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, December 31, 2010

Death in Custody: Paul Anthony Casteldeoro.

According to the Pima County Sheriff's department, 31 year old Paul Anthony Casteldeoro was found hanging in his holding cell this week in the county jail. They said he had been held there on numerous charges since November 5, but nothing on him has been updated on the court website in years.

Condolences to Paul's friends and family. Please contact me if you want to share any of his story, so I can publish more than just his criminal record.

- Peg

Parade of Fools...New Year's Eve, 2010.

Just came from the Fiesta Bowl parade in Phoenix. The signs facing the two AZ politicians below say "Stop Prisoner Abuse" (on "defend Human Rights") and "for a Happier New Year" (at my feet).

joe arpaio

jan brewer

ASPC-Tucson 2010: Christmas Day Escape.

It was foiled before they got anywhere. This attempt happened at ASPC-Tucson right after we left Saturday...this is good coverage, from what I know so far, from the Guardian.  A few things went down there that day. 

The ACPOA saw this coming and warned the Governor, by the way, for those of you just now tuning in. She stands behind her man.

Now what about the prisoner from Lewis?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scott Watch: Free at Last, Free at Last.

Spread the word: Both Justice and Grace prevailed in Mississippi this week - Jamie and Gladys Scott are to be set free at last...

Thank Governor Barbour at 601.359.3150


Mississippi Governor's Office
Dec. 29, 2010


"Today, I have issued two orders indefinitely suspending the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott. In 1994, a Scott County jury convicted the sisters of armed robbery and imposed two life sentences for the crime. Their convictions and their sentences were affirmed by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 1996.

"To date, the sisters have served 16 years of their sentences and are eligible for parole in 2014. Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her. The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.

"The Mississippi Parole Board reviewed the sisters' request for a pardon and recommended that I neither pardon them, nor commute their sentence. At my request, the Parole Board subsequently reviewed whether the sisters should be granted an indefinite suspension of sentence, which is tantamount to parole, and have concurred with my decision to suspend their sentences indefinitely.

"Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency. The release date for Jamie and Gladys Scott is a matter for the Department of Corrections.

"I would like to thank Representative George Flaggs, Senator John Horne, Senator Willie Simmons, and Representative Credell Calhoun for their leadership on this issue. These legislators, along with former Mayor Charles Evers, have been in regular contact with me and my staff while the sisters' petition has been under review."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie...

!YA BASTA! (sorry, I can't do the punctuation right with this program.)

This is a compelling argument for anarchy over this facade of a democracy...


Lies and Betrayals: The Coming Death of a Criminal Democratic Party

Blog: Un Pueblo Sin Fronteras

Posted by digoguerra en diciembre 29, 2010

By Raúl Al-qaraz Ochoa

Mark my words that the only things to have been halted in 2010 were not just immigration reform or the DREAM Act; it was also the year the Democratic Party died.

Allow me to explain.

In Washington D.C., from 2008 to 2010 in the House of Representatives, there were 257 who were Democrats; only 178 were Republican. In the Senate there were 59 Democrats; only 41 were Republicans. The Party that Latinos voted overwhelmingly for controlled two-thirds of the House of Representatives and had a majority in the Senate, for 2 years, and still they couldn’t keep their promise to you or me.

For 2 years Democrats sat around, not passing immigration reform and actively blocking passage of the DREAM Act. Most recently, the DREAM Act needed 5 votes to live and 5 Democrats voted against it and 1 Democrat had no shame and failed to vote at all!

While Republicans push white supremacy to new heights. Democrats are worse. At least we know where Republicans stand and we know they will keep their evil word. But Democrats, as liberal as they may be, are weak, they’re fence-sitters, they’re spineless, they’re hypocrites and they’re liars. If we have turned a blind eye to the Democrats’ tricks, lies and betrayals, we can no longer deny reality. Being naïve is no longer an excuse to continue supporting a party that actively works against our interests.

But let me be positive too and mention what Democrats have done for us. While Obama says he is disappointed that the DREAM Act didn’t pass and while he says no family should be torn apart, his actions and those of Department of Homeland Security head-honcho Janet Napolitano (a former Democrat governor from a little state called Arizona) have secured the following record-breaking numbers:

  • “$4.6 billion to support 20,000 Border Patrol agents and complete the first segment of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) virtual border fence.
  • Includes $94 million for 300 new CBP Officers for passenger and cargo screening at ports of entry as well as expansion of pre-screening operations at foreign airports and land ports of entry.
  • More than $1.6 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs to expeditiously identify and remove from the United States illegal aliens who commit crimes. Included in this total is continued support for the Secure Communities program.
  • $137 million for enhancements and expansion of immigration related verification programs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.”

So, I guess I was wrong and I misunderstood. A Democrat-sponsored immigration reform did pass and these numbers that I got from are the reform put into action: Record-breaking detentions, record-breaking deportations, record-breaking border militarization, record-breaking profits for private prison corporations, record-breaking police state terror, record-breaking family separations and record-breaking deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is the only Comprehensive Immigration Reform Democrats have given us.

This is immoral. These are crimes against humanity.

Let me back-track a bit. Would you vote for a Republican? I didn’t think so. How about the Tea Party? The Neo-Nazi Socialist Movement? What about the Minutemen or the K.K.K.? Of course you wouldn’t! How about a Democrat? Well, voting Democrat is not much different than voting for a white supremacist group or party (that is out of the closet). Voting Democrat means voting for more family separations because under a Democrat administration DHS intends to deport over 400,000 undocumented people in 2011; voting Democrat means voting for more deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border because under a Democrat administration DHS has received record-breaking budget for border enforcement; voting Democrat also means voting for the criminalization of migrants and people of color, because under a Democrat administration, Secure Communities, 287(g), E-verify and other programs that criminalize migrants are scheduled to expand. These points are focused on immigration; now consider where Democrats stand on electoral fraud, health care, poverty, the environment, education or the war in Iraq/Afghanistan/the world!

