In memory of Marcia J. Powell and all those prisoners who have suffered or died in the custody of the state.
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...
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.
"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."
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.
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...
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 396 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 incarceration 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 moral 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 incident. 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 individual 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 does 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 unspeakable 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 reasonable 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 terms 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.
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.
Let me know which one you like most and I'll send it to you -
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 the 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 surface, 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.
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 believethrough 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).
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 fight 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.
WASHINGTON - December 18 - This morning, in a procedural vote requiring 60 votes to advance the legislation, the U.S. Senate voted against the DREAM Act by a 55-41 margin, effectively shutting the doors of opportunity to thousands of bright and talented young people who grew up in America and wanted to give back to the country they call home.
The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America's Voice:
"Today we won a majority of votes in the Senate. Last week we won a majority of the votes in the House. But because of a Republican filibuster we needed 60 votes to pass DREAM and we fell short.
To those who did the right thing and voted for DREAM, you had our back and we'll have yours. But to the majority of Republicans and the handful of Democrats who voted against the best and the brightest of the Latino immigrant community, your vote against DREAM will be remembered as long as you are in politics. Many of you have expressed your sympathy for the DREAMers. But today we did not need your sympathy. We needed your vote.
As disappointed as we are in those who slammed the door of opportunity on talented young people who are Americans in all but paperwork, we are buoyed by the nationwide outpouring of support for this cause, the unprecedented mobilization in support of DREAM across the nation, and the leadership and courage of the DREAMers who came to Washington to insist on making their DREAM come true.
Where do we go from here? We will continue fighting, organizing, mobilizing and educating. We will continue to build an ever more powerful movement. We will continue to speak up and speak out for immigrant youth, for immigrant families, for immigration reform that embodies the best of our ideals rather than the worst of our fears.
We get stronger every day. We may have lost this battle, but in the war between justice and injustice, inclusion and exclusion, courage and cowardice, victory is not a matter of if, but a matter of when."
### America's Voice -- Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform. The mission of America’s Voice is to realize the promise of workable and humane comprehensive immigration reform. Our goal is to build the public support and create the political momentum for reforms that will transform a dysfunctional immigration system that does not work into a regulatory system that does.
------------So, what do we do now? A reminder from Arundhati Roy:---------
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."
AZ State Capitol Complex/Wes Bolin Plaza, Phoenix. (Thanksgiving, 2009)
The above chalking was my holiday gift to the prisoners maintaining state grounds who had to clean up after me last year once I discovered this form of free speech was legal. Feel free to download and distribute - I've made postcards out of it to mail to prisoners, politicians and media alike in the past year. It's still a good present.
The following update comes from the Black Agenda Report yesterday, via Claude at the Freedom Archives' Political Prisoner News list-serve. Both are awesome sources of information about prisoner rights and activism.
Members of the public should continue to call the Georgia DOC numbers below - let them know we're still watching, and that we expect these prisoners to be treated with respect. The rest of us could learn something from their courageous resistance to the brutality and violence of incarceration in America.
By The Editors Created 12/15/2010 - 14:40 Submitted by The Editors on Wed, 12/15/2010 - 14:40 Story by Bruce A. Dixon, audio interview by Glen Ford
Georgia prisoners who began a courageous, peaceful and nonviolent protest strike for educational opportunities, wages for their work, medical care and human rights have captured the attention of the world. Black Agenda Report intends to closely cover their continuing story. Glen Ford recorded a conversation with activist Elaine Brown and one of the striking inmates in Georgia on Wednesday, December 15.
Updated story on the strike and support efforts of the newly formed Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights below the fold. (hit the Black Agenda Report and click the flash player below the article to listen to the interview).
GA Prison Inmate Strike Enters New Phase, Prisoners Demand Human Rights, Education, Wages For Work
Story by Bruce A. Dixon, audio interview by Glen Ford
The historic strike of Georgia prisoners, demanding wages for their labor, educational opportunities, adequate health care and nutrition, and better conditions is entering a new phase. Strikers remain firm in their demands for full human rights, though after several days many have emerged from their cells, if only to take hot showers and hot food. Many of these, however, are still refusing their involuntary and unpaid work assignments.
