The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

SUPPORT your local Prison Abolitionist!

To all my AZ friends/family: Thanks so much for your and likes and hope and encouraging words these past 4 1/2 years. You helped me survive some of the loneliest days and hardest nights I've endured yet by keeping our connections alive across 2000 miles.

My 55th birthday is June 13, 2019, and I plan to celebrate it in PHX (details to be announced). I'm leaving Michigan (god willing) by May 25 - and should land in an undisclosed location in the Deep Southwest soon after.

Here's my PAYPAL link for anyone who wants to shoot me $10 bucks or throw a big impromptu anarchist talent show and pass a hat or something to help me make it home. Once I land I'll be back to work on my art again, and will send a homemade gift to everyone I can...

PAYPAL.ME/ARIZONAPRISONWATCH

And don't forget to pick up PJ Starr's 2016 documentary film about the life ad death of Marcia Joanne Powell:

NO HUMAN INVOLVED

SHARING IS CARING,

so please share with all our friends!!

THANK YOU and MUCH to all, near and far.

Love,

Peggy Plews May 18, 2019

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marcia Powell: Intro Archives

Marcia Powell was a prisoner of the State of Arizona who collapsed and died from heatstroke last May after being locked in an outdoor cage and ignored for four hours in 107 degree heat. She had been removed from her cell and placed there awaiting transfer to the psychiatric unit because she complained of being suicidal. The intent was, theoretically, to keep her safe from harm.

But Marcia was a drug-addicted prostitute with a serious mental illness who wasn't always taken seriously, and was probably thought of as an irritation to some. She begged for water repeatedly, according to 20 other prisoners. Only one or two guards were seen by any prisoners giving her water; one even mocked her cries while passing her by. Every single guard insists that Marcia received water, though documentation of checks on her condition out there was sloppy, and it appears as if no one even knew how long it had been since the last person saw her upright and alert, much less when she last had fluids.

By the time someone noticed she was in grave distress, she was unresponsive, lying in her own feces, and had first and second degree burns on her body from the sun. She reached the hospital in cardiac arrest; her core body temperature was over 108 degrees. Though she did have a very slim chance of recovering, the Director of the Department of Corrections had her life support removed minutes before the end of that day, believing she had no guardian or next of kin to make the decision, and that it fell on him. She died soon after.

A four month internal investigation into Marcia's death - ruled by the coroner as an "accident" - resulted in sixteen ADC employees being disciplined: three were fired, two were forced to resign, most of the rest were suspended for varying periods of time. The final 3,000 page report has been turned over to prosecutors who will decide whether or not to file criminal charges. It is not known if the ADC itself is also under an investigation for violating Marcia's civil rights. There is no reason to believe that they are. The Governor even recently commended them on their fine work.

The few details we have of Marcia's life and death unfold in the original Prison Abolitionist posts (my comments are generally italicized) and news articles posted below. This section covers posts relevant to Marcia from her death in May through the end of August, 2009.








Inmate found dead at AZ prison

Posted at the Prison Abolitionist, May 23, 2009.

Inmate found dead at AZ prison

Three prison officials have been suspended while the state investigates the heat-related death on Wednesday of a woman who had been placed in an outdoor cage for several hours.


A deputy warden, a captain and the lieutenant in charge of supervising the cage at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville have been placed on administrative leave. They are now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Arizona Department of Corrections, said Charles L. Ryan, the department's director.


Temperatures reached 107.5 degrees Tuesday in Goodyear, where Marcia Powell collapsed after spending nearly four hours in the sun. Powell, 48, was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution.

“The death of Marcia Powell is a tragedy and a failure,” Ryan said. “The investigation will determine whether there was negligence and tell us how to remedy our failures.”

In the past year, 79 people have died in department custody. Of those deaths, 70 were determined to be from natural causes. The other deaths included three homicides, three suicides, one drug overdose, and two that are still under investigation.

Powell, who had a history of mental illness, was scheduled to be transferred to a psychiatric unit Tuesday for observation. At 11 a.m., while she waited to be transferred, she was placed in an outdoor, uncovered chain-link holding cell. The cell was in plain view of a staffed control room about 20 yards away.

Although prisoners are given bottled water, department guidelines call for prisoners to be confined outdoors for no more than two hours. Powell had been in the cell for almost twice that long when, at 2:40 p.m., she collapsed.

A half-hour later, Powell was taken to West Valley Hospital. She was taken off life support at 11:15 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday.

It was unclear Wednesday whether corrections staffers were actively monitoring Powell during her confinement. Ryan said the use of the outdoor holding cells is appropriate as long as prisoners are not kept in them for extended periods of time.

Powell was alone Tuesday when doctors decided to remove her from life support. No family members could be found to be with her in the hospital before she died, and corrections officials said Wednesday that they have still not found a next of kin.

She was believed to have two children, both of whom entered the foster system long ago. Powell herself had several previous felony convictions, records show, including one for drug possession.

Prison Volunteer: Cage Is Inhumane

Prison Volunteer: Cage Is Inhumane

Jeff Butera
Reporter, KPHO.com

POSTED: 8:57 pm MST May 22, 2009

UPDATED: 6:32 am MST May 23, 2009

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A volunteer worker at the Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville in Goodyear said she was “enraged” when she saw inmate Marcia Powell died earlier this week, after being left outside in an uncovered cage at the prison for four hours.


