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

Montini: Marcia's Life Mattered

Imagine fury if inmate had died while on Arpaio's watch

by E. J. Montini - Jun. 9, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

The gruesome passing of inmate Marcia Powell a few weeks back has proved that in Arizona it doesn't matter how a convict dies, only where.

Powell would have been national and international news if she had died in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's much discussed jails.

But she didn't. She was in a state prison.

If the chain-link fence enclosure into which Powell was placed and left in the hot sun for four hours had been in Tent City instead of the Perryville prison complex, Amnesty International would have contacted the U.S. State Department about the worse-than-Guantanamo conditions. But there was no great protest.

If a mentally ill person like Powell had been subjected to the same treatment in Arpaio's jail as she had been in prison, I have no doubt that the American Civil Liberties Union, and who knows what other human-rights organizations, would have been up in arms, raising a stink among politicians on every level.

But Powell died in a state prison, and there was no political uproar.

Imagine the amount of media attention Powell's death would have received if the decision to unplug her from life support had been made by Sheriff Arpaio rather than by Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan.

Imagine the level of indignation that would have arisen if it was learned later that Arpaio had decided to pull the plug without notifying Powell's legal guardian at The Maricopa County Fiduciary’s Office.

Instead, it was Ryan who said that his department had exhausted all the leads that it had concerning Powell's next of kin.

However, the fiduciary has been Powell's guardian since 2008. Not only that, but last week the fiduciary's attorney reported in court that several of Powell's estranged relatives had been located and others might yet be found.

Imagine if it had been Arpaio who had cut off life support on such an inmate only to discover that there might be family connections out there.

But it was not Arpaio who did these things. It was the DOC, and so news coverage has been limited mostly to a few articles and online reports in The Arizona Republic and the weekly Phoenix New Times.

Imagine, finally, the level of public outrage that would have been raised if Powell had died in one of Arpaio's jails and Arpaio announced that his department, rather than an outside agency, would conduct the criminal investigation into what happened.

I doubt that there would be enough paper available to print the onslaught of angry letters or enough computer space to contain the barrage of missives over the Internet.

But in this case it was the DOC announcing that it would investigate itself (with a recent promise to allow the Department of Public Safety to look over its findings) and there was no reaction.

Instead, from the moment Powell's death became public I've received comments from readers who say they aren't sympathetic to her plight because she made poor choices in life.

Yet here we are, choosing to make less of Powell's death, not just because of who she was but because of where she died.

More than anything, Powell's death demonstrates that celebrity trumps circumstance. Without a name like Arpaio's to serve as a lightning rod there is no public interest in her case.

Marcia Powell was 48 years old. Her mental disorders stretch back for decades. She was a prostitute and drug addict who wound up behind bars because prison has become the place we lock up some of the mentally ill.

That's her excuse. What's ours?

Reach Montini at 602-444-8978 or