A group that includes relatives, friends and a broad range of supporters of the prisoners on the outside has emerged. They are seeking to sit down with Georgia correctional officials this week to discuss how some of the just demands of inmates can begin to be implemented. Initially, Georgia-based representatives of this coalition supporting the prisoner demands included the Georgia NAACP, the Nation of Islam, the National Association for Radical Prison Reform, the Green Party of Georgia, and the Ordinary Peoples Society among others. Civil rights attorneys, ministers, community organizations and other prisoner advocates are also joining the group which calls itself the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights.
Prisoners have stood up for themselves, and the communities they came from are lining up to support them. Today, at a ground breaking for a private prison 300 miles southeast of Atlanta in Millen GA, residents of that local community opposed to the private prison are greeting the governor and corrections brass with a protest. They will be joined by dozens more coming in from Atlanta who will respectfully urge state authorities to talk to the prisoners. We understand that one person there has been arrested. Black Agenda Report will have photos and footage of that event on Thursday.
The broad-based Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners Rights fully supports the heroic stand of Georgia's prisoners. “This isn't Attica,” one representative of the coalition explained. “No violent acts have been committed by any of the inmates involved. We hope state corrections officials will be as peaceful and respectful as the prisoners have been, and start a good faith dialog about quickly addressing their concerns.”
Right now, the ball is in the hands of state corrections officials, and reports are that in some of the affected prisons, authorities are fumbling that ball, engaging
“They transferred some of the high Muslims here to max already,” one prisoner told Black Agenda Report this morning. “They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There's people in here who can't even read...
“They're trying to provoke people to violence in here, but we're not letting that happen. We just want our human rights.”
The transfers are intended to deprive groups of leadership and demoralize them. In some cases they may be having the opposite effect, stiffening prisoner morale and making room for still more leaders to emerge.
“The prisoners insist that punitive transfers are an act of bad faith, the opposite of what we should be doing,” said Minister Charles Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam in Atlanta. “The coalition supports them and demands no punitive transfers, either within or between institutions, and absolutely no transfers to institutions outside Georgia.”
Members of the public should continue to call the prisons listed below, and the GA Department of Corrections and the office of Georgia's governor, Sonny Perdue. Ask them firmly but respectfully to resolve the situation non-violently and without punitive measures. Tell them you believe prisoners deserve wages for work and education. Ask them to talk to prisoners and the communities they come from. It's simple. With one in twelve Georgia adults in jail or prison, parole or probation or other court and correctional supervision, prisoners are us. They are our families. They are our fathers and our mothers, our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins.
Most prisoners will be back out in society sooner, not later. It's time for us all to grow up and realize that warehousing, malnourishing, mistreating and abusing prisoners does not make us safer. Denying prisoners meaningful training and educational opportunities, and forcing them to work for no wages is not the way to do. It's time to fundamentally reconsider prison as we know it, and America's public policy of mass incarceration.
Bruce Dixon and Glen Ford are reachable at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com and glen.ford(at)blackagendareport.com, respectively. Black Agenda Report intends to provide ongoing coverage several times per week of the ongoing struggle of Georgia prisoners.
Where have I been the past few days? (Sleeping or hanging out at Conspire, I guess.) Hooray for the Georgia Green Party for posting the prisoners' Press Release!!! I'm re-posting it here because it's both historic and phenomenal.
Do we have any political parties with similar guts in AZ? Our prisoners are suffering, too.
Anyway, this is how it began, folks - the massive prisoner resistance to conditions of confinement in Georgia. I'll be posting updates soon (here's a quick one - the fight goes on!).
Arizona prison families and friends: keep in close touch with your loved ones and talk up what's going on at Prison Talk and all the blogs. I'm hearing that surveillance, strip searches, and over-all security has been dramatically stepped-up in recent days, and yards are being locked down for "no apparent reason"....well this is the reason. I bet it's happening all over the country - nothing freaks out jailers more than non-violent resistance and reasonable demands.
Those sixteen women at Perryville who protested being locked down in September all got cuffed up and put into detention as soon as we stopped paying attention, by the way, and the whole yard (Santa Cruz) was screwed for quite some time. Those women still are, really. I originally posted on the Santa Cruz women's protest here, but recently edited it out because I had given too much credit where it wasn't due (to the General Counsel at the ADC). I planned to revise it (and will soon) - I just didn't want my correspondents to get into even deeper trouble. There are still a couple of posts from that month about Perryville conditions (both before and after the protest). I even tried to get Oprah out there.
