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, September 25, 2010

Remembering murdered prisoners and their families

Today is the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. The victims' rights organizations that assured this day would be recognized and murder victims remembered have done a good job of representing families destroyed by homicide.

My job, however, is to remember those families of prisoners killed in the care of the state who don't even have the standing as "victims" under our state constitution. Marcia Powell didn't even earn standing as a "victim", for all the suffering she went through before her death. I imagine that's so the state doesn't admit liability for neglect by acknowledging the special class of victims they create through neglect and abuse. Maybe if our constitution inferred that the same level of humanity exists in "people in custody for an offense" they wouldn't be getting killed by the desert in outdoor cages or ignored when being mutilated by cellmates so often.

A couple of these men were themselves in prison for murder or had otherwise seriously harmed others, but not most of them. None were sentenced to be executed. I have heard from or read messages left by many of their traumatized loved ones - their families were destroyed once by their convictions and imprisonment, now again by their murders.

I've also read a bit by family members of their victims, and from the victims of others. These deaths often open wounds for them, as well, including those not yet healed. I hope this doesn't have that effect for any of them.

I'll put together a later piece with links to relevant documents or blog posts on each of the murders I've researched. Today I'm just remembering homicide victims in prison, not what they did to get there. On some level, the public has already bargained that most prisoners get what they have coming to them. They don't. Most of the truly evil criminals aren't even in prison - some are actually running this show. A lot of people go to prison who never should have because they're just too poor to fight it.

I've decided that I'm going to ask the victims' rights organizations for help on this issue. Prisoners deserve safety, too, and are far too vulnerable to victimization - especially those who have been abused and exploited already.

I need to run this final list by the AZ Department of Corrections Monday to see if they can give me any more information from their own investigations, as the media did almost no follow-up on any of the ADC reports. I have more posts following the Hawaiian prison homicides than I do on the Arizona ones. This is a high prison homicide rate (national average 4/100,000 state prisoners per year), regardless on how those suspicious deaths pan out. The Phoenix New Times did good coverage of this issue after the four in 2008 - I hope someone in the media picks it up again.

The prisoner homicides that have been reported by the Arizona Department of Corrections in the past nine months alone follow. Our condolences to their loved ones. Please contact me if you want to share your story, connect with other prisoners' families, or think there's anything else I might be able to do.

If you contact the Department of Justice about your loved one's homicide, address your correspondence (always keep a copy; I certify my mail them, too) to:

Judy Preston, Acting Director
US DOJ Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Please specify that you want a CRIPA investigation into your loved one's death and the pattern of homicides and suicides at the AZ Department of Corrections, as well as into the death of Marcia Powell.

Anyone can write to them, by the way, and support a CRIPA investigation for us as easily as this:

1. Print out this blog post, and write "PLEASE CRIPA this state!" across the top. Also write in your own name and contact info.

2. Photocopy your final work, then put it in an envelope.

3. Address the envelope to the DOJ.

4. Put appropriate postage on the original and mail it.

It would be a big bonus if you send me a copy of your CRIPA request so I can post that here, too. All my contact info is in the column to the side.


- Peg


Prisoners Murdered in the Care of the State of Arizona, 2010.
National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims (September 25, 2010).

Shannon Palmer, 40 (9/10/10) ASPC-Lewis/Buckley Transitional

Dana Seawright, 26 (7/7/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Stiner

Albert Tsosi, 35, (6/16/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Rast

Alexandru Usurelu, 23 (1/25/10) ASPC-Eyman/SMU

Ulises Rodriguez, 22 (1/25/2010) ASPC-Tucson/Cimmaron

Also reported as suspicious in that time with no media follow-up:

Carl Cresong, 49 (1/3/2010) ASPC-Lewis/Buckley

Christopher Francis, 39 (8/17/2010) -ASPC-Lewis/Stiner

Armando Lugo, 36 (3/26/2010) - ASPC-Lewis/Morey

Franklin Leverette 60 (9/15/2010) - Central Arizona Correctional Facility


This does not count the Hawaiian prisoners in the custody of CCA facilities in Arizona, as they are not prisoners of the AZ Department of Corrections. The people of Hawaii are welcome to contact me, however, if you're organizing to have some of your prisoners sent home - and all of them kept safe. You clearly can't count on your government officials to act in victimized prisoners' or their families best interests - though at least your media has been covering the murders more closely. There's also that little thing about subjecting your citizens to the death penalty - if it's okay in Arizona, why not bring it to the Islands?

I'd really like to hear from some of you out there. Contact me at (phone 480-580-6807).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Neglect at the ADC: Special Litigation needed.

Hey all,

Here's what I'm sending off to Judy Preston at the Department of Justice's Special Litigation Section in the
Civil Rights Division re: a couple of CRIPA complaints. Here's what they did recently about Erie County's jail and the suicide rate I put up that Mother Jones article on a couple of weeks ago.

If you want to print out any or all of the posts below and/or newspaper articles about what's been happening in the prisons and send them to the DOJ and the AZ ACLU (addresses below) it may help move things along.

I'm keeping the letter accompanying this confidential since it references specific prisoners, but I'm posting the rest of this packet up here so pretty much anyone can pick up wherever I leave off - I'm researching the ADC homicides now to send in.


Arizona DOC: Image is Job 1. Prisoners are expendable. 1/17/2010

Governor Brewer: Help Prisoner Tripati. 1/17/2010

Sanity, mental illness, and "crime". 9/17/2010

The restoration of Jerry Kulp. 9/23/2010

Shannon Palmer's murder: prisoners at risk. 9/13/2010

Prisoner Patrick Lee Ross' tragic death: more to the story 9/7/2010

Perryville SOS: Critical conditions for seriously ill women. 9/10/2010

ASPC-Tucson: Prisoners neglected in cages, again. 9/7/2010

ASPC-Tucson: The death of Tom Reed. 7/08/2010

Despair Behind Bars: Suicide in Arizona Prisons 9/10/2010


Judy Preston, Acting Chief
Special Litigation Section - DOJ, Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

(877) 218-5228
(202) 514-6258

American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
P.O. Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011
(602) 650-1854

(re: Conditions of Confinement: 8th Amendment and health/mental health care)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sanity, mental illness, and crime .

Updates on Shannon Palmer, Jasper Rushing.

The note at the end of this post came into my box last night on a wave of hushed grief, asking to be placed where it might be found by the family of Shannon Palmer, and those in his community who responded to his killer with outrage and condemnation. It contains condolences from someone who knew and loved Jasper Rushing before he grew severely disturbed and took his first victim's life. It does not argue that he did no wrong. Rather, it just implores the rest of us to understand that he, too, has suffered, and was lost long ago.

