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, March 26, 2011

Tough on Crime MCAO prosecutes William Franklin Hughes III.

Maricopa County Superior Court House (March 11, 2011)

Just so folks know, William Franklin Hughes III plead guilty last week to one misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure and one misdemeanor charge of criminal damage. He was originally up on 5 misdemeanors and 2 felonies, so I guess you could say that they cut him a deal. Considering that William was assaulted repeatedly in custody and has evidence of a serious mental illness, though, I think the Maricopa County Attorney's Office should have cut the guy loose after he took that beating. This stuff can accumulate on one's record and come back around again to haunt you, so it's never really a "favor" when they pursue prosecutions of people for the symptoms of their mental illness instead of divert them out of the CJ system altogether, though. They really stick it to people with a mental illness in this town, and they do it with a smile.

The folks I saw ten or fifteen years ago cycling in and out of county jails and shelters are now going to prison because they didn't get adequate
public mental health care and they racked up such a record of misdemeanors living on the streets, not because they became more hardened criminals. That's how they end up doing 27 months for prostitution, like Marcia Powell, in the first place. That's pretty pathetic; hardly a sign of an evolved society.

That's $20,000 a year we're willing to put into incarcerating each mentally ill citizen - more, since we tend to put them in high security settings - but we aren't willing to invest it in keeping them from suffering from the symptoms for their illness and poverty. William was having such a rough time the night before he was even assaulted that his judge didn't think he was competent to stand trial, though - if he had been, she probably would have released him on bail at that time. I have no idea why the MCAO thinks he was criminally competent the night he was arrested; I don't think people with mental illness are really getting due process in this place.

William, if you're out there, please sue the hell out of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, or they'll keep doing to others what they did to you. I wish I had the satisfaction of at least knowing that you managed to moon the cops or something while you were being taken down, too.

Let's see if the MCAO is really "tough on crime" or just on the people: will they let MCSO Detention Officer Kevin Gerster walk with misdemeanors now, after beating Hughes up? They already let the guy slide by not charging him with class 6 felonies under ARS 13-3623, which is supposed to protect vulnerable adults. And will Alan Keesee even get charged for his assaultive behavior? As far as I know, he's still on paid leave from the MCSO.

Stay tuned...Gerster's final pre-trial management conference is May 18 at 8:45am, in front of Judge Verdin. Trial is on May 25 at 8am.

Friday, March 18, 2011

AZ Prison Rape: Survivor Resources.

From Just Detention International, some resources for survivors of prison rape in Arizona. Hit their site for a sample letter and talking points to AG Holder about the problems with the Prison Rape Elimination Act standards before the April 4, 2011 deadline. They need to be much stronger than the AG is proposing.



Arizona Sexual Assault Network
1949 E. Calle de Arcos
Tempe, AZ 85284
Office: (480) 831-1986

Arizona Sexual Assault Network (AzSAN) works to identify and address sexual violence issues through a collaborative statewide public/private network of professionals, individuals, and organizations who are committed to the fight against sexual violence. AzSAN promotes an understanding of the dynamics of sexual violence and the strategies that will be successful in combating the issue. At local, state, and national levels, AzSAN works to encourage new and effective responses to sexual violence. AzSAN can provide information and referrals to survivors and direct them to member agencies or service providers in their geographic area.

Catholic Community Services in Western Arizona
690 E. 32nd Street
Yuma, AZ 85356
24-hour Hotline: (877) 440-0550

Catholic Community Services (CCS) in Western Arizona serves survivors of sexual assault in Yuma and La Paz Counties. CCS provides crisis intervention and information and referrals to survivors of sexual assault behind bars who contact the 24-hour hotline, but due to funding restrictions, CCS cannot offer ongoing support such as counseling or case management to survivors with felony convictions. All services are free and confidential.

Catholic Social Services Counseling Program
140 West Speedway, #130
Tucson, AZ 85705
Office: (520) 623-0344

Catholic Social Services is a division of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, Inc. The Catholic Social Services Counseling Program provides individual, couples, family, and group mental health counseling to adults and children in the office or in clients' homes. Most services are provided out of the main office near downtown Tucson, but services are also available from a satellite office in South Tucson and a branch office in Nogales, Arizona. Support groups are formed and arranged based on the needs of the community. The CSS Counseling Program staff includes bilingual Spanish/English counselors as well as counselors who specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder. Counseling fees are based on a sliding scale. The $10.00 registration fee can be waived for clients in financial need.

Kingman Aid to Abused People
P.O. Box 1046
Kingman, AZ 86402
Office: (928) 753-6222
24-hour Hotline: (928) 753-4242

Kingman Aid to Abused People (KAAP) provides comprehensive services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other crimes in Kingman, Mohave County, and adjacent areas in the Northwestern corner of Arizona. Supportive services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency shelter, residential program, crisis counseling, legal advocacy, case management, and a children’s program. All services are free and confidential.

North Country HealthCare/Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
2920 N. 4th Street
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
Office: (928) 213-6112

North Country HealthCare provides healthcare, including counseling and support groups, to the residents of Flagstaff, Seligman, Ash Fork, Grand Canyon, Winslow, St. Johns, Springerville/Eager, Holbrook, and Kingman. NACASA does not operate a 24-hour hotline, but local law enforcement contact the Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (NACASA) to administer medical/forensic examinations (Code R Kits) by specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners. Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) and pregnancy prevention medications are provided to survivors as part of the exam. North Country also offers crisis counseling as well as other behavioral health services to survivors of sexual assault. North Country offers a sliding scale fee for services and will provide healthcare to survivors of sexual assault regardless of their ability to pay.

Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation
375 S. Euclid Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85719
Office: (520) 628-7223
Toll-free: (800) 771-9054

The Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) provides direct services to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. These services include: case management, peer counseling, support groups, wellness and complementary therapies, emergency financial assistance, medications assistance, transportation, dental services for those who qualify, and advocacy. SAAF works with and provides these direct services to prisoners with HIV/AIDS in the Arizona State system prior to discharge and after their incarceration.

Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault
1600 North Country Club Road
Tucson, AZ 85716
Office: (520) 327-1171
24-hour Bilingual Crisis Line: (520) 327-7273
Toll-free 24-hour Bilingual Crisis Line: (800) 400-1001
TTY Hotline: (520) 327-1721
TTY Hotline Hours: Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm

The Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) is the oldest and largest sexual assault service provider in the state of Arizona and the only agency serving Tucson, Pima County, and southern Arizona. SACA offers comprehensive, specialized services to children, youth, adults, and families who have been affected by any type of sexual violence, including rape, incest, molestation, and sexual abuse. SACASA’s services for survivors of sexual assault include: advocacy, crisis intervention, specialized mental health services, prevention education, and professional training. The Crisis Services Program provides immediate and comprehensive intervention, care, advocacy, education, and referral services to survivors, secondary victims, and community members throughout southern Arizona. SACASA provides long-term, comprehensive mental health services for primary and secondary victims and survivors of recent and past sexual trauma who are eligible. All services are free and confidential.

425 East Seventh Street
Tucson, AZ 85705
Office: (520) 624-1779
TDD: (520) 884-0450
24-hour Anti-Violence Crisis Line (English/Spanish): (520) 624-0348
Toll-free 24-hour Anti-Violence Crisis Line (English/Spanish): (800) 553-9387

The Wingspan Anti-Violence Project (AVP) is a social change and social service program that works to address and end violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The AVP provides free and confidential 24-hour crisis intervention, information, support, referrals, emergency shelter, and advocacy to LGBT victims/survivors of sexual assault and other types of violence. Additionally, Wingspan offers extensive outreach and education programs. All AVP services are available in English and Spanish. Se ofrecen todos los servicios de AVP en espaƱol.


Human Rights Advocate Service
P.O. Box 5842
Tucson, AZ 85703
Office: (520) 358-4685

Human Rights Advocate Services provides services to inmates in Arizona who are victims of sexual assault while incarcerated. Services provided free of charge include: basic legal research, investigative services, public records searches, federal freedom of information act requests, Arizona public records act requests, and attorney referrals. Inmates should send a short letter stating their concern and what help is requested. Supporting documents should not be sent.

Lambda Legal: Western Regional Office
3325 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1300
Los Angeles, CA 90010-1729
Phone: (213) 382-7600
Fax: (213) 351-6050

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work. Western Regional Office provides services for those who are located in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Help Desk Hours (Pacific Standard Time):
Mondays: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Tuesdays: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Wednesdays: 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Thursdays: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

If Help Desk staff are busy helping other callers, your call will be routed to the Legal Help Desk voicemail. Please leave the following information: name, state, contact info, best time to reach you, and a brief message outlining your legal inquiry. A Help Desk staff person will return your call.

It is usually most efficient for Help Desk callers to contact Lambda Legal by phone. If you are in a place where you are not able to make long distance calls, Lambda can make an appointment to call you. If you are absolutely unable to call, you may e-mail the organization at or write to the addresses above.

State Bar of Arizona: Lawyer Locator and Referral Resources
4201 N. 24th St., Suite 200
Phoenix, AZ 850166288
Office (Maricopa County): (602) 252-4804
Toll Free (OUtside of Maricop County): (866) 482-9227

Southern Regional Office:
270 N. Church Ave., Suite 100
Tuscon, AZ 857012215
Office: (520) 623-9944

The State Bar of Arizona is a non-profit organization that operates under the supervision of the Arizona Supreme Court. The Bar regulates approximately 13,000 active attorneys in Arizona and provides education and development programs for the legal profession and the public. The Bar and its members are committed to serving the public by making sure the voices of all people in Arizona are heard in our justice system. To search for at attorney in the state of Arizona, use the Lawyer Locator on the State Bar of Arizona website or contact the State Bar via mail

Maricopa County Bar Association
Office: (602) 257-4434

Pima County Bar Association
177 N. Church Avenue, #101 Tucson, AZ 85701
Office: (520) 623-4625

Both the Maricopa and Pima County Bar Associations provide information on lawyers or legal service providers who offer low-cost, no-cost, or self-help services. Some low-cost and no-cost resources require you to meet certain income or other qualifications before services can be provided.

Self-Service Center, Maricopa County Superior Court
101 West Jefferson, 4th Floor
Phoenix, AZ
Office: (602) 506-7353

The Self-Service Center provides citizens with plain-English instructions, forms, and assistance for a variety of legal procedures. The Center also maintains a list of lawyers willing to advise self-represented individuals on a per-hour, non-retained basis.


Criminal Investigation Unit, Office of the Inspector General
Arizona Department of Corrections
1601 W. Jefferson
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Office: (602) 542-1160

The Arizona Department of Corrections, Office of the Inspector General is comprised of various units responsible for the overall policing of the prison system through criminal, administrative, and background investigations; intelligence gathering; prison audits and policy; and maintenance of fire and safety standards. The Criminal Investigations Unit is responsible for investigation of all crimes that occur within the state’s prisons, as well as investigations of inmate protective segregation cases.

Justice Roars: Crimes Against Nature law is a crime against us all.

86 the silence;

86 the violence.

Sex Worker Rights
Are Human Rights.

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

from our friend Jordan Flaherty at the blog Justice Roars: The Louisiana Justice Institute...


Justice Department Report, Released Today, Calls Louisiana's "Crime Against Nature" Law Discriminatory

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An earlier version of this article originally appeared on

Eve is a transgender woman living in rural southern Louisiana. She was molested as a child and left home as a teenager. Homeless and alone, she was forced to trade sex for survival. While still a teenager, she was arrested and charged with a Crime Against Nature, an archaic Louisiana law originally designed to penalize sex acts associated with gays and lesbians.

Now Eve is one of nine plaintiffs fighting the law in a federal civil rights complaint that advocates hope will finally put this official discrimination to an end.

This legal action comes in the context of increased scrutiny from the federal government over the conduct of the New Orleans Police Department. A US Justice Department investigation of the NOPD, released today, found "reasonable cause to believe that patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct and/or violations of federal law occurred in several areas," including "racial and ethnic profiling and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) discrimination." The report specifically mentioned Louisiana's Crime Against Nature law, calling it "a statute whose history reflects anti-LGBT sentiment." The report also concluded that investigators "found reasonable cause to believe that NOPD practices lead to discriminatory treatment of LGBT individuals."

Punishing Women

Eve, who asked that her real name and age remain confidential, spent two years in prison. During her time behind bars she was raped and contracted HIV. Upon release, she was forced to register in the state’s sex offender database. The words “sex offender” now appear on her driver’s license. “I have tried desperately to change my life,” she says, but her status on the database stands in the way of housing and other programs. “When I present my ID for anything,” she says, “the assumption is that you’re a child molester or a rapist. The discrimination is just ongoing and ongoing.”

