For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grieving Susan Lopez: Prisoners have families, too...

The following note was left this afternoon on my Prison Abolitionist blog, under the "comments" for the main post on the suicide of state prisoner Susan Lopez in March. An additional story was added by a prisoner who knew her on San Carlos, before ASPC-Perryville transferred her to a higher custody yard, Santa Cruz.

My condolences go out to Rick Lopez, Susan's and Rick's respective kids, and the extended Flores family; they've been through a lot lately.

"Prisoners have families, too."
Maricopa County Jail: Tent City.
April 5, 2011.

Left with Broken Hearts,

If only you would of known what a beautiful person Susan Lopez our daughter was, full of joy, she had the most sweetest heart, enough love for everyone, and now shes gone from our lives, but will live forever in our hearts, because of the prisons lack of medical attention our daughter is gone.

Whoever is responsible for the neglect of our daughter may god forgive you. you will have to answer to god, for all vengeance are his.

we love you Susan forever you will live in our hearts..............

love mom and dad :(

Rick Lopez at Central Property:
Retrieving Susan's things.
Goodyear, AZ
Apr 23, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MI in CJ System follow-up; Alan Keesee charged with assault.

Thank you Mr. Montgomery.

I asked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery about this tonight - looks like I fell behind on that one. He's already charged former detention officer Alan Keesee with assaulting William Franklin Hughes, III last fall, in the psychiatric wing of the Lower Buckeye Jail, in a tag team attack on the bound prisoner with officer Kevin Gerster.

In fact, as you can see from the calendar below, he did so over a month ago. Can't believe it's almost time for the May Day Rally already, and this is the first time I've checked up on that in so long.

Keesee just had a preliminary hearing today - check here for updated minutes. Be at his future dates if you can, and write about it for the rest of us. I'm just starting to discover I can't be everywhere at once anymore...

Thanking a pr
osecutor may seem like a funny thing for an abolitionist to do, I know. Remember that I'm just another traveler on this journey - not the guru. I don't know yet what restorative or transformative justice looks like for people in uniform who abuse the vulnerable like that - at this point, I'm reserving a few cells for them.

Those men betrayed all of us when they assaulted William - anyone's child or brother or mother could have been him, dragged off to jail instead of the hospital in a disorganized, confused mental state, be it due to a psychiatric or developmental disability, Alzheimer's, or a brain tumor. Such abuse of power is among the worst kinds of crimes, I believe; unfortunately, our state constitution assures that victims like William - and like Marcia Powell - are the least protected. We need to change that, folks...

Mr. Montgomery had some interesting remarks at last night's meeting, which I'll report more on soon. I was mainly grateful that he recognizes that too many folks with serious mental illness are ending up in the criminal justice system who could have been successfully treated in the community, if we put more of our resources at the front end - in mental health, rather than the back end - in the prisons. The police officers discussing the specially-trained crisis-intervention units that divert people with mental illness from the CJ system at their level (where it needs most to be happening) argued that the program demonstrated an increase in participant involvement in outpatient mental health services among high-risk homeless adults, and a decrease in criminal activity.

Unfortunately, while the police arm of the effort is still fully operational, the agencies providing the community support staff it depends on have been hit by cuts, so nighttime outreach isn't wha
t it needs to be. The trick is how to redistribute all these resources when the AZ Department of Corrections maintains an investment in maintaining their own status, power, and funding. The whole CJ system as currently designed reinforces the perpetuation of the status quo, when "public safety" is positioned first and foremost in the dialogue as the state's primary responsibility to the people - and is put out there as a police matter.

In fact, the public welfare depends on education, health care, inpatient psychiatric treatment options, affordable housing, and a range of supports being available at the community level to meaningfully decrease the incidence of crime and victimization. Those are always the first to go in economic downturns, though - not because we don't have the resources, but because we're driven by fear and defer to the "experts" in power in our collective decision-making, instead of allowing our public policy to be crafted by both our values and non-partisan research, based on principles of evidence-based practice...