“You as the general public doesn’t know what’s going on behind those doors,” the woman, who asked to have her identity protected, said. “I saw it in an entirely different light.”

The woman volunteered at the prison for multiple years, teaching inmates in an attempt to rehabilitate them.According to the woman, she saw inmates placed in a cage at the prison. The cage was surrounded on four sides by a chain-link fence. The inmates were given a jug of water but nothing else, according to the woman.She said inmates told her that they were being put in the cage as punishment. She also heard from inmates that it was at the discretion of a guard whether they could leave the cage to use a restroom.

The prison volunteer said she believed the practice crossed a line of human decency.“Granted these individuals have committed a crime; there’s no doubt about that,” the woman said. “But I don’t think these individuals should be treated in such an inhumane fashion.”

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections’ policy about temporary holding enclosures, they are not to be used for “punitive reasons.” They are supposed to be used only “to confine and restrict inmate movement on a temporary/short term basis.”A spokesman with the Department of Corrections denied the cages had been used for punishment.

The policy also states that “water shall be continuously available” to inmates and that they should be in the cage for “no more than two consecutive hours.” Powell was held in the cage for four hours, double the limit outlined in the policy. According to a DOC spokesman, she was placed in the holding enclosure because she was being transferred to a new location and that location was not ready.

Because of what happened, the deputy warden, captain and shift commander have been placed on administrative leave. A criminal investigation has been launched.

Autopsy conducted on Perryville inmate

Autopsy conducted on Perryville inmate who died in heat
May. 22, 2009 06:05 PM
Associated Press

An autopsy was done Friday on the body of an Arizona prison inmate who died after spending nearly four hours in triple-digit heat.

Officials with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said results of the autopsy would be available in 45 to 90 days. They did not immediately provide an explanation of why it would take so long.

Marcia Powell died early Wednesday morning, about 10 hours after she collapsed in an outdoor, unshaded holding cell at the Perryville prison in Goodyear.

Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan said the 48-year-old Powell was left in the cell nearly twice as long as she should have under department policy. He placed three officers on administrative leave pending a criminal investigation.

Ryan said Powell's cell was 20 yards from a staffed control room from where corrections officers should have been watching her.

Powell was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. Phoenix police arrested her in June 2008 after she agreed to engage in oral sex with an undercover officer in exchange for drugs, court records show.

The records paint a picture of Powell as a troubled, mentally ill woman who struggled on the streets of Phoenix from a young age.

Powell had a decades-long criminal history, including convictions for prostitution, drug possession and assault, according to court documents.

Records show that she had a ninth grade education and had worked as a telemarketer. She left home at age 15 and became homeless after she was unable to get a job.

Powell was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was on a medication used to treat schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses, according to the records.

The circumstances surrounding Powell's death brought criticism from a state lawmaker and a human rights advocate.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, called the inmate's treatment “inhumane” and said she wanted a review of the policy of using outdoor holding cells.

“I think this would be an appropriate time to review that policy to see if it's a good idea to use them at all,” she said. “My initial inclination would be to question it.”

In a statement, prisons director Ryan said the ongoing investigation will look at current policies.

“The purpose of the investigation is to remedy any shortcomings or failures,” Ryan said. “If the policy warrants revision, the investigation will bear that out.”

Elizabeth Alexander, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said there have been a handful of heat-related inmate deaths nationwide in recent years.

“If this wasn't shaded, and it was Arizona in the summer, that's extraordinarily dangerous,” Alexander said.

“It's rather surprising to me that no one thought about the risk from this situation, given that this is Arizona.”

Tragic cage death ends woeful life

Tragic cage death ends woeful life

Ed Montini - May. 24, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Marcia J. Powell, a mentally ill prostitute and drug addict, died like a dog last week, roasting in a cage in the fearsome sun at the state prison at Perryville.

She was 48 years old.

Her final tortured hours in an outdoor enclosure last Tuesday mimicked those of a five-year-old law-enforcement canine named Rik that died at Perryville in 2007 after having been left by handlers in an exercise run for three hours. Temperatures that day reached 105.

The temperature in Powell's cage last week exceeded 107. She was locked up for an hour longer than the dog before she collapsed.

There are many questions to be answered by the Department of Corrections about Powell's final hours. But her death is only the gruesome exclamation point on a long list of institutional failures that got her there.

DOC officials say that Powell had a rap sheet going back decades and included at least 10 sex and six drug convictions. She'd been in and out of Arizona prisons since 1994.

Records indicate that she left home in California at 15 with a ninth-grade education, no marketable skills and a serious mental illness. A presentencing report describes her as bipolar.

Last summer, she was sent to prison for more than two years on a prostitution charge.

"It's awful the way this woman died," said Donna Leone Hamm, executive director of Middle Ground Prison Reform Inc., which for years has advocated for Arizona inmates and their families. "No one cared much about her when she lived. I hope at least that we care about the way she died."

DOC is investigating the incident. Several employees already are on administrative leave.

After Powell collapsed, she was taken to the hospital and placed on life support. A DOC spokesman told me that the department was unable to locate any family members.

So when the time came to decide whether to pull the plug on the machines keeping her alive, it fell to prisons Director Charles Ryan. Powell was taken off life support at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday; she died at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday.

"The death of Marcia Powell is a tragedy and a failure," Ryan said later. "The investigation will determine whether there was negligence and tell us how to remedy our failures."

