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

David Rovics: We Are Everywhere

To my fellow activists now struggling through life - let this be a reminder that you are not alone and that we desperately need you here. All the injustice, grief, war, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it - you can't help us anymore when you're gone. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

AZ DOC's Protective Custody fight: tend to both body and soul.

I've been hearing from a lot of guys lately who are about to go to prison with what are called "issues" - reasons to request protective custody (also known as the 805 process, named after the DOC policy that covers it). I hate to say it, but AZ has the reputation of being the worst place in the country to do time in state prison. The DOC is facing a class action suit for gross medical neglect, inappropriate use of solitary confinement, and neglect and abuse of mentally ill prisoners. Race riots are erupting. The prison suicide and homicide rates doubled when Jan Brewer too over four years ago, and have remained among the highest in the nation. Assaults are out of control. And the officers are apparently as violent and criminally-inclined as the people they guard.

The prison yards across the state are being run by prisoners and gangs, not DOC staff, it's quite clear to me now. When you land you have to show the "leader" (or someone who will report to him) your police report - those are your "papers". By these you will be judged as a snitch (if you spilled the beans to the cops on arrest), as a perpetrtor of crime (ANY kind) against a woman or a child, or any number of other things they can use to justify telling you your papers are "no good". Then they may tell you that you either need to "clear your name" by doing dirty work for them, risk getting smashed into a coma and airvac'ed, or PC up and leave the yard. Not showing your papers is an indication that you have something to hide. 

Prisoners are given no choice on this. If your police papers are good, get a copy so you can get cleared quickly by the guys on the yard. If not, I wouldn't bring them in with you - they get stolen by porters and used as evidence against you among your peers, who will be much harder on you than the courts were. Have your family hold on to a copy of anything that can be shown to the DOC as evidence that you are at risk, though - anything suggesting you cooperated with police or prosecutors, court papers of your testimony, media articles about your crime or victim (even if your crime was pickpocketing, if your victim was a woman or child, you could be at risk), etc. If you need to apply for PC, they will need to send that material directly to Central Office to support your argument while making sure it doesn't get into the hands of the prisoner population.

Once on the yard, if your paperwork is bad: 

If you're given the chance to "clear your name" don't try to do so by hurting another prisoner, especially some guy who never did a thing to you himself. It will not guarantee you protection. The gangs will turn on you once you no longer meet their needs, and you'll be the next one they put the green light on - and no other prisoner will respect you enough by then to have your back, so you'll have to tuck your tail between your legs and go scurrying to the guards for safety, anyway

Paying extortion money (often demanded of gay prisoners to assure their safety) won't protect you for long, either. And for god's sake, don't get into any debt - not drugs, not gambling, not a little advance on your store - nothing. All that does is put a green light on you - the okay to hurt or kill you - that can be activated as soon as you default. If you owe money, then sooner or later all you're going to do is lead those people home to threaten those who love you. Don't do it.

My advice is to do some real reflecting now so you know what you will and won't compromise in order to assure your own safety. Realize that the most precious freedoms are often taken from us without a scratch - it's the freedom to choose who we are and how we live in whatever world we are confined to. What are you willing to take a beating for, or even risk dying for? Is there anything - like the sanctity of human life, or the deepest part of your soul - that's worth putting yourself on the line for? If not, then you have some more serious issues than those which got you into trouble with other prisoners. 

If someone tells you the only way you can survive is to compromise that which you've determined you won't, tell them to fuck off - then brace yourself, and get to safety. Don't stand around and wait to be smashed - PC up if you need to, and get a hold of me right away. I'm Peggy Plews at Arizona Prison Watch / PO box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036.

This comes up this morning because of a call I had with a prisoner's mom last night - her kid's a new arrival, facing over 6 years for burglary. He's a little guy with asthma and some learning disabilities, maybe a mental illness as well - he's scared to death. I wrote up this letter below for him, based on what a lot of other guys have told me about surviving prison with one's integrity intact. It seems appropriate to share here, for those of you about to hit the AZ DOC. 

