DISCLAIMER The Jailhouse Lawyers Auxiliary Guild-AZ is supported by a loose collective of former prisoners, family members, and human rights activists in the community. The following materials are not intended to serve as or substitute for legal advice or representation, nor should you consider it as such. Articles, tips, and resources offered here are from our collective experience. But none of us posting here are trained in the law. That said, your use of this site should not be construed as creating an attorney-client relationship with anyone at the Jailhouse Lawyers Auxiliary Guild-AZ. We'll attempt to provide information that is up to date. However, because the law changes often, we can't guarantee that this information is current or correct. You can help by sending your suggestions or corrections you have to us at the address below.

Monday, September 2, 2013

AZ DOC Protective Custody Battles: Letter to the Endangered Prisoner.


Margaret J. Plews
Arizona Prison Watch
PO Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036

(480) 580-6807

"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

August 2013

Dear AZ State Prisoners:

This is an update to the October letter I put out about protective custody - though not much has changed. All of you I’m addressing right now are applying for protective custody - or have been turned down and will need to appeal or apply again. All that will really do is keep you in detention longer, though, and may result in more tickets for refusing to house. There’s a logjam in the system - the PC yards are full and the DOC isn’t approving anyone right now, that I can tell, without an attorney on board - or otherwise, the clear ability to fight them. I've heard from hundreds of you – and many of your families - in the past nine months alone, with no resources to hire a lawyer, though. I'm here to help you fight back.

Now, don't be mistaken about me – I'm no thug-hugger, and many of you on the outside would probably hate me for all I represent. I form alliances based on common values and goals, not common enemies or uniforms. I want liberation for everyone – not just a select few. I'm an anti-racist, anti-colonialist queer anarcha-feminist, as well as being a prison abolitionist. That last thing means I don't want to spend all my energy trying to reform the system to make it less odious for the rest of us to tolerate – I want to dismantle it altogether. 

But that happens one brick at a time, and will require everyone's assistance. None of you will be much good to the movement if you're broken or dead, though – we need your voices in this, too, but when I looked into the prisons to find you I saw so many of you are in too much danger to pay attention. Basically, as I see it, giving you the tools you need to wage some kind of meaningful resistance to the state's deliberate indifference to your right to life is an investment in getting you to someday help us build a more just world.

If you appreciate that someone out here cares and want to give back, be sure you've spent this time owning your own shit and making amends to those you've harmed, first. Some of you are so burdened with shame that you make yourselves easy targets for thugs in orange and brown alike. If you feel bad about things you've done, take responsibility for them and make sure you become the kind of human being who won't repeat those same mistakes.

Begin now becoming the person you really wanted to be, instead, in your relationships with others – practice that on other prisoners right now. Become the guy who is known for being thoughtful, not reactionary, and for being strong enough to refuse to be brutal to the weak, when that would be so much easier. Become someone who can navigate the system to help others access health care, file grievances, and promote more humanity and unity in that foxhole you all share. Be known for your patience, humility, and wisdom, not your hot head and vile mouth (oh, if I could only practice more of what I preach!)

Most of all, if you are hiding in shame right now, become someone you are proud of, so when others say you're a piece of shit for this or that reason, you can stand tall and tell them they don't know you or have any right to judge you, and to fuck off. Just don't stand around and wait to be smashed – have an exit plan for confrontations like that.

If you have cultivated relationships with other prisoners over time based on the above kinds of traits, they will begin to back you up because they respect who you are, rather than judge you for who you once were. The guys judging you have done their own share of bullshit themselves, too, and if you push back against that shit, you might just be surprised who backs down.

While you're sitting in the hole wondering how to convince DOC not to throw you to the wolves, don't think you can make things better for yourself by throwing someone else under the bus. I promise you it will do you no good to give up information that may hurt others, and only helps the state. If I thought they would actually protect the more vulnerable prisoners from harm by acting on such intelligence, then I might provide it to them myself. But all they do is punish the victims anyway (to keep them from spilling the beans that Chuck Ryan has lost all control), and use allegations to justify more violence of their own, like TSU shakedowns, building more Supermax cells, “validating” prisoners on evidence and hearsay that can't be challenged for the STG dungeon, and so on. That's not to say don't report when you are assaulted, especially if you are raped. Just don't expect the state to reward you for doing so, and make sure that if you're identifying someone for them to go after, you are doing so as a stand against violence, rather than serving as a tool in the state's war on your fellow prisoners.