So… I have to ask. Why on earth would we vote Democrat? Because it’s the lesser of two evils? I don’t agree. Their rhetoric may be less evil, but their actions and their votes cast an equal amount of terror upon poor communities and communities of color.

Democrats are immoral and they are guilty of crimes against humanity.

This is not bad leadership at the top. This is not an accident. This is not a Republican/right-wing conspiracy; this is as Democratic/liberal as it gets, coming from all levels. Not even local or disagreeing Democrats are putting their bodies on the line to stop this madness coming from their own national political party they represent. Party elected officials allow business as usual to continue. I don’t care how “progressive” Congressman Raúl Grijalva may be, or how “supportive” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may be to undocumented students, both professional politicians are just as responsible and complicit in their party’s crimes against the Latino community as the rest of them.

As slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass felt about participation in the political system during slavery times, holding office or participating in electoral activity is immoral and sanctifies oppression and slavery itself.

As clear as it was back then, it is clear today that our community’s emancipation won’t come through changing this system from within. We’ve tried over and over. The results won’t be much different if we try again tomorrow. This system rests on our social/political/economic/labor oppression and exploitation. We’ve blindly believed in the Democrats and the electoral system for generations and look at where we’re at today. We only have promises, lies and betrayals to show for all of our electoral work and dependence on Democrat politricks.

In the 2010 elections it can be argued that the “Latino vote” saved the Democrats a majority in the Senate (51-46). This means that even after the Democrats for 2 years (and much longer than that) just laughed in our faces and either abstained or voted against us, we still came out to vote for them in November! This is mind-bogglingly stupid. No wonder they blocked the DREAM Act.

They know they can

  1. make fake promises to us during election time,
  2. get elected by our votes,
  3. then they can break their promises for 2 or 4 years,
  4. they will campaign again when their term is up and
  5. we will vote again for the same politicians and the same Democratic party that did us wrong!

And we get exactly what we deserve. The cycle is never-ending. Why do we allow them to do this to us without political consequences?! They asked us to vote for them so they can pass immigration reform. We came through, they didn’t do their part and now we need to get rid of them. But for reals.

Pro-immigrant rights reformers love to threaten the political system with withdrawing the Latino vote. But Democrats know it’s just a front and that the High-spanic establishment is filled with ride-or-die Democratic party loyalist slaves that will suck it up, pacify the brown, angry masses and sell us out (or remain silent) for a seat at the top. Clearly we need a double revolt: not only against an oppressive, white supremacist, two-party, corporate, political system, but also against phony brown faces that proclaim to represent us.

As Malcolm X famously declared at a time when Black people faced similar political struggles: “Anytime you throw your weight behind a political party that controls two-thirds of the government, and that [Democratic Party] can’t keep the promise that it made to you during election time, and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identify yourself with that Party, you’re not only a [political] chump, but you’re a traitor to your race.”

We have no more excuses. What are we waiting for? Where do we go from here? What do we do? What is the alternative?

My proposal is NOT to create a new electoral political party that will work in this very same system that co-opts and corrupts any attempts at justice. It is clear that this apartheid, corporate two-party electoral political, economic system must be dismantled and replaced with local, decentralized communities based on collectivism, autonomy, justice, equality and love. I’m not being idealistic or theoretical here. We don’t need a revolution to make this happen. We can start today. We already have these elements in our communities. Let’s develop the collectivism we already exercise into an organized social, political, economic force.

But the first step is to recognize that we are in an abusive relationship with the Democratic Party—they are the abusers. If we can’t recognize that, we will never abandon them, much less create a healthy, beautiful, strong alternative to this abusive, oppressive, criminal political, social and economic system.

We’ve waited long enough.

Let’s take back our power. The answer is not in party politics; it’s inside of us, in our mothers and fathers that sacrificed everything, in our grandparents that struggled yesterday and in the youth that struggle today and tomorrow. WE have the power to RISE and create a healthy reality based on dignity and respect for all of us.

When will we declare YA BASTA with all the rage and love in our hearts?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Arizona Prisoners: "Early Release" 2010.

A lot of people have been looking for information lately about the "early release" of state prisoners - specifically hoping that some will be paroled after serving only 65%, instead of the currently mandated 85%, of their sentence. I'm sorry to say, that doesn't appear to be what the deal is. That would require major sentence reform that the state legislature hasn't been willing to undertake in recent years.

It appears as if during one of the special sessions this past year, however, the legislature passed a bill which gave the Az Department of Corrections' Director, Charles Ryan, considerable leeway to release low-risk prisoners early as a means of easing the pressure on the budget. On October 1, 2010, Ryan issued a memo in response to this which details who might be eligible under what circumstances for what the rest of us tend to call "early release".

Here's the link to that memo, (also known as a Director's Instruction): DI#288. As best I can tell, no one's sentences are getting cut short, but you need to read it for yourself to determine how it applies to the situation you're involved in. It looks to me like the ADC is just cutting a handful of people loose from their parole tail so they go straight into their receiving county's hands for a term of probation, but I could be missing something.

Try using the current ADC Constituent Services Guidebook as a supplement to figure this out - if nothing else, it will direct you to the folks at the ADC central office who can better answer your questions.

Getting sentencing reform legislation next session is going to be hard. If you're the friend of family member of a prisoner, or otherwise interested in organizing with others on the issue of sentence reform and reduction, contact me soon. We have a better shot at it if we work together and draw in other members of our communities being decimated by the practice of mass incarceration and the lack of meaningful "correctional" programming going on during or after one's term of imprisonment. My contact info is in the side column of this page.