I'm not so sure.

For one thing, DOC should not be conducting the investigation. It should fall to an outside agency. The governor should demand it.

According to Hamm, she contacted then-prisons Director Dora Schriro in late 2007 about the practice of placing prisoners in outdoor cages.

"Because no one had died or had been permanently injured, I couldn't get anyone - including the press -
interested," Hamm said.

Questions like that are only a beginning.

Powell's horrific death and her woeful life should finally get us to ask why Arizona's failed mental-health system transforms county jails and prisons into mental-health institutions.

It should get us to ask why we criminalize people like this but don't adequately treat them, since it's clear that taxpayers end up footing the bill for their care one way or another.

Powell told state officials that she had two children who were given up to foster care, but DOC says the state has no record of that. Police also checked the address of a name she'd listed as a friend on prison records but found no one living in the abandoned house.

In spite of spending years in the system, Powell's life remains a mystery. Her death is a tragedy, although perhaps not on the level of Rik the law-enforcement dog.

There was a public outpouring for him.


Reach Montini at 602-444-8978 or ed.montini@arizonarepublic.com.

Lesson not Learned

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Came across an article in the July 2002 Legal Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession about a Michigan psychiatric patient who died of heat stroke a few years back. In Terrance v. Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital, "nursing care was so substandard that it went beyond negligence", meeting the standard for "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs", which violated the patient's 8th and 14th amendment constitutional rights. The head nurse got the blame, but there were systemic, structural things in place (and out of place) that contributed to this man's early demise. I've been to Northville; sadly this is no surprise.

In their ruling on the case the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said: "Nurses caring for psychiatric patients should know that excessive heat can cause serious medical complications for patients on psychotropic medications like Haldol, Cogentin, and Lithium...close, competent, and vigilant nursing observation of these patients is always essential"(cited in the Legal Eye Newsletter in big, bold print). The above-mentioned meds are often used in the treatment of manic depression, the illness Marcia was diagnosed with and apparently being treated for.

If the Perryville complex doesn't have medical staff responsible for the 24/7 monitoring of people on psychiatric medications, it should be shut down immediately.

Lastest from the PHX New Times

Latest from the Phoenix New Times


Thank you, Stephen Lemons, for staying on top of the latest news about Marcia Powell - and for trying to get to the bottom of it. I've learned to check out the Phoenix New Times first for my news on the issues involved in Marcia's death.

In this column Lemons explains the significance of the county serving as fiduciary and guardian for Marcia. An interview with a cell mate also reveals the vibrant side of Marcia we didn't know.

Perhaps no one better exposes the many manifestations of the prison industrial complex than homeless mentally ill drug-addicted prostitutes, particularly those with developmental disabilities and HIV who are also pregnant. From inadequate access to prenatal care, income supports, intensive community-based treatment and case management, and affordable housing to frequent institutionalization in jails, psychiatric hospitals, and homeless shelters, they do the route, stopping in at emergency rooms and free clinics from time to time. They are adjudicated as abusive parents before they even give birth. Explicit agreements are reached between outpatient service providers and criminal justice officials - social workers, probation agents and judges - that such women might be better off in jail for awhile if no appropriate treatment settings existed that would help them "stay safe". I know, because I have been party to such discussions, not always coming down on the side of individual liberties.

I suspect that a map of Marcia Powell's life could likewise tell a lot about where our foster care, mental health, and criminal justice realities fall short of their promises. We pour just enough money into community mental health here to provide contract agencies like Magellan (and Value Options before them) with considerable profits, but never enough to filter down to keeping people like Marcia from ending up in prison for minor offenses.

Or perhaps its simply that our contracts with major mental health service providers don't prioritize reducing legal system involvement quite so much as they prioritize reducing psychiatric hospital days - a near-universal practice which simply pushes more people with serious mental illness out of treatment settings and into criminal courts where they don't eat up all the corporate profits - the cost of warehousing them comes out of someone else's budget instead. As a society we'll allocate billions to militarize our police and refine ways of legally torturing and punishing people, but we don't see public health care and programs addressing economic inequality as both economically sustainable and politically desirable.

I don't know how much longer we can afford to ignore the truth - that fighting poverty and hunger will do far more to bring down crime than will fighting the poor and the hungry. In the end it is not our public programs that are unsustainable, it is our banking system and the "free market" - and war on several fronts - that has been consuming public resources.

If we took those funds and invested them with a goal of building communities without cages, we'd see very different things prioritized. Education. Universal health care. Affordable, supported housing. Treatment programs for people who are dually diagnosed. Minimum income guarantees for the disabled, the unemployed, and the unemployable. Strong unions for workers so they can bring home a living wage. Adequate food for growing children and impoverished seniors. An emphasis on doing outreach to assure that people in the community are getting their needs met, rather than opening up an office and waiting for people to come in.

Deconstructing the prison industrial complex and interpreting its implications for the voting public isn't easy. Being "tough on crime" is a simple jingle which still sells (crime is still code for people of color - increasingly so for latino immigrants). Yet the evidence is overwhelming that the prison industrial complex sucks the life out of communities that feed it bodies as well as those that feed it guards and public resources. Just how this happens and what it has to do with globalization is explained most thoroughly by Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in "Golden Gulag", and most concisely in editor Lois Ahrens' "The Real Cost of Prisons Comix".