I slept very little after contemplating the significance of this assertion that Rushing might have been a victim of the kind of disorder that claims the innocent and vulnerable I fight for, too. I had already done my share of dehumanizing him, branding him as a twisted sociopath, presuming his character and guilt were clear by his history, his access to Shannon, his method of torture, and his soulless gaze into the camera at the ADC. I stopped just short of arguing that he get the death penalty, I found his crime so heinous. No way was he in the same class as Shannon, my own loved one, or me.

I can't imagine that Shannon's killer could have executed him in the manner he chose if he had any sort of conscience or humanity left in his being. Yet I don't doubt the sincerity of the author of this note who tells us that Rushing was once a good kid who underwent some kind of horrible transformation, and that even as a hardened killer in prison he was living in fear.

Searching the internet I could find nothing but court calendars to reference Rushing's history of kidnapping and premeditated murder, preceded by more petty crimes and drug abuse. I couldn't even find news accounts of his most serious crimes or convictions. Buried in those case entries, however, is evidence that others saw a psychiatric illness emerging over a decade ago - before the first time he killed someone - compelling more than one judge to order a competency exam before sentencing him.

Not everyone who is ordered to undergo a competency exam has a disabling mental illness, nor is everyone with a psychiatric disorder automatically exempt from the consequences of harming others. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV) that mental health professionals use to label social deviants includes antisocial personality disorders and classifications for pedophiles, which are often associated with very serious predatory behavior. Those are not what advocates usually refer to as "serious mental illnesses" - we're most often talking about mood and thought disorders like manic-depression and schizophrenia, not severe personality disorders. People with diagnoses in the former category are far more often victims than perpetrators of violent crime.

Nevertheless, like it or not, the truth is that sometimes people who do violence to others are suffering from serious mental illness, their ability to exercise good judgment often compounded by the use of drugs or alcohol. In fact, it would be hard to look at Shannon's murder alone and suggest that his killer was in any way "well". Most certainly there's some kind of pathology underlying his actions; I just don't know what kind of pathology it is, though sadism comes to mind. He doesn't strike me as just being fearful - that murder was vicious.

Even if Rushing had a psychotic break in his youth and developed schizophrenia, that should not overshadow the fact that the vast majority of Americans with a psychiatric disability are non-violent individuals contributing to the life of our communities and the well-being of our families. You wouldn't know that we're nuts just by looking at us or the surface of our lives. Unfortunately, however, it's people like Jasper Rushing who grab the headlines and threaten to define us, not victims like Shannon Palmer, or survivors like me.
Seldom is a big deal made of the psychiatric status of vindictive, selfish, greedy people who violate others horribly while perfectly "sane". That's who we really need to beware of.

It is true that untreated mental illness can cause symptoms that "endanger self or others": severe paranoia, auditory hallucinations, agitation, poor impulse control, delusional thinking, grandiosity, emotional detachment, terror, and despair. For that reason we have laws that require involuntary hospitalization and compulsory outpatient treatment for people who - left untreated - may become a danger to the rest of us or kill themselves.

So many of the mentally ill attempt to self-medicate, too, which often aggravates our symptoms, resulting in disastrous consequences - including the trans-institutionalization from mental health settings to places like shelters, jails and prisons for a range of criminalized behavior that has as much to do with poverty as it has to do with the nature of one's disability.

Over the course of the past 30 years it's been increasingly hard to get someone who needs psychiatric care into an inpatient setting, a group home, or a public outpatient clinic that has the capacity to really help them be "well", because the profoundly disabling nature of mental illness forces them to depend on public resources. As those budgets have shrunk and affordable housing has disappeared, people with psychiatric disabilities have been dumped into the streets to fend for themselves, suffering a multitude of traumas on top of whatever inner demons already torment them.

In the same period of time, the numbers of people with mental illness in America who have been put behind bars has risen exponentially. The Huffington post has an interesting video and links to other articles that address this.

I worked with the the homeless mentally ill for over a decade in Ann Arbor, and saw more go through the criminal justice system that into the mental health system because jails and prisons were the only doors the community was willing to pay to hold open for them anymore All other avenues to seek "safety" from the streets and shelters or "help" for their symptoms had been systematically closed off, and mental health and criminal codes were revised to reflect society's determination to punish our deviants, public nuisances and eyesores with jail and - for repeat offenders of even petty crimes - with prison.

Do not be mistaken about what prison in America is, by the way - it can be horribly brutal, even if you don't end up getting killed.

With public mental health dollars shrinking, the laws that were originally intended to protect the civil liberties of the mentally disabled were used to justify denying them their rights to humane, life-saving treatment, contributing to their rising rate of criminalization and incarceration. Many people in mental health and on the front end of the criminal justice system have resigned themselves to the notion that if someone needs intensive psychiatric intervention to protect them or others, the only way they'll get it is as a convicted criminal. That's such a tragic myth, as is the one that addicts will get the treatment they need in prison, too.

By the AZ Department of Corrections' own count at the end of last month, 9,362 of their 40,204 prisoners were individuals requiring on-going mental health services. Only a handful in AZ state prisons have access to anything more than an MD who might prescribe the right psychiatric meds, however. They're otherwise left to fend for themselves and cope with their illness and the terror of their environment, which the rate of suicides and homicide victims among them suggests is not an easy feat. The only "treatment" out of the norm that many end up getting is placement in solitary confinement or cages as a behavior management tool or outright punishment for their inability to adapt. Isolation is not a therapeutic intervention. It is known to make the sane go mad.

Jasper Rushing perpetrated horrible murders over the course of his adult life; I have no idea why. That doesn't make him any less a victim of neglect, however, if he wasn't getting the care he needed for whatever psychiatric disorder he had. That means that Shannon is a victim of both Jasper Rushing and the AZ Department of Corrections. The two men were locked into the same modified one-man cell, each one, by their family's accounts, fearful and not doing well.

From what I've seen and heard, that's not an isolated exception to an otherwise functional system. The ADC has a pattern of discontinuing necessary psychiatric meds and housing symptomatic prisoners in poorly supervised, over-populated dorms or in close quarters with people not likely to put up with them. When placed in higher security yards and cells - presumably because someone had concerns about their behavior and ability to be safe - it appears as if the seriously mentally ill are simply being contained, not cared for. Marcia Powell, after all, was supposed to be on a 10-minute suicide watch, and look at what happened to her. Even exposed in a cage in the middle of the yard, 20 feet from an air-conditioned station for guards, no one looked out for her welfare.

We can - and should - each pressure the ADC, directly or through our elected officials, to reform their system such that people with mental illness don't keep dying off as they are. We should also forward our concerns about the safety and welfare of loved ones in the prisons - regardless of their crime or disability - to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, asking for a CRIPA investigation into the patterns underlying the murders, suicides, and neglect. But the most effective tool for long-lasting change would be new legislation that assures critical rights and remedies to prisoners to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place.