Sorry I don't have better news and didn't get this in your hands sooner. If anyone learns different from investigating this further, please contact me. If you write it up for us I'll post it as a guest blog.



Saturday, December 25, 2010

CCA, Eloy: Jesus was a Prisoner, too.

Driving home from visiting a state prisoner for Christmas today, I was struck by how many prisons and detention centers are in towns (and wasteland) right off of the I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson - most located in Pinal County. Eloy is one such town - "city", rather, as I discovered when I turned off of the highway at one of their exits.

Lo and behold, not only is Eloy teeming with prisons (4 of Correction Corporation of America's 6 institutions of incarceration are located there, including Red Rock and Saguaro Correctional Centers), but it is also apparently a City of God. Christ's Father, that is.

Look closely at their sign...

Now, I actually found hope in that sign, but there are a lot of ways that could be read. Eloy, like virtually all prison towns, feeds largely on the lives of people imprisoned there from other places - mostly poor neighborhoods of big cities like Phoenix. Just listen to how prisons are sold to hungry communities: while saving the state money they promise revenue to build local schools with, jobs to fuel the economy, and bodies to add to the census and political pocketbook - bodies of people who have been stripped not only of their freedom as punishment, but also of the one right that most distinguishes U.S. citizens from non-citizens: the right to vote.

How that perverse penalty for most felons, regardless of the severity of their crime, is not considered a violation of the 8th Amendment in light of
Trop v. Dulles, I don't know. I have my own feelings about citizenship in this country, but that's another blog post for another time. The point is that in a case in which a soldier was stripped of citizenship, the Supreme court found that "the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society... is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself..."

It's worth looking at, this whole felon dis-enfranchisement thing. It's a holdover from the Reconstruction era when former slaves were criminalized just so they couldn't vote or live free. That was well over a century ago. What are we still doing it for? I think it's one big contributing element to guards dehumanizing prisoners such that they can perpetrate the most disturbing violence on them without much regard to consequences - the fact that we already collectively diminished their basic rights.

In any event, American prisoners are not only widely marketed, traded and sold as commodities because states pay to confine them, but - as an
end run around the Emancipation Declaration - they are even constitutionally defined as slaves. Both their labor and their mere existence are exploited to generate income for "host" (actually, "parasitic") communities, private investors, corporate and municipal employers of prisoners, vendors of all sorts - from those supplying commissaries/canteens to those monopolizing lucrative contracts for collect calls home to impoverished families.

The most revered beneficiaries of the criminalization and incarceration of vast numbers of the poor are those whose livelihoods (and children's medical care) depend on "fighting crime," "insuring justice," and "promoting public safety".
Let's not forget our beloved politicians, too. They rake in money, adoration, and power from that in all sorts of ways.

Add all those folks up and it's no surprise that our society - particularly this state - fails to invest in proven strategies for reducing crime and victimization in favor of disenfranchising and dis-empowering those people who might resist the machinery that so violently destroys their lives and communities in retaliation for their offenses against property and the state.

One such person engaged in resistance would have been Christ. He really was a freedom-fighter, actually. A lot of people conveniently forget this, but he was a prisoner, too. Remember that line about "whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me"? He was talking about prisoners, among others.

So, to say that "the world needs Jesus" could mean that the world needs more prisoners, or it could mean that the world needs more forgiveness and grace. It could mean we need more bodies to buy and sell - and more consumers and workers to exploit for profit - or it could mean we need to overturn the moneylenders' tables and loudly protest the torture of our prisoners at the hands of sadistic and vindictive guards.

I don't know what the City of Eloy means to say by promoting Christ in the world - they will have to show us that themselves. I know what Jesus said about poverty, exploitation, judging others harshly, and caring for our prisoners. It's all spelled out pretty clearly in the Gospels. If you read only one, choose Matthew. Hit the Sermon on the Mount and then Matthew 25:35-40 in particular. Then tell me if the world needs more prisoners, or more mercy. More punishment or more care...

We have been at war in Afghanistan for nine years now, and in Iraq for almost as long (or more than twice as long, if you count the casualties of the sanctions). That's longer than any declared war in our national history, and there's really no end in sight, despite what time-lines the President offers. We're still sending our youth off to kill or be killed in the name of liberty and justice for all around the world, while doing so little to defend those two values here at home.

I find that unacceptable.

My wish for the new year is that the spirit of the Christ whose life and teachings I myself have learned something from is recognized and honored in every prisoner we hold in our facilities of detention, correction, and punishment - particularly by those among us who identify as "Christian". They seem to hold most of the keys to those places, ironically.

If the City of Eloy is truly a City of God, as it would seem they purport to be - then the Pinal County Sheriff and prosecutor would go after the abusive guards at Saguaro as swiftly and surely as CCA will go after the prisoners who rioted at Red Rock this week. They would not fear the political reprisal of honest citizens for doing so. If anything they would be seen as heroic for aggressively championing the human rights of people literally in chains who are at the mercy of their tormentors.

Likewise, if Eloy is a City of God, then CCA wouldn't get away with defending the employee misconduct at their institutions that we've heard about this month from Hawaiian prisoners. They would be out in front of this lawsuit, disciplining and referring the guards in question - as well as the warden there - for criminal prosecution, which the local criminal justice system would jump on. Of course, last I saw CCA was defending the despicable videotaped brutality of their guards in Idaho, too, so I don't expect that much of them. But I expect more of a City of God.

The state feeds us fear to maintain power, but in truth most American prisoners haven't physically harmed anyone but themselves. Even many who are charged with "violent" crimes never struck a soul. Robbing a bank with nothing more than a squirt gun or a note, for example, is considered a "violent" crime. So is brandishing a box cutter at security guards chasing you down for shoplifting (that got one mentally ill kid I adore 5 years, including a year in Supermax).