Prison abolition, then, is central, not peripheral to the larger dialogue on global justice because it involves not just tearing down prison walls, but also building up the kinds of communities that can respond more directly and immediately to the needs of its citizens than can the state, seeking to prevent trauma where possible, rather than simply bracing for it as if this institutionalized cycle of violence will never be broken.

Inmate Death Highlights Need for Prison Changes.

Inmate Death Highlights Need for Prison Changes.

David Bradley.

AZ Daily Star. May 27, 2009.

I am in the chain link cage where Marcia Powell, inmate 109416, spent the last moments of her conscious life. The Corrections Department director and I close the gate behind us. We both recognize that it is not likely that there will be any acceptable explanation for this catastrophe.

A 48-year old, seriously mentally ill, mentally disabled, drug-addicted woman imprisoned for prostitution is left outdoors in the heat of the afternoon. In a metal cage with no shade and no water, less than 20 feet from an enclosed staffed guard post, she dies.

Given those facts it would be simple to rage against the prison system and those who run it.The department is conducting an investigation on the sequence of events leading up to her death. I met the staff who knew Powell; they are shaken to the core. The investigation will not be a whitewash.

That the sun’s heat would take her life is perhaps ironic. Powell’s mind was on fire for years; her impaired mental capacity was kindling for abuse. Her brain was inflamed by mental illness and charred by drug abuse.

One way or another, on that fateful day, Powell became invisible. Standing in the cage, I pictured her curled up on the hot cement, ending a 48-year journey, as Carl Sandburg might note, “old before she was young.”

Did life at least begin cradled fondly in someone’s arms? I wonder. Outside her contacts with the legal system, it appears that Powell spent the bulk of her life, even when in the arms of johns who rented her body, just as she died, invisible.

Powell’s death both reflects and portends. It is a reflection of how a person can slip through numerous hands and agencies designed to help her. It is portentous of deficits in a prison system that cannot bear much more stress. The prison staff is, by and large, a dedicated group of professionals who are facing enormous odds.

That someone with Powell’s profile was sent to prison speaks of numerous shortcomings in a justice system that in many cases can barely be seen as just. It is only one story of among 40,000, the number of state prisoners, nearly 1% of Arizona's adult population.

The front door to the prison system is wide open, in part the result of mandatory sentencing and limited funding for more effective alternatives to incarceration. It is fueled by a legislative philosophy that values punishment over rehabilitation. Inmates leak out the back door ill-prepared for the challenges of assuming the role of productive citizen.

If prisons are supposed to be harsh places, mission accomplished. Powell’s prison is a miserable place. In about 400 cubic feet, thee women share a dingy cell that has a toilet and a sink. The aging swamp cooling system is in constant need of repair. Dining and meeting rooms are now dorms crammed with beds. Tent dorms are coveted placements. I suspect Powell often was not a pleasant person to be around, little wonder.

Nevertheless, inmate 109416’s death diminishes all of us. Outside the cage I am hopeful that Powell’s passing can be a catalyst for change and a wake up call to the state legislature. It is not likely.

Ryan and the Lumley Vampire

Phoenix New Times

By Stephen Lemons

Published on May 26, 2009


The Lumley Vampire, the underground newsletter purportedly run by current and former Arizona Department of Corrections employees, knows who killed 48-year-old Marcia Powell. That's the woman who recently died after at least four hours baking outside in the Arizona sun, while confined to a wire cage at Perryville Prison in Goodyear.

More specifically, the Lumley Vampire knows who gave the order to pull the plug on Powell's life-support after she was taken to West Valley Hospital: Interim ADC Director Charles Ryan.

That Ryan made this call is an inconvenient fact that many of the news articles and columns covering Powell's demise have avoided. Indeed, ADC's own press release on the event obfuscates this fact. It notes that while "transferring Powell to a detention unit, she was placed in an outside, uncovered, chain-link holding cell at 11 a.m. Tuesday." The statement goes on to relate that Powell collapsed at 2:40 p.m., and was taken to the hospital at 3:12 p.m.

"She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday," says the press release. But in a letter the Lumley Vampire has posted on its front page, an anonymous, retired corrections officer notes the reality of the situation.

"Marcia Powell was alive when she left Perryville Prison for the last time," observes the retired officer. "She died when Vader pulled her plug at the hospital."

"Vader," as in "Darth Vader," is what Ryan is commonly called by commenters on the Vampire. That handle goes back to the days when Ryan was deputy to ADC Director Terry Stewart, who was known as "The Emperor" during his reign from December 1995 to November 2002.

Ryan was named interim director of the ADC on January 30 by Governor Jan Brewer. This was after ADC Director Dora Schriro resigned her post to join her old boss, Homeland Security czar and ex-Governor Janet Napolitano, in D.C.

According to Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman, Ryan is still "interim director," though Ryan lists himself as the "director" on the ADC's Web site. Senseman explained via e-mail that Ryan would have to be okayed by the state Senate, assuming the governor submits his name for confirmation.

Perhaps Ryan's desire to be confirmed in his position explains the relative swiftness in which he has thrown underlings to the wolves. Ryan announced to the press that a "criminal investigation" is under way into the incident, and that three ADC employees, including a deputy warden, a captain, and a lieutenant have been suspended pending the outcome.

"The death of Marcia Powell is a tragedy and a failure," said Ryan in the department's press release. "The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there was negligence and to remedy our failures."