If you're heading in for a term yourself, spend a little time perusing this blog first, call me if you have any questions, and make sure your family knows I'm an accessible resource for them and you - no charge. This is my own little way of fighting back against both gang and state violence. I seek to "abolish" the prisons of today by breaking through those walls and touching every person I can. I bring with me a mirror by which people who have been told their lives are worth less than nothing  can look into their own souls to find what is worth loving and believing in again, and fighting for. And I try to give prisoners the basic tools they need to resist the violence, despair, and oppression of incarceration. It's relatively easy for me - for anyone out there - to do. The real hard work - and the greatest risk - is on the prisoner.

Feel free to print up the letter below and send it in to anyone who may be hitting the DOC in similar straits. Here, also, is the letter I wrote to all prisoners dealing with protective custody applications: 

and this is a guide to actually making an effective 805 argument, written by another priosner:

--------to a male prisoner in the AZ DOC assessment/intake process------
Hey David -

I got your postcard and spoke with your mom tonight. Sorry to hear you’re in such a jam. The DOC has likely already told you they won’t be placing you in protective custody - the PC yards are all full and the detention cells across the state are spilling over with guys in your shoes, or worse, right now, so they’re going to hand you some BS to justify sending you into GP. Appeal the decision so they have to give you a denial in writing, but don’t get your hopes up - my bet is that you’re heading for a 3 yard, and as soon as you hit they’ll want your papers, which I understand are the problem.

Once you land on a regular yard, PC up right away if it isn’t feeling safe there, and get ahold of me. - I need you to outline the argument you’re making to the DOC for why the threat you face is statewide, etc.  If you refuse to house, they may ticket you. Fight the ticket on the grounds that going on the yard would endanger you - that’s very important. Make them explicitly justify putting you in harms way and punishing you for resisting, get copies of everything you can,  and send me all your documentation. That’s ammunition for your fight down the road.

Your application will take longer - more denials and appeals - if you don’t show that you’ve actually been threatened or assaulted on the yard they send you to, but I can’t guarantee that you can survive the first attack, so I don’t encourage guys to wait for it before they PC up. By law, you don’t have to be assaulted in order to prove your need for protective segregation. But in practice, you’ll need to be able to build a stronger case for it than you have now to overcome all the barriers to getting into PC these days.

Basically, the violence in the state prisons is so out of control that more people are fleeing it than perpetrating it. No one is getting approved for PC who doesn’t have a lawyer or some heavy artillery on their side. Your mom and I are going to work on the artillery since she can’t swing  a lawyer, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. You need to become a damn good advocate and exercise your power yourself, in a very short time. You’re the one the DOC needs to be afraid of, not us, as only you can file a federal suit if your civil rights are violated. The DOC needs to know that you’re smart enough and assertive enough to do so. You’re going to need to scare them even while you’re sitting quietly in your shorts in the hole.

It should come as no surprise that the DOC isn’t primarily concerned about the danger you guys are in - they’re concerned with the danger the institution may be in from any of you or your families if you are hurt or killed. That’s how they appear to be prioritizing PC applications, so don’t think that your life has been devalued any more than any other prisoner’s, or that there’s anything you’ve said or done particularly wrong that means you deserve a worse time of it than any other prisoner.

You’re just landing in the AZ DOC at this time in history, when things are especially rough. I think you can get through this and still come out a better man - not because of anything the DOC does to help you, but because your mom believes you have it within you to transcend and grow beyond this experience. But you’re going to have to fight for your life in there, and it’s the state, not the other prisoners, that is most likely to kill you if you aren’t on your toes. Between your asthma, your vulnerability to assault, and your lack of political power, you are high risk and you can’t count on the AZ DOC to care for or protect you - they are there to punish you, to make you suffer. You need to build the best relationships you can with other prisoners, instead - and arm yourself with civil rights law as if your life depended on it like water - it does.