Don’t expect a letter from me to Central Office to win your argument for you, by the way – having me on your side won't always play in your favor with them. In fact, it could be a kiss of death, so think of me as a last resort if you have no one out here who can call me to learn how to help you in your struggle. I can’t step in the ring on your behalf, like an attorney can, in any case - if you can‘t afford one, you’ll need to do it yourself. Other then send you some material to study, all I can really do is be a witness and tell others - in my blogs and the federal courts, if need be - what transpires in your struggle. But you need that - someone to preserve and share evidence that DOC administrators and decision-makers are aware of the danger you face, which I need to keep hearing about in order to communicate to them. I can write about your fight for other pris0ners and their families to learn from, as well. Things have gone desperately awry in the state prisons in recent years, and the larger public needs to know that, too

Before I go any further, though, make sure that if you have ANY way of hiring a professional to help you, do so – just ask and I can give you a starter list of lawyers who have successfully sued the AZ DOC. I'm not even remotely literate in criminal or civil litigation. That said, if you‘re stuck with me and your own wits, it will be a long uphill fight, from what I see now, and you face the biggest risks. They may disrupt my work more if I get to be too effective or obnoxious, I suppose, but what you can do through the courts is more important, so you are the bigger threat, if you can figure this system out. Once informed, you scare Power even sitting quietly in the hole in nothing but your shorts. Remember that.

Most of you have been told you are being denied PS in part because you haven’t been assaulted yet. I need copies of the denial form the DOC gave you saying that. Ask the librarian for DO 902 - Access to the Courts. Attachments A&B, if I don’t send them, are what you need - ask for the “Rights of Prisoners, 4th ed.” to start with - it‘s huge, so scroll the table of contents and get the sections you need most. Look for Farmer v Brennan for the standard of indifference in a case about a transgender prisoner. Let me know if they want to bill you for photo-copies to keep on person, and how you deal with that if you’re indigent. Whenever you can send me your paperwork from the DOC refusing to help you access legal materials, please do. Just let me know if you’ll need it back.

Some of you have been denied PS because DOC asserts that you don’t face a documented statewide threat (even though you are being persecuted for being gay, or are in trouble with the New Mexican Mafia all over the place). The DOC also likes to say that your claims are just self-reported, as if you aren’t under any real threat unless the yard leaders personally sign a written death warrant for each of you on gang stationary. Reiterate the realities of life in the AZ DOC – the bad guys all have cell phones, so while you're restricted from calling your child or dying mother when you want, the guys running the yards have easy access to whatever they can dig up on you from the last yard you PC'd up on, and can send your image and whatever is following you to every prison in the state in a flash. They communicate better than the DOC does about where you are and where you've been.

I’m impressed by the number of those of you who just said no to the racism and violence when invited - or ordered - to join in. Some of you witnessed - and testified to - horrible crimes: that doesn‘t make you a “snitch“, in my book - though even snitches don‘t need to be silenced with violence. Most of you are in the 805 process for the same reason, though - a yard leader or gang member checked you out somehow, and for any number of reasons decided you were “no good”, giving you the choice of 1. leaving the yard (PCing up) 2. Assaulting someone and joining them or 3. Being assaulted or killed yourself. There are a lot of things wrong with the logic behind that particular strategy for recruiting gang members, by the way.

According to the yard leaders these days, the police report is the standard by which someone who is otherwise undesirable is able to be identified. The truth is, however, the guy you really need to be worried about took the fifth when he was nabbed by the cops and made a sweet deal with the prosecutor later at someone else's expense. I can actually understand the guy who shit his pants when he was put into cuffs and confronted with his crimes – sometimes that just tells you who has a conscience. That whole method of finding out who can and can’t be “trusted” to share a prison yard with is fundamentally flawed – I think it’s just an excuse to put the green light on guys who wont immediately bend to the authority of the gang, and to give the new recruits target practice.