We need to keep a close eye on both the Georgia resistance and the Arizona Department of Corrections (and all the county jails) reactions - they're going to do whatever they have to in order to make every prisoner look mean and violent to justify their own brutality, if need be - don't believe the BS for a minute if things do get ugly. Call those numbers in Georgia, please, to tell them those prisoners better not get hurt - let them know they'll be held accountable for their crimes, too.
As for this place: if you're hearing real bad stuff from your loved ones locked up here in Arizona, don't just hit the chat rooms and leave it at that: put your complaints in writing to the ADC's General Counsel, Karyn Klausner, and copy it to your legislator, if you think you can trust them not to do something stupid. Follow up with their office, however it turns out; just make a point of addressing the ADC's general counsel directly with serious (urgent health/safety) concerns - and call her people if you don't get a response in a reasonable period of time.
Don't bother with the Governor's staff or the Office of Constituent Services at the ADC, by the way, unless you're talking about visitation hassles, mail being delayed, the cost of phone calls home, etc. Even if your complaint is about upper administration at the prison or guard harassment and you haven't had success at the warden's level, they'll still just pass it back to the people you're complaining about (with the message for them to "deal with it", basically) and someone may get hurt.The legal team at the ADC is there to keep the state from getting sued, so they would be inclined to exercise better judgment, in my unschooled assessment. Here's the ADC's Constituent Services' handbook for friends and family, though, so you know what their standard procedure is for families to address concerns (it's even been updated within the past month).
Prisoners should really file formal grievances about their mistreatment, if they dare to - if they're being threatened, placed in danger, or otherwise retaliated against, report that in your letter to the ADC attorney, or feel free to contact me and we'll strategize about your options - just know that I have no legal training and I'm learning all this from other families as we go.
I include that disclaimer because even legitimate, responsible resistance to the state can be especially dangerous to people in prison - I also have no friends in high places, politicians in my pocket, vast sums of money (I barely scrape by) or other ways of protecting people. I can't promise success; I am an antagonist more than I am a diplomat, so consider what strategies you want to employ carefully.
All I can really offer is what I've gleaned from my experience as an advocate for people who are homeless or imprisoned (including someone I love), the visibility of my blogging and street activism, and the power of a growing network of prisoners and their loved ones - including those presently in litigation with the ADC, some for wrongful deaths. I'm a community organizer and do believe that together we are strong - but no one is invincible (including the state...).
The Day the Fascists Came to Town November 14, 2010. W. Jefferson/4th Ave., Phoenix, AZ
original photo: Robert Haasch chalk art/post-photographic rendition: Margaret J. Plews
You may also want to contact Donna or James Hamm at Middle Ground Prison Reformfor some advice - they do have some legal connections and experience, and have been at this longer than I have. I suspect Donna is far more of a diplomat than I am. They should be your first resort, actually - I'm usually the last resort for prisoners - mostly the poorest ones. Their address is 139 East Encanto Dr. Tempe, AZ 85281. Phone: 480-966-8116.
In any case, make sure the prisoner him/herself feels as if these are issues worth fighting for - even this fight in Georgia isn't just about cigarettes - it's about respect, and dignity, and autonomy for people who have been stripped of all. We should be focused on their health and sanity and civil rights, not just their leisure and privileges; they will pay for your activity and support the most. Be mindful, though, that she/he has no expectation of privacy (nor do you) when you communicate about these things - all calls and mail can (and probably will) be monitored. It can be a difficult balance to get their direction and consent while not making them a target. Sometimes I have to go with "I trust you" after making sure they know what the possible ramifications may be.
That said, here's the ADC contact info you need (Karyn's really going to love me for this):
Karyn Klausner Office of the General Counsel Arizona Department of Corrections 1601 West Jefferson St. Phoenix, AZ 85007 (602) 542 1532 firstname.lastname@example.org
If you send a copy of any of that documentation to me, though, I'll put it in the hands of the ACLU and the Department of Justice - with or without identifying you and the prisoner, as he/she wishes (if it's not possible to consult them on that privately, I'll hold back names for now).
In an action which is unprecedented on several levels, black, brown and white inmates of Georgia's notorious state prison system are standing together for a historic one day peaceful strike today, during which they are remaining in their cells, refusing work and other assignments and activities. This is a groundbreaking event not only because inmates are standing up for themselves and their own human rughts, but because prisoners are setting an example by reaching across racial boundaries which, in prisons, have historically been used to pit oppressed communities against each other.
