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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christ on Crime: The Power of Being Soft. And No Early Release.

Here's to Truth, Peace and Justice - may all prevail in the New Year.

I fell asleep Christmas Eve wishing I'd organized some anarchists to go caroling out at Perryville prison this week; just something to let them know they aren't alone out there. The mothers out there in particular have been on my mind lately, as have their heartbroken parents and children. Because of the tracking mechanisms on my blogs I can tap into what people are Googling for, which - as the holidays have approached - has with increasing urgency been "early prisoner release." I had all sorts of stuff up from other states, but all they kept coming up with from me on Arizona was some sidewalk chalking, pleading with legislators, and quite a bit of after-the-fact chastising of Director Ryan.

When I woke up Christmas morning they were still on my mind: all those families that had been holding their breath as states across the country began early release programs for low-risk prisoners, only to have our legislature and governor, in the end, release non-citizens so they can be deported. Our state and prisoners' families are being crushed by the cost of their incarceration - we're even taking money from education and children's health care in order to keep filling up the prisons - and that's the most creative solution anyone could come up with? Deporting a few hundred immigrants that they gave Sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas all sorts of money to chase down and prosecute for smuggling themselves?

Cowards. They won't even release the dying. Even we (prisoners and advocates) would allow that not every ADC officer is so malicious or callous that they would be complicit in Marcia's death just because 16 on one shift were (that must be worse than the criminality of most people requesting compassionate releases). The Department of Corrections seems to think that was an isolated incident that shouldn't reflect on the rest of the gang. In light of that, our legislators should at least grant that not every dying prisoner is a Maurice Clemmons or Baseline Killer just waiting for their final spree. Nor are they molesters-in-waiting, like the latest Arizona parolee disaster, apparently. I wonder how much of the monster in him was made by prison. Most of the terminally ill - the healthy, for that matter, as well - really just want to make amends and die in peace. You never hear about them. They should not be punished for his crimes.

But they probably will be. We all will. Since they'd sooner spend our grandchildren's inheritance to make even low-risk prisoners die on mandatory minimums than take the risk of sending them home in a wheelchair to their families, why would I think our elected officials would have the courage to support an early release program for people who aren't even dying? It has nothing to do with statistics or real crime or even economics, since dying prisoners can cost the state the most. It's all about covering their own seats - which are coming up for re-election. Everyone wants to be "tough on crime,"  which always translates into criminalizing and incarcerating more of the poor and does nothing meaningful to address the roots of crime. That's not tough - that's just thick-headed. It's the smart-on-crime people we need to be electing here, not the ones exploiting fear at the expense of future victims...we need to stop this here.

I think we need to hammer the AG and gubernatorial candidates about compassionate release this year - and it should be coming from the cancer survivor and hospice community, too, not just the families and advocates of prisoners. Victims' rights advocates should get on board, too, if they consider how many victims are criminalized and how many criminals are victimized by the system we call justice in this state. Every prisoner dying inside who should be eligible for compassionate release is a story that needs to be told - otherwise the only story that speaks for them is the one about Clemmons - or Ladwig - and that one will be retold every election year unless we drown it out with the truth: there is more than one narrative on crime and punishment - there are better ways to prevent evil than perpetrating it.

Anyway, having failed to do anything meaningful for the state's prisoners for Christmas, I turned again to the symbolic, and decided to deliver a big Christmas card and some flowers to the women at Perryville yesterday. That place is huge. According to one of the officers, it's getting bigger: those are the great plans our legislature has made for Arizona's future - more women in prison. I drove around for awhile trying to figure out who and where to deliver it to - finally decided to take a picture of it by the prison sign, on the outside chance that no one would let me deliver to anyone there at all.

I was right - I couldn't even leave it there if I was leaving it for the warden, much less for the prisoners - I'd have to come back during regular business hours. Their supervisor even came out to see what this thing with the Friends of Marcia Powell was all about. He took down my name and gave me the phone number of someone I could call next week who would direct me to the right person to give the card to. I thought "warden" should be designation enough to get it to the person who would decide what to do with it, if I wrote it on the card instead of "prisoners". But it wasn't. What was I thinking?

I don't know how many people have tried to pull off a Christmas Day surprise like that, but "the next business day" just doesn't work. I took my card and got back into my car, stopping by my friend's place on my way home to give her the bouquet. She was out at Perryville for a couple of years; she appreciated what I tried to do.

The card, by the way, was a great big copy of the letter that the Sex Workers' Outreach Project had written to Director Ryan about improving protections for prisoner rights, among other things. A bunch of us signed it at the demonstration, and I figured that since he already got his copy (and apparently ignored it) we should give one to the prisoners so they knew they had some support out here.

I was hoping to get it onto Lumley - the maximum security unit where Marcia was last at, where the women who set their mattresses on fire were from, and where the officer worked who suicided last June. I guess I'm just lucky I got in and out of the front lobby myself without provoking anyone, though. I should probably apologize to the officers on duty last night for showing up and being a distraction. I mean, it seemed like they would be posted at the front door specifically to deal with the public - which includes me - so I didn't think it would be problematic to ask them if there was someone I could leave the card and flowers with. But I could have just taken a couple of photos outside and gone without disturbing them, so, my apologies, Lt. Farr and crew.  I really wasn't there just to play with you. I hoped someone would take our card (though I admit I suspected that solidarity and encouragement from the outside might be considered contraband, even on Christmas).
I guess it's probably a good thing I didn't show up singing with a bunch of anarchists instead.

Anyway, families and friends will just have to spread the word among the prisoners that Perryville had a Christmas visitor bringing tidings of goodwill and human rights, but they wouldn't let her in. You can print up the letter to Ryan from the free marcia powell archives here, though, and mail it in. Here is the report of the actual demonstration, with photos, in case you missed it. You could also print up the photo I took of the card, here:

Dear Director Ryan: Protect Human Rights.

(Since you insist on keeping your prisoners, please keep them safe.)

Since this post will probably sit here for a couple of days at the top of the page now as my holiday message, I don't want to close it on an angry or cynical note. So, I'll turn my attention to the ADC staff I don't speak much of. Just about every story I've heard from Perryville  - even Marcia's - has with it the name of an officer or staff member who was the exception to the rule of mocking, ridiculing, ignoring women, and "waiting them out" until they stopped resisting or finally died. The good guys know who they are, as do all the prisoners and their families. Everyone else does, too, and I imagine some of you take a hit for being too soft sometimes. I would hope you also get promoted (though we do aim to put you out of that particular line of business). Even little things - like a smile - expose the Light in you. We need that light to see through all this - in that way, soft has more power than a lot of people give it credit for. Gentle can be more strong than tough.

