Most readers familiar with the crisis of violence and despair in Arizona's state prisons in recent years are aware of the story of Tony Lester. If you aren't please watch Wendy Halloran's emmy-winning investigation at the top of this page on KPNX/Channel 12 News / PHX. They have a follow up episode coming up tonight, February 22, at 10pm...
Tony was sentenced to 12 years in prison in May 2010 for hurting two ex-girlfriends who tried to prevent him from cutting his own throat when suicidal and psychotic on his 23rd birthday. He had been struggling increasingly with symptoms of mental illness, which went untreated until the crisis that sent him to jail instead of a psychiatric hospital. There they found him to be so severely mentally ill that it took over a year to restore him sufficiently to sanity to prosecute him as if he'd been sane all along. Then it took another nine months for him to recover from the trial enough to be sentenced.
This state is exceptionally cruel.
Once sent off to prison, despite recommendations from the judge that he be placed in a special mental health treatment setting, Tony's illness still wasn't treated properly. He was left to suffer in prison without his anti-psychotic medications while his paranoia mounted. He was placed on a general population yard where he was soon confronted by the Warrior Society, a prison gang which informed him he wouldn't be allowed to live safely on the yard, in part, due to being a known bi-sexual. Tony's assault convictions had been tagged as domestic violence, which was another big strike against him...
Violating each other in our honor is not how to reduce violence against women, by the way, gentlemen. It diminishes us all.
Not surprisingly, facing 12 years like this, the next opportunity Tony had to cut his own throat - when handed a razor by DOC staff - he was sure to do the job right. He was no doubt fearful that what the other prisoners had in mind for him was far more traumatic than any death he could bring on himself.
When Tony was discovered by AZ DOC staff, they just stood by and watched him die...
Tonight Wendy Halloran will be following up on this story with some of the footage of the last minutes of Tony's life, while five corrections' officers stood around and watched him bleed out. Please watch KPNX Channel 12 PHX Friday Feb 22 at 10pm, then send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let Channel 12 know we need to see more of what's happening behind prison walls, because what happened to Tony isn't the exception - this kind of deliberate indifference to - rather, outright contempt for human life is all too common at the AZ DOC. The suicide and homicide rates in state prisons doubled once Chuck Ryan took over, and haven't abated yet. Something is seriously wrong in there.
Ask them to look into the other deaths in custody, the practicality of a new supermax prison, the problems with privatizing the health care services for prisoners, and so on. Le tthem know there's an audienc eout here or that stuff, or the tone they'll hear from the community when they cover a prisoner's suicide will be left at "good riddance - give them all rope!". Let's not let those kinds of people dominate the dialogue on life and death for the most vulnerable in prison. Please watch the show AND give feedback.