PRESS RELEASE BELOW THE FOLD
The action is taking place today in at least half a dozen of Georgia's more than one hundred state prisons, correctional facilities, work camps, county prisons and other correctional facilities. We have unconfirmed reports that authorities at Macon State prison have aggressively responded to the strike by sending tactical squads in to rough up and menace inmates.
Outside calls from concerned citizens and news media will tend to stay the hand of prison authorities who may tend to react with reckless and brutal aggression. So calls to the warden's office of the following Georgia State Prisons expressing concern for the welfare of the prisoners during this and the next few days are welcome.
Tomorrow morning, December 9, 2010, thousands of Georgia prisoners will refuse to work, stop all other activities and remain in their cells in a peaceful, one-day protest for their human rights. The December 9 Strike is projected to be the biggest prisoner protest in the history of the United States.
These thousands of men, from Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair State Prisons, among others, state they are striking to press the Georgia Department of Corrections (?DOC?) to stop treating them like animals and slaves and institute programs that address their basic human rights. They have set forth the following demands:
A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.
EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.
Prisoner leaders issued the following call: No more slavery. Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!?
Decided to plant this in here with a widget as a permanent reminder to those out there struggling through life that we need you here. All the injustice, grief, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it while we're here. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.
The Sound Strike: Artists Boycott Arizona.
End Police Brutality and Racial Profiling.
Excellent resoure for abolitionists and feminists everywhere
AZ Law Help.org
Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education
Action Committee for Women in Prison
War on the Drug War: Petition
President Obama: Commute Hamedah Hasan's Sentence
Lives in Focus Project
Great resource on the effect of prison on families.
Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
Incite! Women of Color Against Violence / Critical Resistance Joint Statement
Great Resource for Street Artists (including sidewalk chalkers...)
ON DIRECT ACTIONS, CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, ETC.
Taking a cue from the animal rights activists (who usually don't even put their names and faces on their sites), I thought I should clarify a few things here.
The Friends of Marcia Powell and freemarciapowell.blogspot.com are not very organized, nor are we affiliated or associated with any other group or organization. We all just crash each other's protests to show solidarity. Me (Peg) - I'm just winging this stuff.
The information and ideas provided on this website are not meant to incite illegal actions or activities, even if it looks like that may be what we're doing. That's not to say we frown on civil disobedience; there's an important place in history for diverse tactics of resistance. We are each only responsible for our own actions, though.
The point is for folks to get involved in the 2010 political campaigns and challenge the BS around the prison industrial complex, but please be creative enough that no one gets hurt or arrested (well, a few lawmen and makers need to be indicted and disarmed, still, but we don't want any more of our friends getting into trouble.)
Do be advised: these are not nice people we're picking fights with, they far outgun us, they make all the rules, the game is already rigged, and if you piss the wrong person off bad enough in this state, you don't even need to break a law to go to jail or prison.
In any case, make sure you have the number you'll need to call for help from jail written on your arm if you think you might get arrested. Live on the buddy system (keep an eye on each other for awhile and check the jail if anyone goes missing). Don't let things you're responsible for drag anyone else down; keep your loose ends neat.
Don't rat out your comrades, and don't automatically believe it if someone says that someone you trust ratted out you first. That's a classic tactic. So is trying to make you think that something perfectly legal you did is a crime. Just because it's secret doesn't mean it's criminal or shouldn't be protected.
Be true to yourself and the cause regardless.
If you have any questions about the legality of any direct action you are considering, we encourage everyone receiving this (or the) action alert(s) to check your local laws and ordinances and think about the possible consequences before proceeding to do anything. Not that you'd be on your own, but most of us are too poor to bail you out, and too politically disenfranchised to otherwise wrest you free.
July 29, 2010. Cesar Chavez Plaza/Wells Fargo, Phoenix.
Advocacy for women in Florida prisons
American Civil Liberties Union
National Prison Project Report
Mental Illness In Prison
Ill-Equipped: US Prisoners and Offenders with Mental Illness
Death by Incarceration
US DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics: 2001-2006 Prison Deaths (pdf)
Gerlad & Maas' Nights Lantern
Excellent resource by our neighbors to the North on Human Rights, Political Prisoners, and the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Rag Radio on Political Prisoners: Angola 3; Marilyn Buck.