We also need to reform this legal system which criminalizes and imprisons people for the symptoms of their illness, as Shannon was for climbing a utility tower. Such reform also necessitates that resources exist in the community to provide adequate treatment and housing for those at risk of being inappropriately criminalized without it. The price of imprisonment, as I hope people see by now, is paid not only in tax dollars, but also in damaged and lost lives. We must end this madness now. Too many people are being thrown away for the crime of being ill.

Here is the note left for us all, I think, but especially for Shannon's family, by Jasper Rushing's loved one last night:

I am one of the"murderers" family members. I was there at his birth, through his childhood and up through his young adulthood. He is a struggling mentally ill person fighting to survive as well. He was a beautiful baby with an inquisitive, intelligent mind. He grew to be a troubled child with many issues that his family attempted to deal with. As a young adult he seemed like the average boy/man. He was loving and kind through out his first 20 years. I'm not sure to this day what changed...

I love Jasper and always will, but I don't know who this man is. I know he's been begging for months to be taken out of general population because he just didn't feel safe himself. I am sorry to the family of Shannon, I am horrified and ashamed...your family is in my prayers along with our family who is at a loss as to where our beautiful boy went...
September 16, 2010 6:41 PM

Executing Mercy: Saving Teresa Lewis.

I received word tonight that the Governor of Virginia has declined to grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, a mentally-impaired woman who was sentenced to death for murders she took full responsibility for planning, but did not perpetrate. The men who actually did the killing got life in prison, instead. Below is my effort to appeal to what he has said his faith is, responding to what Teresa has declared hers to be, in hopes that it helps when joined with others.

Please go to his website and leave your own message - not just a name to be counted against the many more who will register their support for the death penalty in his state, but a voice that might move him to reverse this grim decision. Whatever or whomever she is a channel for, Teresa has been a blessing to other women doing time, and could continue to be so.

You needn't be "born again" yourself - or even speak the same language - to try to save this woman's life. I honestly don't know what it will take - if anything at all will work a miracle with this man. I do think that it matters in the greater scheme of things that we take the time nevertheless, to show that we care.

Teresa is to be executed on September 23, so please act today.




Subject: Executing Mercy

Dear Governor McDonnell,

As you know, Teresa Lewis is scheduled for execution on September 23, 2010. Only you can stop this from happening. She has taken more responsibility for her conduct than most adults ever do, though she has the cognitive abilities of a child.

For centuries people with developmental disabilities have been treated as less-than human; objects of ridicule or curiosity; subjects for experiments and involuntary sterilization; workers to be exploited at slave-wages; scapegoats to carry the burden of our collective failings.

We've come a long way in recent decades in how we treat the mentally disabled. Our readiness to execute them, however, indicates that we still have a ways to go.

Virginia has a precious opportunity to secure a place in history by deciding not to dispose of the life of this humble woman who has given of herself to others at a time of their deepest remorse and despair, despite her own predicament.

Teresa is not the one begging you to spare her life - we are. By her faith, her death on earth will reunite her with the Christ in Heaven whose love she is clearly a vessel for now to other women in prison.

What message will carrying out her execution deliver? That there is no room in American justice for mercy, or in the human spirit for transformation, or in the hearts of our people for grace?

We aren't asking you to end the death penalty in Virginia, or to save this woman's soul - the latter has already been done. She will die more free than many who demonstrate twice her mental capacity. We're simply asking you to be a vessel of God, too.

His justice would not exact more of her than of those "normal" men who committed the actual murders. His justice would not value her life less than theirs. He would look across this country at the countless Americans who have taken the time out of their lives to fight for hers, and hope that humanity is on the precipice of learning mercy for the condemned - particularly for those who are so visibly touched by His grace.

Teresa Lewis committed a horrible crime that she cannot compensate her victims for, even by surrendering her own existence, as she did the day she took responsibility for what she had done. If given life in prison she would not harm another human being again, and could even help others heal. It is not her who threatens us any longer - it is our need for vengeance that endangers this nation now.

It takes power to exercise mercy which - throughout the course of human history - has been the quality that distinguishes those who conquer from those who lead. Please reconsider your decision to allow this execution to proceed.

Thank you for your time.


Margaret J. Plews
Phoenix, AZ

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Deaths in Custody: Anthony Clayton Lester.

This is the beautiful young man who reportedly killed himself at ASPC-Tucson/ Manzanita on July 12 of this year. I didn't know anything about him at the time he died except for the short press release the Arizona Department of Corrections put out, which is always limited to the prisoner's name, ADC number, age, crime, and sentence.

I did a little more digging after speaking to his family tonight, though, and came across this obituary. Whenever I can I like to include things about prisoners who pass away that speak to who they were, instead of just the "criminals" the ADC feels a need to portray them as when they die.
Just because Tony had been criminalized does not mean he was a bad man. By his aunt's account, he was a very good soul.

I'll have more on this young man's story at some point down the road; his actual cause of death has yet to be determined, it appears. For now, please just think good things for his grieving family - especially for the little girl who he never even had the chance to hold.


Anthony Clayton Lester

June 16th, 1984 - July 12th, 2010


Anthony Clayton Lester, born June 16, 1984 in Tucson, AZ, left our presence July 12, 2010 in Tucson, AZ after spending most of his short 26 years in Scottsdale, AZ. He was a music enthusiast, an extremely talented writer, a caring shoulder to cry on, a protector from all evil and an adoring father. He was preceded by Uncle Clayton Lester. He is missed and loved by his daughter Dawn, mother Eleanor, fiancée Samantha, Aunt Patti, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and puppies.

Memorial/viewing services will be held July 20 from 6 - 10pm @ Memorial Hall @ SRPMIC, Scottsdale AZ. Mass on July 24 @ 10am @ OLPH Scottsdale, AZ and funeral services to follow at St. Francis Cemetery, Phoenix, AZ. Arrangements by Bunker’s Garden Chapel.

"Lord, I am the bruised reed, the smoldering wick. May I believe more deeply in your compassionate guidance."

Shannon Palmer: Criminalization, victimization, and the damage done

I've done a bit more research this week, and
heard from Shannon Palmer's family, so wanted to update folks on his story. It's pretty heartbreaking. I hope the following information answers a lot of the questions people have had. I still have more, myself, as does Shannon's family, of course; we have a ways to go.

It's clear to me from my conversations with people this week and letters from prison that we need to really mobilize on behalf of these prisoners with mental illness, regardless of how they got criminalized. They're getting killed or left to die without adequate treatment in there. I keep hearing that they're being taken off their meds and put into environments where they're more likely to suicide and acutely vulnerable to predators. We have to insist that they get better psychiatric care as well as protection, or they'll keep dying as they have been.

What I saw when I worked with the homeless in Ann Arbor - and what I think I'm seeing in the prisons now - is that people with serious mental illness make attractive victims to people, especially those doing killings for status. The mentally ill don't tend to be gang members so other prisoners won't inte
rvene or retaliate, their aggravated symptoms provide abusers with the excuse of provocation for hurting them, and the state is less likely to seek the death penalty if the victim can be readily dehumanized like Shannon was.