In fact, for the more resilient prisoners your simple daily acts of grace and kindness can do more good than all the cruelty that goes on there can do them harm.  For the respect, encouragement, insight, hope, and humanity you have shared with the most disparaged among us - whatever your position or reason for working there may be - thank you. Your presence may well have saved a loved one from another endless day of their own despair, or even from suicide. I'm sorry there clearly aren't enough of you, though. The damaged souls and successful suicides who roll out of prison are evidence of that.

Some of you have taken a hit by placing yourselves between our loved ones and violence - both state and interpersonal. You aren't afraid to speak of things like human rights, and you treat imprisoned women with basic dignity regardless of what kind of deviance they've been convicted of. You may not call it by the name I do, but you recognize the monster that feeds your family for what it is, and as law-and-order as you may be, you - like me - long for the day it outlives its apparent need. You may even be the first to help slay it then.

Those of you I speak of here are real public servants, far more committed to justice than the people who pull it out for campaigns, lynch a few bad guys, and ride fear into office so they can make new laws to better suit themselves - all the while gutting your unions with parallel (not competitive) privatization, and reducing your relative incomes and benefits to subsistence levels so you can't rise up against them once everyone finally catches on. I'm shocked at how many law enforcement unions have endorsed Pearce for that reason - he's all about busting the unions - he just thinks he doesn't have to worry about cops because they've been co-opted by his pandering and posturing. I hope you all end up proving him wrong.

It's odd that politicians so often invoke biblical references in the discourse about law and order: whatever one may think about Christ, his most beloved were the convicted and condemned, and his version of justice is the new and revised one. He embraced robbers and prostitutes and thieves irrelevant of their crimes: he recognized that the far greater danger was the injustice doled out to the powerless by the entitled than that posed by the few criminals who rose from the masses in resistance to civil society. It was the moneylenders' tables he upended, after all - he wasn't off chasing immigrants. Boy, would he have a few things to say about that today. Actually, I'm sure he already said them. Considering how many people in this state consider themselves Christians,  I don't understand why we have so many prisons. I guess people call themselves Christians for different reasons. Claiming such a faith seems to have a political advantage, even if there's no evidence one really lives it.

Christ was incorrigible - a classic repeat offender, all the more "dangerous" to the state because he acted out of a politic of liberation, not self-interest or greed (thus he could not be tortured or bribed into submission). He may not be executed today, but he would be locked down tighter than a Black Panther, in total isolation so as not to spread his message to other people yearning for freedom. We'd bury him alive and alone - for sixty or seventy years if need be - in a cell that serves much like a tomb. That's what we do to our political prisoners in America. Think about it: if he was in for crimes of self-interest he'd be out in half the time. What does that say about us?

Anyway, those of you who use your power to truly help rather than hurt prisoners have paid it forward, and many people down the road will have your backs. You have done more than just your prisoners a service - the community benefits as well if they come out more intact than shattered. I hope you become the model for ADC - for as long as the beast is around - instead of the exception you appear to be. To you and your families I sincerely wish a safe and happy holiday season, a sentiment shared, I suspect, by many.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fire Andy Thomas.

I didn't go to this rally, but here's their news - lots of lawyers in suits, by the looks of the New Times slideshow (link at bottom). I figured they already had plenty of support - but check out this solidarity action! Wonder if the rally-organizers did that? Saw this somewhere after 8am Monday, heading west on the 202 towards 7th, I think...

Anti-Thomas rally draws more than 250 people in PhoenixDiscontent with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's legal battles with county officials moved to a public forum Monday and received a boost from an unexpected source with inside knowledge of their cases.

Hundreds of attorneys gathered on the courthouse steps in downtown Phoenix to protest Thomas and Arpaio's public campaign against public corruption. And, in a scathing letter to The Arizona Republic, the Yavapai County attorney, who previously handled some of Thomas' cases against county officials, blasted the prosecutor and sheriff as "a threat to the entire criminal-justice system."

Sheila Polk, a Republican and career prosecutor, spent six months working on two of the cases sought by Thomas and Arpaio in their ongoing battle against county officials and the courts. Her office handled the first criminal case against Supervisor Don Stapley
and the investigation into the disputed Superior Court tower project....

(back to the Republic article)

Here is also a slideshow from the Phoenix News Times.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sex Workers' Rights are Human Rights. ADC Protest.

Wow. Arizona has got to be one of the most punitive, misogynistic, homophobic, right-wing states in the country, and I just spent the past couple of days hanging out with the handful of women here brave enough to publicly take on the state legislature and the director of the Department of Corrections. Friends of Marcia Powell and the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project demonstrated Friday at the ADC, calling Ryan out on his own turf to take a stand against violence against sex workers. He had a week to respond to their letter before the rally. In the end it appears as if he’s too much of a coward to face - or to defend - the women in red.

Okay, so maybe I’m baiting him now. His decision to ignore them wasn’t cowardice so much as it was really cold strategy, an evasive maneuver by someone who could take us out in a heartbeat. He’s not afraid, and knows full well he can hurt us more than we can hurt him - it’s cowardice of another kind. Which is still not good news for the good guys. I don’t know why I kept thinking that if Ryan was one of those 16 guards who passed through Lumley yard the day Marcia died, he would have been the one to stop and offer her the assistance that could have saved her life. I want to believe that somewhere in there is a spark of humanity and compassion that we could connect on.

I’ve given him more benefit of the doubt that perhaps I should have. If he is not the man I hope he is – and is instead the man I think he is, the alternatives to my fantasy mean that more prisoners will suffer and die until he’s gone - and who knows if the person who replaces him will be any better?

I thought of all the lawmen in this state, Ryan might be one who would take the women from SWOP seriously, and treat them with respect. He did stop not long ago when I sent word that I needed help with something, and he responded professionally (albeit a bit gruffly – I think that’s just him), but I think that was a fleeting connection. I guess he’s as much a politician as the rest of them, though. That’s the kind of prostitution that should really be criminalized, because it damages people and destroys lives. He’s been there so long, and dug in so deep, that nothing new or different may ever come out of him than what we got from Stewart – in which case we just need to seize the legislature, the governorship, local jurisdictions, and the economic system we have in order to take over and dismantle the whole prison industrial complex…which is why I wanted to believe there was something decent in him to work with.

Now we’re back to looking at this whole beast again, not sure which part to start hacking away at first. I think since no one but the families seem to be on Ryan for prisoner rights – and Arpaio and Thomas already have strong constituencies of people opposing them - we’ll stick with Ryan and the ADC for awhile.

I know I’ve been too soft on him thus far, but cut me a break – he reminds me of my old man. Besides, I’m an abolitionist – I think we should give cops the same consideration we give criminals who want to redeem themselves; most people have the capacity to change for the better, given the right conditions and support network. If a convicted felon can do it, so can Ryan. If he wants to – that’s the key. But we’re running out of time before the next state prisoner is neglected, abused, suicides, or is murdered.