Anyway, thank you, Mr. Montgomery, for so graciously letting me know that you're already on top of prosecuting some of these abuses of power in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. If you drop his office a line this week, please let them know the community appreciates seeing things head in that direction. Their contact info is:

Maricopa County Attorney's Office
301 W. Jefferson St.

Phoenix, AZ 85003

The number for victims' services (the public seems to be a legitimate victim in this case) is
(602) 506-8522.

Let your voices be heard on this, since William doesn't have the right to have his heard by the court, under the AZ Constitution...then give your legislators a piece of your mind about what changes need to be made in the Arizona Revised Statutes to keep us all safe from the likes of Gerster, Keesee, and Arpaio. Send hard copies to legislators - if you have a personal connection to this issue, hand write it - those kinds of letters have the most impact. Their address is:

AZ State Legislature
1700 W. Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85007

602) 926-3559 (Leg INFO LINE)

Make sure to cc your letters to Cecil Ash, Chair of the AZ House Health and Human Services Committee. Ask for him to convene legislative hearings on the AZ Department of Correction's deaths due to prison violence, suicide, and medical neglect, while you're at it.

Mr. Montgomery said he'd explain after the meeting why these officers aren't being charged with higher level felonies under
the vulnerable adult statute for the assault on William while he was in the psychiatric wing in handcuffs and shackles (how much more vulnerable can a person be?).

I had to leave early, though, with the mother of prison homicide victim, Dana Seawright, so will follow-up on that issue in a separate post. Dana's mom, Kini Seawright, had the chance to confront ADC Director Chuck Ryan with her grief during the Roundtable - he was in the audience when she stood and told her story.

We thought he was going to flee the scene at first, because he saw us chalking the walk out front and headed back to the parking lot, but he returned and toughed it out: he's either more bra
ve or more heartless than I thought. More on that in a later post, too.

Kini will be speaking about her experience as both an ex-felon and the mother of a prison homicide victim at the May Day Rally this weekend at Margaret T. Hance Park, PHX (by the Central St. Library) somewhere around 1:30pm.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Big Daddy comes to town: ACLU National Prison Project

ACLU-Arizona: "Demolish the Prisons"

Ringed by the names of those who have died in AZ State custody

of neglect, suicide, and violence since Jan 2009

Phoenix, AZ (April 25, 2011)

The National ACLU's David Fathi and the Prison Law Office's Don Specter are in Phoenix this week, finally. As I write, they should be wrapping up interviews of prisoners at the AZ state supermax facility in Florence, ASPC-Eyman.

The National ACLU had already made the misuse of isolation and detention for managing symptoms of mentally ill prisoners a national priority, so this shouldn't be a surprise for the ADC...nor should the fact that they're interviewing some of my correspondents. Apparently their arrival is causing quite a stir, though - the guards are the ones who called Fathi "Big Daddy".
They had a bit of cleaning up to do for their arrival, I imagine.

No deal is done yet - they're still just exploring the evidence and talking to possible litigants and witnesses, as far as I know. They need to see that there's a social movement here that will support their intervention, so step up with the actions and agitation. Remember to come to the following events:

Today, April 26, 2011


MI in the CJ System Roundtable:

Punitive or Restorative Justice?

ASU Art Museum
1th St/Mill Ave

Sunday, May 1: May Day Rally.


Speakers 1:30

Margaret T. Hance Park

south of the Phoenix Public Library, Central St, Phoenix


Thursday, May 5, 2011

5:00 pm


Neeb Hall, ASU-Tempe

Those of you in prison but not at Eyman, take heart - we've got a whole lot going on both out here and behind bars now, and you won't be left behind. Be persistent keeping me posted about how things are in there - but by all means, direct your eyewitness correspondence about conditions of confinement to the ACLU-AZ (PO Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011), not me, right now. I have the ACLU's assurances that they won't lose any letters, and they'll no doubt try to help me find solutions to the things they can't address, to the extent that such a role is appropriate for them.

Learn to grieve things properly, and keep the frustration and violence down. Help each other out more than usual; you need to not only get through this, but you need to be vocal and visible, now that there's a light shining in there, and responsible with your complaints.