If you screwed up on the streets or hurt someone bad, take responsibility for it and show others that you’re a man of integrity now. The gangs give guys a chance to “clear your name” by doing bad things to others - don’t hurt someone else even if it seems like the only way to survive yourself. Develop a simple moral code you can easily explain and always fall back on when faced with dilemmas, one that gives you spiritual strength when people treat you as if you deserve to die.

If you learn all about prisoner rights and how to navigate the system in there, the other guys will begin to respect and value you for who you are now; who you once were becomes less important, then. Build a reputation of being someone who can be trusted to show good judgement and to know how to fight back against state oppression - become that kind of warrior. You don’t need to become some big jailhouse lawyer - keep it on the downlow, actually, if you do figure out the ropes, so the DOC doesn’t slap you down and try to cut you off from other guys who need the help. Become useful in there, but remain humble and discreet.

If you can do those things, they will protect you more in the long run than the DOC ever will, because all the DOC can do is put a wall between you and those who would hurt you - it doesn’t change anyone thinking they have the right or need to hurt you, though, which will catch up to you someday, when the walls are gone. You need to fix that now. Think of the detention cells and hardships you’re about to face as giving you a period of spiritual and mental training, like a Jedi knight being held as a prisoner of war in a dungeon full of lions. It’s okay to fantasize silly things like that if they build your inner strength, The danger you face there is real and bigger than normal life,  and you’ll need to psych yourself up somehow, with superhuman powers, to get through it, because there will be times when you’ll just want to lie down and quietly die. Don’t. Write to me or your mom instead.

I’m enclosing a guide to fighting for your 805 that another prisoner helped us come up with, based on his experience. I’m also enclosing a letter about the 805 process - it’s from February, but it’s all still good. I’m also sending you a questionnaire to give me a better idea of how else I can help; send that back when you land someplace. Keep your eyes and ears open for folks who might hurt you, but keep your head up, too - don’t let your shame tell anyone else it’s okay to hurt you. Make real amends where you can and take responsibility for what you feel bad about instead, or that’s the crap that will get you killed.

Hang in there and keep me posted on how things are going - I told your mom I’m yours as long as you guys need me, for whatever it’s worth, until you land someplace you feel relatively safe. My arms aren’t long enough to wrap around you guys in there, though - I can’t protect you. I can only really support, encourage, pray for you and be witness to your struggle.

Let me know when you land on the next yard.

Take care -


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Women's Day, violence, and Arizona's state prisoners...

FAMILIES: I've been hearing you. Here's my response. Feel free to download the PDF copy here, print, and send it into as many people you know in the prisons. This has been circulating for two weeks already, and the free men inside are beginning to write back...

International Women's Day
March 8, 2013

To the men who inhabit Arizona's state prisons...

As some of you may know, through my blogs and art for the past several years I've been challenging the escalating level of violence, deliberate indifference, and despair in Arizona's state prisons under the directorship of Charles Ryan - the man I've raged at the most in this time, and demanded accountability from. Only recently has it really sunk in that he is not – and never really was – in control of the prisons he administers. You, the prisoners are. Ryan, therefore, is not the man I need to be talking to about all this – the guys who run the gangs and the yards are. So are the people who listen to them.

And so, today, on International Woman's Day, my appeal to end the violence and transform the culture and politics of Arizona's state prisons goes to all you guys who set the tone in there. Specifically, I'm writing to ask for your help stopping the violence against women and children being perpetrated from behind prison walls.

I know that our welfare is something the gangs and yard leaders care about these days because you're putting a green light on every guy accused of committing a crime against a woman or child, among other things. Word has it that there's a “sweep of the prisons” going on right now to target those guys for assault, extortion, and murder. Based on all the calls I've received from the sisters, mothers, lovers and daughters of these men, however, the effect of this approach has been largely to victimize the women and children who love them.