Eve was penalized under Louisiana’s 205-year-old Crime Against Nature statute, a blatantly discriminatory law that legislators have maneuvered to keep on the state’s books for the purpose of turning sex workers into felons. As enforced, the law specifically singles out oral and anal sex for greater punishment for those arrested for prostitution, including requiring those convicted to register as sex offenders in a public database. Advocates say the law has further isolated and targeted poor women of color, transgender women, and especially those who are forced to trade sex for food or a place to sleep at night.

In 2003, the Supreme Court outlawed sodomy laws with its decision in Lawrence v. Texas. That ruling should have invalidated Louisiana’s law entirely. Instead, the state has chosen to only enforce the portion of the law that concerns “solicitation” of a crime against nature. The decision on whether to charge accused sex workers with a felony instead of Louisiana’s misdemeanor prostitution law is left entirely in the hands of police and prosecutors.

“This leaves the door wide open to discriminatory enforcement targeting poor black women, transgender women, and gay men for a charge that carries much harsher penalties,” says police misconduct attorney and organizer Andrea J. Ritchie, a co-counsel in a new federal lawsuit challenging the statute.

A media-fueled national panic about child molesters has brought sex offender registries to every state. But advocates warn that, across the U.S., these registries have been used disproportionately against African Americans and other communities of color, and are often used for purposes outside of their original intent. Louisiana, however, is the only state in the U.S. that requires people who have been convicted of crimes that do not involve minors or sexual violence to register as sex offenders.

In 1994, Congress passed Megan’s Law, also known as the Wetterling Act, which mandated that states create systems for registering sex offenders. The act was amended in 1996 to require public disclosure of the names on the registries and again in 2006 to require sex offenders stay in the public registry for at least 15 years.

Megan’s Law was clearly not targeted at prostitution. However, Louisiana lawmakers opted to apply the registry to the crimes against nature statute as well, and at that moment started down the path to a new level of punishment for sex work. “This archaic law is being used to mark people with modern day scarlet letter,” says attorney Alexis Agathocleus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, another party in the lawsuit.

People convicted under the Louisiana law must carry a state ID with the words “sex offender” printed below their name. If they have to evacuate because of a hurricane, they must stay in a special shelter for sex offenders that has no separate facilities for men and women. They have to pay a $60 annual registration fee, in addition to $250 to $750 to print and mail postcards to their neighbors every time they move. The post cards must show their names and addresses, and often they are required to include a photo. Failing to register and pay the fees, a separate crime, can carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison.

Women and men on the registry will also find their names, addresses, and convictions printed in the newspaper and published in an online sex offender database. The same information is also displayed at public sites like schools and community centers. Women—including one mother of three—have complained that because of their appearance on the registry, they have had men come to their homes demanding sex. A plaintiff in the suit had rocks thrown at her by neighbors. “This has forced me to live in poverty, be on food stamps and welfare,” explains a man who was on the list. “I’ve never done that before.”

In Orleans Parish, 292 people are on the registry for selling sex, versus 85 people convicted of forcible rape and 78 convicted of “indecent behavior with juveniles.” Almost 40 percent of those registered in Orleans Parish are there solely because they were accused of offering anal or oral sex for money. Seventy-five percent of those on the database for Crime Against Nature are women, and 80 percent are African American. Evidence gathered by advocates suggests a majority are poor or indigent.

Legal advocates credit on-the-ground organizing and the advocacy of the group Women With A Vision (WWAV) for making them aware of this discriminatory law. WWAV, a 20-year-old New Orleans-based organization, provides health care and other services to women involved in survival sex work. “Many of these women are survivors of rape and domestic violence themselves,” says WWAV executive director Deon Haywood. “Yet they are being treated as predators.”

Plaintiffs Tell Their Stories

Ian, another plaintiff in the legal challenge to the Crime Against Nature statute, was homeless from the age of 13, and began trading sex for survival. When an undercover officer approached him and asked him for sex, Ian asked for money. “All I said was $50,” he says, “And they put me away for four years.”

In prison, Ian was raped by a correction officer and by other prisoners, and like Eve, he contracted HIV. Now, he says, potential employers see the words “sex offender” written on his ID and no one will hire him. “Do I deserve to be punished any more than I’ve already been punished?” he asks. “I was 13 years old. That’s the only way I knew how to survive.”

Hiroke, a New Orleans resident and another plaintiff in the suit, spoke on a call set up by advocates. “I had just graduated from high school and was just coming out as transgender,” she says. Hiroke was arrested and convicted while still a teenager. As she began to describe her experience, Hiroke’s voice began to shake. “I was being held with men in jail at the time…” she began. Then there was silence on the line. Holding back tears, she then apologized for being unable to continue.

The Louisiana legislature recently passed a reform of the Crime Against Nature statute, but for the vast majority of those affected, the change makes little to no difference. Although the new law takes away the registration component for a first conviction, a second conviction requires 15 years on the registry, and up to five years imprisonment. A third conviction mandates a lifetime on the registry. More than 538 men and women remain on the registry because they were convicted of offering anal or oral sex, with more added almost every day.

The legal challenge to the Crime Against Nature law, called Doe v. Jindal, has been filed in Louisiana’s US District Court Eastern District on behalf of nine anonymous plaintiffs. It was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, and the Law Clinic at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. The anonymous plaintiffs include a grandmother, a mother of four, three transgender women, and a man, all of whom have been required to register as sex offenders from 15 years to life as a result of their convictions for the solicitation of oral sex for money.

Sex Worker rights: End discrimination!

Remembering Marcia Powell.
Sex Worker Outreach Project / Arizona Department of Corrections Protest.
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
December 17, 2009.

At UN, US Says No one Should Face Discrimination For Public Services, Including Sex Workers

For Immediate Release


Stacey Swimme

Sienna Baskin, Esq.

(877) 776‐2004 x. 2 (646) 602-5695

March 9th, 2011- According to their statement in response to the UN’s human rights evaluation, the US agrees that “…no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitutioni.” This marks a rare occasion in which the US is addressing the needs of sex workers as a distinct issue separate from human trafficking. Sex workers have unique needs that aren’t adequately addressed by federal trafficking policy. Sex workers are hopeful that this will present a new opportunity to work with anti-trafficking efforts to address mutual human rights concerns.