People interested solely in pursuing their own profit, at whatever cost to others, are sociopaths. That seems to characterize the behavior of prison gangs, too - they have nothing to do with resisting the state - they strengthen it, instead. The state is all about it’s own needs too, not “the People’s” but at least it tries to manipulate people into being loyal before it threatens to kill us. There is a show of state defiance by gangs, but they rule the yards with the consent of state power to divide and conquer prisoners - and addict and terrify you - so you can’t effectively mount resistance against your captors for the conditions of your confinement. Otherwise, prisoners would be organizing across race and putting an end to some of the bullshit the DOC perpetrates on you. Those gangs should be showing solidarity with the struggle of prisoners, based on some of their espoused ethics, not adding to the misery.

There will come a time when the norm on GP prison yards will be closer to the one you seek in PS, but that will only be after a fight - your fight, not mine. It may be up to you guys, not the state, to undermine the authority of the gangs by providing collective safe harbor for others who resist them in the meantime. Just how to do that right now, I don’t know. This is not the way it has to be, though. An empire protected by an army of men recruited specifically because they have no integrity is vulnerable to men of conscience. And the state is vulnerable to those who are armed with knowledge of the law. The way I plan to fight both the gangs and the state is by empowering each of you.

Most of you guys have got the first one down - you’ve already said no to hurting more people or compromising who you are as a way to survive. You may take a beating in more than one way in prison, but if you survive you can come out of there whole and proud of who you are, nonetheless - which is the only way to win,. The whole goal of prison - from the dehumanization to the constant threat of violence - is to break you as a potential revolutionary, not make you stronger and more articulate and critical of the state upon release to your home communities - which desperately need your help, by the way. Learn to fight by the rules now as practice for when you get home, so you can help your people fight back effectively as well.

Anyway, I respect those of you who have resisted the gangs because you reject their politics and tactics. To those of you who just want to get out of alive - that’s okay too. I will do whatever I can to help you in your struggle not only for personal protection but for a more safe place for all to do their time. Detention cells and specially designated yards should be reserved for the few thugs - in orange and brown alike - who ruin it for everyone, not the other way around. The exile of prison is bad enough punishment - once you get there, GP should be where you guys are free to work, participate in programming, and so on without abuse and harassment following you - not where the real criminals just refine their predatory skills until they get unleashed again on the rest of us.

How I can be most helpful, though, in helping to change that culture, is yet to be seen. Be mindful that if you correspond with me and raise a fuss about your rights you‘ll be in the doghouse with the DOC, and if the gangs ever find this letter we’re all in trouble with them and the state together - they will reach out and touch me for this, no doubt, so be careful where you let this fall.

As for your fight with the state, here’s some of what seems to be helpful - in my unqualified opinion:

Read the actual DOC policies about the 805 process. Follow them to the letter, and go through with an appeal even if you think it’s pointless - that‘s called exhausting your administrative remedies. This is your chance to inform the people you may ultimately have to sue of the danger against you, and their chance to respond before it results in further harm or goes to court. Give it a good faith effort on your part, but make your argument a compelling legal one, not an emotional one. And expect at this point to have to go through this process several times, at least - PCing up, waiting in detention, being denied and moved to another yard, being threatened again or assaulted, and beginning the 805 process all over.

Save and collect evidence supporting your claim that you need protection from an identified statewide threat. This includes anything from threatening kites to signed statements by other prisoners willing to testify about real prison life - like how the proliferation of cell phones means that everyone is targeted as a snitch or gay or “no good” on every yard in the system, now, within days of arriving. Or how the higher level yards are run by yard leaders, not by the guards, and what evidence you may have that the DOC is well aware of that fact - like a sergeant going out to negotiate your safety directly with a yard leader instead of starting the 805 process, or guards making deals with the leaders on the side.