Ryan then expressed "condolences to Ms. Powell's family and loved ones." But where was the next of kin when Ryan gave the order to suspend life support? And how hard did Ryan try to locate that next of kin, when Powell's plug was pulled hours after she had been admitted to the hospital?

A spokesman for ADC's media relations office acknowledged that Ryan made the decision to suspend Powell's life support, and promised to get back to me with details as to why. As this column went to press, I had not received that follow-up call.

Powell, who had a history of mental illness and drug dependency, was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution when she died. Although many have noted that Valley dog deaths often receive more public concern and media scrutiny than the deaths of prison inmates such as Powell, I can report that more than one individual is looking to take custody of Powell's remains for a memorial service of some kind. These include Phoenix criminal defense advocate Jameson Johnson, attorney and prison reform advocate Donna Hamm, and members of a local Quaker church.

(The county medical examiner has performed an autopsy but has yet to issue a report on Powell's death.)

Hopefully, Powell will find the repose she did not find in life. But in the wake of her death, there needs to be an investigation into Ryan's actions as well as those lower on the prison staff food chain. Already, as I detailed in a column item a couple of months back, Ryan comes to his interim post with a tremendous amount of baggage.

Ryan's own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was "assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years." Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the subject of an embarrassing scandal involving the torture and humiliation of prisoners that was revealed by the New Yorker magazine and 60 Minutes in 2004.

In response to questions raised about those contracted by the DOJ to help with Iraqi prisons, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General investigated how Ryan and others, such as Ryan's former superior and ADC director Terry Stewart, were hired. The OIG reported that Ryan and other contractors said they did not have access to the part of the prison controlled by the U.S. military. Ryan and two other contractors "denied witnessing any acts of abuse at Abu Ghraib and said they were unaware of the abuse until it became public."

(continue reading)

Service for Marcia Powell

Encanto Community Church This Saturday

By Stephen Lemons in Feathered Bastard

Wednesday, May. 27 2009 @ 6:53PM

As I mentioned in this week's Bird column, a group of Phoenix advocates and activists have banded together to hold a memorial service for Marcia Powell, the 48-year-old woman who died last week at Perryville Prison after being left in a human cage for at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. According to Middle Ground Prison Reform's Donna Hamm and criminal defense advocate Jameson Johnson, the service will take place at Encanto Community Church, 2710 North 7th Avenue, Phoenix, on this Saturday, May 30, beginning at noon.

Pastor Liana Rowe will preside over the service, and Donna Hamm will speak on the issues surrounding the case. Hamm also indicated that Charles Ryan, Interim Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections has informed her that he wishes to pay his respects. If he shows up, that alone will be worth attending for, if you ask me, as Ryan is the guy who gave the order to discontinue Powell's life support after she was transported to the hospital.

Those involved, including members of the local Quaker community, are accepting donations to defray the cost of cremating Powell's remains. Donations can be mailed to Middle Ground Prison Reform, at the address on its Web site at middlegroundprisonreform.org. Donations should be marked with the note "For Marcia Powell."

Asked why he felt a service like this was necessary, Johnson said he believed it was the right thing to do.

"She was marginalized her entire life," explained Johnson, who said he never met the woman and knew her through news reports. "I just want to give this woman a little dignity."

Now Seeking Next of Kin

Friday, May 29, 2009

Another one from the Phoenix New Times: Medical Examiner Holds Remains as Fiduciary Seeks Next of Kin.

Ariz. halts use of uncovered outdoor prison holding cells (temporarily)

Ariz. halts use of uncovered outdoor prison holding cells

The Arizona Department of Corrections has halted the practice of holding Arizona state prison inmates in outdoor cages so workers can retrofit the cages to provide shade and water.

Charles L. Ryan, the department's director, ordered the temporary suspension last week after the death of Marcia Powell at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville. Powell, 48, died of heat-related causes after spending four hours in temperatures that reached 107.5 degrees.

Powell's death has led to the suspension of three prison officials and a criminal investigation into their conduct.

The state prison system includes 233 outdoor enclosures at 10 prisons. Ryan suspended their use at Perryville within 24 hours of Powell's death and at the rest of the prison system shortly thereafter.

Prison officials did not have an estimate of the cost of retrofitting the structures or how long it would take to complete construction.

Powell, who had a history of mental illness, was scheduled to be transferred to a psychiatric unit May 19 for observation. While she waited to be transferred, she was placed in an outdoor chain-link holding cell.

Although prisoners in the cage are in plain view of a staffed control room, guidelines call for them to be confined outdoors for no more than two hours. Powell had been in the cell for almost twice that long when she collapsed.

She was taken to West Valley Hospital. A search for her next of kin was fruitless, and Ryan made the decision to take her off life support. She died shortly thereafter.

The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary, which has served as Powell's guardian since July 2008, is trying to find Powell's next of kin.

"There are a couple of things they are working on as we speak," said Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Gary Strickland, who represents the fiduciary's office. "In terms of what quality the leads are, that is hard to say. But they do have a couple of possibilities that they are working on. They want to do a thorough search."

In the meantime, the fiduciary intervened to prevent Powell's burial before a next of kin can be found.

Middle Ground, a prison-reform group, is organizing a public memorial service for Powell at noon today at Encanto Community Church, 2710 N. Seventh Ave., in Phoenix.

Republic writer E.J. Montini contributed to this article.