"People in the sex trade have been marginalized and stigmatized when seeking public services, including through law enforcement. This is a big step forward to acknowledging sex workers’ human rights." Kelli Dorsey, Executive Director of Different Avenues said.

Over the past year sex workers and their families, sex workers’ rights groups, human rights advocates, and academic researchers have engaged in an unprecedented advocacy collaboration. “It has been crucial to bring together the perspectives of a wide range of communities including immigrant and LGBT groups in order to illustrate the depth of human rights violations experienced by sex workers in the United States,” says Penelope Saunders, Coordinator of the Best Practices Policy Project, who worked with the Desiree Alliance to send a shadow report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). These initial efforts resulted in Recommendation 86 and the formation of a group called Human Rights For All: Concerned Advocates for the Rights of Sex Workers and People in the Sex Trade (HRA).

HRA had support from more than 125 organizations in urging law makers to accept Recommendation #86, part of the report of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which called on the US to look into the special vulnerability of sex workers to violence and human rights abuses. “We were long overdue for the United States to take the needs of sex workers seriously, particularly the need to stem violence and discrimination,” says attorney Sienna Baskin, Co-Director of Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

"Human beings cannot be excluded from accesible services because they work in economies outside of society's accepted norms,” explains Cristine Sardina, co-director, Desiree Alliance. “The fact that the U.S. has acknowledged the recommendation in full speaks to the current administration's willingness to recognize the abuses sex workers have been subjected to for too long. We look forward to working with this administration".

Sex workers say the issues they face are complex and more work will have to be done to protect against human rights abuses. “Sex workers who are transgender or people of color face the most violence and it's important that we continue to realize and work towards ending that, this is a good first step.” Said Tara Sawyer, who sits on the Board of Directors of the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA.

On Friday March 18th Sex Workers will stage demonstrations in cities across the country to celebrate adoption of Recommendation #86. “The U.S. has finally acknowledged that sex workers face issues separate from those of human trafficking victims,” said Natalie Brewster Nguyen, an artist and member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Tucson who is organizing the demonstrations on the 18th, ”Now we need to demand that steps be taken to address the issues that will actually improve the daily lives of sex workers.”

For more information on this story or the upcoming March 18th demonstrations, please contact Stacey Swimme at or (877) 776-2004 x. 2

86 the Violence Against Sex Workers!

Take direct action to support sex worker rights today!

Stop the Violence. Stop the Fear.

See us Here.

Mothers and daughters and
Teachers and lawyers and
Songs within our souls.
Brothers with dreams, and
Trans with means,
And a light inside us that grows.

Each have a story
With sadness and glory
Trying to make our way through

When the judgment fades,
And the hate abates,
We'll be standing right beside you.
Will you be standing beside us too?

Stop the Violence. Stop the Fear.

See us Here.

This year, the United States participated in a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – a process set up by the Human Rights Council at the United Nations to assess the level of human rights in each country. The U.S. received more than 200 recommendations and must now decide to accept or reject each recommendation. Recommendation 86 called on the Obama Administration to “…ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses.” This is the first time the US has been internationally called upon to address its insensitivity to the long-neglected issues faced by sex workers.

To capitalize on this momentous opportunity, sex worker support and advocacy organizations from all across the country have organized to move government officials to agree to accept the recommendation. As a part of our organizing efforts we have reached out to sex worker groups, academics, policy makers, community organizations, funders and NGO’s around the globe and received unprecendented levels of support. (See the amazing list of folks who have signed our call to action below.)

On March 18th, the U.S. will go to Geneva to announce to the U.N. which recommendations they will accept and which they will reject. "86 THE VIOLENCE," a multi-city performance art action represents the culmination of sex worker advocacy efforts. We believe we have an opportunity to achieve high levels of media attention, which opens the door for us to let the world know in one solid, united voice, that violence and human rights abuses will no longer be tolerated in our community.

If the government accepts the recommendation, this action will serve as a celebration for having our nation’s first major political promise to address the needs of sex workers. If they do not accept the recommendation, then this action will serve to spark a fire of outrage that will be fueled by media and all of the supporters that have come out to champion the cause. Either way, we believe the more sex workers and allies we can motivate to participate in this action, the more media attention we will receive, and the greater the likelihood that we can alter the conversation and public perception about sex worki in this country.


Join us in this public action performance on March 18th!

SWOP, Sex workers and allied organizations all over the country will be standing up and stripping down for recommendation 86!

Here's what you do:

1. Check if there is already a key organizer in your city. If there is no key organizer, email us, and we'll list YOU as the key organizer!

Key organizers will be contacted by our media team to help you identify media outlets in your area, and follow up.

If you are a key organizer, pick a location for the action that we can list on the website, and a contact name, number, and email address

"86 the violence" will take place at noon PST, 1pm MST, 2pm CST, and 3pm EST on March 18th, 2011 for 86 minutes!

2. Enact "86 the violence."

-You need AT LEAST one person to be a TARGET and one person to be SUPPORT/ INFORMATION. More people are better, 3 TARGETS and a few SUPPORTS are best to protect everyone involved.

-TARGETS dress up as shown in the video here . Draw a red bullseye somewhere on your body. Be as close to naked as is legally allowed on the street in your city, or that you are comfortable with. Tie red fabric around your eyes, your mouth or your hands. These three ties are symbolic and can mean many things about lack of access, silence, and invisibility. Infuse them with your own meaning.

Install the TARGETS on the street, in a park, or in any public place. TARGETS symbolically or verbally ask passerby to help us “86 the violence.” this can be done by silently holding out a cloth that passerby can use to wipe the target off your body, or verbally asking.

-SUPPORT may dress in any manner classic to the sex worker rights movement. Wear red, carry red umbrellas, and have at least one or 2 umbrellas with the number 86 painted on the top. Print out the information we have HERE: literature to hand out to passersby and lyrics to our song. Perhaps keep the information to hand out in an upturned red umbrella.

3. The final action of the performance is to remove or cut off the red cloth, wipe off the targets, and leave the red cloth in the shape of the number 86 on the ground.