Copies of statements you give the DOC about criminal activity, as well, is evidence that you are in danger - but don’t have that stuff in your property, or some porter will snatch it and then you’ll really be in trouble. If the DOC says you need to provide them with copies of your police reports yourselves and you just can‘t get them, write down the reference numbers and where they can be obtained and tell them they are responsible for assuring that those are in your 805 file, if they doubt your claims about their contents, as it isn’t safe for prisoners to have them in one’s possession in prison.

Build a parallel file of evidence and copies of 805 requests, responses, and appeals with someone you trust out here - preferably the loved one who will have standing to sue if you are killed or incapacitated, and will need the evidence you have to do so. Any HNR’s, incident reports, or other documents you have the pertain to harm you sustained as a result of an assault are important too. The DOC is known for rifling through property to find and destroy documentation that could be used against them.

Note the dates of major incidents - like assaults or the initiation of your 805 request - as well as locations, the names of officers who may have obstructed your attempt to file an 805, the names and titles of officials up the chain of command who denied you protection, names of witnesses to assaults or threats made against you (including doctors who treated you), etc. You will need all that later, if you have to sue in court for your safety.

Get a copy of the National Lawyer’s Guild Jailhouse lawyer’s Handbook. It’s not the same thing I send you chapters from - it’s more of an overview of all the stuff you need to know about fighting for your rights. They will send it to you for $2 (stamps, check, money order). Have a loved one print it from their website, or write to them yourself - they have to mail it directly to you from the NLG:

National Lawyers Guild / 132 Nassau Street, Rm 922 / New York, NY 10038

Have your loved ones write letters to the Department of Corrections making the same kind of legal argument that you do when you apply for your 805, showing that they are aware of what evidence you have for your claims, and make sure they send the letters certified. If they email me I can send them the same materials I send you guys, so they know just what you need to know to fight the state. Don't confess things to them or me that you don't wan the state to know, though, or we may inadvertently place you at greater risk.

The best people to include in their correspondence to the DOC appear to be; Charles Ryan, Director; Keith Smith, Security Operations, Stacey Crabtree, Offender Services; and the Warden and DW of your prison. They don’t need to threaten anyone with a lawsuit right away or make accusations that the DOC is intentionally trying to get you killed - just have them state your argument clearly, emphasizing the statewide nature of the threat against you and the expectation that you do not have to be assaulted (again) or killed before they take your safety seriously. The address to AZ Department of Corrections is 1601 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, Az 85007.

If they put the following people in the cc (they need to note at the bottom that’s what they’re doing so the DOC knows it) and send us all copies, it may help to at least let the DOC know you have other witnesses, in case something does happen to you:

AZ State Representative Chad Campbell (1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix, Az 85007)
Wendy Halloran (AZ Republic/KPNX News 200 E. Van Buren, PHX 85006)
Dan Pochoda, ACLU-AZ (PO Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011)

Let me know each step of the way what’s happening, including if anyone is obstructing your efforts to access the 805 process, legal information or the courts. I can’t give you legal advice, per se - you’re going to have to find a lawyer for that - but I can send you information and ideas if you’re going to wing this yourself. If you need the Jailhouse Lawyer chapter on safety still, or info on the PLRA, write to me. If you need info on how to file a civil suit yourself in Arizona, write to the US District Court nearest you, and ask how to file a section 1983 complaint on your own behalf - they, not me, know how to do it right:
Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse
401 W. Washington Street, Suite 130
Phoenix, AZ 85003-2118
Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse
405 W. Congress Street
Tucson, AZ 85701-5010
If you’re waiting for something from me and think I forgot you, write to me again - I’m sorry, it’s not because of anything you’ve said: I’m just really swamped, and your letter may have been buried on my desk three weeks ago. If so, only a new one will bring you back to my attention. If I don’t get back to you - if no one from this address does - then the state will have managed to shut me down somehow. Hopefully they won’t have snatched my computer and files, too, and someone from my end will still be able to follow up with you. But don’t hold your breath if my side goes silent one day - once they come for me, I’ll probably be tied up for awhile. Not that I’m doing anything criminal - just that the state doesn’t like people who help prisoners help themselves.