Prison Abolition and Justice

May 30, 2009

Thank you, Stephen Lemons, for staying on top of the latest news about Marcia Powell - and for trying to get to the bottom of it. I've learned to check out the Phoenix New Times first for my news on the issues involved in Marcia's death.

In this column Lemons explains the significance of the county serving as fiduciary and guardian for Marcia. An interview with a cell mate also reveals the vibrant side of Marcia we didn't know.

Perhaps no one better exposes the many manifestations of the prison industrial complex than homeless mentally ill drug-addicted prostitutes, particularly those with developmental disabilities and HIV who are also pregnant. From inadequate access to prenatal care, income supports, intensive community-based treatment and case management, and affordable housing to frequent institutionalization in jails, psychiatric hospitals, and homeless shelters, they do the route, stopping in at emergency rooms and free clinics from time to time. They are adjudicated as abusive parents before they even give birth. Explicit agreements are reached between outpatient service providers and criminal justice officials - social workers, probation agents and judges - that such women might be better off in jail for awhile if no appropriate treatment settings existed that would help them "stay safe". I know, because I have been party to such discussions, not always coming down on the side of individual liberties.

I suspect that a map of Marcia Powell's life could likewise tell a lot about where our foster care, mental health, and criminal justice realities fall short of their promises. We pour just enough money into community mental health here to provide contract agencies like Magellan (and Value Options before them) with considerable profits, but never enough to filter down to keeping people like Marcia from ending up in prison for minor offenses.

Or perhaps its simply that our contracts with major mental health service providers don't prioritize reducing legal system involvement quite so much as they prioritize reducing psychiatric hospital days - a near-universal practice which simply pushes more people with serious mental illness out of treatment settings and into criminal courts where they don't eat up all the corporate profits - the cost of warehousing them comes out of someone else's budget instead. As a society we'll allocate billions to militarize our police and refine ways of legally torturing and punishing people, but we don't see public health care and programs addressing economic inequality as both economically sustainable and politically desirable.

I don't know how much longer we can afford to ignore the truth - that fighting poverty and hunger will do far more to bring down crime than will fighting the poor and the hungry. In the end it is not our public programs that are unsustainable, it is our banking system and the "free market" - and war on several fronts - that has been consuming public resources.

If we took those funds and invested them with a goal of building communities without cages, we'd see very different things prioritized. Education. Universal health care. Affordable, supported housing. Treatment programs for people who are dually diagnosed. Minimum income guarantees for the disabled, the unemployed, and the unemployable. Strong unions for workers so they can bring home a living wage. Adequate food for growing children and impoverished seniors. An emphasis on doing outreach to assure that people in the community are getting their needs met, rather than opening up an office and waiting for people to come in.

Deconstructing the prison industrial complex and interpreting its implications for the voting public isn't easy. Being "tough on crime" is a simple jingle which still sells (crime is still code for people of color - increasingly so for latino immigrants). Yet the evidence is overwhelming that the prison industrial complex sucks the life out of communities that feed it bodies as well as those that feed it guards and public resources. Just how this happens and what it has to do with globalization is explained most thoroughly by Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore in "Golden Gulag", and most concisely in editor Lois Ahrens' "The Real Cost of Prisons Comix".

Prison abolition, then, is central, not peripheral to the larger dialogue on global justice because it involves not just tearing down prison walls, but also building up the kinds of communities that can respond more directly and immediately to the needs of its citizens than can the state, seeking to prevent trauma where possible, rather than simply bracing for it as if this institutionalized cycle of violence will never be broken.

Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 4:06 AM

Inmate Made Impact In Death

More from the Official Book of Life

Below is a link to the latest article (AZ Republic) investigating Marcia's life, relying largely on information from her criminal records.

Inmate Made Impact In Death

Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 9:14 AM

Marcia's Memorial Service

Saturday, May 30, 2009


The service for Marcia today was well-attended: I'd say seventy-five to a hundred people came in all. There was an interesting cross-section of the community - not only were there prisoner advocates, but Women in Black, Code Pink, anarchists and the Department of Corrections were all represented, as was the faith community. Stan Hemry, a longtime local peace activist, described meeting Marcia while serving people meals for "Phoenix Food Not Bombs"

(Food Not Bombs is worth supporting; they salvage food from local stores and restaurants, cook it up and serve it for free in public places frequented by hungry people. Cities all over the country have been trying to pass legislation banning them from feeding people because what they do is political, it's not charity. They make hunger visible, and challenge the popular notion that nothing can be done about it. They reclaim the commons. They put food to use that would otherwise go to waste. And most of their meals are vegan, so that no animals are hurt in the process of making them.)

Anyway, if anyone knows hungry people on the street, it's the folks with Food Not Bombs. Stan's memory of Marcia was so distinct because of her missing teeth: she needed help finding food that was soft enough to eat. He said he remembers her being nice and saying thank you - which is more than any of the rest of us could say, having come to know her only through the eyes of those who have seen her criminal records. Given that, however, it was good to see how many people turned out to pay their respects, to show they cared, and to commit themselves to seeking changes in the systems which have let so many people down, Marcia only being the latest to die as a consequence.

Donna Hamm of Middle Ground Prison Reform was quite emphatic that no outdoor cage - covered or not - is an acceptable place to hold human beings. Right on. And the AZ DOC has over 200 of them scattered across 10 prison complexes in the state. Marcia's treatment wasn't exceptional - it was the norm. She just happens to have died from it. Donna also maintains that an independent investigation needs to be done into the incident and the AZ DOC's policies, and has called on the AZ attorney general to initiate a criminal investigation.