4. Take photos. Document the hell out of it, and send your documentation to us. We'll be making a montage of videos and photos to take to press as well.

notes: if staying installed in one place becomes and issue (a cop tells you to leave, or threatens you) make sure your group knows what it wants to do. We recommend taking the whole production on a walk. You can simply walk down the street slowly, to avoid loitering. The 86 minutes need not be in one place. We recommend wearing the smallest amount of legally allowed clothing (in many places, this is a thong, underwear or T-Strap and nipple covering). We recommend that ALL TARGETS wear the same amount of clothing/covering for continuity and gender alliance.


Organizations that have come out in support of accepting the recommendation:

Action pour la lutte Contre L'ignorance du SIDA (Democratic Republic of Congo)
AIDS Action Baltimore
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Project Los Angeles
American Medical Students Association
Americans for Informed Democracy
Amnesty for Women
American Jewish World Service
Aniz, Inc.
Asocijacija za Borbu Protiv Side (Association against AIDS, JAZAS, Yugoslavia)
Association of Nurses in AIDS Care
Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network
Best Practices Policy Project
Black Communities' Process (PCN)
Center for Anti-Violence Education
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (CLPP), Hampshire College
Collectif pour le Developpement Economique, Social et Culturel Integre (Democratic Republic of Congo)
Desiree Alliance
Different Avenues
Erotic Service Providers’ Legal, Education and Research Project
Four Freedoms Forum
Harm Reduction Coalition
Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS)
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance
HIVictorious, Inc.
Housing Works
Human Rights Watch
International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS Global (ICW Global)
International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe
International Rectal Microbicide Advocates
International Women’s Health Coalition
JJJ Association (Hong Kong)
Madonna e.V. (Germany)
Malcolm X Center for Self Determination
Nashville CARES
National Minority AIDS Council
Nigerian Diversity Network
Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project
Public Interest Project, US Human Rights Fund
Population & Development Program, Hampshire College
Religious Institute
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)
Scarlet Alliance (Austraila)
Sex Worker Forum (Botswana)
Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK)
Sex Workers Outreach Project (Chicago Chapter)
Sex Workers Outreach Project (Las Vegas Chapter)
Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP National)
Sex Workers Outreach Project (NYC Chapter),
Sex Workers Outreach Project (Seattle Chapter)
Sex Workers Outreach Project (Tucson Chapter)
Sex Workers Project, at the Urban Justice Center
Sexuality and Gender Working Group, Human Rights Network
St. James’ Infirmary
Syndicat du Travail Sexuel (STRASS) (France)
Tais Plus (Kirgizstan)
TAMPEP (European Network for HIV/STI Prevention & Health Promotion among Migrant Sex Workers)
U.S. Positive Women's Network (PWN) a project of WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease)
Women of Color United
Women’s Network for Unity
Women’s Network for Unity (Cambodia)
Women's Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy
Women’s Re-Entry Network
Women with a Vision
x:talk (London)

Academics who have come out in support of the recommendation:

*Laura Augustin, Ph.D.; Author, Sex at the Margins
*M. Jocelyn Elders, M.D.; 15th U.S. Surgeon General
*Elizabeth Bernstein, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Womens’ Studies & Sociology, Barnard College, New York, New York
*Barb Brents, Ph.D.; Professor of Sociology, University of Las Vegas, Nevada
*Wendy Chapkis, Ph.D.; Professor of Sociology, Director of Women and Gender Studies, University of Southern Maine
*Deborah Cohan, MD, MPH; Associate Professor
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco; Medical Director, Bay Area Perinatal AIDS Center; Associate Director, National Perinatal HIV Hotline
*Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D.; Consultant, Research and Rights-Based Programming
*Shari L. Dworkin, Ph.D., M.S.; Associate Professor, Dept. of Social & Behavioral Sciences; Director, Sociology Doctoral Studies Program; Affiliated Faculty, Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS); Affiliated Faculty, Global Health Sciences, University of California, San Francisco
*Smarajit Jana, MD; Principal, Sonagachi Research and Training Institute, Kolkata, India
*Jessica Fields, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, Sociology,Research Faculty, Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality
*Valerie Jenness, Ph.D.; Dean, School of Social Ecology, Professor, Department of Criminology, Law and Society, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
*Kamala Kempadoo, Ph.D.; Professor, Department of Social Science, York University, Toronto, Canada
*Gail Kligman, Ph.D.; Professor of Sociology, UCLA, Director, Center for European and Eurasian Studies
*Kari Lerum, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, Adjunct Professor, Women Studies, University of Washington, Bothell
*Jill McCracken, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Rhetoric, Department of Languages, Literature, and Writing, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
*Alice M. Miller, J.D; Visiting Senior Research Scholar, Robina Foundation Fellow, Yale Law School
*Penelope Saunders, Ph.D.; Director, Best Practices Policy Project
*Svati P. Shah, Ph.D., MPH; Assistant Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
*Kate Shannon, Ph.D., MPH; Assistant Professor, Dept of Medicine, University of British Columbia; Director of Gender & Sexual Health Initiative, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada
*Lara Stemple; Director, Graduate Studies, Director, Health and Human Rights Law Project, UCLA School of Law
*Dallas Swendeman, Ph.D., MPH; Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; Center for Community Health; Global Center for Children and Families; Center for HIV Identification, Prevention & Treatment Services
*Juhu Thukral, Esq.; Co-Founder and Former Director, Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center New York, New York
*Stephanie Wahab, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Social Work, Portland State University, Portland, OR
*Carole S. Vance, PhD, MPH; Assoc. Clinical Professor, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York
*Ronald Weitzer, Ph.D.; Professor of Sociology, George Washington University, Washington, DC

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Prison Abolitionist and the Light in Marcia Powell

"Free Marcia Powell" Phoenix New Times.
December 17, 2009

Just came across these old blog posts about prison abolition and Marcia Powell from when I first started blogging. I thought they were worth resurrecting as this state continues to exterminate the lives of those we've collectively degraded and deemed less-than-worthy of medical care or the other basic necessities of life with Jan Brewer and Chuck Ryan at the helm.

This should be enough to keep you busy for awhile.

There are a lot of misconceptions about exactly who's in prison in America, unfortunately, and what happens to them there. There are a few really bad guys, yes - but not everyone in prison is evil, nor is every bad guy behind bars (as evidenced by Russ Pearce's liberty). The law enforcement community even has to manipulate data to justify their funding by frightening people because the truth is on our side, not theirs.