Now, if those are violent crimes, what do we call repeatedly assaulting and threatening to rape, torture, and kill helpless people? Why is every City of God not up in arms? Which of our brothers are we forgiving for what, and whose cries are we drowning out with our choirs on Sundays? Shall we continue to extract an eye for a dollar or a tooth for every rebuke of the state, and pay a dollar of our own money to those who threaten to extinguish prisoners' lives?

That isn't even how it was supposed to work in the Old Testament, much less the one dominated by Jesus.

I've been born more than once, I am sure, but because of the way Christ's life and message and symbols have been abused, I don't call myself a "Christian" or abide by the mandates of any religion. I just try my best to live by the principles and values that ring true to me, most of which are common but not exclusive to the Christian faith. Self-professed Christians out there need to consider for themselves what his truth is and how to live it; I just wish that if they identify Jesus as their role model they would follow his guidance a little more closely. The world would be a bit better for it...and we wouldn't constantly be at war in his name, either.

Christ, I have no doubt, would deeply disapprove of our system of "justice" in America - particularly Arizona - and how we perpetrate violence on our prisoners. After all, he was criminalized for defying both capital and the state, and lived and died as a prisoner himself.
As I read it, he went out that particular way for a reason, too.

Anyway, for the sake of the thousands of disenfranchised, incarcerated and otherwise detained souls whose misery they have profited from, I hope Eloy is a City of Jesus' version of God. How they and CCA deal with the perpetrators of abuse in their prisons will tell us much more than the signs they've placed at their gates do.

(read CCA's rap sheet at the Private Corrections Working Group's website. Catch up on CCA's Idaho "Gladiator School", too. But give the people of Eloy a chance...)

And the world Changed: Mass Clemency for Christmas.

I'm taking Davon Acklin's family to prison today to see him for Christmas and may not be blogging much until tomorrow. Will thus leave you all with the wise words of another to contemplate and dream on: a marvelous holiday essay for all the prisoners and their loved ones out there, printed last year in the Huffington Post...

Blessings to all. Be safe and well this day.


What I Want For Christmas: Mass Clemency

Jacob M. Appel

Bioethicist and medical historian

Posted: December 23, 2009 09:41 PM

The United States Constitution and the laws of most states permit the President and governors to issue pardons and commutations, a prerogative frequently exercised during the winter holiday season. Unfortunately, with a few laudable exceptions, our chief executives have displayed considerable stinginess--and even outright political cowardice--in exercising this remarkable power.

President George W. Bush drew criticism from liberals for only pardoning 189 individuals and commuting 11 prison sentences during his eight years in office, but Bill Clinton cut short a merely marginally better 61 prison terms and pardoned only 3
96 convicts. Most of those pardoned each year have committed small-stakes crimes in the distant past such as selling bootleg whiskey or passing bad checks. Others, like Dan Rostenkowski and George Steinbrenner, are politically well-connected. It often seems that the principal purpose of these rare reprieves, much like the pardoning of a Thanksgiving Day turkey, is to make the pardoning politicians appear generous and affable to the electorate.

Yet with the United States now boasting the highest inc
arceration rate in the world -- more than 1 in every 100 Americans in currently behind bars -- our nation is long overdue for a mass clemency of non-violent felons and those unlikely to re-offend. Such a collective pardon and commutation would reunite hundreds of thousands of families, save billions of dollars in incarceration costs, and might foster a national spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Few American politicians have dared to issue mass clemencies in the past. Andrew Johnson's grant of amnesty to former Confederate soldiers and Jimmy Carter's pardon of Vietnam-era draft evaders are likely the two largest acts of blanket forgiveness -- and both helped to heal our national wounds after periods of great division. Former New Mexico Governor Toney Anaya and ex-Illinois Governor George Ryan both deserve credit for commuting all of their state's death sentences to life terms. However,
our current political leaders -- in both parties -- far more often appear afraid to ask for broad or bold clemencies.

John McCain's drive to secure a pardon for African-American boxer Jack Johnson -- convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act for his relationship with a white woman -- embodies this problem. Don't misunderstand me: I am all for pardoning Johnson, and Ethel Rosenberg, and Sacco & Vanzetti, and righting as many of the mo
ral miscarriages of history as possible. However, I would much rather free the thousands of non-violent offenders serving long sentences under the draconian Rockefeller drug laws in New York State. So here's my Christmas wish: Each chief executive should order a special panel to determine, as quickly as possible, which prisoners either have a history of extreme violence or pose a high risk of re-offending. Those meeting neither criteria should be transitioned home as quickly as possible.

The advantage of a mass clemency is that it can be framed in terms of social policy and a spirit of charity, rather than the merits of any specific inc
ident. That is not to say that there are not thousands of individual cases worthy of attention. In Michigan, for example, Shontelle Cavanaugh has now gone nearly five years without a trial for smothering her infant during a psychotic break -- a calamity compounded when the local prosecutor withheld video footage of Cavanaugh at the height of her psychosis. Governor Granholm could order this unfortunate woman's release. And there is the tragic case of Michelle Collette in Massachusetts, whose own trial judge blasted the severity of her seven-year sentence for possession of 14 to 28 grams of illicit oxycodone -- an injustice that could be rectified by Governor Patrick. But by focusing on these individual cases, as compelling and heart-wrenching as they may be, one risks losing sight of the greater cruelty of denying human beings liberty long after they pose any meaningful threat to society.

An individual pardon focuses on the nature of the crime. A mass pardon allows us to transcend questions of right and wrong. Unlike an individua
l grant of clemency, which often suggests that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, a mass clemency avoids the controversial issue of whether justice has been served and focuses on the question of whether it furthers any ethical purpose to perpetuate the punishment. One could simultaneously pardon Scooter Libby and all of the undocumented immigrants detained on identity-fraud charges while still avoiding the political hot potato of endorsing their specific conduct.