I wonder if Marcia had lived to complain about it if any of us would stop and listen. Who would know what complaints have already been lodged against the DOC for inhumane treatment? How would the public ever know?

Hundreds of prisoners - nearly two thousand at one point - in the Maricopa County jails have been on a hunger strike for weeks over food and conditions. People inside and outside alike having been protesting human rights violations by the MCSO. How is that man still in office?

How much of our outrage over prisoner rights is evoked by the image of a battered white woman that isn't aroused by the image of a latino man in chains? Is one any more or less deserving than the other? I guess each of us has to ask that question of ourselves as we consider how far we're willing to go now for justice: justice for Marcia and every other prisoner of the state.

Donna called for Arizona to pass "Marcia's Law", one or more pieces of legislation to assure protections of prisoner rights. I guess the prisoner's right to life is probably one that needs to be made explicit. I'd shoot for restoring civil rights of prisoners, amending the slavery provision of the 13th Amendment, and prohibiting prison privatization. So long as they're considered less than full citizens and their exploitation profits someone, prisoner's rights can't really be protected.

In addition to helping to channel the energies of the community into a call for action, I think the point of Marcia's service was to reinforce a community standard that every life has value, and that every human being should be treated with dignity. We don't like to see ourselves as perpetrators of torture in America, yet we allow people to needlessly suffer. Getting justice for Marcia means more than holding people responsible for the immediate circumstances of her death. The brutality that Marcia endured lasted more than a few hours or a day, as evidenced by the traumatized woman's eyes in that haunting mug shot. She was punished all her life.

As for the Department of Corrections: Ryan (who was present for the service) is lucky there wasn't a massive call for his resignation today. That will probably come this week. In the meantime, we need an outside investigation and full disclosure of records of prisoner complaints against the DOC. Why assume that the cages were the only means of punishing unruly prisoners? And why assume it would only happen once or twice?

Whether or not a punishment is "cruel and unusual" under the 8th Amendment is gauged in part by whether or not it "comports with human dignity". What exactly that means is open to debate - not even the Supreme Court has reached consensus about that - but boiling prostitutes alive was out of practice before the Bill of Rights was even written. I hope that most people would agree we've evolved - morally, as a society - beyond criminalizing, caging and killing "deviant" women and the mentally ill, which is what it comes down to. Now we just have to put that standard into practice. If our state lawmakers don't take advantage of this moment to lead criminal law reform, then they'd better at least learn to follow. The forces united today to pay respect to Marcia Powell could be much more formidable tomorrow, and will be armed with an agenda for change.


Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 3:47 PM
-----------------------


Now for those other cages...

Stephen Lemons from the Phoenix New Times was there today, too. His blog following the service is worth reading; the title for today is "Charles Ryan Attends Marcia Powell's Memorial Service, Says He Didn't Know Powell Had Guardian."

Also, I received a thoughtful email from Donna Hamm this evening. According to a representative from the Governor's office, the DOC will no longer be using the outdoor cages at all (also confirmed in Lemons' story); the retrofit idea has been scrapped. Now to get people out of the "regular" cages...

Finally, I came across this post from congress.org ("Inmate Killed in Punishment Cage...") when I was Googling earlier. It makes some pretty strong allegations of misconduct; I'm surprised it's still there. Time will tell if it's accurate, I suppose. That's assuming an investigation gets at the truth.

Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 8:40 PM


The Weight

Monday, June 1, 2009

Though I may be complicit in the conduct of my government when I don't actively resist, I have never personally taken someone else's life, and can't imagine how that must be to live with. I've been thinking about that a lot lately - not just about what it meant to Marcia or to the community for her to die that way, but what it meant to those on duty in that guard station that day.

It must be an incredibly heavy weight to carry. It's the worst burden I can imagine. Working with people who were homeless for so many years, that was one of my greatest fears: not that I would be held liable, but that I might be responsible, for doing or not doing something that resulted in someone losing their life. Their health was so fragile, and in the streets they really had no place to hide from either cops or criminals; they were often brutalized or arrested, sometimes both. So, I feel for whomever carries even a portion of this weight.

Added to that is the probability that someone will face criminal charges - especially if this post about the "punishment cage" is true, and its author is able to produce eyewitness testimony, rather than hearsay on a website. Someone may well be criminally liable; I just hope that doesn't divert us from what created an atmosphere where treating prisoners with such disregard for their basic human rights - for their life - is so acceptable, or at the least, so routine.

So what will we do with Marcia's murderer? How about the one who gave the orders? And the ones who just watched her die? And anyone with information who has stood idly by? Shouldn't we keep at least a few prisons open for them? How does restorative justice work for people like them? How does it work for killers? How do you restore a life?

We don't. We can't, no matter how much violence we inflict in kind. We can contain and confront the killer, and move on, I think, if we're lucky. We can "pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living", as Mother Jones would say. A lot of people, I would imagine, die with the individual they killed. The guy who killed one of my best friends - and one of his best friends - by speeding and losing control of his car ended up blowing his head off.

It was an accident. Chris would have been the first to forgive him. He couldn't live with it. Prison would have been nowhere near as harsh as the punishment of this guy's mind. It would have also been unnecessary to protect society or exact "justice": he judged and executed himself.