Witness the Phoenix PD bullshitting the feds about our kidnapping rates (that's fraud, among other things), and the AZ Prosecuting Advisory Council
trying to convince us that 95% of AZ state prisoners are REALLY dangerous criminals we can't have on the streets (by lumping stats on repeat drug and property offenders with the violent ones). They seem to have no problem letting abusive cops and guards slide, though, as long as their only victims were prisoners.

The high recidivism rate - one symptom of our corrections' system failures - has been twisted into a sign of law enforcement's success instead, as so many of our criminals are now presumably beyond reform - the best we can hope to do is catch and imprison them. Recidivism can be reduced by prison programs like substance abuse treatment, though - which could make a world of difference since 75% of AZ prisoners are assessed at intake as having substance abuse disorders. The ADC plans to add 8,500 more prison beds through 2017 and resists sentencing reform, but they only provided substance abuse treatment services to over 1,000 of the approximately 60,000 prisoners they confined in 2010 - and that includes people sent there for everything from DUI's to manufacturing meth!

I bet there were far more prisoners with dirty urines than in drug treatment at the ADC
in 2010 - and more resources spent surveilling and punishing drug use throughout the system than preventing or treating it. In FY2010, three prisoners died of accidental drug overdoses; only one died of AIDS.

So WHAT are they doing with the rest of the addicted prisoners and all that treatment money, then? Clearly not rehabilitating them with it. And they sure aren't counseling all those addicts with Hep C in the hopes they clean up and undergo interferon treatment before returning to the community. After all, if they didn't test dirty for drugs in prison the ADC might have to consider providing them with real health care. Where would they ever get the money? So they're just letting people die. About a third of all AZ prisoner deaths are secondary to Hepatitis C. That's an epidemic that no one is talking about.

Anyway, law enforcement's argument that we NEED more prison beds for the sake of public safety is contradicted by other facts. By the Arizona Department of Corrections' own report, out of approximately 40,000 prisoners in their custody, over 16,000 are housed in minimum security. Those are people who the department thinks pose so little threat to the rest of us that the only time they really need to be locked up is when they that sounds like someone is just collecting steep rent ($20,000/year), not protecting and defending us from monsters. Much of the lower security confinement is done by private prisons, too.


Could there be a profit motive for someone to imprison petty offenders? Are prosecutors and judges getting brownie points for the number of years they put people away for, or for reducing crime rates in the community? How do we extract our collective justice from offenders and their families - is it in a way which perpetuates victimization or helps eradicate crime? Those are some of the questions I've been asking myself these past two years, examining the prison landscape up close.

Think real carefully now about whether or not you've ever done anything stupid or criminal enough to land a less-fortunate soul in prison - like one or two nights driving home with too many drinks on board. Few Americans have really been that squeaky clean. Know that the people behind those walls are a lot like most of the
rest of us just trying to get by in this world: they just happened to have been successfully prosecuted (which isn't even to say that they're all guilty).

The main difference between defendants who get prison time and those who don't is whether or not they have the resources for a private attorney and power on their side, not whether or not they're truly despicable human beings - or that they even did what they were sent to prison for. Plenty of despicable human beings are wearing the badges and guns in this place, in fact,
and too many decent souls - like Marcia Powell - are still ending up dying in chains at their hands...

- Peg

SB1070 sidewalk protest.
Phoenix, AZ
(May 30, 2010)

-----------The Prison Abolit
ionist Archives------------------

Until Every Desert Cage is Gone

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I hope you found your way here because you share a desire to abolish the prison industrial complex, or are at least curious about what prison abolition is. It took me a number of months of research and feedback from a couple of professors who are abolitionists to figure out what the movement was about, and to clarify what abolition meant to me.

I fell into this first through taking a class on capital punishment, taught by a former judge who had once helped author Arizona's post-Furman death penalty statutes. The weight of the evidence that capital punishment was so often applied in a racist, classist way (which not surprisingly catches the innocent) ultimately compelled him to change his position on the death penalty - something I found out only after the semester was over, as he didn't want to sway students by articulating his own position. He did a good job of just presenting evidence for both sides of the argument. Presenting both sides is not my intent here, however.

I understand the impulse for vengeance and retribution, and have heard the case that state executions still serve as a deterrent to potential murderers, but I don't know how any thoughtful American could examine the institution of capital punishment - I mean, really dig into Supreme Court cases (including dissents) and law journals - and not commit themselves to ending it.

At the same time I was getting deeper into my research (which focused primarily on the death penalty and the Bible Belt) I was taking a class on Social Movements and another class on Wealth Distribution and Inequality. From these I learned more about race and class in the broader criminal justice system, COINTELPro, political prisoners, and the PIC Abolition Movement. I not only read work by abolitionists such as Angela Davis, Joy James, and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, but I also read some of the works that seemed to originally radicalize some of them.

I considered whether or not I was really an abolitionist myself, or just a reformer. That question got into some deeply held beliefs and buried traumas that were necessary to confront before I could answer it. Bottom line, after I did all my research, is that the question I had to ask myself was whether I was just another white liberal who didn't condone (or actively work against) racism or classism, or if I was an anti-racist who fought against it in all its forms - beginning with racism's manifestation in me.

I came out an abolitionist, and signed up for a class on Prison Social Movements.

Most of us can agree, I think, that prisons are an extraordinarily expensive way to deal with manifestations of drug addiction, the consequences of poverty, and the fear of people who act on political or religious beliefs outside of the "mainstream" (white middle-class America). I suspect that those of us who abstain from "criminal activity" do so not because of what the state might do to us, but because we grew up believing it was morally wrong to steal, kill, cheat, and so on. Christian or not, most of us have some version of the Golden Rule in our conscience, and we strive to get through life without hurting others - an impossible task, given all the levels of hurt there are. But we try.

When one's ethical standards are compromised by trauma, mental illness, addiction, grief, desperate economic conditions, and fear we collectively respond with police to remove that person from our presence, instead of confronting them with a community norm on non-violence and proceed to exemplify it by helping them find other ways of meeting their needs, instead of subjecting them to the terrifying potentials of state violence.

For example, Marcia Powell, a 48 year old mother diagnosed with manic depression and treated with psychotropic drugs was sentenced to 27 months in prison for prostitution. 27 months. That seems extreme, even with prior offenses and a history of addiction. What actually happened to her was worse.