At worst, guys like Rushing may lose their TV and phone privileges, get sentenced to life where they've already made their home, and end up assigned to a one-man cell - in addition to gaining the esteem of their twisted friends. In other words, for killing someone like Shannon, they stand to gain more than they lose - especially if they're already in prison for murder. I'm not advocating the death penalty here - I'm advocating prevention.

This is fairly urgent now, since gang members and random sadists will feel they have to top this last murder with something even more grisly. Prisoners and their families are rightfully terrified that they aren't safe from them - and the ADC seems to be quick to confirm that they won't assure anyone's safety in their custody. That, frankly, should be one of the primary things they try to guarantee - especially for the most vulnerable and disabled of their prisoners. The environment, after all, is supposed to be under their control.

I'll post more soon on how and where we might connect to take more collective action. In the meantime, if you're interested in this issue for any reason - especially if you have a loved one in prison - contact me. My number is 480-580-6807.

That said, much of what follows I originally posted as comments in response to the Phoenix New Times article touching on Shannon's murder; what a disappointment, considering that they're the most progressive paper the Valley has. I'm pretty much taking what I left there and pasting it here verbatim, or I'd never get this stuff up, so keep in mind that I'm either addressing the author of the PNT article and the editors of the paper, or responding to one of the other readers who left a remark.
Thank you to those folks who spoke up there on behalf of victimized prisoners, far too many of whom have psychiatric or developmental disabilities.


First, however, an excerpt from an email that Shannon's sister, Dawn, sent to me yesterday, with her permission.

"...Last Friday, September 10, my mother received a call at 2:00 p.m. notifying her of my brother’s death and was told no details were available at this time. She was informed she would be contacted at a later date with more information once the investigation was complete, but confirmed it was a homicide. That call never came.

To add further insult to injury, my mother had to hear about the details of my brother’s death from the news media, Channel 5. On Saturday, September 11, unable to sleep, she turned on the TV, and there on the news was my brother’s pictures with the horrific news of how he died and the details of his cellmate who committed the crime along with details of his violent past.

We are outraged that they put a violent criminal in with my brother, who as you stated, had no history of violence. My mother has been fighting the system for years trying to get my brother the proper medication and care while incarcerated, to no avail. Prior to this event, my brother was taken off medication all together. The prison Dr. communicated he no longer required medication. How does a Paranoid Schizophrenic person with a long history of the illness no longer need medication?

Shannon's voice may be silent, but ours is not. We will fight to change the prison system policies in how inmates are housed and getting the proper care. He should never have been in prison in the first place..."


Posted by me to the Phoenix New Times website on September 13, while I was still figuring out who Shannon was and what happened to him.

"Wow, New Times, this is a really disturbing article. Do your homework next time. Shannon Palmer was mentally disabled, in prison for petty bullshit instead of in a hospital, and never should have been housed with a sociopathic killer. The method his cellmate, Jasper Rushing used to end his life was intended to humiliate and torture him. You needn't help him inflict that same kind of suffering on his family by publishing your sarcastic musings. They'll be reading this article as they try to make sense of what happened, of course, as well as the mindless comments sure to follow. Survivors tend to linger over these things, especially when there's nothing else but a criminal record left as a public narrative of their loved one's life.

This didn't just happen to Shannon Palmer, either - just about every prisoner and their family will feel the reverberations of stigma and shame your remarks have left and invited others to join in. I doubt anyone would be joking if this man wasn't already discounted as nothing more than a criminal who probably got what was coming to him.

Palmer was in prison because of behavior secondary to his mental illness, which was most likely not being properly treated there. He was so impaired that it took three competency exams and extensive psychiatric treatment to get him to where the judge could accept his guilty plea and sentence him.

According to family members of other prisoners at Lewis, Palmer and his cellmate were in a space built for only one man and his property; the less-dominant prisoner would have been relegated to the floor and had his property removed. What should have been only a 24-hour "transitional" housing assignment turned into nearly a month of them being crammed together.

Take a look at Palmer's in-prison infractions - gambling and disobeying orders. Now look at his cellie's record. No comparison. Talk about being set up to be murdered. I just got a letter from another ADC mentally ill prisoner who is terrified that the same thing will happen to him - and I can't assure him that it won't.

This murder was brutal, senseless, tragic, and in no way imaginable was it deserved. It was also avoidable, once again, if the ADC had been following their own policies. I could use your help doing real research into what's happening with the ADC to prevent more of these vulnerable prisoners from being murdered. At the very least, don't help cultivate a climate in our community which dehumanizes this man further and joins his killer in laughing about his death. Support his family in their grief, instead, and help the rest of us retain our own humanity by protecting the most vulnerable, most disenfranchised among us from the very real evil of our ignorance and indifference."


Also added to the Phoenix New Times website on September 14 (with a few extra remarks). I found the Republic article on his "criminal damage" after speaking with his family.

"This is the "crime" that Shannon was given three years in prison for, only to be tortured and murdered after doing two. His "victim" was a utility tower, which we seem to think should have more rights than he did as the accused. According to his family, Shannon climbed it in a thunderstorm because God told him to.

The real perpetrators of "criminal damage" to a human life were the Mesa police, for booking him on criminal charges instead of taking him to a hospital; the judge, Connie Contes for imposing the sentence of prison as if she was doing him a favor; the prosecutor, Clint Heiner for offering such a sweet plea deal in the first place, and the rest of us for being oblivious or indifferent to the fact that this kind of thing happens to the mentally ill in our community all the time..."

His defense attorney must have been pretty lousy, too.

Some "rescue."

Shannon's prior prison sentences, by the way - making him one of those "repeat offenders" that the ADC and the AZ Prosecuting Attorney lobbyists insist should be incarcerated for the sake of public safety - were also for the crime of having a mental illness. I think we actually sent him off to prison this last time for the delusion that, if he tried, he could get closer to God. That's a pretty sad commentary on this community and state.


August 25, 2008. Arizona Republic:

"Police on Tuesday identified a man who climbed nearly 100 feet up a high-tension electrical tower during a thunderstorm Monday night. Police persuaded Shannon Palmer, 38, to climbed safely back to the ground after they were called about 6:20 p.m.

The Mesa Fire Department responded to reports of a man climbing the tower near 1800 East Covina Street as a storm was rolling through, Chief Mike Dunn said.

When they arrived Palmer appeared agitated, but after shutting off the power to the unit, a Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in high-angle rescue, coaxed him to a ladder truck bucket and he was brought down.

The man was returned without injury to the ground shortly after 8 p.m. with no explanation for why he had climbed the tower in the first place. The man was released to the custody of the Mesa Police Department. He was booked on suspicion of trespassing, criminal damage and disorderly conduct."