While an individual pardon may appear to be a slight to crime victims, who also merit our recognition and empathy, a collective pardon doe
s not mitigate the respect that we should accord these victims' suffering. Moreover, a one-time mass clemency does not undermine the deterrent effect of stiff criminal penalties, because no potential offender is ever going to break the law in the hope that a second, future mass clemency will free him if he is arrested.

One of the glaring -- yet too often overlooked -- failings of contemporary America is that we have become a nation obsessed with justice and retribution. We claim to be The Land of the Free, yet we have lost sight of what it means to be imprisoned: denied liberty and access to one's family, subjected to isolation and violence and u
nspeakable boredom. We have come to believe, in the most pernicious way, that people should get what they deserve. What a sea change it might be in our public discourse and our civic life if we focused instead upon mercy and forgiveness. A merciful and forgiving culture might find itself with less anger, less social disruption, and even less crime. If we liberated only half of our prisoners, we could spend the billions of dollars saved educating children, or providing substance-abuse treatment to addicts, or training mental health workers -- breaking the cycle of neglect that sets future prisoners on their initial trajectory toward misconduct.

I am not naive enough to believe that all of our prisoners should be freed. Some individuals are truly unfit for reintegration into society. No rea
sonable person would argue that Charles Manson or Scott Roeder or admitted Al Qaeda terrorists should be sent home for the holidays. Fortunately, the majority of our more than two million prisoners are not fanatics and sociopaths. Many are good people who have exercised poor judgment. They have the same hopes and dreams as ordinary, free Americans, but they now squander their lives behind bars because our prison-industrial complex has gone haywire. They are, in short, the meek and wretched who the Biblical Jesus -- whether literal or figurative -- would want us to remember in our holiday prayers.

Will the White House read this column and decide upon a mass clemency? Unlikely. Such a bold step might make President Obama truly worthy of his Nobel Prize, and win him the praise of history, but political leaders of all stripes think in t
erms of poll numbers. I suspect that a mass clemency could be sold to the American public -- particularly as more and more Americans find their own loved ones imprisoned -- but I understand that to attempt such a courageous step requires a leap of considerable faith. I am more optimistic that, if enough people clamor for a mass clemency, one inspired state governor -- possibly a lame-duck chief executive without a political future -- will consider such a dramatic and compassionate act. If that happens, and the social order does not crumble, other political leaders may have the courage to follow. In the interim, I can only hope that the government lawyers assembling last-minute pardons lists, possibly as I write this, remember that each name they add to their clemency register is another flesh-and-blood human being who will be able to spent the Christmas holiday with his or her family.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Defend Free Speech for a Happier New Year.

December 22, 2010

I complained to the Phoenix Police today about being handcuffed and perp-walked Wednesday morning while exercising my First Amendment rights outside of City Hall. Then I informed them of my intention to chalk in front of their HQ. I was really just telling them what I was up to so I wouldn't get tasered or shot; I wasn't asking them for permission or to cut me a "break".

It didn't go over very well.

We argued for about 20 minutes, during which time one officer insisted that the "ground" in the Arizona Revised Statutes (pasted below) refers to dirt, not the sidewalk or street or anything paved. I was ultimately threatened with arrest on the spot and being booked into jail for criminal damage if I proceeded to chalk the walk, which I did.

I told them as I was walking out the door that I'd respect their access to their loading zone - which one officer made a good point about - but that as I understood it, chalking sidewalks isn't against the law, and if they really believed it was to come and get me. I'd rather have it out once and for all in court than haggle with them about it every time. Sooner or later, one of them is bound to hurt me.

They left me alone once I got started. They didn't even take down my personal information when I offered it (they probably already know who I am and where I live...).

Perhaps the "Graffitti Detectives" will chase me down another day. In the meantime, though, since my free speech at City Hall had just been stomped on, I still needed to make a "Happier New Year" card.

Here's two:

Let me know which one you like most and I'll send it to you -
just be sure to give me your snail mail address.


13-1602. Criminal damage; classification

A. A person commits criminal damage by recklessly:

1. Defacing or damaging property of another person; or

2. Tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value; or

3. Tampering with or damaging t he property of a utility.

4. Parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water.

5. Drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surf ace, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.

B. Criminal damage is punished as follows:

1. Criminal damage is a class 4 felony if the person recklessly damages property of another
in an amount of ten thousand dollars or more.

2. Criminal damage is a class 4 felony if the person recklessly damages the property of a utility in an amount of five thousand dollars or more or if the person recklessly causes impairment of the functioning of any utility.

3. Criminal damage is a class 5 felony if the person recklessly damages property of another
in an amount of two thousand dollars or more but less than ten thousand dollars.

4. Criminal damage is a class 6 felony if the person recklessly damages the property of another
in an amount of one thousand dollars or more but less than two thousand dollars.

5. Criminal damage is a class 1 misdemeanor if the person recklessly damages property of another in an amount of more than two hundred fifty dollars but less than one thousand dollars.

6. In all other cases criminal damage is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Eloy Red Rock Riot update: Christmas Eve.

The latest word from Red Rock (in a news release via K-Gun in Tucson) is that 43 prisoners have been identified as being involved in the riot today and are in administrative segregation under investigation (isolated in detention units). According to them, seven prisoners were treated for injuries at a hospital, only one of whom was admitted (his injuries are reportedly non-life-threatening).

It still appears as if only California's prisoners were involved.

