indifference."


Also added to the Phoenix New Times website on September 14 (with a few extra remarks). I found the Republic article on his "criminal damage" after speaking with his family.

"This is the "crime" that Shannon was given three years in prison for, only to be tortured and murdered for after doing two. His "victim" was a utility tower, which we seem to think should have more rights than he did as the accused. According to his family, Shannon climbed it in a thunderstorm because God told him to.

The real perpetrators of "criminal damage" to a human life were the Mesa police, for booking him on criminal charges instead of taking him to a hospital; the judge, Connie Contes for imposing the sentence of prison as if she was doing him a favor; the prosecutor, Clint Heiner for offering such a sweet plea deal in the first place, and the rest of us for being oblivious or indifferent to the fact that this kind of thing happens to the mentally ill in our community all the time..."

His defense attorney must have been pretty lousy, too.

Some "rescue."

Shannon's prior prison sentences, by the way - making him one of those "repeat offenders" that the ADC and the AZ Prosecuting Attorney lobbyists insist should be incarcerated for the sake of public safety - were also for the crime of having a mental illness. I think we actually sent him off to prison this last time for the delusion that, if he tried, he could get closer to God. That's a pretty sad commentary on this community and state.


August 25, 2008. Arizona Republic:

"Police on Tuesday identified a man who climbed nearly 100 feet up a high-tension electrical tower during a thunderstorm Monday night. Police persuaded Shannon Palmer, 38, to climbed safely back to the ground after they were called about 6:20 p.m.

The Mesa Fire Department responded to reports of a man climbing the tower near 1800 East Covina Street as a storm was rolling through, Chief Mike Dunn said.

When they arrived Palmer appeared agitated, but after shutting off the power to the unit, a Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in high-angle rescue, coaxed him to a ladder truck bucket and he was brought down.

The man was returned without injury to the ground shortly after 8 p.m. with no explanation for why he had climbed the tower in the first place. The man was released to the custody of the Mesa Police Department. He was booked on suspicion of trespassing, criminal damage and disorderly conduct."

KPHO's 2008 interview they did with Shannon in jail shortly after his above arrest, explaining why he climbed the tower and should be in a hospital, not go to prison. I just don't understand why we sent him to prison. We do that far too often here.


Here's Shannon's sentencing record:

I read it and wept...

Then I mailed all of this to his sentencing judge, Connie Contes.
They need to be held accountable on the bench for what happens to the vulnerable folks they send off to prison with the truly dangerous and predatory ones. They should be lobbying the AZ legislature themselves for serious sentencing reform and mental health care funding - why aren't they out in front?

Shannon never should have been criminally prosecuted, much less imprisoned and drugged without trial for almost a year - breaking him of his determination to defend his innocence any longer. After enduring the restoration process under Arpaio's tender loving care, everyone just wants to go to prison to get out of that hell hole instead of fighting anymore - which amounts to lingering until you leave or die. No wonder, given how they treat people in the psychiatric Unit of the Lower Buckeye Jail in particular.

1 comment:

  1. I wish to applaud Shannon Palmer's Family in their willingness to fight back.. And I like many other's agree that Shannon should have never been placed in the same cell as jasper. Never should a non violent offender be placed with a violent offender, for any length of time and especially in the case of these 2 individuals. With Shannon's known mental illness and jasper's past (killing a man in his sleep). When jasper first received life in prison I honestly felt people would be safe from him. Never did it occur to me that he may be put in a situation where he could kill again.. You see. I, for a time was jasper's step sister. Then in January of 2001 he murdered my father while he slept..
    My father had never done any wrong to jasper, and surely never provoked jasper to murder him. When I found out jasper had murdered again I was absolutely horrified. I am so very sorry this family has had to feel this pain, and the things that jasper did to their loved one is just absolutely horrifying. I don't understand how people can make jokes, I seen a headline of a story that was in a newspaper about it, and even that writer took a crack at it. Please if possible pass along my condolences and praise for their willingness to fight back and to help see that this type of thing stops happening to Mr. Palmer's family. the justice system failed this family so many times, and had the system worked with them just once this would not have happened to them.