It looks like for now Ryan’s prisoners will have to try to outlast and outlive his tenure before there’s another opening for real change. Ryan personally quashed the idea of an early prisoner release this year for non-violent offenders, and legislators are now afraid to put their name on a bill that would give people more good time they can earn, with his adamant assertion to the media that the public would be at risk with an early release program. His lack of response to the letter from SWOP also strongly suggests that he doesn’t – and never really did – care much about the women ending up there – either why they’re there to begin with, or what happens to them once they become his prisoner. I’d retract it all happily if he proves me wrong, but I’m not expecting much anymore.

Ryan even provided a legislative committee this week with the “evidence” for the argument (via some guy speaking for prosecutors) that “mandatory minimum sentences” and mass incarceration are what’s brought down violent crime in this state.

Never mind that our rates of violent crime are still among the highest in the nation – kind of makes you want to see what others did to bring their rates down, since most states are deciding now that mass incarceration doesn’t really pay off. And the information from ADC that was presented in the Committee on Sentencing this week included an estimate that only 2% of Arizona’s state prisoners are first-time non-violent offenders. That’s hard to believe, given the number of people I personally know who went to prison as first time, non-violent offenders.

What’s minimum security for, anyway – aren’t all those folks low-risk/non-violent? Why do we even have minimum security if we can do a better job helping addicts and alcoholics clean up in community-based settings – where they can work and pay off fines and restitution a whole lot faster than in prison? And what about the mentally ill folks who we all know don’t belong in prison? It seems as if the Director of the Department of Corrections would want to mount a public campaign bringing attention to the inappropriate incarceration of the mentally ill (since they take up a lot of space and staff time in his prisons, and are so often victimized or put into isolation), and try to have their cases reviewed for transfer from criminal courts to probate (or mental health court, whatever folks call it here) – or for clemency, even. I consider many of them among the wrongly-convicted, too.

So Ryan’s putting his stuff out there for prosecutors to throw around, scaring everyone about the possibility of an early prisoner release endangering the community, and I can’t even get him to tell me who – of the 10,000 people he has working for him – I can talk to about how many prisoners are qualified for compassionate release, and why they keep dying in prison for non-violent crimes. I think we need to make sure they’re getting home in time enough to live a little and love their family before they die.

As for the community: you don’t know what you missed Friday because your media didn’t think it was “news”. They must still be pondering the significance of Tiger’s affair; what a revelation. It’s not as if we weren’t juicy enough, either - signs proclaiming “My ass is mine”, Coca-cola-style t-shirts reading WHORE, women in tight red dresses, bisexuals, ex-felons, anarchist men and women decked out in black, and men and women of all ages armed with chalk parading about on the ADC’s patio for an afternoon, waving to passersby and shouting “sex worker rights are human rights!” - that isn’t news in this state?

I can’t help but wonder what else is going unreported here - there’s a whole world out here that folks don’t know exists. We even created a little commotion with the legislature’s pages and security staff when we decided to deliver copies of SWOP’s letter to Ryan to them. No one (all white men) knew what to do or say; they certainly couldn’t take their eyes off us. The capitol police even tailed us until we left the grounds – and we were only a group of four, all of us over 40, I think. It was clear that we were asking something extraordinary when we asked that they deliver copies of the letter to a few mailboxes; the term “sex worker” kept distracting them, I think. And all the red, I’m sure. We certainly livened up their day, at least – one Republican aide was almost asleep on the couch when we first walked in. Good to see our tax dollars hard at work.

Anyway, the past few days with the SWOP folks have been amazing but exhausting – I’m just beginning to recover. I’m still sorting out and writing up what transpired, and where I think we'll go from here, so bear with me as I think out loud (I’m about to piss a lot of people off, but it’s not my intent to hurt anyone, so hold on…)

First, don't stress about the media blackout, really - the Phoenix New Times was a disappointment, but it made visible an elusive element in the structure of Arizona's liberal elite that seems to be deeply threatened by women's resistance: the patriarchy. Not many people ever talks about it here, do they? I bet when they do no one really pays attention. I think it’s the lack of support from the supposedly "feminist" men out here - not oppression by the sexist pigs - that most impedes progress on issues of great pertinence to women. The anarchist men are an exception as are a number in the anti-war movement. SWOP was prepared for a media blackout (so, New Times, I guess you are just like everyone else), and took their own footage, including interviews and the walk through the capitol buildings. It should be edited and posted after the first of the year – I’ll set up a link when it’s ready. In the meantime, I’ll also be posting this on AZ Indymedia, and wherever else I can. I expect we’ll be on our own for media now.

Trivializing things that are important to women is perhaps one of the few ways “liberal” white men can retain power. Since we would otherwise not put up with it, who but criminalized women will they be able to have power over if everyone else is free? They aren’t going back to the top of the hierarchy for a good long time once they fall, that’s for sure, whether they’re liberal or not. If I had it my way, it wouldn’t be a hierarchy – which is probably why I hang with anarchists. Perhaps I should be more understanding and patient with liberal white men, because they have so much to lose in some respects, and still commit themselves to our liberation movements – but we pay the greater price for lost time.

So, they can catch up with the revolution again when they stop whining about being unappreciated. We appreciate you for what you do if you do anything, not just because you’re white men who are willing to be counted on our side. Some men will sign up for anyone’s side if they think they’ll get the goodies in the end – and women happen to be the goodies for most of you. Ultimately, though, those who would deny us liberation and basic human rights can’t possibly really win, so whatever your motives, you’re better of with us anyway.

In any event, since this past week was all about remembering the dead and bringing the living out of the closet of shame, SWOP didn't stage either the memorial or rally as a mainstream “media event”, and were pretty low-key in their own promotions (though high enough profile in the demonstration, to be sure). I think most of their outreach was to their own constituency – they really weren’t expecting anyone else to care about Marcia or any of them, and were thrilled that Marcia has friends now where she seemed to have none before – except for a few other prisoners. I was the only one who seemed surprised not to see more familiar faces from Phoenix; the women from SWOP were pretty happy with the turnout, though, and their friends came up from Tucson to join us. Both events were intimate gatherings as a result -one just more public than the other. Between the two, this has been the most moving, powerful, and educational demonstration that I've ever been a part of - and I’ve done plenty in my years of activism. This even tops the Cronkite thing, and we had just a handful of people.

"No Human Involved" is the classification of homicide victims once used for murdered prostitutes, by the way - the other two options were "male" or "female". That's where the real story is that the media completely missed: Marcia just wasn't considered human by some guards when she was left out to die: she was, by one corrections officer's account after she died, a "biological serial killer." The pink underwear in Tent City, the cages in the state prisons, the police brutality in the streets, sexual and physical abuse by guards, assaults by other prisoners (the real criminals you put us with), the mandatory minimums for prostitution, the requirement that women convicted of prostitution register as sex offenders (do the johns have to so as well?) – it’s all about disempowering and discrediting women – one way of which is demeaning what is feminine when found in men (one of many kinds of misogyny practiced by Joe Arpaio).

I also think maintaining prostitution laws are about enabling the extra thrill that men get from “illicit” sex with brazen and defiant women. Really - what would all these cowboys do if we were no longer outlaws? Tie up their Rotary Club wives? Go after kids? C’mon, guys. Grow up. Some of you are just criminalizing and killing us for kicks – you’re the kind of people who need to be stopped before you contaminate the rest of the community...

The women of SWOP know exactly what the label the prison guards gave Marcia meant, by the way, and what the implications of such a characterization are. I knew when I heard it, too. That was her death sentence, and it was given to her long before she was even dragged into court and sent to prison – it just took awhile to pass it on and carry it out. It was handed down by the good people of this state in the name of “protecting families,” not just a few bad guards having fun. I doubt any of them even meant to kill her.

It's unfortunate that the community members who cared so much about how Marcia lived and died that they made a place for her ashes didn't pick up on any of this, support the SWOP demonstration, and learn what they could from these amazingly perceptive, independent, and fierce women. They may help us keep the same kind of thing from happening again. My life has been blessed by their presence, and I’ve made friends and allies that I know I’ll be working with down the road. I'm certainly more clear about who I can count on to stand with us the next time we position ourselves in public opposition to the state's top cop - who isn't Sheriff Joe. Ryan's the real cop, with far more authority, durability, and credibility among law enforcement officers on policy issues than Arpaio - and he has the keys to all the prisons.

Phoenix New Times loves to hate Ryan, and will thus probably help keep him around - they sure didn't want to let the rest of the Left know that SWOP was even going to be here, and it wasn't for lack of information. Sheriff Joe’s the money-maker these days - he’s just a clown with a badge and dying career now, but he’s still a big seller. Thomas too – I suspect a good many folks will turn out for the protest against him today – certainly the Phx New Times will be there – they saw the dollar signs and promoted the event. I don’t know why I expected that the New Times would have a different bottom line than the Republic – maybe just because they present themselves that way. White men sitting behind desks should not be trusted – much less anointed - to amplify the voices of the voiceless: they just make a production of the BS they think will sell to their audience (indicating that their function is to entertain us), and ignore the rest.

The Phoenix Anarchists aren't shy or afraid when it comes to pushing a social justice agenda, though, and they showed up in force Friday. They always bring a spirit of creativity, revolution, and solidarity to such events: they do whatever they can to stop people from being exploited and abused, without apology. Stan was good to see - he represents the Food Not Bombs connection with Marcia, the people who knew her from something other than her criminal record. There was also overlap among us with Copwatchers (all undercover), the anti-war movement, and even labor. I'm beginning to think that what I see most out here, however, are the exceptional individuals and small groups of comrades (Marcia's Friends, all along) who support numerous liberation movements – I don’t know how much actual cross-movement organizing is really going on, though I still think there’s some cross-fertilization at least from the overlap of activists who all go to each other’s events.

But I'm still new here, and feel like I'm on the outside looking in much of the time, so I may be missing something. The Anti-Sheriff Joe coalition is indeed an authentic amalgamation of different movements drawn together for a common cause; that's where I drew a lot of my initial impressions about cross-movement organizing happening here, which I think in that particular case are still valid. People have done a lot of good work together to end his racist reign on power (though I don't hear much about his misogyny and homophobia, as glaring as they are). Beyond the entertainment value, protesting Sheriff Joe has united members of the community, bringing forth a collective vision for a better Arizona. Still, it's a mistake to think that he's the source of the problem here that has us locking away so many unruly women and people of color in this state.

The rapidly rising rate of incarceration of women hasn't really even been on the anti-Joe agenda, though, so far as I can tell, nor has there been much feminist analysis of what's at the source of Arpaio's popular appeal - it's not just his racism. It's the other -isms that we are blind to, not what we and the world can see so well, that will prevent us from moving forward with a truly progressive agenda, leaving us circling the wagons in hopes that we just outlive the Right wing - we sure don't out-gun them here. Because of our blindness to our own biases and prejudice, and our investment in our own self-interest, too many people settle for compromises which allow them at the expense of our comrades. That’s been a problem for a long time. Covering white middle class liberal ass certainly won’t produce the magic formula that will liberate us all. Our collective chances are much better if we throw our lot in with the sex workers than if we hang with the people who “love” them who are secure enough in their own position with the status quo.

I think Arpaio is becoming more the distraction that keeps us from getting to the real thing than he is the problem himself; we are more at the source of the problem than he is now, because we know better. Our problem is in the silence that we greeted the sex workers with when they asserted that their rights are human rights, too. It's in the permission that male liberals - regardless of ethnicity - give each other to denigrate women's resistance and leadership while slapping each other on the back about how anti-racist they are. It's in the feminists who fail to see how critical they are to ending violence against sex workers - male, female, and transgendered - and how central to all other feminist struggles that particular task is.

The activist community here didn't respond with much more than a memorial service and calls for a softer, gentler prison when Marcia died, which troubles me. Perhaps no one knew what to do. The women at Perryville have been calling us for help ever since then, and we're the ones who have been ignoring them. The population of women in Arizona’s prisons is exploding – where are Arizona's women's rights' groups now? Over 50% of women prisoners in America are mothers - where are the family-centered organizations out here? Most women in prison have been physically or sexually abused - where are the victims' rights organizations out here? Ironically, their collective narrow-minded advocacy has helped brutalize many survivors of trauma and abuse, which doesn't tend to result in anyone’s "rehabilitation." If anything, it further traumatizes and marginalizes victims, transforming their pain into rage that will in turn victimize others. And why are none of them speaking out about state violence - who speaks for the victims of the state?

We need to reframe this whole "victim-perpetrator" analysis of crime to embrace the complexities of oppression, exploitation, racism, misogyny, classism, and other manifestations of fear and of hate as we try to identify the real crimes and criminals in our social landscapes. At present, we're putting victims in prison with their perpetrators, knowing full well that a certain number of them – particularly the most effeminate and vulnerable among the men - will be raped, beaten, and even killed...yes, misogyny kills men, too. If every judge was required to calculate the brutality with which some of the people they sentence to prison will be greeted, or the likelihood that they’ll develop a terminal illness and die there for having shoplifted, perhaps they would think twice about what they consider “just” punishment for violating norms that the privileged few have written into their laws. Maybe they would then elevate their duty to protect the innocent over their satisfaction with punishing who they think is “guilty.” They all need to spend a few days in prison without their robes on before they hand down another sentence like Marcia’s.

When liberation movements try to appeal to the mainstream, these are the first folks to get cut out of the deals - bottom line, even the Left doesn't like deviants who might make them "look bad". Emboldened by mainstream "allies" who are appalled by injustice, revel in the glory of rescuing the downtrodden, and enjoy hearing the sounds of their own protests, these sex workers are some of the most courageous fighters we have, and deserve respect. Once we distance ourselves from their red dresses and umbrellas, however – because we think they’re too in-your-face about it, or that their resistance doesn’t matter to anyone else - we isolate them and make it clear that no one will rise to their defense - or even notice if they're attacked. We are the ones who permit violence – we could stop a lot of it too. Instead we turn away, and let the full force of state and social repression come down on them.

We did that to our revolutionaries a generation ago – they are now our elders, and we have left them to die in prison. Our comrades with SWOP around the world face being targeted, beaten, arrested, imprisoned and killed for demanding that they be treated with respect and dignity, and only their fellow sex workers and a few good souls will honor them and remember their names - much less record their own names and faces publicly beside them in opposition to their treatment. That’s a sad commentary for a liberation movement to leave behind. I think we can expect to see folks from Puente the next time around, though – it seems they didn’t get the word in time to support us (that would be my responsibility – I guess I didn’t confirm with anyone there), but when we ran into a couple of their activists downtown after the demo, they were with us all the way. We’ll be counting on that – and they know we’re there with them, too.

I think the anarchists understand the phenomenon of the Left’s rejection and abandonment better than anyone because they've been hung out to dry a few times - which is why they are such reliable comrades to those of us whom even the progressives reject when the going gets tough. Women as “victims” are useful tools to garner sympathy for a movement or cause of any kind, left or right: our cries galvanize our men to come to our rescue, while the outrage that our suffering elicits prompts other women to assert their own critique. But when women who have been victimized (as well as gay and transgendered people among us) take up arms and lead the charge - especially prostitutes, who represent the secrets and sinful pleasures of so many - we defy progressive norms, too. We fail to be appropriately ashamed and vulnerable, which must emasculate some of the men who would otherwise come to our aid, and appears to threaten some of the women.

Along those lines, I think that the biggest challenge the Sex Workers Outreach Project posed to the community in Phoenix was to the progressives, not to Ryan. He conducted himself in perfect harmony with his title, position, and career trajectory. He consulted on Iraqi prisons, so even a gesture from him would carry more water with me than a gesture from the Left – I can guess what that gesture will be when you’re all done reading this, and I don’t think it will be an embrace. There certainly should be no confusion as to why so many of Ryan’s employees ignored Marcia as she called for help last May, anyway. He doesn't need to listen to what a bunch of whores have to say to him about the law, his leadership, or his prisons - especially not the ones who have behaved so badly as to become his prisoner. He doesn't even have to acknowledge our voice or presence except to do head counts - he can just pretend that we’re invisible and our objections to mistreatment are irrelevant; from there it's remarkable who follows his lead – everyone from the front-line guards to the Phoenix New Times.

A common enemy and collective strategy to defeat it doesn't necessarily make allies or friends, of course, and doesn’t substitute for cross-movement organizing. Not that I’m a great organizer, personally. The folks I’ve seen bridge the gaps most between groups are actually the anarchists (who comprise a large part of the anti-war movement, and wear a multitude of colors) – and they aren’t organizing, per se - they’re being. That’s kind of how I want to be. I don’t know enough yet about anarchy to declare it as my own political creed, but the anarchists here support liberation movements without much prejudice. Whether they're explicitly invited to or not, if they hear about an action against state oppression, they’re on it with their own artistic flair. That’s their tradition. As expected, Friday they were there.

In doing as they have, anarchists have built extensive networks across communities of resistance and can be counted on to vehemently and persistently, individually and collectively, register their opposition to racism, sexism, state violence, fascism, imperialism, war, exploitation of labor, environmental degradation, and just about every other evil thing perpetrated by the state, corporations and individuals in power on this planet. They’ve never forgotten about those we allowed to be taken prisoner, either – whole the rest of the left still clung to Clinton, they were all but abandoned. We should all be grateful to our anarchists for saying and doing all the things that the rest of us are afraid to, but that cannot be left untouched if we are to get anywhere. We may express our shock at anarchists’ brashness and lack of proper respect for authority (thank god for their example, frankly), but we’d all be toast without them; they put themselves between us and violence all the time, yet we are so quick to discount or disparage them as not being “realistic” in their actions or their vision. I happen to think they’re among the few people here with a real clue, and I’m glad someone has their eye on a better future than the rest of us seem willing to settle for.

With that I should stop offending everyone that isn’t an anarchist or criminal and put up my pictures – this is probably a sufficient drubbing for my friends on both the Left and the Right, assuming I have any remaining who will speak to me now.

Those of you who missed the SWOP letter to ADC Director Ryan, by the way, it’s not too late to catch up - read it and take notes - this begins here, it doesn’t end here. They told the truth, which has a lot of power no matter how much people try to render it invisible. They really gave us a lot to build on, and I’m not all that hostile once I settle down again - folks are welcome to drop in any time and tell me what they think. Just keep in mind that I’m much more the agitator than the organizer these days, so don’t expect diplomacy from me. I’ve lost my patience and temper with age, so if you have some ideas about how to do this better, get to work, because we could use a little more help out here. We aren’t exactly the most popular cause in town to begin with (unless we’re dead or not resisting), and I’ve probably just set myself up to be hit from all sides now, so if you don’t step up or get out of the way you’ll probably get hit by cross-fire.

You know how to find me.

Thanks again to all who showed up to support us – I knew I could at least count on the anarchists, my union organizing roomies, and Food-Not-Bombers to be there; they really haven’t missed a beat this whole time.

And of course, thanks to my partner in crime, Linda, who has gone out on a limb to make sure real justice is finally established here.

I think we’re all in for a long, hard ride if we’re going to make that happen.

From the Family of Marcia Powell: End the Violence.

I missed this first event on Thursday, though the photos below are from the art display there. 
I made it to the second, for which I have more text below.  To close observers, yes, I backdated this and tucked in under the other Marcia Powell post - just trying to keep things relatively chronological. I also do that when I want to keep a particular post at the top of the page for a few days...

December 17, 2009 – Tucson, Arizona:

 El Presidio Park, 160 West Alameda Street, Tucson, AZ.   
Performance art/art installation: 
  “No Human Involved (NHI).”

For many years, the term “NHI” was routinely used to designate murdered prostitutes on police homicide reports.  The central image for the art installation will be a physical representation of the Perryville Prison which will honor the Marcia Powell tragedy;  a performance piece/die-in and live  music are also scheduled.

"Marcia Powell was a prisoner of the State of Arizona. On May 19, 2009 she was locked in an outdoor cage with n shade or water, and cried for four hours in 107 degree heat. She begged for water. By the time someone noticed she was unresponsive, lying in her own feces, with 2nd degree burns from the sun. She reached the hospital in cardiac arrest. Her core body temperature was 108 degrees. The Director of the Department of Corrections had her life support removed. She died sometime soonafter. Her death was declared an "accident."