(photo credit: TriValley Central)

Prison Talk has a thread going (that's the link to the most current page, as of this evening) where family and friends of prisoners there are sharing info about which yard was involved, what's happening with visitation, etc. I can't figure out much more from that yet, but they usually know what's going on before the media does - and will keep talking about it long after the media loses interest.

The families will be more current than I am, as well, so follow them if you're really concerned about what's going on and how other prisoners there are being affected.
While rumors may sometimes fly in forums like Prison Talk, CCA's news releases aren't necessarily the whole truth. They don't even have anything about the Red Rock Riot or the lawsuit at Saguaro up on their newsroom website, so don't turn to CCA for "news" on their prisons.

My friend, Frank Smith from the Private Corrections Working Group (a private prison industry watchdog), dropped me a line today that he left the following remark about the Red Rock Riot on the TriValley Central website. Frank's insight is often worth repeating:


"These prisons are chronically troubled.

Thanks to campaign support and contributions to Republicans there is virtually no oversight. Arizona officials have no clue as to whom they hold; what murderers, pedophiles, rapists, kidnappers have been imported from hundreds or thousands of miles away. The female staff is endlessly sexually harassed by management. Escapes and riots are as regular as rain in the tropics.

When charges are successfully brought against murderers from out of state, it is Arizona taxpayers who will pay to keep them for most or the rest of their lives.

This "minor" incident, as the for-profit prisons are careful to term them, overtaxed Pinal County emergency services. Who will be paying for the costs of the medivac choppers to Maricopa County? Who will be called to address a "major" incident?

In Colorado, there was a 1999 riot in a badly constructed prison built by the same outfit to which Mohave County sole-sourced the Kingman prison, thanks to promoters who are now hovering over Arizona communities like a flock of vultures. It took law enforcement from four states to put down that riot. In 2004 a CCA riot in the same prison cost the state about three quarters of a million to put down, but it only got $300,000 or so in reimbursement.

These ineptly run lockups have long since exhausted the potential labor pool in Pinal county and low-wage labor required to run them will come from Maricopa or Pima counties.

Despite the staggering incompetence of the for-profits, Coolidge officials have welcomed still another such mistake, this one to be run by MTC, the outfit that gave us riots in Pima and Mohave county this year, and the escapes of three murderers who killed a vacationing Oklahoma couple. MTC has had escapes, riots and murders in other states as well, including California, Texas, New Mexico and their home state of Utah. MTC was thrown out of Canada, where cooler legislative heads prevail and politics are not dominated by special interests."

follow link for Christmas Day Post: 

Eloy again: Riot at CCA's Red Rock Prison

Follow this link for the updated post at AZ Prison Watch, as of 6pm December 24, 2010.

Below is the AP release on the CCA Red Rock Correctional Facility riot yesterday in Eloy, AZ, which involved only the California prisoners located there.

Something is amiss in that town.
As some readers may be aware, this facility is operated by the same Corrections Corporation of America that runs the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy. They also operate the La Palma Correctional Center and Eloy Detention Center there.

Hawaiian prisoners confined at Saguaro are suing for the abuse they endured in the wake of a smaller disturbance/uprising there in July of this year, during which at least one guard was injured. Again, no Hawaiian prisoners were involved in this incident yesterday.

Here is the link to a more complete article about it from Tri-Valley Central, the local media there (the source of the photo here). Read the comments that follow it - those are always interesting (though sometimes very troubling). According to Tri-Valley's report, no guards were hurt but three prisoners had life-threatening injuries. They have not been publicly identified.

Still looking for this from the prisoners' and families' point of view - please forward what you may come across out there. I will post more as soon as I have it...
For those of you planning holiday visitation, call ahead. Both Red Rock and Saguaro are now on lock down.


10 inmates injured in riot at Arizona prison

San Francisco Chronicle
December 23, 2010

17:37 PST

Eloy, Ariz.
(AP) -- Ten inmates have been injured after a riot at a private prison in central Arizona. Eloy police say the disturbance occurred during Thursday afternoon's lunch hour at the Red Rock Correctional Facility and involved an estimated 110 inmates. They say the riot was in an area of the prison that houses only California inmates.

It's unclear what triggered the riot, but prison staff used pepper spray and ended it within 10 minutes.
They say no staff members were injured and seven of the 10 inmates hurt were taken to hospitals outside the prison for treatment of injuries ranging from moderate to serious.

Prison officials say the 1,596-bed facility now is in lockdown.

Red Rock Correctional Center is owned by
Corrections Corporation of America and houses male inmates for California and Hawaii and detainees of the U.S. Marshals Service. CCA managers along with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation investigators are investigating the disturbance.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kevin Gerster's Arraignment

UPDATE (10/21/11): Gerster's Sentencing



(september 2011)


I made it down to the Maricopa County Courthouse this morning where Kevin Gerster was arraigned. The courtroom was late opening up, though, and there were 67 people on the morning's docket - the first half of whom were in custody and appearing from jail via video-camera. It was interesting to see that the only defendant not being represented by a public defender of some kind was Gerster - who is being very well-represented, no doubt, by David Cantor.

Before court commenced, the prosecuting attorney asked if any victims were present. None stepped forward, so I got up and introduced myself as representing the interests of families of people with serious mental illness, explaining that I was there to observe Gerster's indictment. I don't know if she was aware of my communication with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery or not, but she seemed somewhat annoyed with that, saying "it is what it is," then turned back to her table, effectively dismissing me.

Gerster entered the courtroom when I did, along with 3 companions - one of whom looked like he could be his brother. While hanging out in the lobby before the doors opened, Gerster looked relaxed, chatting and even laughing aloud with his lawyer. All I could think of was him assaulting those two mentally impaired, physically restrained prisoners for what appeared to be no reason but sadistic pleasure, and how much I wanted to see that guy sweating this out in chains and stripes with a court-appointed attorney, instead. That's not very abolitionist of me, I must confess, but honest.