KPHO's 2008 interview they did with Shannon in jail shortly after his above arrest, explaining why he climbed the tower and should be in a hospital, not go to prison. I just don't understand why we sent him to prison.


Here's Shannon's sentencing record:

I read it and wept.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shannon Palmer's murder: prisoners at risk.

This in from Phoenix's KPHO Channel 5 this morning, telling us that Shannon Palmer was castrated by his cellmate. I was kind of annoyed last week that the AZ Department of Corrections felt it necessary to notate that Palmer was in prison for the fourth time, since it seemed to have nothing to do with the fact he was murdered. Now I realize why they may have wanted to make him look like a more dangerous criminal than he was - he was being housed with a REAL serious criminal, which they're responsible for doing. Turning around and telling us all how many times the victim has been to prison before was just a way to make us care less about what happened to him, once the truth came out. That's pretty despicable, frankly.

What the ADC didn't tell us is that when Palmer was charged with criminal damage this last time, his mental capacity was in question enough that the judge ordered a competency exam twice under Rule 11 before allowing him to plead guilty, and again before sentencing him. The first time he was found to be not competent and had to be medicated to be deemed competent. All of that tells me he had a psychiatric disability. If fact, early on in the legal proceedings against him Palmer couldn't make it to the court hearings because he was in a "mental health setting".

cellmate, on the other hand, was an apparent sociopath in for FIRST-degree murder and kidnapping, among other things, and had a history of violent behavior while in prison. Some of Palmer's prior court records are sealed because of his mental illness, but he apparently had no violent misconduct charges on his prison record.

I did some reading up on the ADC's policies about custody levels and housing recently because I've been investigating all these murders in the prisons of late, and was disturbed to see how easy they've made it for violent offenders to have access to people who can be easily victimized - presumably they did that to cut costs by cramming as many guys into a cell or dorm area as possible. It appears to have begun under Stewart or Schriro - the latter is the one who initially authorized putting medium -custody murderers in Kingman to begin with, not Ryan (though before the escapes happened, Ryan seemed to take pride in the ADC risk assessment instrument he helped develop that put those guys there).

Another interesting thing about this cellmate match-up is that both of the guys were just moved last month, after the escapes, to the Transitory Unit at Lewis. If there are any insiders out there who can fill me in on this unit, please do. According to the ADC daily count sheet for 9/8/10, that particular unit is very small and is ranked as a minimum custody unit (much of the rest of Lewis is close custody or protective segregation). Like the murderers who escaped from Kingman this summer, Palmer's deadly cellmate was listed as only a 3/3 internal/external security risk. Palmer was a 2/2. My bet is that they were part of the shuffle to appease the public's sense of security, but no one took into account the safety of the prisoners. Just looking at their records would tell you that these two guys weren't at all "similarly situated" in such a way that would justify putting Palmer in with Rushing, even temporarily.

My bet is that an insurance risk assessor determined that the state would save more money by bunking first-degree killers and mentally ill vandals together than they would lose from lawsuits if a prisoner was murdered - especially if they put people with no voice or family to care about them in with the real bad guys. Besides, how often does the public object to prisoners being murdered here? Unless it was another prisoner that did the killing, we won't even prosecute them, apparently. I hope Palmer has family that will sue the state for everything that Marcia Powell's mother wouldn't for housing him with Rushing. I'm sorry that won't bring him back home to them, though. The poor guy was almost done with his sentence when he was killed.

Please register your dismay about Palmer's murder wherever you see the news on it pop up, so the state gets the message that it's NOT okay to put vulnerable people at risk this way. This is especially disturbing because I recently received a letter from another prisoner with a mental illness who's terrified that he's being moved to a unit where he'll be murdered, too - it came Saturday, and was written before Palmer was killed. "Manuel", who has no family to fight for him, says it's the gangs doing all this killing - and he's not the only prisoner to write to me for help about their housing or custody arrangements out of fear of being set up for a gang hit or otherwise victimized. Apparently the killers and gangs have more control over the prisons than Director Ryan and his people do these days.


CBS 5 News has learned that an Arizona prison inmate who was found dead on Friday was castrated by his cell mate. Shannon Palmer died from his injuries Friday at Lewis Prison in Buckeye, according to prison officials, who would neither confirm nor deny that he was castrated.

His cell mate, convicted murderer Jasper Rushing, is believed to have castrated Palmer, someone with knowledge of the incident told CBS 5 News. Palmer was serving a three-year sentence for criminal damage out of Maricopa County. It was the fourth time Palmer was in prison, according to a Department of Corrections spokesman. The spokesman said that an investigation is ongoing

Bring Oprah to Perryville this season.

Friends of Marcia Powell and AZ prisoners:

I actually wrote this weekend to invite Oprah to help us pass Marcia's law (a bill of rights for AZ prisoners), feeling that drawing her into the scene at Perryville would open up the avenue to all other prisoner rights' issues, there and elsewhere.

You should write as well,
(that link goes to "who do you want to see interviewed?") especially if you have loved ones enduring conditions at Perryville, so they know it's more than just me concerned. Mention Marcia's death, in case they miss my email. Try to get others to do the same. If enough of us (women and men alike) write about these issues from across the country (world), I bet her producers look into covering an angle. We need mainstream attention to elevate prisoners rights to the level of public discussion here before the legislature convenes in Jan. If Oprah comes, the rest of the media will follow.

Please take a minute and hit her site - we have nothing to lose if we're ignored, and prisoners everywhere have a lot to gain if our collective voice is heard.

Here's what I said in the first category I made an entry in (who to interview - meaning as many women at Perryville as possible):

"Marcia Powell was nobody - just a mentally ill, drug-addicted prostitute and prisoner of the state of Arizona when she was locked in an outdoor cage in 108 degree heat last May after stating she was suicidal. For nearly four hours guards ignored and mocked her as she begged for water, pleaded to get out of the sun, and defecated on herself. She died with second degree burns on her body, and no family willing to claim her remains. No one responsible is being prosecuted; some have their jobs back. Please remember her and the women still suffering in AZ's Perryville state prison. Help us pass Marcia's Law so that this never happens again. I could have been Marcia Powell."

Here's the link for the most incredible cancer survivor story. I submitted Sue Ellen Allen's story in that category... here's what I said there:

Sue Ellen Allen is an extraordinary woman who survived cancer in jail and prison in AZ. Her essay on the experience ( won a PEN American Center prison writing contest in 2009:


"Someone told me there are 365 references in the Bible to fear. Basically, all of them say, “Fear not, for I, the Lord thy God, am with you.” So, with my faith that I treasure, why am I afraid, always afraid?

It started in (Sheriff Joe Arpaio's) Estrella Jail where the incessant noise, violence, hostility, and indifference overwhelmed me. It is a hellish place for a healthy person. Everyone is in black and white stripes and the conditions breed anxiety and stress....

All of these women are going to court. Not me. I am going to Maricopa Medical Center for a mastectomy...

That’s the real fear . . . my helplessness in the face of a medical department that is incompetent and apathetic. My life is literally in their hands and I’ve come to feel they don’t give a damn. I am not a patient with cancer. I am an inmate with cancer and that is full of hidden meaning..."

Sue Ellen's 25 y.o. cellmate, Gina, died in Perryville prison for lack of diagnosis and treatment - all too common a story there. She formed GINA's Team ( when she got out, to help other imprisoned women. Sue Ellen is a truly amazing survivor giving back to those the world would just as soon forget are dying inside.

Please pass this email on to anyone inside that you can. Women writing from prison should send their suggestions directly to:

Jon Sinclair/Vice President

Keisha McClellan/Director

Kathleen Penny/Associate Director

Harpo Creative Works
110 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60607

Finally, please let me know if you or someone you know left her producers a plug for Perryville or Marcia's law, so I can blog updates on our efforts. It should only take 5 minutes.
Use my name and number (Peggy Plews 480-580-6807) as a contact or back up number if you want.


"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."

- Arundhati Roy

Sunday, September 12, 2010

All my friends have FBI files: Policing prisoner support networks.

This "heads up" to prisoner support networks came today by way of the Freedom Archives' Political Prisoner Newsletter. I lost track of all the watch lists my friends and I should be on by now, but this might be an added motive behind anyone feeling particularly surveilled, harassed, or abusively prosecuted. Apparently if the feds really have it in for the prisoner we correspond with (like Marilyn Buck, whom one likely cop left me a disturbing comment about recently) - they'll just send the local and state police after us, wherever we may be in the world.

It all smacks of COINTELPRO and is probably legitimized under the Patriot Act.
Ironic that anyone would be so worried about our kind of "extremists" in this state - it's the ones holding office who really threaten public safety, not the Anarchists.

I shouldn't really have to say this, but no matter how "innocent" you think are, don't let anyone in uninvited without a proper warrant. And check out the link below to request your FBI file; I bet you have have one, if you've read this blog more than once.


Date: Sun, September 12, 2010 4:16 am

Recently we began receiving documents in response to a FOIA request we filed with the FBI about Eric McDavid. The documents have uncovered a few alarming pieces of information, but one in particular we felt it necessary to share with the public as soon as possible. For years people have been speculating that writing political prisoners would result in a person being “put on a list.” Unfortunately, it seems that those speculations were not unfounded.

We have received perhaps hundreds of pages documenting Eric's correspondence with other people. These letters are not just kept on file ­ the Sacramento County Main Jail forwarded all of these letters to the Sacramento FBI field office, which then forwarded them to local field offices around the country (and to law enforcement internationally) to warn the FBI in other cities of a “possible environmental/ animal rights extremist” or “a possible anarchist extremist” in their community.

Originally, the FBI's communications included a statement that “Sacramento is forwarding this communication for information purposes only.” But later, they began including a much longer statement which read, in part: “this information has been determined to be of such a nature that some follow-up as to the possibility of criminal activity is warranted...” These statements were included no matter what was the content of the letter ­ often the documents include the statement that the letter was “benign in nature.”

It is unclear whether or not the FBI is still forwarding Eric's correspondence to local field offices. We have not received any documents dated after his move to a federal facility. It is also unknown whether or not all correspondence with political prisoners is treated in the same
manner. What we do know is that if a person sent Eric a letter to the Sacramento County Main Jail with their full name and address on it, the local FBI field office more than likely now has that information.

We are not sharing this information to raise alarm or spread fear. We have every intention of continuing to write political prisoners, and we urge others to do the same. That said, we hope to expose the FBI's politically motivated investigations and, unlike the FBI, we believe people have a right to know when they have been spied on. This kind of government intrusion could cause the “chilling effect” so often thrown about in conversations about 1st amendment activities. But when we give in to those fears, political prisoners are the ones who suffer. And this is exactly what the government wants.

The state is constantly trying to expand its reach by gathering information about social movements and those who participate in them. Instead of letting this new information scare us
into silence, we should use it to make informed decisions about how we support and prioritize political prisoners. This kind of repression has implications for more than just people involved in “activism.” Millions of people are incarcerated in this country. It is possible that the government uses similar tactics to investigate other communities that they actively repress. Writing our friends, family members and comrades should not be a justified excuse for investigation ­ no matter who our friends are.

If you would like to view some of these documents, you may do so at:

If you would like to find out if the FBI has been collecting information on you, here is a website that explains how to request information underthe freedom of information act.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

Questions and comments may be sent to

Saturday, September 11, 2010

the Desaparecidos of 9/11

A friend passed these lyrics on to me today in remembrance of those most forgotten from the tragedy on 9/11/2001. Grief was spoken in our country in many languages that day - and it was silenced by fear. Still is.

This is for the families of the Desaparecidos everywhere.
May you someday safely bring your loved ones into our light.


If I Give Your Name

by Emmas Revolution

Mi esposa, my wife, worked on the 80th floor
The company had hired illegals before
She got the job by word of mouth
That’s the way in the north when you’re from the south
They say 3,000 but the counting’s not done
Mi esposa está muerta
Three thousand and one

I have no papers, I have no rights
All my days end in sleepless nights
Missing you, silently
If I give your name
Will they come after me?

Mi hermano, my brother, the elevator man
A doctor in our country but you take what you can
I saw the photos in Union Square
But I could not leave his picture there
They say 3,000 but that’s not true
Mi hermano no volverá
Three thousand and two

Mi hija, my daughter, went in early that day
She had always been that way
Her daughter asks, "Where did she go?"
How to tell her, I don’t know
They say 3,000 but that can’t be
Perdí a mi hija
Three thousand and three

Mi padre, my father, I have no words
I tried to find you when I heard
They gave some ashes to families
But I’ll only have the ones I breathe
They say 3,000 there’s so many more
Three thousand and four

Mi esposa, my wife. Will they come after me?
Mi hermano, my brother. Will they come after me?
Mi hija, my daughter. Will they come after me?
Mi padre, my father. If I give your name,
Will they come after me?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Perryville SOS: Critical conditions for seriously ill women.

The following comment was posted to my earlier piece about conditions out at Perryville prison for women- this is specifically referencing San Pedro, which is supposed to be the "medical yard". The concerns enumerated by her are serious and chronic. There are elderly and frail women there, including women with AIDS, cancer, and a host of other illnesses and disabilities.

I can say with confidence that this woman's complaints aren't an exaggeration, nor are they unique to San Pedro (or even to Arizona). I also doubt that any of these issues were addressed when the women of Santa Cruz protested the recent lock-down. I've heard all these things from other women who were/are prisoners at Perryville - including two breast cancer survivors and one woman seeking a compassionate release who's now losing a battle with colon cancer (ironically, given the horrid conditions of her confinement, she was actually written up once for a "grooming violation").