I know you can't see that kind of unplanned consequence the same way I can – I get at least ten calls a week from women being directly terrorized by prison violence, which is why I've come to talk to you all myself, face to face, so to speak. I've come to amplify their voices, which I hope you care enough to hear. They want you to know that they're tired of losing their men and burying their children, and they want to know who among you has the courage to try to stop it.

If anyone has the power to, it's you.

Some people have told me I'm crazy for trying this – that I'm just making myself a target for gang violence in the process, and that your expressed concern about the welfare of women and children is nothing more than an excuse to justify more violence against us by way of attacking our families, which is no different from what the state does. If I don't ask for your help, though, who will? I learned a long time ago from my father that some things are worth taking a stand and fighting for, even if with it comes risk.

If all that is said about you guys is true, then my public critiques of prison gangs, my aggressive efforts to have you all prosecuted for your crimes against other prisoners, and the number of victims I've rescued from your clutches have already made me a target, anyway, and it's just a matter of time before you send someone after me. So be it: I'm not too hard to find, and won't live in the shadows in fear. I'm just hoping that down to the last man you realize that someday you or your family may need my help, as well, and let me express myself unharmed, so that I can still be here for you should that day ever come.

What I'm really counting on connecting with is your humanity and integrity, though, not your self-interest. I've heard from enough guys who have run with you to know that you're not all just products of your environment or driven solely by greed or fear. Most of you, I bet, don't even buy into the racist garbage that the state tries to divide and conquer you with, treating you as if you're all stupid – I know that's just how the politics break down in there. In a foxhole, under fire from a common enemy, a rival gang member may even come to count on you as a comrade and know, you're all under pretty heavy fire now, come to think of it.

What I've seen in my relationships with state prisoners is that most of you find ways to defy the dehumanization, and are constantly trying to survive the world you've been exiled to without eternally compromising your souls. I always thought you guys had some kind of code of honor, but I see so many guys who have felt the only way to live with themselves was to leave their gang behind, which brought them into conflict with other values, like loyalty. When ordered to harm someone they had no business with or be harmed themselves, they felt they were given no choice but to walk away.

I'm hopeful that with Arizona's prison gangs' apparent commitment to reduce violence against women and children now, though, there's room for dialogue about how you guys can help change the overall culture in there and stop chasing men of conscience from your ranks along with all those guys you don't want. Prisoners are the only ones with the power to starve the state from within of what it feeds on (and feeds us) to perpetrate brutality against you and your families: if you could confront and defy the misogyny, heteropatriarchy, racism, classism, and other bullshit that keeps us all down, you would be the heroes of this revolution.

Instead you risk coming off to the world as nothing more than criminal gangs whose power and creativity is limited to extorting grandmothers for a fix or a fast buck...which is the reason Arizonans are so quick to support the building of new Supermax prisons and further sentencing enhancements for men the state can so label. You have so much more power and potential than to settle for exploiting vulnerable people and their families, though.

Some prison gangs across the country have taken a second look at their ethical codes and begun to use their influence and organizational capacity to their people's advantage: calling out the prison system on abuses in custody, imposing statewide moratoriums on inter-racial violence, secretly teaching each other to read and to litigate the state themselves, and so on.

In some prison yards, loyalty and community is being built not through the imposition of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, but through informed and thoughtful struggle against your common oppressor. A fundamental value is growing for the kind of fairness and justice that the state deprives you of; men are no longer being condemned to additional punishments for the crimes that brought them to prison, much less for the unchecked narrative of what they were accused of that was written by the media and the state.

Instead, in some places men are being judged for the values they live in prison by and the skills they have to offer to their community – like teaching, jailhouse lawyering, and caring for elders and the very ill. Those are the kind of people I'd be recruiting as my brothers (and my sisters) – those who can help cultivate collective resistance to the real threat, state violence, not just those who may be good at collecting on debts until they get taken out by younger men like themselves.