As court commenced and Commissioner Lynch began to work his way through the prisoners in the order they were listed, I thought I was in for another hour or so, and ran out to drop more change in my meter. Big mistake. Needless to say, by the time I made it back through security and up to the 8th floor of the East Court House, Gerster was done and gone. No surprise, I guess - since his attorney was there only for him, my bet is that the judge called him up soon after I stepped out so Cantor could make it to his next appearance.

Privilege has its perks.

Fortunately KPHO was paying attention. Gerster plead "not guilty" to all charges and it was probably over in less than 2 minutes. He isn't due in court again until his pretrial conference on February 10 at 8:15am.

I'll post any updates here, but there likely won't be much more news on him unless the MCAO decides to drop one or more charges. I've decided to place a widget near the top of this page, too, with upcoming court dates of interest - a lot of cops here are criminals, it seems. This could drag on for a year before there's any trial or resolution, so I'll take more responsibility for organizing people to attend hearings.

William Hughes, one of Gerster's victims, is better-represented now, by the way - I believe through the Homeless Legal Assistance Project, where Craig Logdson mentors law students, and Ian Fischer is also somehow affiliated with. They appear to have sprung him even though he's facing a Rule 11 competency hearing in January. I don't know his current circumstances, but at least the kid won't spend Christmas in Joe Arpaio's cold, abusive jail. Frankly, I think his judge should just throw the charges out now and let him get on with his life; that guy has already endured enough.

No news on when/if William's other assailant, Alan Keesee, will be prosecuted. Millions of people have probably viewed that video by now, but as far as I know they're still "investigating" - and he's still on "paid administrative leave" (i.e. extended vacation).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Prosecute CCA Prisoner Abuse.

Most people have probably read the news reports on the lawsuit filed by the prisoners who were repeatedly assaulted and threatened with more time in prison, rape and even death. Even their families were threatened. Read the actual suit. It's really contemptible. As a member of the Arizona public, I even feel violated by what's happened here. 

Now, maybe I missed it, but I haven't been able to find anything about aggravated assault charges, among other things, being brought against the guards and warden at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy AZ. That's criminal conduct, and if the assaultive behavior was the other way around all those prisoners would be up on the most serious charges the state could bring against them by now.

So, I'm encouraging EVERYONE who cares about human rights out there to please contact the Pinal County Attorney's and Sheriff's offices to ask about criminal prosecution of those people responsible for the violence committed against their prisoners. Here's the contact info:

James P. Walsh
Pinal County Attorney
P.O. Box 887
Florence, AZ 85132

Front Desk: 520-866-6271


Paul Babeu, Sheriff
Pinal County Sheriff's Office
P.O. Box 867
Florence, AZ 85132 

PCSO Main Number: 1-800-420-8689
Administration: 520-866-6800

Public Information Office: 520-866-6800
Records: 520-866-5193

you need to go here to submit an email comment to the Sheriff.

I plan to write to them both, myself, soon, and will post my letters so you get the gist of what I'm advocating here. Don't wait for me, though, if you already know what you want to say. Letters/email are best, because they provide written documentation that phone calls can't capture, but doing both is even better.

Also, here's the info you need to send copies of your correspondence to the area media, and to urge them to investigate the matter as well:

Phoenix New Times
PO Box 2510
Phoenix, AZ 85002
Phone: 602-271-0040
Fax: 602-340-8806

Tucson Citizen
4850 S. Park Ave.
Tucson, AZ, 85714

The Arizona Republic
Letters to the Editor

P.O. Box 2244
Phoenix, AZ 85002

Main switchboard
(602) 444-8000
(800) 331-9303 toll-free

Letters may also be faxed to (602) 444-8933.

Arizona Daily Star
4850 S. Park Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85714

Cruz, Veronica
News Assistant
520-573-4179 office
520-573-4107 fax

Fell, Cina
News Assistant
520-573-4203 office
520-573-4107 fax

O'Sullivan, JayneNews Assistant
520-573-4133 office
520-573-4140 fax

That should get you started, at least. Send copies of what you end up doing to the above email or PO Box addresses, too, and I'll post them. And again, READ THE LAWSUIT! Then you'll know what you're talking about.

Thanks -


Georgia on my mind: Prisoner Rights investigation.

These activists and prisoners in Georgia rock - so does the Black Agenda Report (go there or email the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights instead of the New York Times for news updates on the prisons. The NYT doesn't know what they're talking about.)


Community Coalition Meets With GA Corrections Officials, Visits First Prison. What Would Dr. King Say or Do?
By Bruce A. Dixon
Created 12/22/2010 - 12:37
Submitted by Bruce A. Dixon on Wed, 12/22/2010 - 12:37

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon, with assistance from Ingemar Smith

Last Friday members of the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights met with Georgia correctional officials. The following Monday they commenced the first of a series of fact finding visits to the state's correctional institutions, seeking the reasons and right response to the stand of inmates demanding their human rights. Dr. King's annual holiday is coming up too. What would he say about the prisoners and the nation's misguided public policy of mass incarceration? What would he do, and what should we?

“'The prisoners have done all they can do now. It's up to us to build a movement out here that can make the changes which have to be made.'”

Eight days after the start of Georgia's historic prisoner's strike, in which thousands of inmates in at least six prisons refused to leave their cells, demanding wages for work, education and self-improvement programs, medical care, better access to their families and more, representatives of the communities the inmates came from met in downtown Atlanta with state corrections officials. The community delegation, calling itself the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners Rights, was headed by Ed Dubose of the NAACP [3] of Georgia's state conference, and included representatives from the US Human Rights Organization [4], the Nation of Islam [5], the Green Party of Georgia [6], The Ordinary Peoples Society [7], and attorneys from the ACLU of Georgia, [8] the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition [9] and elsewhere, along with state representative Roberta Abdul-Salaam [10].