"For years official law enforcement homicide reports had three designations for murder victims. Male. Female. NHI ("No Human Involved"). That last designation was commonly used for murdered prostitutes."


"Marcia Powell was serving 27 months for prostitution. In Arizona there is a mandatory minimum for prostitution. 

1st time: 15 days. 
2nd time: 30 days.
3rd time: 180 days...

For Marcia Powell, it was a death sentence."

El Tiradito Shrine, 354 South Main Avenue, Tucson, AZ   
“Memorial Ritual and Vigil”

After the art display and die in in the park, everyone made their way to the  --------, where we performed a ritual to remember and honor sex workers victimized by violence. As soon as we had all gathered, we received carnations on which were tied the names of the dead. The candles on the alter we had encircled were lit, and the reading of the list of names began. As each one was called, we placed their flower gently upon the alter, now dripping with white wax. Flickering candlelight revealed anguish and grief in the solemn faces around me, as well as tears, a few from my own cheek. 

These women - and men and transgendered persons as well - know who their fallen comrades are by name and cause of death, and take considerable risk each year when they gather openly to pay tribute them and try to raise public awareness.  Not all sex work is criminal, of course, so their membership in SWOP isn't any kind of confession - but it sure sets them up to be scrutinized. 

Seeing what transpired in Tucson Thursday night, though, I understand why they do it - take this kind of risk. Plenty of sex workers won't - many aren't in a position where they can afford to safely, because of so many other vulnerabilities. Others feel safe enough and don't wan tot rock the boat. But these folks are at a point in their lives and political development where they can't afford not to make this struggle visible. 

Here, by the way, is where I found the family of Marcia Powell - among the Sex Workers Outreach Project and their allies. She was their sister all along - they've been fighting for her rights, too. The location of her ashes are now irrelevant: she has been claimed and will always be remembered as one of their own.

SWOP on Thom Hartmann

Slipping this on e under the post on the rally - this a the link to the December 18 Thom  Hartmann radio show that covered the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, interviewing one of the organizers right before the rally Friday. I just can't figure out how to listen to it once I get there.

7th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Thom is joined by Deevi Danes, Project Manager with Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), sex worker for over ten years and advocates for prisoners and sex worker rights, There is a rally today to remember Marcia Powell, a sex worker who died after being left in an uncovered outdoor cage in 107-degree heat at Arizona's Perryville women's prison.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sex Workers' Resistance in Phoenix

Sorry to leave folks hanging all weekend – can’t believe it’s Sunday already. I was sick as a dog yesterday, but I'll have a report on the demonstration Friday sometime tonight (or in the wee morning hours – I really need to stop and crash awhile). It's more observation and analysis than a report, really, which is why it’s taking so long. This stuff is pretty loaded, and I don't want to be too reckless with it. Sometimes I need to stop and take a breath (or a nap) before speaking, or it gets me into trouble.

In the meantime, check out Vikki Law's site on women's resistance in prison:  Resistance Behind Bars. There's a lot there that explains why Marcia Powell was put in a cage in the first place, why she was ignored as she lay dying, why no coverage was given the three women who protested afterwards by setting their mattresses on fire, and why most of my attempts to communicate with Director Ryan and his staff these past few months have gone unanswered. It also accounts for why so little recognition has been given by the Left in Phoenix (which is anywhere this side of the far right, in this state) to the complex dynamics that perpetuate domestic, occupational, and state violence against sex workers, the SWOP members’ courageous acts of defiance, the artistic expressions of grief and rage and hope that have emerged from this on-going tragedy, and the insistence on honoring all human rights that the Sex Workers' Outreach Project brought to this discussion.

Back again later – if you’re on the East Coast, don’t wait up. I should be done by morning.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

Protest Rally Today at AZ Dept of Corrections.

Last night in Tucson was extraordinary. What a bunch of amazing people. I'll report more later.

Please stand  with us for human rights today, in remembrance of Marcia Powell, 
and in solidarity with sex workers and prisoners of the state...

Rally at Arizona Department of Corrections HQ. 
High Noon.
Friday, December 18, 2009. 

Bring red umbrellas and/or single red carnations.


Greetings of Solidarity from Amsterdam

December 18, 2009. Rally at Arizona Department of Corrections, 1601 W. Jefferson St. Phoenix. High Noon.
From our Amsterdam correspondent

The Friends of Marcia Powell in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, shared their solidarity for Marcia and all others who suffer in prisons under dehumanizing and potentially fatal conditions with the Women's Bookshop Xantippe, who kindly placed our leaflet in their window.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Sex Worker Remembrance List

December 17, 2009. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
December 18, 2009. Rally at Arizona Department of Corrections, 
1601 W. Jefferson St. Phoenix. 
High Noon.

From SWOP-Tucson:  

Pearce Alert: Partying with Tea.

December 17, 2009. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

December 18, 2009. Rally at Arizona Department of Corrections, 
1601 W. Jefferson St. Phoenix. 
High Noon.

 Is it any wonder his constituency is a bunch of tea partiers? Those people will be remembered by history as the quintessential selfish, spoiled Americans. We cannot let them define this state or our generation. All they seem to care about is what's "theirs" - and making sure that if we mess with it (the balance of power, that is), then we get ours. 

Anyway, just thought folks would want to know this was happening, in case you're a big fan of his, he's begging for money (Shh!!! I'm still on their supporter email list. Has everyone else signed up, yet, too?).

I will be speaking tonight at the The Mesa Red Mountain Tea Group tonight.

Thursday, Dec. 17, 7 pm – 8:30 pm,
at the Red Mountain Multigenerational Center,
west room #3, 7550 E. Adobe
in southeast Mesa, 85207.

I hope to see you there.


No Human Involved?

Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers - what's so hard about that to get on board with? I was hoping our progressive media, at least, would be more on top of it. No sign yet that they are, so we protested. We hope they decide to look further into the story soon. They did a good job telling part of the story about what happened to Marcia - we really hope they decide to help tell the rest.

Tomorrow (December 18, 12 Noon) the women of the Sex Workers Outreach Project are rallying at the AZ Department of Corrections. A lot of people here did a lot of hand-wringing about Marcia Powell when she died, and again when that horrible report detailing her torment came out - but that was it. At least these women are trying to hold the state accountable for how women and prisoners can be so routinely and thoroughly dehumanized - treated by some guards as sources of entertainment when they suffer. 

Those folks in the community who really care about what's happening to both the men and women in prison should come to the rally and connect with us. There are many different ways to be activists - not everyone has to be like an anarchist.

As for the New Times, we hope they at least read the stuff we sent them, and call if they have questions. It would be swell if they could slip in an honorable mention of the significance of this day, and give info for the planned protest for tomorrow. We're asking allies to bring red umbrellas and/or red carnations, and/or wear red, to show solidarity.

