Surviving Hepatitis C in AZ Jails, State Prisons, and Federal Detention Centers.

Surviving Hepatitis C in AZ Jails, State Prisons, and Federal Detention Centers.
The "Hard Time" blogspot is a volunteer-run site for the political organization of people with Hepatitis C behind and beyond prison walls, their loved ones, and whomever cares to join us. We are neither legal nor medical professionals. Some of us may organize for support, but this site is primarily dedicated to education and activism; we are fighting for prevention, detection, treatment, and a cure for Hepatitis C, particularly down in the trenches where most people are dying - in prison or on the street... Join us.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Deaths in custody: Who serves survivors of state violence?

I wrote the following letter to the administrator for the Arizona Department of Corrections' Victims Services programs about six weeks ago now, with no response to it from anyone there. As I explained at the time, the questions I pose are not rhetorical - I really need help for Dana Seawright's mom. She was devastated by his homicide last July, and is now being victimized by Brewercare and the AHCCCS cuts, and the ADC can't even give me an idea of where to turn to for help for her?

What gives, Chuck? Why the stone wall in response to a victim's need for assistance? I wasn't calling your people out into the street with this- I was putting up a white flag and begging for assistance for the family of a man who was murdered in ADC's custody.

You put two guards on Dana 24/7 when he was chained to a bed in a coma, but had no one watching out for him when he was attacked by the West Side City Crips for faking a hit on a Mexican he was ordered by them to do. You should be supporting resistance to gang violence, not reinforcing it that way. Your investigators knew well enough the motives of the killers to tell his mother "if it's any consolation, they didn't mean to kill him", but you daren't clear enough on their identities such that you will refer them for prosecution - and no one on your staff was culpable for looking away while this man was beaten senseless in a open dorm? Wasn't he supposed to be in protective segregation when that happened, too?

What's so problematic about letting this woman get back to me with some resources for her? Are they hoping she collapses altogether before her lawsuit against the state goes anywhere? Can't they let the Victims' Services people do their job unimpeded by their politics and power moves?

C'mon, Chuck Ryan: serve all the victims of violence here, not just the ones you can use to pack more people into your prisons with. At least don't hoard all the resources for them where people like Kini Seawright can't get to them herself - she's not about to walk through your door asking for help after you let her kid get killed. I'm here of my own volition for all of them, including the mothers who haven't had to survive such a horrible, heartbreaking loss yet. Please have your people get back to me on this.

To the rest of you watching this all go down, take note of this resource, question with legislators and policy-makers the constitutional denial of victims' rights to people in custody, and help me find out who serves the traumatized victims of state abuse, neglect, and violence - as well as their survivors.

Keep agitating with the Department of Justice for a CRIPA investigation, and use the resources on this site (and below) to send info into prisoners about how to fight for their own rights before we end up having to find their survivors wrongful death
attorneys. Tell them they aren't alone in there, and to hang on for dear life. Their fight, if they grieve conditions and file complaints with the DOJ and ACLU regardless of the hopelessness of it all, regardless of the threats and retaliation, may well be the one that finally stops these death rates from climbing, and the despair inside from consuming too many more salvageable lives.


For the most part, living prisoners will find that they have to litigate their claims pro per (themselves). So, here are some links to resources to print stuff up from and send to them:

Here's the form to file a 1983 CR complaint in Federal District Court.

Here's the National ACLU's prisoner rights' page.

Here's the AZ ACLU's resources page.

Here's the National Lawyer's Guild/Columbia Law Review Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook.

And here's the scoop on the hoops and barriers to justice set up by the Prison Litigation Reform Act.


April 19, 2011

Jan Upchurch, Administrator
Office of Victims' Services
Arizona Department of Corrections
1645 W. Jefferson - MC250
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Dear Ms. Upchurch;

I am a human rights activist, artist and blogger in Phoenix, and have been researching violence and suicide in AZ state prisons over the course of the past 2 years. This has opened my eyes and brought me into considerable more contact with victims of violent crime in ADC custody and their survivors than most members of the public. Do prisoners or the family members of prisoners qualify for victims' services through your office if they/their loved ones are crime victims while imprisoned at the ADC? If not, who advocates for them when prisoners are assaulted, raped, murdered, or neglected and abused (as in the case of Marcia Powell)? Additionally, who fights for policy changes that may prevent further victimization behind bars?

Many of those I see victimized at the ADC are evidently psychiatrically or developmentally disabled, and can't advocate for safer cellmates or protective segregation, or fight abusive COs or policies effectively through the grievance process or other formal systems - which arguably gives rise to more self-injurious behavior and violence out of frustration or sheer terror, a liability even if their inability to access legitimate processes keeps down the grievances and potential lawsuits. Mentally ill prisoners don't seem to be served by either DES' Protective Services Division or the AZ Center for Disability Law when victimized in custody, either. In fact, I believe all parties I just mentioned are in direct violation of the American with Disabilities Act and/or other federal mandates, as they pertain to disabled individuals victimized in custody, regardless of the AZ constitutional limits on their rights as crime victims, per se.

Furthermore, the perpetrators of prison violence and other institutionally-based crime - be they staff or inmate - are apparently seldom street-charged or prosecuted, suggesting that neither the CIU nor county attorneys hosting prisons take an aggressive role in promoting the rights of victims in custody, which seems to just tell criminals that it's who they victimize, not what they do to others, that really matters. How does the ADC plan to rectify that?

Given what we spend to keep people locked up, prison is the one place in society where crime should be under control and victims are promptly and professionally accommodated. I see no one who prisoners or families can go to out here when violent crime befalls them in prison, though - without being charged a fee for advocacy or counseling - which means these victims are easily victimized (and perhaps criminalized) again, if you don't serve them either. Even the Attorney General won't help them - he defends the ADC.