I never would have known about Marcia and her prison sentence except that she died this week after 4 hours in an outdoor, unshaded chain-link cage (like a dog pen) in midday desert heat. AZ corrections officials assert that the cage was solely being used as a temporary holding place for prisoners being transferred, implying that her involvement in a disturbance just necessitated segregation, perhaps for her own protection - and explicitly denying that she was caged under the Arizona sun as a form of discipline. According to a volunteer there, prisoners complain that punishment is precisely what the cages are used for.

Arizona's prison policies actually allow the use of such outdoor cages (though not for discipline), so long as prisoners are provided water (shade is not required) and stay out no longer than 2 hours. Ultimately she died within 20 feet - within eyesight - of the air conditioned prison guards responsible for monitoring her through their window.

One of the linked articles did note that though she was diagnosed bi-polar she was on medications "used to treat schizophrenia". There's often an overlap of symptoms and treatment regimens for those illnesses. In any event, such medications (psychotropics) almost always warn of an elevated risk of heat stroke. People being treated with these drugs shouldn't even be left in the sun for two hours. The fact that the Perryville prison complex incarcerates a number of folks with mental illness suggests medical malpractice on the part of a prescribing physician if he/she failed to advise against caging prisoners in the sun. This is basic pharmacy 101 - the link I provided to that info isn't even a medical site.

My first response to Marcia's death was outrage - I wanted those responsible from the guards on up to be prosecuted and punished for their "reckless disregard" for human life. I wanted them imprisoned for at least the 46 years that the leader of a local burglary ring got for stealing rich people's possessions (so far as I know he never assaulted them). Then I thought, if a new way of responding to violence doesn't come out of this, then what will it take for me to really change? What would justice for Marcia look like? And what would it mean to those responsible for her death and their families? And would it keep this from happening again?

Justice doesn't begin and end with prosecution and punishment. As convenient as it may be to see this incident as an aberration - like we thought Abu Ghraib was, until more evidence of torture emerged - it's not uncommon. And it's not all about the guards or prison administrators, I figured; it's about us, too.

What is it we do as a society that reduces those we select for removal, isolation, and confinement to subhuman status in the eyes of their keepers, and the minds of the rest of us. Every news article about this woman showed her dissheveled, terrified mug shot, described her troubled life, identified that her kids (if they acknowledged her motherhood at all) are "lost" in the foster care system - their abandonment is presented almost as another of her long list of crimes, which presumably justify her incarceration and being subject to abuse.

Marcia's picture exposes her fear, poverty, confusion, despair, shame, and a host of missing teeth suggesting a history of victimization. Her eyes are windows to a soul who looks as if she's been trapped behind bars, walls, and locked doors most of her life; never really free - never really safe - whether on the inside or out. She sure wasn't free and safe selling herself for survival.

Sadly, we never did right by people with severe mental illness even before de-institutionalization. 40 years ago Marcia would have probably been getting neglected or abused in a state psychiatric facility instead of a prison. Maybe she was. We can learn from that era of de-institutionalization - if we don't do abolition right, then deviant and desperate people just go from one oppressive institution to another. That's called transinstitutionalization. We don't want to go back to what used to be called psychiatric hospitals.

So I asked myself what I could do to help get justice for Marcia, and for all those other folks - people's moms and dads and kids and siblings locked away - who suffer and die in the custody of the state. Rally outside the prison with mental health activists? Lobby local legislators on jail alternatives for the mentally ill? Demand the prosecution and incarceration of those responsible, so that they might know the feelings of helplessness, humiliation and dehumanization prisoners endure? So that they might be raped, beaten, drugged, murdered or - for their own protection - placed in solitary confinement for years and go mad?

In other words, does going from one bad option to another really set people free? And does inflicting the same kind of harm on Marcia's killers that the PIC inflicted on her constitute justice? And does not invoking the full force of the PIC against DOC employees mean that they're "getting away" with her murder? Won't it embolden other corrections officers and cops if there's no criminal charges filed for their extreme indifference to human life?

Or is there something, perhaps, that the community can do to find out how this happened, challenge the policies of the department of corrections, and hold the individuals involved responsible for coming up with solutions - alternatives to putting people in cages - and for pouring their blood, sweat and tears into making prison alternatives work. "Sentencing" them to the years of hard labor it takes to restore run down housing so people like Marcia can live in it is hardly typical "community service", because it's not just about hammers and nails - it's about zoning ordinances and business opposition and people worried about more crime and neighborhood resources being inadequate to support high needs individuals - whether they're 'criminals' or ordinary senior citizens.

Going through something like siting a supported housing program (which can take years of 60-hour work weeks) can change a person in a fundamentally more positive way than rotting in prison for manslaughter. It forces one to make personal sacrifices, to take a stand for social justice, and to interact with other social justice activists. That kind of work sure changed me. And I think it would be a better way to make amends to the community than putting Marcia's killers in prison. It's too late for them to make amends to her.

If they succeed, we will all be the better off for it, and they will have perhaps evolved beyond the point where they might abuse power like that again. By thinking outside the narrow confines of what we've been told is justice, we could not only eliminate the use of these cages and promote systemic life-saving reforms, but we could use the need for 'offenders' to make restitution and some kind of reconciliation by creating more safe places for the vulnerable people in our communities. Prison sentences may satisfy a certain amount of vengeance and make us think we're safe, but they were never designed to allow for restitution and reconciliation (even when judges order restitution, prisoners make pennies a day - they can't support their own children, much less compensate for the loss of someone's property, freedom, limb, or life.)

Before I heard about Marcia I had learned that there are impoverished city blocks in sections of New York on which the state spends 1 million dollars a year on keeping residents from those neighborhoods in prison. New York is but one state that spends more on incarcerating people of color than it does on educating them. I wondered what that money could do if invested directly in the community, and how things would look if the community took direct responsibility for creating alternatives to "criminal justice", like Neighborhood Watch groups that serve not to catch or surveille potential criminals, but that instead serve as back-up support for neighbors who have no food, families facing foreclosure, youth exploited by the drug and alcohol industries, former prisoners shut out of work and educational opportunities, latch-key children, and all those most vulnerable to becoming victims of both interpersonal and state violence - the young, the old, the homeless, the disabled, the poor, women, and people of color.