That’s why it’s important for you to learn what you can about your legal rights yourselves. People out here aren’t reliable for one reason or another, and no matter what anyone else does on your behalf, if the state thinks you won’t be in a position to actually fight for your rights in court, they won’t prioritize your safety or welfare. They’ll take all the guys who have lawyers and know what they’re talking about first, and put you back in GP for another round or two - or three or four.

So, that’s a lot for you to think on. I’m still developing a new strategy for dealing with this, and will let you know what other thoughts or resources I come up with if you keep me current with your address. Please keep me posted on your cases, and watch each others' backs. In any event, don’t stop writing, or your stories won’t get out. That’s what the DOC wants, is to isolate you again and keep their dirty little secrets in-house. Don’t let them win.

Take care,

Peggy Plews


Thursday, August 29, 2013

AZ DOC Protective Custody Battles: Surviving the fight.

"SOS from Arizona's Other Death Row"
40-foot community mural in chalk, from rooftop
Firehouse Gallery, Phoenix (July 2012) 

This blog post goes out to those of you trying to help a prisoner in Arizona’s Department of Corrections get into protective custody, or otherwise “safe” housing. I put that in quotation marks because prisons are inherently unsafe as heteropatriarchal state institutions of control, designed to brutalize people without leaving marks on their skin, and need to be eradicated, not merely reformed. The movement to do so will not succeed without the participation of today’s prisoners, though, which means they need to be able to survive their incarceration relatively intact in order to lend their voice and critique to the collective struggle for liberation.

Towards that end, I recently updated the letter I send to all the state prisoners who write asking for help seeking protective custody, which I will soon also post as a blog. At the bottom of this note is a set of links to that letter and the other documents I send out when a prisoner tells me that he or she is in danger (the letter is written to both the men and the transgender women in men's prisons because that's where all the 805 requests come to me from, not because those at the women’s prison don’t experience violence). 

If you are able to do so, please print and send these materials to your loved ones yourselves, allowing me to use my resources for prisoners who have no one else to help them. It'll probably cost about $5 to print and send everything first class. Then send me an email letting me know you used these resources, and why, so I can keep track of the issues arising in the prisons and get back to you if needed. Your feedback on what's useful and what's confusing - and corrections where I've been mistaken or something has changed - are really helpful, too. Find me at arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com.

If your imprisoned friend or loved one is LGBTQ, whatever their current situation in prison, ask them to please write to me (Peggy Plews / PO Box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036). We’re building a small network of support in the community in hopes of engaging attorneys and other queer activists in the struggle of our people behind bars in this state; unless they ask me not to, I will share their stories with these allies. Their voices are needed to help others out here understand their experience and how best to intervene in the prison industrial complex. Tell them that I identify as queer myself, and am in correspondence with about 30 LGBTQ prisoners in AZ right now, many over issues related to being safely housed. If there’s anything I can do to help them, I will.

Also, if you have a loved one currently going through the 805 process, make sure to provide them with as much emotional support, validation, and mental stimulation as possible. While they're in the hole wondering if they're going to live to see you all again, be sure to send plenty of letters, get the kids to draw pictures, send them articles they might be interested in, reminding them of the best parts of who they are. Encourage them to read, write, draw, or to somehow keep their mind creatively engaged as much as possible.

If you grow concerned about their risk for suicide for some reason, be very careful about telling the DOC that they may be in danger of harming themselves - there will be consequences that may keep them from trusting you with their feelings again, and this ordeal will likely not end soon. The cell they get placed in “for their safety” will probably be cold and completely bare, they may be stripped to their shorts - or even to nothing - by guards who mock them if they cry, the walls or floor may still be smeared in blood or feces from the last guy, and they lose all ability to communicate with the rest of us until their mental health "improves". They may even be shot up involuntarily with mind-altering drugs, or strapped down in 4-point restraints (during which time some have also been abused by the staff attending them).

See, suicide watch at the DOC is designed expressly to cover the state's ass in the heat of the moment by physically preventing someone from self-destruction, while the experience for the prisoner can be even more traumatizing than that which they are trying to escape. To alleviate this whole new level of suffering, prisoners are then compelled to assure the doctor he won't be liable if they do kill themselves  - and some then simply make damn sure they don't fail in their next attempt, so they never have to endure being “saved” like that again. In fact, the protocol for suicide watch at the AZ DOC is a large piece of the class action lawsuit against the AZ DOC regarding health care for prisoners (Parsons v Ryan). If you think you absolutely have to tell someone at the prison to intervene to protect them from themselves, then do so. I can’t make that call from here, and you are the one who will have to live with it, however things turn out.

Now, I'm no mental health expert, so bear that in mind. I've just spent a lot of time learning to be present with people in their grief and fear. Whenever I'm concerned about the risk of prisoner suicide, I try to summon the survivor they have deep within, and call on them to become the superheroes of their own lives - no one else can be. They really do need superhuman strength to face the fear of what may still lie ahead for them in prison, and whatever you can do to help them visualize that, to convince them they can endure this period in their lives and perhaps even turn it to good use for others, will help them far more than the prison shrink and the subtherapeutic dose of drugs he might offer.

Know that what the captive human being experiences at times is terror and the desire to flee beyond anything the free person can conceive, and they have to navigate very complex dynamics from a place where they have been systematically stripped of their identity while being demonized, dehumanized, devalued, and literally enslaved. Make sure they know that the people who love them need them to survive this crisis, and if for some reason they can't trust you with their fear, help them connect with someone they can trust. Maybe there's an old friend who could write to them and ask if they're okay, while reaffirming that they have not already ceased to exist to the rest of the world.

Do whatever you can think of to keep them connected to you and others they love, and make them promise you they won't bail out, because those detention cells take a lot of lives. Make them promise often, and tell them you need to trust them to live up to it, to not abandon you. You must help them fight despair and hopelessness with as much vigor as you put into the fight with the state. More prisoners die from suicide than homicide every year, and many do so out of isolation and fear, right where your loved one is now.

Reassure them that they can still maintain meaningful relationships with people out here - many do with me, and have for several years -  while developing more compassion and maturity as human beings. They can choose to spend their time making amends to humanity for whatever harm they may have done (if any, keeping in mind that not all crimes have victims, and not all of the convicted are guilty) by helping those around them whenever they get a chance - the prisons are full of the disabled, sick, and dying. The DOC won't facilitate that kind of personal growth, though - they are their primary abusers behind bars, instead. Anything your loved one does to become a better human being will be all to their own credit, not the DOC's.

The prison administration will try to intimidate both prisoners and their families into silence by reinforcing your social isolation with shame, and your feelings of vulnerability with their authoritative denials of the danger your loved ones are in. They will trivialize your concerns, chastise you, blame you or the prisoner for their endangerment or your extortion, and appease and/or condescend to you in an effort to get you to surrender to their assertions that their judgement is unassailable, as are their intentions to protect all prisoners from harm, and back off.

While lying to the legislature and the public about conditions in the prisons today and assuring us all that he's doing a swell job, the AZ DOC director’s most static message to prisoners under this administration has been that they have no right to expect to be safe or get medical attention when needed, or to protest the conditions of their confinement - some are retaliated against ruthlessly when they do.

The implication is that once convicted by a system that pretends to be just, Arizona’s prisoners are considered to be worthless, disposable human beings, whatever the reason they are in prison. That’s reinforced from the governor of this state on down.  Do not succumb to the relentless messaging you may get from media or politicians that they are right and the criminal is never to be trusted. If a prisoner tells you they are in danger or have been hurt, give them the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that the state itself is the main perpetrator of violence against them, not a well-meaning co-parent some mothers like to think it is - do not even communicate with people at the prison without understanding that fundamental dynamic first.

Some individual staff may be more compassionate and pleasant to speak to than others - and alliances where your loved one is housed or receives health care are important to build. Just remember that the AZ DOC cares only for its own survival, not for the comfort, safety or welfare of its prisoners. No matter how much you appeal to the notions of mercy or justice as you fight (not plead) for the life of your loved one, you must show (not simply threaten) the state you can hurt it badly if your loved one isn’t properly cared for. Ultimately this may mean both engaging reluctant legislators in your fight, and helping prisoners go ahead and file their own Section 1983 civil rights suit. Otherwise, the DOC will continue to prioritize the needs of the few criminals who still have money and power, and ignore you until you give up and go away. You’d be surprised at how many people do just that. Don’t be one of them.

The more concrete instructions for how to navigate the 805 process are embedded below. Feel free to call me (Peggy Plews) with questions, too, at 480-580-6807, or email me at arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com. If the prisoner is already denied thier appeal and wants to file their Section 1983 suits, there are resources in the side column of the Jailhouse Lawyers' Auxiliary Guild - AZ blog to help them.


(this strategy is in addition to the normal channels for dealing with 805/
does not substitute for following policy) 


(fight those RTH tickets and send me copies!)

additional resources, depending on special needs:

The National Lawyers Guild Complete Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook 
(big PDF to print but worth it. helpful for filing section 1983 claims)

* Even if they can’t help in your individual case, the ACLU needs to know what’s happening as far as the violence in the prisons and the classification issues go. When sending in complaints, prisoners should also ask the ACLU for a copy of the Parsons v Ryan case about their health care.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Introducing the "Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild-AZ"

 Celebrate the Art of Resistance!
(some of this stuff is amazing...)

drawing by an anonymous prisoner of time
 ASPC-Phoenix/Flamenco Mental Health Ward
 (AUGUST 2013)


My name is Peggy Plews; I'm an artist and writer who became concerned with overincarceration in our country a few years back and began to blog about it to stimulate more community dialogue. About the same time, I became especially alarmed with the high rates of abuse and neglect in Arizona prisons, and in July 2009 I established Arizona Prison Watch, a blog focusing on navigating, surviving, and transforming the criminal justice system in our state. 

For a long time the only real information I could find to post about AZ prisons was what was already coming to light in mainstream media, or what I uncovered myself by investigating state records. In time, however, I began to receive distress letters from AZ Department of Corrections prisoners, calls from their distraught family members, and even anonymous emails from  DOC employees reporting that racialized politics rule the men's General Population yards and gangs are perpetrating high levels of violence against vulnerable prisoners while extorting their family members. I also heard very troubling accounts of gross medical and psychiatric neglect. On top of that, I was hearing from the women who had lost their children, siblings, and lovers to prison suicide, homicide, or devestating neglect.

Virtually all of those prisoners contacting me lacked the economic resources to consult, much less retain, an attorney, though I've developed a list of those I know of locally who have taken on the DOC and encourage people to seek qualified legal help when they can. I've pressured the formal institutions that seem to have responsiblity for assuring the protection of human and civil rights in custody.  I've also done what I can to engage mainstream media and legislators in efforts to investigate conditions in the state prison system, where the homicide and suicide rates doubled almost immediately once Charles Ryan became DOC director (January 2009, with the elevation of Jan Brewer to the Governor's office)

The ACLU of Arizona and others have since filed a class action suit (PARSONS v RYAN) on behalf of prisoners agaisnt the state over the dismal health care behind bars, as well as the damaging abuse of maximum security/solitary confinement to manage the symptoms of mental illness among prisoners - people who are thus being relentlessly tortured, not treated, for their psychiatric disabilities. Amnesty International investigated the use of solitary confinement and Supermax in Arizona and produced a scathing report

Furthermore, staff at the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC-Tucson) have long been tenacious in their efforts to put an end to mass use of isolation cells, to stop the new Supermax (along with the ACLU-AZ), and to oppose prison privatization. See their blog, Cell-Out Arizona, hereDavid's Hope has taken a leadership role in organizing the Arizona Justice Alliance with human rights advocates across the state to address the major failings of our criminal justice system - at least in the area of making systemic reforms. 

Most recently, the House Minority Leader, Chad Campbell, has called for DOC Director Charles Ryan's resignation. Unfortunately, so far, Jan stands by her man. As far as she's concerned, all is well at the AZ DOC.

All of that and more is important, but at the end of the day the prisoners writing to me still didn't have anyone to help them with their crisis right then, so I began to figure out what I'd do if I was a prisoner or had a loved one inside myself. For the past year now I've been mailing self-help packets to prisoners dealing with complaints about their health care, assaults on their bodies, or repeated threats to their safety - I've responded to at least 500 requests for that kind of information already. I also work with families on involving their legislators in their struggles with the AZ DOC to assure that their loved ones make it home someday safe, coaching them both on the self-help material I give them, as well as on how to navigate the political scene.  

In some cases prisoners have filed their own civil lawsuits against the state and its agents, and I've provided then with what materials I can in support of such efforts, while trying to refrain from giving anything resembling "legal advice." I do everything I can to connect survivors with attorneys for wrongful deaths, too. It's a fine line, perhaps, but a necessary one for somebody to walk in order to arm people with the material they need to really fight for their own rights effectively, instead of waiting for the ACLU or DOJ to ride in to resuce them...which is not going to happen the way we all want it to. Those kinds of interventions take years to produce solutions to problems that some prisoners may be able to negotiate or litigate effectively themselves. 

Prisoner civil rights suits - even a whole mess of them - won't alone produce systemic change, of course. The correspondence I have with prisoners and contact with their families in the course of helping them has been vital in getting info about prison conditions out to legislators, other agencies, and the media, however - which is leverage for change, and at the very least informs the whole dialogue on crime and punishment with the thoughts and experiences of those most directly affected. I need to be kept posted as to what critical issues prisoners are struggling with most so that can continue to amplify those voices. But I can't sustain the cost of printing and mailing all this literature, nor do I have the time to meet the growing demand for it. 

I also want to focus my energies more on alternatives to incarceration in our society now, not in making our jails and prisons better places to live or die in. Those places are built with the intention of isolating and punishing - that means tormenting - large numbers of people in the most efficient way possible, while leaving as few marks on their bodies as we can, which I think is sadistic and disturbing. When a woman embezzles from her employer, for example, how is exiling her to a bleak existence for 10years - when she could otherwise be raising her family and making amends to her community - any less brutal than cutting off her hands and letting it be at that? If marginalizing, isolating and torturing someone for years is considered a civilized response to ecomonic or drug crimes, I want nothing to do with it. From all I've learned from prisoners, though - and my observations of this voting public - cruelty seems to be the rule in Arizona.

For those reasons and more, I've decided to try to make what I've been doing for prisoners and their families more accessible for others to do as well. In the links on the sidebar here are a number of the resources I send to prisoners, depending on what their issue is. None of it should be contrabanded by DOC, though there are occasionally over-enthusiastic mailroom staff who enforce outdated policies. Please contact me at 480-580-6807 or arizonaprisonwatch@gmail.com if any of this material is deemed "contraband" - or if you have other problems getting it delivered to prisoners, as well.

I've covered a  number of issues that folks coming here will have questions about in my other blogs, Arizona Prison Watch and Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ.  I've placed links to in the sidebar here to some of the more relevant blog posts, as well, but those blogs may be worth perusing if you have concerns about Arizona's prison conditions, deaths in custody, and the rest of the mess we have in the CJ system here. I plan to continue to maintain those sites, as well as to remain a resource to families and prisoners, if needed. 

I just ask that people make this place their first stop for resource material and print and mail in what they can to reduce the workload on me. If you all need help crafting arguments for the DOC or questions you can't otherwise find answers to, let me know. If you want to hit DOC's Central Office with me to protest on occasion, too, friend me on facebook to stay tuned for word of direct actions. Again, my name is Peggy Plews, and you can reach me as noted above.

This Jailhouse Lawyer's Auxiliary Guild, then, will be made up of all of us who - in  autonomous acts of disruption and resistance - take advantage of the resources here to help prisoners fight back against neglect and abuse. It takes so little from us to do this, and yet helps prisoners and their families so much. 

If you want to donate postage stamps, Staples cards (for ink), or cash for the cause, the PO Box is to the right. Please know that we aren't an organization with a bank account or tax exempt status - as I said, I'm just a civilian here. That means this comes out of my pocket, with some support from folks in my small community, so anything you want to send this way helps. I believe in the priciple of mutual aid, though, so there's no charge to access these resources or my time, so call on me if needed. I'm pretty easy to find.