These are pointed questions, I know, but they are not rhetorical. I imagine there may be a conflict of interest with your office, but that shouldn't preclude a third party providing those services under contract with the state, just like they do for other crime victims and their families. I need this info ASAP in order to advise people who were victimized (or survived homicides of prisoners) in ADC custody of what resources are available to them; at least one grieving mother I've heard from is living on the verge of homelessness and I'm not sure where to refer her.

I see this as a serious problem underlying the continuation of prison violence, especially against vulnerable adults, made so by the symptoms of their disabilities. James Jennings is a tragic example of someone clearly killed because of their mental illness; both Shannon Palmer and his killer, Jasper Rushing, were reportedly pleading for protection - and both somewhat psychotic - when they were celled so fatefully together. Duron Cunningham reported that he was raped and assaulted before he killed himself. The list goes on.

I plan to begin a public education campaign in the coming weeks to address the issue of victims' rights (or lack thereof, under the state constitution) in custody, particularly as they apply (or don't) to surviving family members. The ADC can hinder that effort with propaganda obscuring the victimization of prisoners, help advance the field of victims' services by exploring and answering these questions thoughtfully, or do nothing but get out of the way. I invite your office into a dialogue about it, however, as I want to believe you serve for good reason. I don't know whether protecting the state or our citizens is your primary concern, though, as I don't know you. It should not have to be mutually exclusive, but seems to be given the litigation expected to follow incidents of violent crime against persons in custody.

Taking responsibility for the harm one causes or allows to be caused to another is part of the ethos of the criminal justice system. Making amends to victims - individuals, businesses, and communities, is seen as central to any kind of restorative justice, which the State of Arizona heartily endorses, as evidenced by the practice of ordering restitution when sentencing, and penalizing offenders further for failing to meet said orders. What does the ADC practice, when it comes to their own crime victims, though? Even if prisoners have no rights as victims, what about the principle of preventing future crime by making an example of perpetrators today? Why should violent criminals be provided with such blanket permission to practice on more victims before they leave prison, where they are supposedly being punished?

How the ADC deals with this issue is not just an internal affair - it has implications for all of us, as one of Pete Calleros' suspected killers went on to assault staff and another prisoner in the months that followed - he must have been emboldened by the lack of institutional response to the Calleros hit as a crime. Another suspect was paroled in the fall - he already has a warrant (it appears the court doesn't know where he is). He was never even given a ticket in association with Pete's murder, and appears to have been released with time he still could have served. One would wonder if he wasn't being rewarded. None of the four men were charged with anything - the killing was even left as a suicide - which they were identified by more than one prisoner as staging. One of them is even in there for being a gang leader, begging the question as to who, exactly, is in control of the ADC these days.

I'm well aware that if I publicly go after seeing those 4 guys prosecuted, I could end up a more likely target than they would be for being identified by me as killing Pete - when we have to fear the reach of gang members from behind prison walls, public safety is already compromised. The ADC appears to have done nothing to get justice for Pete or prevent his killers from hurting anyone else, so I don't have much confidence that anything was done to protect the guys who reported his death as a homicide, either. Please check up on the safety of those witnesses now.

None of this bodes well for how I see the prison privatization project going: the ADC is responsible for Kingman's lack of security, ultimately, and I saw nothing in the RFPs that were put out that indicates a particular concern for victims' rights. In fact, the objective set down by the ADC of making sure that no more than 1% of grievances are ultimately upheld troubles me. Correct me if I read that wrong: it just seems like an incentive to deprive prisoners of due process rights when they are harmed, not to protect them. There's no indication that private prisons would even issue press releases about prisoner deaths or abuse, or be accountable for their health and safety to the public in any transparent way. They're harder to see into than the state prisons are, giving rise to more risk of victimization.

I'm sure that given your position, you can understand my frustration and concern over the constitutionally-diminished value of prisoner's lives and the gravity of their suffering in custody, placing their very survival secondary to the state's interests in cutting costs. It manifests toxins at every level of society, such that ugliness flows from the community into the media whenever a prisoner kills themselves - look at the "comments" after every ADC press release on a suicide. It's tragic, what has become of us since the PLRA and the victims' rights amendments to state constitutions were made exempting prisoners from fundamental protections: our entire society has devolved, and I think I can make the connections.

I also think I can make the case that both these prisoners and their families are deserving of the same constitutional guarantees given all other citizens and non-citizens alike, when it comes to their welfare. Having fought most of my life to keep my own brother out of prison and harm's way - surviving the devastating suicide of a loved one myself, in the process - I'm free to tell that part of my own story, liberating others from the shame that may keep them from telling theirs. I have been a victim of violent crime, and cope now with a mood disorder and the remnants of PTSD; not much frightens me anymore. I've embraced the mothers of ADC's homicide victims, and helped my community bury our dead; I am intimately connected to this struggle. I will not relent until I know that AZ prisoners and their loved ones are getting their needs met, not brutalized, at my expense, in my name, for the sake of my own family's illusion of "safety".

Sorry to greet you so early with this level of frankness, but you seemed like an appropriate person to bring into the conversation. I appreciate your time and what thoughts you may have. I look forward to hearing back from you or Ms. Klausner on this matter soon.


Peggy Plews

Margaret J. Plews, Editor
Arizona Prison Watch
P.O. Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036

"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

Arizona Prison Watch
Prison Abolitionist
Hard Time Alliance - AZ
Arizona Juvenile Prison Watch

Survivors of Prison Violence - AZ

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