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, May 2, 2011

Prisoner abuse: Why haven't we evolved?

April 22, 2011

This doesn't help, folks...

Often when atrocious conduct by Department of Corrections employees is reported, there's a tendency to focus on the cruelty or indifference of individual guards. When under fire, in fact, the ADC will exploit that perception to create distance from their institutional responsibility for their employee's common practices and patterns of misconduct - the seven referred for prosecution over Marcia Powell's death, for example, were arguably scapegoated...

Which isn't to say that those individuals don't also have something to be accountable for; those people violated us all. The problem is that they were the norm for the day - sixteen people were disciplined over ignoring a woman in a cage for four hours in the 108 degree sun who was supposed to be on a suicide watch. The previous day they had left another woman in the cage for around 20 hours. That's indicative of a much bigger problem than a few inattentive officers.

And so, it is in this context in which the women of San Carlos, out at Perryville Prison, are being coerced into working at Martori farms under hazardous conditions, with poor access to emergency medical attention in case of an illness or accident - really, they're 1 1/2 hours away from the hospital the prison transports to, by ground ambulance, anyway, and they're too cheap to call for air evac from the fields, even in the case of a heart attack. There doesn't appear to be a portable defibrillator out there; I don't know if anyone is even CPR/First Aid trained on the prison or Martori staff.

Even if they're certified, there's no assurance they'd know what to do: one guard from Tuscon claimed that in 13 years he never learned how to stop bleeding in first aid class; along with four others, he just watched Tony Lester's life slip away...

Anyway, the harsh, punitive, and cynical institutional culture is responsible for shaping the conduct of employees, especially that which becomes routine, subverting official policies with unethical practices that are tacitly accepted - even encouraged - by upper level least, those are among the things that one of the employees' unions alleged last fall, in their call to Governor Brewer to sack ADC Director Chuck Ryan. The Perryville employees who got their jobs back successfully argued to the State Personnel Board that the prison system, not them, was at fault for Marcia's death.

The Arizona Department of Corrections and the state's prosecuting attorneys are engaged in a deliberate, explicit campaign to characterize our prisoners as predominately violent (by clumping them with all "repeat offenders," including chronic mentally ill people self-medicating with street drugs) in the infamous Fischer Report. They're responding to the larger community's thirst for blood sacrifice, though, for in truth, the moral fiber of the Arizona public has a sadistic thread running through it.

Until we confront our own voyeuristic fascination with the humiliation and suffering of those we deem un-deserving of the most basic human rights (as best demonstrated by the popularity of Sheriff Joe's latest foray into the entertainment industry), we will never dismantle this beast. We'll instead remain a society which is deeply invested in the continuation of victimization, and thus the perpetuation of crime and imprisonment. Until we stop mocking, dehumanizing, and ignoring those whose lives are being chewed up by the criminal justice system - as both victims and the accused - the young will keep dying hard in our prisons, killing the rest of us softly when their songs go unheard...

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