Even the healthy women are at risk in that environment. The notion that people are "well taken care of" behind bars is a popular myth rooted in ignorance and self-serving politics that costs many vulnerable prisoners their lives. And no, they don't all "deserve" to be there in the first place - they certainly don't all need to be there for the sake of public safety - despite the absurd claim in the Fischer report that almost all of the ADC's prisoners are a danger to the rest of us (if you look at that link, check out Professor Mona Lynch's testimony in response, and note how Fischer doesn't differentiate between violent and repeat offenders for the legislature - they're just staving off budget cuts by preventing the early release of ANY prisoners, save a handful of "criminal aliens" the state had deported). My terminally ill friend is an example - she got 5 years from a Pinal County judge as a first time, non-violent offender on a controlled substances charge (she's an addict, of course). Hence the outrage of the author below about "bullshit charges" women are imprisoned for these days - our rate of incarceration has skyrocketed.

San Pedro is a minimum custody level yard - those are women who are low risk enough that they can move freely about the prison, share large dorm areas, and work in the community. When escorted outside of Perryville, they only need one guard to accompany them. So why do they need to be locked up at such an exorbitant expense at all? The average amount we pay per state prisoner in minimum custody in Arizona is about $21,500/year. That's more than twice what our federal government will afford for an elderly or disabled person in the community who is solely dependent on Supplemental Security Income (the state doesn't even supplement that).

Health care costs for prisoners are outrageous, but the quality of health care that prisoners get (if they get it at all) is worse than folks get on AHCCCS, believe it or not. Given that San Pedro is a "medical yard", the author's estimate of the cost of incarceration there may well be accurate, though - for some prisoners it's much higher. Once they finish doing their time (if they survive the experience), we're more than willing to leave them homeless, too, no matter how sick they may be. If they stay homeless too long on parole, they can get violated and thrown back in. That seems awfully twisted to me...

Thank you, to the former prisoner who took the time to send out this SOS for her sisters. She's absolutely right about women getting the worst deal in prison (most of the prisons are fire traps, but I don't hear nearly as much from the men about health hazards as I do from Perryville). Results will be hard to come by - God knows Middle Ground has been working on this for years - but if we can get some key legislators invested and build even a modicum of human rights' protections into Marcia's Law, it might help some of these conditions.

Please feel free to contact me - you or any other family members or former prisoners out there - if you want to work on these concerns with us. We need all the help and eyewitness testimony that we can get.
My number is 480-580-6807; call anytime.


September 10, 2010 12:41 PM

Anonymous said...

I want someone to fight for the women who are serving time in Perryville Prison. I just did a nine month stint on San Pedro Yard. The place is disgusting, none of the swamp coolers work, its 120 degrees in our cells. The K-9 dogs stays in cages in the air conditioning. We are treated like animals (worse than animals). The sewer systems on both yards over flow, right in front of the kitchens, YUCK! The swamp coolers are filled with pigeon poop, and we breathe that into our lungs. Every bathroom is covered with mold, the walls , the floors, the shower curtains. One of the kitchens on 8 yard has been condemed, and the prison is not supposed to house inmates in there. BUT THEY DO! As soon as the health inspectors come to check stuff out, they leave and they start housing girls back in there AGAIN!.

The medical services on San Pedro is a joke, more than one time I was told to take advil and drink alot of water, and I have blood clots, and fibromyalgia!!!! Ive Heard them tell the same exact thing to the girls right after they have a seizure! The prison is so over full that we are living in squaller, The smoking section is full of fleas, bugs, ROACHES. The Deputy Warden MUSE is useless, Im surprised she even has a job. IF we get lucky to have a community meeting, and ask her a question, she always puts it off on someone else, she is extremely rude, and inconsiderate. AND LLAAZZYY!!

San Pedro is supposed to be a medical yard and i have NEVER seen living conditions like that before.!, and Im not just taking someone elses word for it, I lived there. The prison is so broke , why do we continue to hold so many girls that they cant afford to take care of them. ITS your Tax money to hold girl in disgusting conditions, Why dont you let alot of them go home to there kids. Come on drug charges for there own personal use (GIVE ME A BREAK). It cost tax payers 30-40 thousand dollars a year to hold mothers, daughters, wifes sisters.... FOR SOME BULLSHIT CHARGES...... Dont any of you have better things to do with your money?

Push for the senate bill to lower the 85%, to the 65%, and Fire Deputy Muse, shes not doing one bit of good anyway. Illegal Immigrants had their 85% dropped down to 50%..... The Prison is condemned, and its filthy, if we were the men at the mens prison, wed riot for what we want, but because were women and were more passive , and we dont riot....WE GET THE SHITTY END OF THE DEAL!!!!!!!! HELP!!!!!HEALTH INSPECTORS ARE ALWAYS SHUTTING THINGS DOWN ON OUR YARD! we EAT DAYS OLD LUNCH MEAT EVERY SINGLE DAY FOR LUNCH! food poisoning is common!~

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Marcia Powell: No Human Involved? Appeal to Rick Romley.

For many years, official police reports identified murdered prostitutes with the phrase
"No human involved."

From the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) Tucson memorial last December,
marking the
2009 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.


Dear Friends of Marcia Powell:

I went to the Maricopa County Attorney's office yesterday and requested an appointment with Rick Romley to discuss the prosecution of those responsible for Marcia's death. I was deflected by a detective who knew next to nothing about the case, and sent me off to tell the state to do a better investigation for them, suggesting that they can still file charges later. I wasn't satisfied with that, but wasn't about to fight the guy to Romley's door - he was pretty big and wore a gun.

So, after visiting AZ Attorney General Goddard's office to be sure they can't do anything (they denied any jurisdiction, deferring to the MCA), I came home and wrote this letter. I hand-delivered it to Romley's office this morning.

Admittedly, I probably should have tried this before chalking up the MCA's sidewalks last week and posting my art, but I guess I needed to get it out of my system in order to articulate myself.
I think this is the right thing to do, though I can't help but feel like I'm betraying some of my abolitionist principles by arguing for criminal prosecution. If anyone has any ideas about what transformative justice might look like in this community for the guards who killed Marcia Powell, let me know. I just don't want to empower or embolden them - or any other officer - to hurt prisoners again.

Anyway, this may end what I had left of secrets or a private life, but the truth about why I could have ended up in that cage myself seemed important to tell. I'm not entirely proud of all the decisions I've made in my life, but Arundhati Roy's closing quote is on my letterhead precisely because I believe we should never have to be ashamed to tell our stories. If we cower in silence and fear, then how else will others be free to tell theirs? We must assert that - whatever else we may be called - we are humans involved if we are to challenge the stigma that allows women like Marcia to be so readily discounted and ignored.