Some prison gangs are making a point of finding and reaching out to young guys who can lead with integrity, instead of continuing the dynamics that encourage and empower those who seek “respect” or their own safety by hurting or killing the most vulnerable or detested prisoner they can find. I'm sorry if I offend any of you, but I'd have a real hard time trusting any of the latter to watch my back, and I wouldn't call them brothers, whatever color they were – nor would I have much respect for those whose interests they represented.

In places like Georgia and California in recent years prisoners have used cell phones and their extensive statewide communication networks to organize massive hunger strikes and labor stoppages in protest of their conditions of confinement, their “sedentary diets” and chronic hunger, and the deliberate indifference shown them by health care providers. They've circulated “illegal” petitions and staged solidarity actions with politicized prisoners in solitary confinement. They've called for an end to violence in their home communities, and for mobilization against the police state oppressing us all instead.

Some of you know that I'm a prison abolitionist – a position which causes State Power and prisoners alike to think I'm absolutely out of my mind. “Real criminals” know (better than anyone, I'm told) that some people just need to be locked away from the rest of us forever, and I'm delusional to think that will ever change.

What I advocate, however, is not just the demolition of prisons across the country – it's the deconstruction of the entire prison industrial complex and the creation of community-based, non-heirarchical mechanisms for promoting the values of collective liberation, shared power, and social justice. Anyone who truly wants a world in which there are no longer victims of war, poverty, rape, or other forms of violence should share in such a vision, because those paths are fundamentally inseparable.

Out of an ethical foundation which places humanity, not corporate profit, at the center of our worlds would naturally evolve more productive ways of not only dealing with addiction, mental illness, poverty and political resistance than chaining and caging people up, but that also confronts and stops those among us who harm others for nothing but their own gain or entertainment.

We are ingenious beyond our ability to imagine – surely we can come up with better solutions to our social problems than simply exiling our deviants and transgressors to a netherworld in which they and their families will be preyed on by sociopaths in orange, brown, and business suits alike while they serve sentences formulated to promote political careers, not further the cause of truth or justice.

Reinforcing institutions of state violence is a major problem, not a solution to our problems, in any case. The prison industrial complex is composed of entities and networks which consume valuable life energy and community resources while going to great lengths to justify their survival beyond their obsolescence. It depends on the perpetuation of many evils to keep us all in chains, both literally and figuratively with our fears and diminished expectations of each other.

All of that is to explain the main reason I've finally decided to come to you for help stemming all this violence – other than Chuck Ryan's impotence, as evidenced by his lack of solutions to gangs seizing control of his prisons other than to build more Supermax cells for you all. I don't want to spend any more of my energy trying to make the very system I'm a sworn enemy of stronger than the potential resistance to it. Abuse of state power manifests in far more egregious offenses against humanity than that which we throw so many people into prison for.

Furthermore, you fellows are the ones who have the most control over your environment and your destinies, not the AZ DOC or prison gangs, despite all the illusions to the contrary. Asking the state to quell the violence is only inviting them to invest in more guards, more cages, more tools of domination, and more weapons of repression. I won't do it anymore.

If you are men of honor – which I have taken considerable risk on the confidence that you are - and really wish to stop the violence against women and children, then exercise the control you already have and do the one thing Ryan himself can never hope to do: stop the violence that originates with you and your brothers. Only then will you and others begin to fully realize how much more power each of you have to transcend both the chains and the lies that make you think resistance to this state, and all the attendant evils of incarceration, is futile. It is not. I know this because I have met free men in prison already on this journey. They are organizing quietly among you – and they are everywhere.

If you are a free man, too, please write to me, and tell me how you think we can work together to help liberate the rest from the chains that try to bind us all – help me before their mothers, sisters and daughters are called to bury them instead.

Thanks for your time and concern for our welfare. May the women and children who love you never know the heartbreak of losing you to this madness, too.

Peggy Plews

Please reply to: Arizona Prison Watch / PO Box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036

for good stuff about women, violence, and the prison industrial complex, see:

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence