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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Courtney's Scar: Deeper than we will ever know.

I gave The Phoenix New Times a hard time in December over their treatment of sex workers, but I have to tell you, Stephen Lemons has been writing on Courtney's innocence for several years now, taking an unpopular position, considering how Thomas goes after resistance... thank you Stephen.

We need to fix this injustice before anyone else changes office this year. We need to get Courtney home to her family.

How promptly and responsibly these wrongful convictions in Arizona are handled should have direct bearing on who ends up getting elected and who doesn't.

Courtney's unjust incarceration and vulnerability to assault strike me as a law enforcement emergency, and Courtney and her daughter have been separated far too long already...I think the Maricopa County Attorney's office could spring her within a week if they really wanted (that's the link to their "comment" page).

He's supposed to be a powerful man, right?

Hang in there, Courtney and Camille.

Above: "Letter From the Son of Dorothy Gaines": a child's plea to a judge to not send his mother off to prison. It's tragic how many judges do so anyway - despite begging children, dying loved ones, even dying prisoners...they even ignore these kids when evidence of their parents' innocence arises. Ego and politics trumps what really matters in this state, once again.

Courtney Bisbee Is Assaulted in Prison...
Stephen Lemons / Phoenix New Times
March 18, 2010


A trip to Goodyear's Perryville Prison can be a deceiving experience. On any given Sunday, family members visit moms, sisters, and daughters warehoused at Perryville. The female convicts in their orange jumpsuits seem happy for the respite from serving their time, short-lived though it may be.

Even Courtney Bisbee, who is doing 11 years on bogus child-molestation charges detailed in my October 2008 New Times cover story "Nursing Injustice," seems pleasant and untroubled at times, even though she's still fighting to clear her name.

In 2006, Bisbee, then a school nurse, was convicted in a bench trial of touching 13-year-old Jon Valles inappropriately. The case of he said/she said was heard by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Warren Granville.

Granville believed Bisbee's accuser. But Jon's brother Nik Valles — a key prosecution witness — has since recanted his testimony, saying his mother put Jon up to lie on the stand.

Still, despite a petition for post-conviction relief, which documented many of the problems of the case and introduced new evidence arguing for Bisbee's innocence, Granville refused to reverse his finding of guilt. Bisbee's challenging his ruling before the Court of Appeals, asking for a new hearing, possibly a new trial.

The appeals court probably will rule on Bisbee's challenge later this year. Meanwhile, Bisbee waits and fights in court to have a relationship with her daughter, Taylor Lee, who lives with her father and has had no contact with her imprisoned mother or her maternal grandparents for more than four years now.

If Taylor Lee ever sees her mother again, Bisbee will look different. Not only will she be older, there may well be a 2½-inch scar running from her scalp to her left eyebrow.

The gash, which is on the mend, went all the way to her skull, severing muscle and causing nerve damage. Bisbee suffered it March 1, as she was putting away equipment from an aerobics class she teaches at Perryville.

Another inmate, whom Bisbee had not dealt with before, called her from behind. Bisbee turned and was immediately punched in the face. Bisbee's assailant then grabbed her and flung her off her feet and into a metal door, opening up a gaping head wound. Bisbee was treated with 11 stitches at a hospital.

Two weeks later, when I visited her at Perryville, Bisbee's eye was still bruised and swollen, and the head wound was shockingly thick.

"They were big stitches, not the little kind," Bisbee said, pulling back a lock of hair to show me. Bisbee explained that the doctors wanted room for the wound to drain.

Though she was given painkillers at the hospital and was prescribed more, she says she's received none in prison. The left side of her scalp is still numb from the injury, she says, and she has painful headaches. Her left eye is also sensitive to light, and her eyesight has not fully recovered.

But she's more concerned about receiving the prescribed ointment Mederma, which is supposed to lessen scarring. This, too, prison authorities have withheld, though Bisbee's parents are willing to pay for it.

She playfully chastises her mother, Camille Tilley, for referring to the wound as a "Frankenstein scar" in an e-mail to Bisbee's hundreds of supporters. The wound might fit the description if Bisbee's bangs didn't hide it.

Fortunately, the attack on Bisbee was carried out in plain view of a Perryville guard, who immediately arrested the other inmate.

Why was she attacked? The scuttlebutt is that her assailant wanted to be written up and transferred to a high-security yard, where the assailant's girlfriend was assigned.

Bisbee says she gets along with most of the other inmates but says there is a small group whose members might think badly of her because she maintains her innocence.

"I don't fit in," she told me. "It's like I have one foot in this world, and one foot in the outside world."

Bisbee contends she's "feisty" and can tough out the situation. She doesn't have much choice.

The recent attack should light a fire under those who believe she's innocent and, at the very least, deserves a new trial. Until she's released, all those concerned for justice in her case can only hope for her safety.

Prisoner of the War on Drugs: Letter to the President

This was in the Huffington Post, originally published last month (just now discovered by me). Still topical and well-articulated. We need to hear and support these voices more often.

This grandmother, by the way, appears to still be in prison.

We need to get these people home.

This would be a good model letter to send friends and family in prison,
by the way, for them to appeal their sentencing. Just cut and paste it, so it doesn't look printed up from a website (some prisons have rules about website material, to keep prisoners out of trouble) - just put it in a word doc like an essay - I think that's totally legitimate.

Anyone who does write a letter like this to a judge, the governor, a legislator (particularly Cecil Ash's House Study Committee on Sentencing), or Obama, we'd love a copy to publish - your letter in turn emboldens other prisoners and family members to write in. That's how we begin to build critical mass.

- Peggy


A Letter from Behind Bars on President's Day

Hamedah Hasan
Posted: February 15, 2010 08:41 AM

As we celebrate President's Day, one prisoner asks President Obama to exercise his clemency power to commute the remaining 10 years of her 27-year sentence, which she received for a first time, non-violent drug offense. Hamedah Hasan, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a formal commutation petition today and included a letter addressed directly to President Obama. Below is a condensed version of her letter, adapted especially for Huffington Post. To read Hamedah's full letter and learn more about her story and the President's unique power to send her home, click here.

Dear Mr. President,

Today is President's Day. As the President of the United States, you have the unique and absolute power to commute the sentence of any federal prisoner. That means you could send me home today, and that is what I am asking you to do.

From everything I have observed, you are a compassionate and just man. I pray that if you learn of the story behind my sentence, you will be moved to exercise your clemency power to give me a second chance.

I am a mother and grandmother serving my 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first time, nonviolent crack cocaine offense. I never used or sold drugs, but I was convicted under conspiracy laws for participating in a drug organization by running errands and wiring money. Had I been convicted of a powder cocaine offense, I would be home with my three daughters and two grandchildren by now. I have had a lot of time to think about where I went wrong, and I genuinely take full responsibility for my actions. But I hope you will see that over 16 years in prison is enough time for me to pay my debt to society.

When I was 21 years old, I found myself in a horridly abusive relationship with a man in Portland, Oregon, who intimidated, cursed, slapped, punched and kicked me. I had my first child, Kasaundra, when I was 16 years old, and this man was the father to my second child, Ayesha. Even though my self-esteem at this point in my life was virtually nonexistent, in my heart I knew that this life wasn't what I wanted for myself or -- most importantly -- for my children.

The only option I could see was to go live with my cousin, Ahad, in Omaha, Nebraska. Ahad set me up with a safe place to live, and most importantly, it was hundreds of miles away from my violent ex-boyfriend. Ahad recently wrote a letter in support of my commutation petition. In it, he accurately summed up the situation:

Her boyfriend was a gang member and his main goal in life was to be the best gang member he could be. He beat Hamedah all the time and threatened to kill her. She could not hide from him in Portland - he knew where everybody lived. He drank a lot and used drugs. It was not a good environment for Hamedah to raise her kids in, and it wasn't safe for Hamedah either. So she came to me in Omaha.

The thing is, Ahad was dealing crack cocaine. Although I never used drugs myself, it wasn't long before he asked me to run various errands and to transfer some money. He never held a gun to my head; I knew what I was doing, and I regret my poor decisions during this period of my life more than anything else. At the time, I felt out of options, and I believed that I needed to perform these tasks to show my gratitude for Ahad's help in escaping my abusive relationship.

After less than two years, I decided to move back to my hometown in order to get away from the drug operation. I wanted my girls to grow up with their mother earning an honest living and leading by example. I enrolled in a welfare-to-work program and was getting back on my feet.

But soon after I returned home, I was arrested, indicted and convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine from my time in Omaha with Ahad. I was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 27 years), based on the total quantity of drugs involved in the operation. I gave birth to Kamyra, my youngest child, in prison. That was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

During my more than 16 years of incarceration, I have taken long, hard looks at myself. I've done everything in my power to redeem myself and to demonstrate through deeds that upon release, I will be a community asset, not a community liability.

If you commute my sentence, I could have 10 years back on my life. Ten more years to make up for being so far apart from my daughters. Ten more years to realize my dream of starting a nonprofit dedicated to providing community services for the children of incarcerated parents. Ten more years to make a real, positive difference in the world.

I hope you will give me that chance. You have said you believe the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity should be eliminated. I know Congress is considering legislation to equalize the federal sentences. You should understand, however, that none of the legislation being considered would apply retroactively to me.

As much as I am cheering -- even from behind prison bars -- for a reform in the federal laws, I don't want to fall through the cracks. I still have a lot of living, mothering and giving to do.

I would not be writing to you today unless I had no other option. I have appealed my case to the highest courts in the land, and you, and you alone, Mr. President, can send me home by exercising your executive clemency power to commute my sentence.


Hamedah Hasan

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hey Pearce: SB1097 is Child Abuse.

This is absolutely criminal, what Russ Pearce has been doing to this state. THIS is child abuse. We need a massive direct action/counter-demonstration at the Capitol to stop this corrupt business from proceeding one of these days. How can people NOT stop everything they're doing and look at these men for the frauds they are? They might as well be running around in pink boxers, given what they're trying to sell us.

The women who vote party lines have no excuse for going along. We expect them to be smarter and tougher than the men, actually. Brutal takes neither brains nor perseverance - just willingness to use violence or the threat of it.

The legislation that's come out of the Capitol in Phoenix this past year is nothing less than racist, classist, and brutal - no one is hurting from these budget cuts but those whose voices are diminished by your politics to begin with...those are the voices of The People. You politicians are making out just fine, as far as we can tell - at our expense.

Go tax yourselves, AZ LEGS. Pearce is going to take you right off a cliff if you don't listen to the people you keep hurting. You can't lock us all up at once. Not yet, anyway.



It's another Russell Pearce effort that will drive the future of Arizona into the ground but this time targeting school children. If this bill sounds familiar, a House version was heard last week.

Tomorrow, Monday, March 29th, the Senate Committee of the Whole will vote on SB1097 -- a bill that threatens to cut state funding from schools unless they report on children's immigration status.

Click Here to Take Action

SB1097 Schools; Data; Noncitizen Students
Sponsor: Senator Russell Pearce (R- 18)

This bill seeks to undermine a 1982 Supreme Court decision, Plyer v. Doe that clearly stated that the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of all children, regardless of their immigration status in the U.S., to K-12 education. HB2382 threatens to revoke state funding to schools if they do not report on the immigration status of the children at their schools. While the bill falls short of actually denying children access to education, the impact of the intimidation and threat to parents would result in children not being enrolled.

To view the bill's full text:


Patrocinadores principales: el senador Russell Pearce (R-18)

HB2382 exigiría el Departamento de Estado de Educación, los distritos escolares y las escuelas para recoger y compilar datos sobre el estatus de inmigración de los estudiantes. Se le podría requerir al departamento de Educación que produjera un informe que analiza los costos de proporcionar educación a los niños indocumentados. Cualquiera persona que proporcione un informe fraudulento sería culpable de un delito menor de Clase 1. Este proyecto de ley tiene por objeto intimidar a las familias inmigrantes para evitar que matriculen a sus hijos en la educación pública, un derecho que está garantizado para todos los residentes en los Estados Unidos, independientemente de su situación jurídica.

Please take 30 seconds to tell YOUR SENATOR to keep schools focused on education, not on legislators' hate-filled agendas targeting children!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wexford , Mississippi & Jamie Scott: Cruel and Unusual Health Care.

from the day of Blogging (March 25) for Jamie Scott at Mother Jones.
Thank you both for being in on this one:


Mother    Jones

Cruel and Unusual Health Care

How Mississippi prisoner Jamie Scott's life sentence could turn into a death sentence.
[15] 2011 Budget Presentation.pdf
[26] Board Parole.htm

Sorry for the Whacky Post below.

Hope everyone stays safe.

Liberate Republicans from the Right!

Look who's in town this AM. Guess who's going to meet them?




Phoenix Rally With
Sarah Palan and John McCain

Dobson High School
1501 West Guadalupe Road
Mesa, AZ 85202-7599

Where: Dobson High School 1501 West Guadalupe Road

When: this Saturday March 27, 2010

Time: We will arrive on the sidewalk in front of the school at

7 a.m. and stay until about 10 a.m.

(Doors open for the rally at 7:30 a.m and the rally takes place between 9 and 10 a.m)

The carpool from Phoenix to Mesa meets at 6:15 a.m. at the north end of the Bashas' Supermarket parking lot at the southeast corner of 16th Street and Glendale, Phoenix.


Please e-mail if you would like join this car pool.

Friday, March 26, 2010

BLACK WOMEN's Defense League: Press Conference Today.


PRESS CONFERENCE: Official "Kick Off" for

"The DIRECT ACTION National Campaign To

FRIDAY MARCH 26, 2010 12 noon

400 High St. JACKSON, MS

For more information e-mail:
Call The Black Women's Defense League @267-636-3802

Official and National Million Woman March & Universal Movements
Black Women's Defense League Unit
P.O. Box 53668
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scott Watch: They'd better stop messing with Mrs. Rasco's kids...

Celebrate the International Observation of the Anniversary of
the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade:


This is pretty extraordinary, what's going on at MDOC. Kind of makes me feel grateful for Arizona.

Keeping both Jamie and her family ignorant of her condition seems to be medical malpractice, with malicious intent (the intent of compromising a patient's welfare to protect the welfare of an institution's image - that being the image Wexford and the MDOC want to project...). I just don't buy their assessments: why else do all these outside doctors disagree with them?

The Kidney Foundation could make such a difference in the quality of care Jamie's getting and the access her family has to her and her medical staff, with just a little diplomacy.


Subject: Jamie Scott Rushed Back To Prison So Mother Could Not Visit Hospital

NOTE: If reading this before 10:00 a.m. EST or 9am CST on 3/25, please tune into; for a Scott Sisters update from Mrs. Rasco on the Rip Daniels "It's a New Day" ( c3cc4; show. Rip Daniels is a very dedicated supporter who starts each show off at 10 a.m. daily counting down how long Jamie and Gladys have been wrongfully locked down and tormented in that prison and will even discuss the case during some mornings on his program, so please check in as regularly as you can.

Mrs. Rasco and her entire family are in Mississippi to visit Jamie and Gladys as well as to participate in the 3/26 MWM/BWDL Press Conference scheduled for 12 noon in front of the Jackson, MS Capitol Bldg. at 400 High St. The organization is asking for letters
of support for their campaign by 12 midnight 3/25 to be sent or For more info call: 267-636-3802.

Jamie has been in the hospital since 3/15 with a very serious infection, severe weakness, extreme pain and swelling. Jamie stated that she was "kicked out" of the hospital on Tuesday to prevent Mrs. Rasco from coming in and asking questions, in fact an extra guard was placed there to make certain that Mrs. Rasco didn't come in there to see her. Jamie told Mrs. Rasco that she couldn't believe how her 4' tall momma caused so much worry among those prison officials!

She was abruptly moved to her old cell in the prison to await the visit with her mother and family to take place Wednesday for an hour, after which her family was to visit with Gladys for an hour. However, the Assistant Warden met them at the entrance and stated that some of the children weren't on the list to come in. After much wrangling and his personally searching the young men he permitted everyone to visit both women together BUT for one hour total, which actually ended up being less than an hour due to all of the wasted time spent being searched and with the Asst Warden on the phone rechecking names in the waiting area. The family watched in tears as Jamie climbed off of a bus and limped slowly and weakly to the visiting area and questioned staff as to why she wasn't given a wheelchair,to which they had no answer.

Jamie and Gladys grabbed onto each other and their family members for a very emotional reunion, especially for the children. Both women had lost quite a bit of weight, Gladys from extreme stress and depression and Jamie due to her serious illness. Jamie stated that she was told by the doctor that 6 catheter infections was much too much and that she never should have had so many temporary catheters, which blew out all of her veins where they were placed. She currently has a shunt in her groin which is extremely painful and must be surgically removed next week. She is scheduled to stay in her old cell until Friday, at which time she is told that she will be returned to the hospital.

Both Jamie and Gladys want all of their supporters to know that our activities are very greatly appreciated and that they want us to keep on! Mrs. Rasco and family are also very thankful and hopeful that together we can get those women released from this horrific
situation soon! If we keep pushing and use our creativity to call attention to this case, it will happen! If you write, then write about it; if you sing, sing about it; poet about it; creatively perform about it; print out flyers and distribute them at programs and events, however you can do it, please help get the word out about the plight of these women, there's something that every one can do!

The Days of Blogging for the Scott Sisters that happened on 3/18 and is so wonderfully happening again today will really help get the word out on the case in wider and broader areas of the internet and hopefully lead to much more support and national attention! Thanks so much to all of the participants and we will be posting links to all of the blogs that participated at the Scott Sisters site, so please send them in so that you can be acknowledged! Of course everyone is encouraged to continue blogging beyond today and please do!

We still don't trust that Jamie will receive adequate medical care once these hospitalizations are completed, which was proven by the fact that as soon as she was returned from the hospital yesterday she was put right back in that moldy building where she was originally housed!


Someone as seriously ill as Jamie needs to be somewhere that she can get assistance in better living conditions, and that's not in the infirmary and definitely not in her original cell. The Medical Bldg. would give her access to her sister, Gladys, who would help her with her activities of daily living and monitor her condition, just as other family members incarcerated together there are permitted to do with less life-threatening
illnesses than Jamie suffers.

We must keep pushing for media attention to what's going on and are continually pressing for nationwide press. A complete and in-depth examination of this travesty of justice must be exposed!! Please forward all of the info at the site to anyone, anywhere that can help to make that happen, the Scott Sisters need to go prime-time to apply enough pressure to make this Gov. do the right thing.

Jane Velez-Mitchell should do an entire segment on the Scott Sisters now that she is aware of the case, please contact her and urge her to follow-up her brief mention of the Scott Sisters on her 3/6 "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" with a more significant segment that will focus on Jamie's serious medical condition and the Scott Sisters case period. The contact form is at;


Ohio Learns the Lessons of Wrongful Conviction

By Matt Kelly
March 20, 2010

The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed sweeping reforms addressing the causes of wrongful conviction, setting a new standard for other states to follow in preventing this unimaginable -- but very real -- injustice.

The bill addresses evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and improved access to DNA testing. It gained momentum in the wake of a groundbreaking series in the Columbus Dispatch highlighting cases of Ohio prisoners unable to obtain DNA tests that could prove them innocent.

SB 77 passed both chambers of the Ohio legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support, and Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it into law with a few days.

Ohio Rep. Tyrone Yates, who sponsored the bill in the House, called this bill "one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”

# The bill puts Ohio out ahead of many other states on four major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and overturn injustice, including: Requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in serious crimes (such as homicide and sexual assault), because post-conviction reviews can't be conducted when evidence has been tossed.

# Improving lineup procedures to significantly reduce the chance of misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

# Incentivizing police departments to recording interrogations, a safeguard that prevents false confessions and a technique that helps law enforcement agencies conduct more efficient investigations

# Allowing parolees to apply for DNA testing in cases where it could potentially prove their innocence.

The Dispatch series that helped bring about these reforms has also led to two DNA exonerations so far, and other cases are in testing. The Innocence Network announced this week that the series' two lead reporters, Mike Wagner and Geoff Dutton, will be given the group's first annual Investigative Journalism Award in April.

With this bill, Ohio moves to the forefront on smart reforms to prevent injustice and improve efficiency in law enforcement and in courts. No one wants the innocent to go to prison. Wrongful convictions destroy lives and communities and leave the real perpetrators of crime on the streets. Kudos to Ohio for learning the lessons of injustice and making these critical changes.

Davis: The Challenges of Prison Abolition

Celebrate the International Observation of the Anniversary
of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade:


this is a great article from a few years back, posted in History is a Weapon, with Angela Davis making the connections between the institution of slavery and the prison industrial complex of today.


The Challenge of Prison Abolition:

A conversation between Angela Y. Davis and Dylan Rodriguez


History is a weapon

Angela Y. Davis teaches in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California (215 Oakes College, Santa Cruz, CA 95060), and has been actively involved in prison-related campaigns since the events that led to her own incarceration in 1970. Dylan Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor at University of California - Riverside and was involved in the formation of Critical Resistance. Rodriguez’s first book, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the Formation of the U.S. Prison Regime will be published in 2005 by the University of Minnesota Press.

Dylan: Your emergence as a radical prison activist was deeply influenced by your experience as a prisoner. Could you talk a bit about how imprisonment affected your political formation, and the impact that it had on your eventual identification as prison abolitionists?

Angela: The time I spent in jail was both an outcome of my work on prison issues and a profound influence on my subsequent trajectory as a prison activist. When I was arrested in the summer of 1970 in connection with my involvement in the campaign to free George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, I was one of many activists who had been previously active in defense movements. In editing the anthology, If They Come in the Morning (1971) while I was in jail, Bettina Aptheker and I attempted to draw upon the organizing and legal experiences associated with a vast number of contemporary campaigns to free political prisoners. The most important lessons emanating from those campaigns, we thought, demonstrated the need to examine the overall role of the prison system, especially its class and racial character.

There was a relationship, as George Jackson had insisted, between the rising numbers of political prisoners and the imprisonment of increasing numbers of poor people of color. If prison was the state-sanctioned destination for activists such as myself, it was also used as a surrogate solution to social problems associated with poverty and racism. Although imprisonment was equated with rehabilitation in the dominant discourse at that time, it was obvious to us that its primary purpose was repression.

Along with other radical activists of that era, we thus began to explore what it might mean to combine our call for the freedom of political prisoners with an embryonic call for the abolition of prisons. Of course we had not yet thought through all of the implications of such a position, but today it seems that what was viewed at that time as political naivete, the un-theorized and utopian impulses of young people trying to be revolutionary, foreshadowed what was to become, at the turn of the century, the important project of critically examining the political economy of a prison system, whose unrestrained growth urgently needs to be reversed.

Dylan: What interests me is the manner in which your trial -- and the rather widespread social movement that enveloped it, along with other political trials -- enabled a wide variety of activists to articulate a radical critique of U.S. jurisprudence and imprisonment. The strategic framing of yours and others' individual political biographies within a broader set of social and historical forces -- state violence, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, the growth and transformation of U.S. capitalism -- disrupted the logic of the criminal justice apparatus in a fundamental way. Turning attention away from conventional notions of "crime" as isolated, individual instances of misbehavior necessitated a basic questioning of the conditions that cast "criminality" as a convenient political rationale for the warehousing of large numbers of poor, disenfranchised, and displaced black people and other people of color.

Many activists are now referring to imprisonment as a new form of slavery, refocusing attention on the historical function of the 13th Amendment in reconstructing enslavement as a punishment reserved for those "duly convicted." Yet, when we look more closely at the emergence of the prison-industrial complex, the language of enslavement fails to the extent that it relies on the category of forced labor as its basic premise. People frequently forget that the majority of imprisoned people are not workers, and that work is itself made available only as a "privilege" for the most favored prisoners.

The logic of the prison-industrial complex is closer to what you, George Jackson, and others were forecasting back then as mass containment, the effective elimination of large numbers of (poor, black) people from the realm of civil society. Yet, the current social impact of the prison-industrial complex must have been virtually unfathomable 30 years ago. One could make the argument that the growth of this massive structure has met or exceeded the most ominous forecasts of people who, at that time, could barely have imagined that at the turn of the century two million people would be encased in a prison regime that is far more sophisticated and repressive than it was at the onset of Nixon's presidency, when about 150,000 people were imprisoned nationally in decrepit, overcrowded buildings.

So in a sense, your response to the first question echoes the essential truth of what was being dismissed, in your words, as the paranoid "political naivete" of young radical activists in the early 1970s. I think we might even consider the formation of prison abolitionism as a logical response to this new human warehousing strategy. In this vein, could you give a basic summary of the fundamental principles underlying the contemporary prison abolitionist movement?

Angela: First of all, I must say that I would hesitate to characterize the contemporary prison abolition movement as a homogeneous and united international effort to displace the institution of the prison. For example, the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), which periodically brings scholars and activists together from Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, and North America, reveals the varied nature of this movement. Dorsey Nunn, former prisoner and longtime activist, has a longer history of involvement with ICOPA than I do since he attended the conference in New Zealand three years ago. My first direct contact with ICOPA was this past May, when I attended the Toronto gathering.

Dylan: Was there anything about ICOPA that particularly impressed you?

Angela: The ICOPA conference in Toronto revealed some of the major strengths and weaknesses of the abolitionist movement. First of all, despite the rather homogenous character of their circle, they have managed to keep the notion of abolitionism alive precisely at a time when developing radical alternatives to the prison-industrial complex is becoming a necessity. That is to say, abolitionism should not now be considered an unrealizable utopian dream, but rather the only possible way to halt the further transnational development of prison industries.

That ICOPA claims supporters in Europe and Latin America is an indication of what is possible. However, the racial homogeneity of ICOPA, and the related failure to incorporate an analysis of race into the theoretical framework of their version of abolitionism, is a major weakness. The conference demonstrated that while faith-based approaches to the abolition of penal systems can be quite powerful, organizing strategies must go much further. We need to develop and popularize the kinds of analyses that explain why people of color predominate in prison populations throughout the world and how this structural racism is linked to the globalization of capital.

Dylan: Yes, I found that the political vision of ICOPA was extraordinarily limited, especially considering its professed commitment to a more radical abolitionist analysis and program. This undoubtedly had a lot to do with the underlying racism of the organization itself, which was reflected in the language of some of the conference resolutions: "We support all transformative measures which enable us to live better in community with those we as a society find most difficult, and most consistently marginalize or exclude" (emphasis added)1.

A major figure in ICOPA even accused a small group of people of color in attendance of being "racist" when they attempted to constructively criticize the overwhelming white homogeneity of the conference and the need for creative strategies to engage communities of color in such an important political discussion. Several black student-activists I met at ICOPA told me how alienated they felt at the conference, especially when they realized that the ICOPA organizers had never attempted to contact the Toronto-based organizations with which these student-activists were working: a major black anti-police-brutality coalition, a black prisoner support organization, etc.

So I certainly share your frustrations with ICOPA. At the same time, I find myself wondering how a new political formation of prison abolitionism can form in such a reactionary national and global climate. You have been involved with a variety of prison movements for the last 30 years, so maybe you can help me out. How do you think about this new political challenge within a broader historical perspective?

Angela: There are multiple histories of prison abolition. The Scandinavian scholar/activist Thomas Mathieson first published his germinal text, The Politics of Abolition, in 1974, when activist movements were calling for the disestablishment of prisons -- in the aftermath of the Attica Rebellion and prison uprisings throughout Europe. He was concerned with transforming prison reform movements into more radical movements to abolish prisons as the major institutions of punishment.

There was a pattern of decarceration in the Netherlands until the mid-1980s, which seemed to establish the Dutch system as a model prison system, and the later rise in prison construction and the expansion of the incarcerated population has served to stimulate abolitionist ideas. Criminologist Willem de Haan published a book in 1990 entitled The Politics of Redress: Crime, Punishment, and Penal Abolition.

One of the most interesting texts, from the point of view of U.S. activist history is Fay Honey Knopp's volume Instead of Prison: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, which was published in 1976, with funding from the American Friends. This handbook points out the contradictory relationship between imprisonment and an "enlightened, free society." Prison abolition, like the abolition of slavery, is a long-range goal and the handbook argues that an abolitionist approach requires an analysis of "crime" that links it with social structures, as opposed to individual pathology, as well as "anticrime" strategies that focus on the provision of social resources.

Of course, there are many versions of prison abolitionism -- including those that propose to abolish punishment altogether and replace it with reconciliatory responses to criminal acts. In my opinion, the most powerful relevance of abolitionist theory and practice today resides in the fact that without a radical position vis-a-vis the rapidly expanding prison system, prison architecture, prison surveillance, and prison system corporatization, prison culture, with all its racist and totalitarian implications, will continue not only to claim ever increasing numbers of people of color, but also to shape social relations more generally in our society.

Prison needs to be abolished as the dominant mode of addressing social problems that are better solved by other institutions and other means. The call for prison abolition urges us to imagine and strive for a very different social landscape.

Dylan: I think you make a subtle but important point here: prison and penal abolition imply an analysis of society that illuminates the repressive logic, as well as the fascistic historical trajectory, of the prison's growth as a social and industrial institution. Theoretically and politically, this "radical position," as you call it, introduces a new set of questions that does not necessarily advocate a pragmatic "alternative" or a concrete and immediate "solution" to what currently exists. In fact, I think this is an entirely appropriate position to assume when dealing with a policing and jurisprudence system that inherently disallows the asking of such fundamental questions as: Why are some lives considered more disposable than others under the weight of police policy and criminal law?

How have we arrived at a place where killing is valorized and defended when it is organized by the state -- I'm thinking about the street lynchings of Diallo and Dorismond in New York City, the bombing of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in 1985, the ongoing bombing of Iraqi civilians by the United States -- yet viciously avenged (by the state) when committed by isolated individuals? Why have we come to associate community safety and personal security with the degree to which the state exercises violence through policing and criminal justice?