State officials claimed they knew about the strike action well in advance, and said they locked the institutions down as a preemptive measure. They declared they'd confiscated more than a hundred cell phones, mostly in public places, and identified dozens of inmates whom they believed were leaders of the strike. They admitted confining these inmates to isolation and in some cases transferring them to other institutions.

The coalition asserted that brutal reprisals were being taken against nonviolent strikers by prison authorities, and that constant threats being made against inmates. These incidents, the coalition insisted, along with the vast gulf between the reasonable demands of the inmates and some of the well-known conditions in the state's penal institutions made the immediate entry into the affected prisons by a fact finding team of advocates, community representatives and attorneys at the earliest moment an absolute necessity. The meeting adjourned awaiting the state's decision. And late Friday afternoon, state corrections officials agreed to access by a small number of delegated observers, who would visit Macon State Prison, some two hours south of Atlanta the following Monday.

The observers who visited Macon State on December 20 would not comment on what they saw and heard, except to confirm that they did interview staff and prisoners for about five hours. Macon State, some said, was the institution chosen by the Department of Corrections. Subsequent visits would have to be made to other institutions, they confirmed, including some of those where the alleged strike leaders were being held.

“We understand where we are and how we got here,” explained Rev. Kenny Glasgow of The Ordinary Peoples Society (TOPS) after his visit to Macon State. A former prisoner himself who spent fourteen years behind the walls, Glasgow runs a series of re-entry programs for former inmates in Georgia and Alabama. “We only got to sit down with correctional officials, we only gained access to the prisons because of the courageous stand of those behind the walls. It was their willingness to work together across different lines and to sacrifice the very limited freedom and safety they have that got us to this point. The prisoners have done all they can do now. It's up to us to build a movement out here that can make the changes which have to be made.”

The Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners Rights is expected to request to visit at least one more Georgia penal institution before the year ends to continue its fact finding process. Coalition spokespeople have been deluged with messages of solidarity and support from across the country and around the world. Meetings, marches and demonstrations have taken place in Oakland, Detroit, and New York and elsewhere [11]. The Center for Constitutional Rights and other outfits are circulating online petitions which have garnered thousands of signatures in support of the prisoners. Those wishing to contact the Coalition via email can do so at concernedcoalitionga(at)

“Any holiday celebration, any dinner, parade, or commemoration of Dr. King's life and work that does not embrace the cause of Georgia's and the nation's prisoners... is an empty one...”

In about three weeks we'll all be celebrating the January 15 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's birth. Many have remarked on the great distance between the actual life and work of Dr. King and the empty plaster saint of nonviolence that some have turned him into. The truth is that the living Marin Luther King was a fearless opponent of injustice, a man unafraid of endorsing unpopular causes, so long as these causes were just. If Dr. King were alive today he would wrap his arms around the cause of Georgia's and this nation's prisoners. Work without wages is indeed close to slavery. Even if the 13th Amendment permits “involuntary servitude” of those convicted of crimes Dr. King might rightly observe, that this was passed almost a century and a half ago, and that many things “legal” are neither moral nor advisable.

The U.S. has four and half percent of the world's population and nearly twenty five percent of its prisoners. Georgia leads the nation with an astounding one in thirteen of its adult citizens in prisons and jails, or under court and correctional supervision, thanks to innovations like the privatization of misdemeanor probation. When advocating ever-longer sentences becomes a standard campaign tactic for ambitious politicians, when fortunes are made overcharging inmate families for phone calls and raking off ten percent and more of paltry funds families send their loved ones, when prisons become growth industries with their own lobbyists, punishment has become a crime.

Any holiday celebration, any dinner, parade, or commemoration of Dr. King's life and work that does not embrace the cause of Georgia's and the nation's prisoners, that does not critically examine the facts America's current policy of mass incarceration is an empty one, a hollow mockery of the man King was and the movement he stood for. More than twenty thousand in Atlanta march in observance of Dr. King's life and work every year. The shiny new sanctuary of Ebeneezer Baptist Church is always filled with dignitaries on that day. Let's see how many signs there are outside the church supporting the prisoners on King's day in Atlanta and around the country. And let's see if the dignitaries inside Ebeneezer can even bring themselves to mention the people behind the walls, the locked down and and the left out, who are truly Dr. King's people. And ours.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor of Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. [12] He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)

Phoenix Ho-Ho-Homes Not Jails.

Was hoping to make a cool Christmas card for my friends while down on W. Washington early this morning, on the public sidewalk right outside of Phoenix City Hall. Experienced some chalkus interruptus, however, so this was about the best I could pull off...

I did get some pretty good cop-watching footage, at least. And the nice Phoenix Police officer (he was really very gentle while restraining me) who placed me in "investigative detention" went ahead and filed a complaint for the "Graffitti Detectives" to investigate and determine if charges should be pursued, which is a good thing.

I could have easily cleaned that up and avoided the possibility of prosecution, but I'm tired of the confusion and harassment. I have the cards of detectives who have given me their blessings, but my safety and liberty are too often at the whim of each cop who has a different idea of what "criminal damage" constitutes. I'll hash it out in court.

Note that I switched out my cowboy hat for an elf cap this week, in keeping with the holiday spirit. I think that's why I was in cuffs while being questioned - my mental status was being assessed. Both the costume and the message (and my occasional chuckling to myself) seemed to alarm the police more than the potential that I was actually being destructive.

I was a little worried when we headed towards the car, but his handcuff key was hanging from the ring in the ignition - he was just getting ready to set me free.

Well, here you go - every picture tells a story, as they say...

Love and Power, to all my friends and comrades struggling to survive out there.