A compassionate society would not only have embraced Marcia more readily; it would embrace those covered in her sweat and tears, hands dripping with her blood. It would have loved Bill R. back to life after Chris died, not driven him to suicide. We would not lynch Marcia's killers, or even call for their execution. We would learn from them about our own willingness to punish - to seek retribution - and we would learn about our own capacity to withdraw and detach from the secret suffering of the people we call criminals, those we banish to steel cages and the sadistic whims or quiet indifference of guards.

And from that insight, we would change, and in turn help others change. By working with people on what is essentially spiritual transformation and political and economic empowerment, rather than time-limited behavior management, we might reduce our reliance on the carceral regime, as well as reduce the risk of repeat offending. We certainly contribute to the spiritual development of humanity by attempting to speak to the condition and needs of each individual soul when they transgress. And we learn and practice mercy in the process, perhaps the only thing that helps crime victims truly find "resolution": getting their hands on the bad guy, and not becoming worse than him by seeking vengeance in the name of justice...

Our commitment to prisoner rights - and especially to prison abolition - isn't sustainable simply from the compassion we can muster for a woman who died so brutally. Until we can love the best in the worst of us, we don't really know love at all, and can't put up an effective, convincing fight. Only when we begin to seek alternatives to prison for them - including those we count among the oppressors - will we come to see the fascist that lives within each of us, and take another step in our collective moral evolution towards the end of this world full of prisons, spinning on fear.

As for myself, I'm not sure I'm ready to take that step. I still want somebody to pay...

Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 2:13 PM

Abolish them all

Friday, June 5, 2009


First, let me repeat: There needs to be an independent outside investigation of the death of Marcia Powell, and the appropriateness of certain policies as soon as possible - before evidence is corrupted. This is the latest on the story from Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times. It is titled: "Marcia Powell did have next of kin." (She was removed from life support just hours after she was brought in from under the sun. Why could that not wait for a meaningful search for next of kin? How can Ryan investigate himself on this?)

Also announced today: It's been a little more than two weeks since Marcia Powell died, and the Perryville prison complex in Goodyear just can't get by without using outdoor cages, so they're back. It was previously reported that prisoners were supposed to be checked on every 30 minutes - that's the brilliant new policy they have in place now, with a log book where staff have to document when the prisoner was last seen alive.

That's going to keep people like Marcia from heatstroke and death again?

Here's the AZ Republic article announcing it.

Why don't we ever hear what prisoners and families have to say?

Also came across this article today about how creatively states are saving money on prisoner food budgets: they're just eliminating meals. Some prisoner advocates argue that making food a scarce commodity in prison is not only a denial of human rights, but it creates an opening for more violence.

That make sense, since it will also lead to more time and more reason to leave people locked down or in solitary. And I guess if people are busy fighting for food they won't be clamoring for luxuries like health care.

That's often an effective tactic used against poor people who are trying to organize: hunger is no small thing. Hunger is a brutal form of torture that can be dragged out for years; it wears down ones resistance and gnaws at our children; it brings entire armies to its knees. Hunger feeds our jails and prisons already with check-kiters and petty thieves - need we starve them there, now, too?

The new budget proposal calls for privatizing several prisons in AZ, including Perryville, where Marcia died and and Death Row lives. The only thing in the way of this legislation passing is the Governor. All attention should be focused on the governor's office. She could even write Marcia's law into this budget with oversight and prisoner rights protections, provisions for reducing the flow of people into prisons and overcrowding, and appropriations to make it meaningful. Marcia's Law could be a deal-maker, if she wanted it to be.

Enough of us have to let her know we want Marcia's Law first. And what we want in it.

For folks with questions about where the prison reform advocates are on this, contact Middle Ground Prison Reform in Tempe. Donna Hamm is the one who proposed Marcia's law, and probably has a clear agenda for what that might look like.

When you do contact your legislators and the governor's office, please just remember the following concerns that need to be raised:

1. do not privatize prisons - the DOC needs to be accountable - focusing instead on saving money through decarceration;

2. adequately fund re-entry assistance, long term affordable housing, and employment opportunities (and options for the disabled) to reduce recidivism;

3. reform sentencing laws to reduce incarceration rates, and

4. put teeth into prisoner rights protections - including funding more intensively for training of guards and prisoners alike about rights,

5. Citizen - community-level - oversight of facilities based on the overall jail/prison population, so both communities that operate prisons and those that lose their children to them are represented;

6. New policy immediately: no more cages (That makes a great freewayblogging sign, if you can find a fenced overpass);

7. Prioritize making recommended reforms to health and mental health care services for prisoners, and compassionate release for those who are elderly and seriously or terminally ill.

We need to take control of these institutions - just like our schools - and hold government accountable.

We don't need more commissions and studies, really. This can just be done. Just keep in mind the vision of a world with no need for prisons, and step by step we'll blaze a trail. It's already begun. Critical Resistance, in fact, produces the CR Abolition Organizing Tool Kit, which is worth the $15 I think they ask for it. Spend some time on the website - it's a great resource. There are a few other good books at that link too - I'd recommend all four selections for starting an abolition library.

I'd also recommend a subscription to The Abolitionist (same page): mine just came today and it's pretty good. It helps to see how others address the dilemmas and challenges inherent in building a world without bars.

Posted by Prison Abolitionist at 11:05 AM