You've written elsewhere that the primary challenge for penal abolitionists in the United States is to construct a political language and theoretical discourse that disarticulates crime from punishment. In a sense, this implies a principled refusal to pander to the typically pragmatist impulse to demand absolute answers and solutions right now to a problem that has deep roots in the social formation of the United States since the 1960s. I think your open-ended conception of prison abolition also allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the prison-industrial complex as a set of institutional and political relationships that extend well beyond the walls of the prison proper.

So in a sense, prison abolition is itself a broader critique of society. This brings me to the next question: What are the most crucial distinctions between the political commitments and agendas of prison reformists and those of prison abolitionists?

Angela: The seemingly unbreakable link between prison reform and prison development -- referred to by Foucault in his analysis of prison history -- has created a situation in which progress in prison reform has tended to render the prison more impermeable to change and has resulted in bigger, and what are considered "better," prisons.

The most difficult question for advocates of prison abolition is how to establish a balance between reforms that are clearly necessary to safeguard the lives of prisoners and those strategies designed to promote the eventual abolition of prisons as the dominant mode of punishment. In other words, I do not think that there is a strict dividing line between reform and abolition.

For example, it would be utterly absurd for a radical prison activist to refuse to support the demand for better health care inside Valley State, California's largest women's prison, under the pretext that such reforms would make the prison a more viable institution. Demands for improved health care, including protection from sexual abuse and challenges to the myriad ways in which prisons violate prisoners' human rights, can be integrated into an abolitionist context that elaborates specific decarceration strategies and helps to develop a popular discourse on the need to shift resources from punishment to education, housing, health care, and other public resources and services.

Dylan: Speaking of developing a popular discourse, the Critical Resistance gathering in September 1998 seemed to pull together an incredibly wide array of prison activists -- cultural workers, prisoner support and legal advocates, former prisoners, radical teachers, all kinds of researchers, progressive policy scholars and criminologists, and many others.

Although you were quite clear in the conference's opening plenary session that the purpose of Critical Resistance was to encourage people to imagine radical strategies for a sustained prison abolition campaign, it was clear to me that only a few people took this dimension of the conference seriously. That is, it seemed convenient for people to rejoice at the unprecedented level of participation in this presumably "radical" prison activist gathering, but the level of analysis and political discussion generally failed to embrace the creative challenge of formulating new ways to link existing activism to a larger abolitionist agenda. People were generally more interested in developing an analysis of the prison-industrial complex that incorporated the local work that they were involved in, which I think is an important practical connection to make.

At the same time, I think there is an inherent danger in conflating militant reform and human rights strategies with the underlying logic of anti-prison radicalism, which conceives of the ultimate eradication of the prison as a site of state violence and social repression. What is required, at least in part, is a new vernacular that enables this kind of political dream. How does prison abolition necessitate new political language, teachings, and organizing strategies? How could these strategies help to educate and organize people inside and outside the prison for abolition?

Angela: In order to imagine a world without prisons -- or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison -- a new popular vocabulary will have to replace the current language, which articulates crime and punishment in such a way that we cannot think about a society without crime except as a society in which all the criminals are imprisoned.

Thus, one of the first challenges is to be able to talk about the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance. In the university, the emergence of the interdisciplinary field of prison studies can help to trouble the prevailing criminology discourses that shape public policy as well as popular ideas about the permanence of prisons. At the high school level, new curricula can also be developed that encourage critical thinking about the role of punishment. Community organizations can also play a role in urging people to link their demands for better schools, for example, to a reduction of prison spending.

Dylan: Your last comment suggests that we need to rupture the ideological structures embodied by the rise of the prison-industrial complex. How does prison abolition force us to rethink common assumptions about jurisprudence, in particular "criminal justice?"

Angela: Since the invention of the prison as punishment in Western society during the late 1700s, criminal justice systems have so thoroughly depended on imprisonment that we have lost the ability to imagine other ways to solve the problem of "crime." One of the interesting contributions of prison abolitionists has been to propose other paradigms of punishment or to suggest that we need to extricate ourselves from the assumption that punishment must be a necessary response to all violations of the law.

Reconciliatory or restorative justice, for example, is presented by some abolitionists as an approach that has proved successful in non-Western societies -- Native American societies, for example -- and that can be tailored for use in urban contexts in cases that involve property and other offenses. The underlying idea is that in many cases, the reconciliation of offender and victim (including monetary compensation to the victim) is a much more progressive vision of justice than the social exile of the offender. This is only one example -- the point is that we will not be free to imagine other ways of addressing crime as long as we see the prison as a permanent fixture for dealing with all or most violations of the law.