Hope to see New Times at the ADC actually covering the event - it seems to be what you do best, and we didn't think anyone but you would care, much less get it. If you get it, then you owe it to the rest of us to fill us in.  A lot of lives are on the line.


Fight Terror: End Violence Against Sex Workers.

December 17, 2009. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

December 18, 2009. Rally at Arizona Department of Corrections, 
1601 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix. 
High Noon.

A very good article from last year's International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, explaining the history of the event... from On the Issues (progressive women's mag):

On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008 Stopping the Terror: A Day to End Violence Against Prostitutes

by Annie Sprinkle

In 2003 “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgeway confessed to having strangled ninety women to death and having “sex” with their dead bodies.

He stated, “I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

Sadly, some Seattle area prostitutes, their boyfriends or pimps, knew the Green River Killer was Gary Ridgeway for years. But they were either afraid to come forward for fear of being arrested themselves, or when they did come forward the police didn’t believe them over the “upstanding family man” Gary Ridageway. It seemed as though the police weren’t working very hard to find the Green River Killer. If the victims had been teachers, nurses or secretaries or other women, I suspect--as Ridgeway did-- that the killer would have been caught much sooner. Ridgeway remained at large for twenty years.

From working as a prostitute myself for two decades I know that violent crimes against sex workers often go unreported, unaddressed and unpunished. There are people who really don’t care when prostitutes are victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped and murdered.  They will say:

“They got what they deserved.”
“They were trash.”
“They asked for it”
“What do they expect?”
“The world is better off without those whores.”

No matter how people feel about sex workers and the politics surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods, communities and our families and always will be. Sex workers are women, trans people and men of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes and backgrounds who are working in the sex industry for a wide range of reasons.  Many of us are out and proud, and spend a lot of time trying to explain to the public that we freely choose our work and we are not “victims.” But the truth is, some of us have been, or will become, real victims of rape, robbery and horrendous crimes.

When Ridgeway got a plea bargain in 2003, he received a life sentence in exchange for revealing where his victims’ bodies were thrown or buried. As the names of the (mostly 17- to 19-year old) victims, were disclosed, I felt a need to remember and honor them.  I cared, and I knew other people cared, too.

So I contacted Robyn Few, the founder of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) based in San Francisco and we made December 17th as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.  We invited people everywhere to conduct memorials and vigils in their countries and cities. Robyn co-produced an open-mike vigil on the lawn of San Francisco’s City Hall.

Since 2003, each year hundreds of people in dozens of cities around the world have participated in this day to end violence-- from Montreal where people marched with red umbrellas, to protests against police brutality in Hong Kong, a candlelight vigil in Vancouver, a memorial ritual in Sydney, a dance to overcome pain and trauma in East Godavery, India. More events are planned for 2008, the sixth year of the event.

The concept for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is simple.  Anyone can choose a place and time to gather, invite others to gather and share their stories, writings, thoughts, poems, and memories of victims, related news and performances.  Or people can do something personal, alone at home, such as lighting a candle or taking a ritual memorial bath.  We encourage discussions among friends, by email, on blogs. People are encouraged to list their events at the SWOP website so others can attend them, and to share the power of their actions. People can also participate by making a donation to a group that helps sex workers by teaching them about dangers and how to best survive. Two such non-profits are St. James Infirmary and AIM Healthcare. (Editor’s Note: Read more about the St. James Infirmary in this article in On The Issues

This December 17, 2008 many sex workers will converge in Washington, D.C. on for a National March for Sex Worker Rights where marchers “will take a stand for justice, and the freedom to do sex work safely. We are calling for an end to unjust laws, policing, the shaming and stigma that oppress our communities and make us targets for violence.” People are encouraged to join SWOP and other activists in Washington and to endorse this march.

Every year when I create or attend a gathering on December 17, it is a deeply moving experience. I take some moments to feel grateful that I worked as a prostitute for so many years and came out alive.  I remember those who didn’t survive and I fear for those who won't unless real changes are made -- namely safer working conditions and the same police protection other citizens get without recrimination.

November 18, 2008

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tales of the Freewayblogger!

Here they are! My friend in Amsterdam found this!

Freewayblogger - you're so awesome - your my inspiration - get ahold of me in Phoenix!!! (just look out for who might be following me - and tracking the IPs of visitors to my blogs.) - Prison Abolitionist.

Arizona Legislature Special Session tomorrow.

Just in from the AZ Capitol Times blog. What better day than the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers for a new special session to begin? That means they'll all be at the Capitol that day...

Brewer makes official call for 5th special session

By Jim Small -

Published: December 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

to address the continuing budget crisis will begin Thursday morning, but the votes to approve a package of bills that include a temporary sales tax increase don’t appear to be in line.

Legislative Republicans and Democrats haven’t agreed on much this year, but both are puzzled by Gov. Jan Brewer’s proclamation earlier today that the two parties have set aside their differences and hashed out a deal that would allow a sales-tax increase she favors to be sent to the ballot in March.

“(The) House does not have the votes at this time (and) nothing has changed since yesterday when we told (Brewer) the same thing. We continue to talk to members,” House Speaker Kirk Adams told Arizona Capitol Times.

“I don’t know why she is saying that. We’ve been very upfront and clear about it. As of now, we do not have the votes.”

Earlier today, media outlets reported Brewer was saying she had been assured by Adams and Senate President Bob Burns that they have secured the necessary Democratic votes to send the temporary one-cent sales tax hike to the ballot.

But that came as news to Democratic leaders.

“She hasn’t asked for a single (vote). We haven’t gotten a call,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema. “She hasn’t talked to anybody.”

She added that neither Brewer nor GOP leaders have agreed to negotiate terms for a bipartisan agreement.
The special session will be the fifth of the year, and the fourth to deal with budget problems. The Arizona Constitution limits what lawmakers can do in a special session to only those thing the governor identifies in the call.

The call issued today includes: adjustments to the current year’s budget; a ballot referral to let voters decide the fate of a temporary sales tax increase; and a ballot referral to temporarily suspend a constitutional provision that prevents lawmakers from cutting voter-approved spending.

Monday, December 14, 2009

SWOP-USA letter to ADC Director Ryan.

First: the protest rally information:

­­ December 17th logo­­

What: Protest Rally: Marcia Powell's death, AZ Department of Corrections.

When: Friday December 18th, 2009 NOON

Where:  AZ Department of Corrections
             1601 West Jefferson St.
             Phoenix, AZ 85007

Sex Workers and allies are coming together in front of the AZ Department of Corrections on December 18th, as part of International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, an annual event to call attention to violence committed against sex workers all over the globe.  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.

You are invited to join us in Tucson, Arizona on December 17, 2009 (performance art/public installation and a candelight vigil) and in Phoenix, Arizona on December 18, 2009 (protest rally on the steps of the Arizona Department of Corrections).

Bring red umbrellas, to stand in solidarity! Signs are welcome.

Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights!

For more information: visit: or call 877-776-2004 x 2.


Open Letter from the Sex Workers Outreach Project and allies to Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections. Posted and delivered December 11, 2009.
December 17th is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This event was created by Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA), a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.
In 2009, sex workers from around the globe met gruesome deaths and endured unspeakable violence.  Some died at the hands of a solitary perpetrator; others were victims of serial “prostitute killers.”  While some of these horrific stories received international media attention (Boston, Grand Rapids, Albuquerque, Tijuana, Hong Kong, Moscow, Great Britain, Cape Town, New Zealand), other cases received little more than a perfunctory investigation.  Many cases remain unsolved, sometimes forever.

Today we are here for Marcia Powell, who was incarcerated for solicitation of oral sex and sentenced to over two years in prison - despite being found so mentally impaired at the time of sentencing that she had just been appointed a legal guardian. On May 19, 2009, after informing prison staff that she was suicidal, Marcia was placed in an uncovered outdoor cage at Arizona's Perryville prison for women, where she would presumably be "observed" until she was transferred to a more appropriate location. Reportedly, that's what they did with women who caused problems there: they put them in a cage and "waited them out". The same cages were used for "recreation" and as waiting rooms for those needing medical attention: the prisons filled up so cages were erected in the yards to add more space. Putting someone in there was routine; women were left in there all the time beyond policy, so no one thought much about Marcia complaining - except the other prisoners. Four hours later - after her pleas for water were ignored or mocked by guard after guard - she was found, collapsed, in 107-degree heat, and died on May 20th in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Marcia was the victim of dual forms of injustice, as a sex worker and as a prisoner.  Sex Workers Outreach Project and other organizations are fundamentally opposed to criminalization of sex worki. The prohibition of this work results in selective prosecution that puts some of the most vulnerable in our society at the mercy of a system that robs them of their basic respect and dignity. For decades efforts to curb sex worki have not only failed to reduce incidences of prostitutioni, but they have corrupted our justice system resulting in selective enforcement, racial profiling and inhumane treatment of those who don't have the financial resources to fight back. Violence against sex workers is epidemic and rarely taken seriously. The criminalization of prostitutioni legitimizes this abuse so that sex workers are the targets of violent crime with little recourse. Marcia was referred to - after her death - as a "biological serial killer" in an employee blog (The Lumley Vampire). That suggests that her degraded social status as a "criminalized" sex worker had a considerable effect on the way she was treated at the hands of ADC staff the day she was left to die. It also raises the question of her abuse being the result of bias against her for a disability she may have also had.

Women prisoners are also the victims of an unjust system, facing extreme medical neglect, sexual harassment and abuse. The women's prison population in the United States has grown 800% in the past three decades, twice the rate of the male prison population. 2/3 of women in prison were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. (Institute on Women and Criminal Justice). As the death of Marcia Powell in the care of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) shows, prison sentences can include the most extreme form of neglect and abuse.

We are here for Marcia and other prisoners, and sex workers, as we call for respect for human rights. As a result of an internal investigation, 16 people were disciplined.  An investigation is currently underway to determine whether or not criminal charges should be filed in her death.

"It's not enough to change a few people and policies. There is a culture embedded in the ADC that is pervasive throughout the prison system that reflects a disregard for the fundamental human rights of prisoners. There are exceptions to that, and the prisoners know who they are," says Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch.

No critical analysis of the institutional culture that contributed to this abuse has been made public, but that analysis is essential to ending state violence.

In response to the death of Marcia Powell while in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections, we expect the following:

1. The Arizona Department of Corrections has an influential role in shaping policy. We ask that leadership be provided by the ADC in exploring models of restorative justice and addressing strategies such as criminal code and sentencing reform, early release programs for low-risk prisoners, community support through harm reduction, and re-entry programs to stop the revolving door syndrome that traps so many people.

2. An analysis of violence against sex workers (both inside and outside the Arizona prison system) should be conducted and a plan should be developed for reducing violence against sex workers in Arizona.

- An analysis of violence against sex workers (including male and transgendered workers) should include victimization while in state custody, police brutality, and domestic and occupational violence.

- Efforts to reform the prisons must go deeper than investigations into individual responsibility for Marcia's Powell's death. An analysis of how the culture of the correctional system employees/officers contributes to violence against prisoners is crucial.

3. A community-organized process for oversight in the prisons should be recognized which includes the voices of prisoners and their families.

4. Grievance policies should be reviewed and strengthened.

5. Cages should never be used to hold prisoners or to address overcrowding, which is the current practice.  Overcrowding must be addressed through reducing incarceration and recidivism rates.

6. Allocate sufficient resources to address the special needs of prisoners with psychiatric and physical disabilities, including education about complications of medications.

7. May 20th should be observed each year in memory of Marcia Powell and other prisoners who died in state custody.  On that day ADC should prepare a report addressed to prisoners, families and community-based oversight groups on human rights violations that have occurred over the past year and actions ADC has taken in response. The report should also include the Department's plan for the upcoming year to improve respect for human rights.

Sex workers around the United States are shocked to see this criminalization result in a death sentence for a prostitutioni crime. This is one of many cases in which we observe conditions that are abusive, degrading and dangerous ranging from rape and other violence, to extreme medical neglect. These conditions violate the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) should be applied to all individuals.

In the wealthiest country in the world, where taxpayers spend billions on the prison system, it is horrific that this justice system has led to a death sentence for someone arrested for prostitutioni.  It's been over 60 years since the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) has been adopted. The Arizona Department of Corrections has been woefully negligent, in following the human rights protocol, which Eleanor Roosevelt, along with so many others, have developed. In less than a decade we've almost doubled the amount spent on our prisons in Arizona, and the Arizona Department of Corrections fails even the most basic requirement, to keep prisoners safe.

We ask that the Arizona Department of Corrections look at the 30 articles in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and review the treatment of individuals in the prison system in the light of these principles. Every ADC employee/correctional officer should have training in human and prisoners' rights principles and practices. ADC should provide leadership that demonstrates a respect for human rights.

We look forward to the day when prisons are no longer used to address our most pressing social problems. As social justice activists we challenge the discrimination that leads to criminalization and incarcerations. We promote human rights for all, as well as specific law reform. Recently enacted by the Arizona legislature, felony charges should be rescinded for prostitutioni charges. Although the ADC does not have jurisdiction over many aspects of these injustices, ADC does have great deal of influence in many of these matters and ADC is also directly responsible for how prisoners are treated within this system. Sex Worker Outreach Project, in tandem with Arizona Prison Watch and Friends of Marcia Powell expects that the ADC establish real justice in the death of Marcia Powell.


Tara Sawyer
Board Chair
Sex Workers Outreach Project

Peggy Plews
Arizona Prison Watch
Friends of Marcia Powell

Penelope Saunders
Best Practices Policy Project

Carol Leigh

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