- Peg


September 8, 2010

Richard M. Romley
Maricopa County Attorney
301 West Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Dear Mr. Romley,

My name is Peggy Plews; I’m a friend of Marcia Powell’s. We didn’t actually meet before she died, but I immediately identified with her life story. As an alcoholic, drug-addicted, manic depressive, troublemaking survivor of childhood abuse and sexual assault, I was thrown out and dropped out of high school, sold myself for a high on more than one occasion, and ended up institutionalized before I was 20.

I was fortunate enough to end up in AA at that time, or I would have soon been criminalized like Marcia, if I even survived much longer. My recovery over the years has been a challenge; since the 2001 death of my little brother and the suicide of a man I loved, my mood disorder has been severe enough that I’ve had several episodes of relapse and extended periods of disability. Some of the medications I’ve been on have made me gravely ill. As an alternative, I went a year without meds, and even tried electroconvulsive shock therapy. Neither strategy was very effective; the latter caused lasting damage to my memory and cognitive abilities.

By the time of Marcia’s death, however, I’d been regaining my functioning for a couple of years, and was enrolled at ASU, 3 credits away from earning my degree in Justice Studies. Most of my academic inquiry around that time was in the history of slavery, women’s resistance to oppression, social movements in America, and the evolution of the contemporary prison industrial complex. By the time my Winter 2009 semester concluded, I was an avowed - albeit an imperfect - prison abolitionist, and just beginning to cast my gaze around my own community again. Hence my intensely personal reaction when I learned of Marcia‘s death.

Not quite sure how to cope with the grief and powerlessness I felt, I began to blog as one vehicle for both public education and advocacy. Needing to find others who shared my interests and concerns about our jails and prisons, I also organized with some of the community members I met at memorial services in the weeks that followed Marcia’s death to explore ways we could make a positive difference in how prisoners are treated and regarded, and in how the criminal justice system here works. We came to call ourselves the “Friends of Marcia Powell”, which is a much broader, looser network now that includes everyone from young Phoenix anarchists to international prison watchers to leaders in the movement for the wrongfully convicted to Republicans with kids in Arizona prisons. Of all of us, though, I am the one who could have most easily been Marcia Powell.

I still can be, in fact. I am regarded by some, I’m sure (particularly those at the AZ Department of Corrections) as a public nuisance; certainly as a dogged critic of state policies and people in power. I suspect I have not endeared myself to anyone but left wing radicals and outlaws, and - given my personal history - I’d be pretty vulnerable to malicious prosecution by any of my adversaries’ good buddies, as I understand Mr. Montgomery is.

I could also just as easily relapse or lose my mind and get arrested and prosecuted for a real crime. Once in prison, given my politics, I’d be in trouble all the time - and sure to be punished outside of policy guidelines from time to time. So, I have a vested interest in the outcome of your investigation and - hopefully - prosecutions: I don’t want those people to have power over my life after what they’ve done to Marcia.

Given that the constitutional rights we infer on crime victims in this state don’t apply to people who - like Marcia - are victimized while “in custody for an offense”, it’s no wonder that prisoners of the state and county alike are so often brutalized and neglected. Prisoners and ex-felons have fewer rights and protections than animals, while perpetrators of violent crimes against them are given far more benefit of the doubt by your office than the rest of us would be. Failing to prosecute anyone for the death of Marcia Powell will certainly facilitate justifications for prisoner abuse in the future by brutal, cruel, and careless people in uniform who think they will be immune to criminal sanctions. It also further erodes the public’s trust that “justice” in America is for all, not just for the privileged few.

As I suspect you know, people like Thomas, Arpaio, and Pearce have also done grave damage to the integrity and credibility of Arizona’s criminal justice system, and consequently, to the ability of many people to have any faith in law makers or enforcers anymore. Not prosecuting those responsible for the death of Marcia Powell just reaffirms that the lives of the most disenfranchised and vulnerable among us here are truly disposable in the eyes of the law - which earns only my disgust and contempt. That is where some of the rage directed at police by youth during the Anti-Arpaio march comes from - it’s a deep fracture that can’t be healed by punishing them - it needs to be addressed at the source.

In the meantime, those individuals already identified in an internal investigation as being criminally negligent in Marcia’s death are minimizing the harm they did and fighting to get their jobs back, some returning to the same prison yard with the same duties and powers they had when they killed her. That speaks volumes about the justice system to those prisoners who witnessed their incompetence or cruelty that day, and will now be subjected to it themselves again.

In light of that development, how is a prisoner who is raped ever supposed to have confidence that her complaint will be taken seriously, and that her assailant will be prosecuted instead of returned to a position of power over her? Why would any of those women have any confidence at all that the Maricopa County Attorney’s office makes a good faith effort to protect victims and seek justice, if the only people they see you punish are the poor and powerless or political enemies? As you should know, as many as 80% of women in prison have themselves been victims of crime already - and many will be again.

For these reasons I came by your office today in an attempt to schedule an appointment to meet with you, to personally implore you to take another look at Marcia’s case. Your office is prosecuting all sorts of people on less evidence, or with more contradictory testimony, than that which has been collected thus far in this case. You are threatening several Friends of Marcia Powell’s with prosecution as violent criminals - with prison time, if they don’t plead out - for their antagonism of police at the January Anti-Arpaio rally. What does it say to those young people - and their entire community - if you then won’t charge ADC officers for their role in Marcia’s death? She was far more helpless a victim than armed police on horseback or in riot gear. She suffered horribly due to those officers’ neglect; her body even had second degree burns on it from the sun. None of the Arpaio 5 hurt anyone like that, nor would they. You have the wrong dangerous criminals in your sights.

Please bring charges against those officers who are most implicated and let them put on their defense - what have you lost if some prove their innocence? You will have at least shown that human lives like Marcia’s matter as much as fallen K-9 dogs. You will help set a higher standard of expectations for the conduct of corrections and law enforcement officers in regards to their treatment of prisoners. And before you leave your post, you will teach this community to expect more from the county attorney’s office than we’ve been able to expect for years. Given who will be taking your place, that’s a vital, powerful tool for the people to have, lest we all become victims of that office again.

I can be contacted at the number and email above if you are willing to meet; I have a couple of other issues I‘d like to discuss, too. I’d very much like your help crafting a bill and lobbying the legislature to strengthen the rights of Arizona prisoners to be protected from neglect and abuse; you have credibility that my friends and I lack due to your reputation in law enforcement. We plan to make “Marcia’s Law” a visible issue this fall, such that it gets raised on the campaign trail and is in the forefront of everyone’s minds by the time the legislature reconvenes. If it is not initiated now, while the incident is still fresh in the community’s collective heart and mind, it will never be realized.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I hope to hear from you soon.


Margaret Jean Plews

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."

- Arundhati Roy