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.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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.