Abolition isn't just about closing prisons and turning molesters and murders out on the streets - I too would have a problem with that. It's about local control over public funds that improve public safety, implement options for reconciliation, restitution, and treatment for those who harm others, assure that basic needs (housing, food, safety, health care, etc.) for community members are met, educate all ages on non-violent conflict resolution approaches, and transform our seige mentality about crime into an understanding of the complexities of human needs and behavior and an earnest sense of responsibility to eradicate the physical, social, and ideological structures that perpetuate both individual and state violence in American society.

At least that's what PIC abolition means to me right now. I still have a lot to learn, and am aware I need to be changing my thought patterns and language when referring to parties and institutions affected by or constituting the prison industrial complex. Reading abolitionist literature helps - much of it is quite scholarly and sound. Critical Resistance (see links) has been a fabulous resource for developing an abolitionist consciousness and concrete tools. Many of the "books to prisoners" projects are organized by anarchists and other abolitionists, rather than libraries, and my correspondence with some of these groups has been quite eye-opening. I'm considering trying to form such a collective here in Tempe (hence my email, 'radicalreads'), which would serve not only as a mechanism for filling book requests from prisoners, but also as a way of gathering with like-minded people over our shared humanity with prisoners to figure out how our community can stop depending so much on cops with guns locking scary people up in cages.

So, if this is your calling too, I'd love to hear from you - my email is at the top of the page. In the meantime, I'll try to keep current on posts about Marcia Powell's life and death and where we go from here.



The Light in us All

Monday, May 25, 2009

This is the photo that the Department of Corrections had posted on their website in Marcia's record at the time of her death, which was so widely circulated in the press. She appears frightened, traumatized, disheveled, and likely very depressed. It may evoke pity - and apparently contempt among some - but it doesn't invite empathy, or leave open the possibility for most that Marcia could have just as easily been their mother, daughter, sister, or friend.

I've been reading chats about her today that appear to be written by people too ashamed of their comments to use their real names. Yet many seem to be enough at home with eachother in their chat rooms that they don't hesitate to ridicule a dead woman for falling victim to circumstances few of us could have endured for 48 years. I haven't blogged all day just because I've been so sick from what I've read.

This photo below, now on the ADC website (but not in the press), appears to be from several years earlier, before decades of addiction, poverty, and mental illness began to take their toll. Perhaps had the press used this photo, fewer people would be so quick to speak about her as if she were trash, or of less significance than a dog. She was once a vibrant woman whose smile belied the trauma she'd already endured. She was a living soul, and in both images, if we look beyond what we've been told, it's not that hard to see the light of God in her, as the Quakers are fond of saying.

The Light of God.

I don't consider myself religious, but I do think that life is sacred and the Mystery that causes our hearts to beat, our faces to smile, our arms to hug, our stomachs to turn, our eyes to tear, our minds to open or close, our souls to grieve, and the deepest part of our being to long to be better than we are is not a Power to take lightly. Whether or not her life was worth saving shouldn't even be up for debate. How we respond to this tragedy ultimately says nothing about Marcia; it says everything about what kind of people - what kind of community- we are.

Fortunately not everyone is so callous or cruel - I know there are folks out there who would do something if they could to set justice right for Marica and all those who struggle each day just to survive. There's actually a lot we can do; it's worth repeating.

Contact elected officials and demand an independent inquiry.

Write letters to the editor expressing your outrage and sadness over her death - don't bury it in a chat or a blog.

Organize or attend a vigil or memorial with members of your community. Vigils for prisoners who died at the hands of the state give permission to the frightened families of other prisoners to open up to their neighbors, speak about their experience, and stop living in shame.

Make a donation in Marcia's memory to a prisoner support or a prison abolition or reform program.

Let the Department of Corrections know that some of us expect prisoners to be treated better than that - we want them to come out healthier and saner than when they went in, not more disturbed or despairing. We need them at their best if they're going to come home to our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Otherwise, what's the point of putting them away in the first place?

And don't bother arguing with those who are just entertained by your concern. They aren't likely to abandon their bigotry, especially if it's the only thing that makes them feel superior to others. Talk instead to open minds and compassionate souls who just need a little encouragement to take constructive action - to be the change.

Finally, we must all insist that they tear down those cages in the sun.


Just Listening

Friday, May 29, 2009

If I've seemed unusually quiet the past few days, it's because I've been trying to listen, processing what different people have had to say in the past week about Marcia's death and where we might go from here.

I'm still trying to map the terrain out here; there's so much I don't know, from who runs the community center around the corner to just what an abolitionist would do to keep society safe from cannibalistic pedophiles and corporate sociopaths. I'm still not sure how to answer that, though the INCITE! Anthology has a really good piece on reconciling anti-violence work with abolition work, written along with folks at Critical Resistance.

A number of people have been touched to some degree by this tragedy. Even in chat rooms where people are a little more free to be cruel, the majority have expressed some sense of injustice at Marcia's death. What concerns me about the tone of it, though, is that most of those also express the expectation that even this incident won't result in substantial reform.

I've heard the same thing from politicians, journalists and seasoned advocates here as well. The struggle has gone on a long time; I'm sure it gets discouraging. When I look at the movement, though, I can't help but believe that another world is possible. This past week, in the course of developing this blog, I've dropped in on abolition projects and radical scholars, discovered new sites for prisoner artwork and writings, and taken comfort in the compassionate response of the peace and justice community to the life and death of Marcia Powell. Local people working on prison reform and abolition have come more clearly into view across disciplines and sectors of the community. I have no worries that Marcia's death will be swept under the rug with people like them around. They won't let it happen.

More importantly, perhaps, people ordinarily not concerned with prison conditions have taken notice and taken stands against cages and excessive sentencing. Politicians are trying to articulate some of the systemic flaws that led to Marcia's criminalization instead of to community treatment. Mainstream media outlets are publicizing the details of Marcia's memorial service, suggesting that her death is news that a broader segment of the community might be interested in. Today the AZ Department of Corrections formally suspended use of the uncovered outdoor cells. I'm not sure how encouraging the news is that they'll be "retrofitting" them with roofs and water instead - I have a visceral reaction to the use of cages at all. But it's a start. I don't know what took them so long.

None of this is to say that I think we're on the brink of radical systemic change. And I'm well aware that some progressive agendas still tend to accommodate oppressive institutions, putting off the day when real transformation can finally be brought about. I hate the idea of making inhumane systems function "better" when they simply need to be eliminated. But we also can't just leave people to die while trying to overthrow the carceral regime.