Thanks go out to the prisoners willing to put themselves out there for the rest of the folks right now, as well as to Dan Pochoda and Darrell Hill at the ACLU-AZ, and Mary Lou Brncik, Carl Toersbijns, Patti Jones, and Ken Jacuzzi, especially, for being such aggressive advocates for prisoners with serious mental illness.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In Loving Memory: Duron Cunningham, 40.

Duron's mother, Saundra, recently sent me this flier from his memorial service in St. Louis, Mo., held in October, 2010, a few weeks after his suicide; I took liberties with the colors. Duron was a Hebrew Israelite, which meant he would have likely been socially stigmatized by other prisoners, particularly gang members, for not being a Christian in an environment where such things matter. He killed himself after a period in prison during which he'd been raped on one occasion and set up subsequently by a guard he complained about to be beaten as a snitch.

This tragedy didn't need to happen. Duron had sent letters to the ACLU after his rape, and his mother had contacted everyone from the ACLU to the DOJ to the Arizona Attorney General's office for help while he was still living; the only answers they got were denials of responsibility to intervene, when they got responses at all. They weren't even referred to someone else who could help - they were supposed to be it, from all that the rest of us are told. No one else will help victims of violence in custody, it appears - not even DES' adult protective services' if the prisoner is severely mentally impaired and reports being assaulted or neglected, as far as I can tell.

I've heard that from other prisoners as well - I lost a little credibility early on by urging them to contact the ACLU and the Feds about some of what I was hearing from them; most knew well enough to leave them alone - or at least not to have any expectations. I think litigating Joe Arpaio took a lot out of the AZ ACLU - that SOB is trying to exhaust our collective resources to force him to respect the human rights of his prisoners, using our tax dollars in the process. As a result, there hasn't been much left to deal with the state prisons - then came SB1070.

I don't know what the DOJ's excuse is, though. Holder has plenty of money to piss away busting up medical marijuana dispensaries set up under state laws, and spying on anti-war demonstrators - there's no reason they couldn't be looking at the AZ state prisons right now, as far as I'm concerned - except for the politics of it all...maybe Obama doesn't wan to look like he's picking on our poor state too much - his administration did give Brewer permission to dump all those patients from the state medicaid rolls.

Things are changing now, though, folks, so hold on to yourselves and your cellies - if you're friends - for dear life. It's not just that the ACLU is stepping up to the plate here, it's that the community is mobilizing behind prisoner rights.

* The Phoenix May 1st Coalition has offered a spot on the May Day Rally stage for families of those who have died in the custody of this state in recent years, concurring that there can't be much of liberation movement for workers if we leave our slave labor force behind in the struggle. Please come meet them at 1:30, May 1st, in Margaret T. Hance Park (by the public library and the 202, off Central) in Phoenix.

* Local disability rights activists and former ADC officials have been prominent in the fight for the decent treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness, particularly those confined in Supermax or detention/isolation cells. A Community Roundtable has been organized
at the ASU Art Museum this Tuesday, April 26, at 5:30pm to bring light to the needs of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system .

* The families of the dead are reaching out to those of the living, and some prisoners are putting everything on the line for the chance of making tings a little better for the next one to fill their shoes and cells....

So, hang in there, prisoners and families. Help is on the way, but most of the work will still have to be done by you - especially now. Hammer the ACLU-AZ, the DOJ, AZ Representative Cecil ASH, and the media with letters about the conditions of confinement, the violence, the gangs, and the poor medical care, even if you've done so 100 times before with no response - now's the time when it might really count. Their contact info, again, is below. Keep a copy of what you send, and make one for me if you want me to post it.

That much, at least, I know Duron's mom and dad would want you all to know, before moving on...this stuff needs to change.


Rep. Cecil Ash
Arizona State Legislature
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
(602) 926-3160

PO Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011

DOJ - Civil Rights /
Special Litigation Section

950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Patrick Henry Building
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 514-6255
toll-free at (877) 218-5228

FAX - (202) 514-0212
Alt. FAX - (202) 514-6273
Email -

Stephen Lemons
Phoenix New Times
PO Box 2510
Phoenix, AZ 85002
Phone: 602-271-0040
Fax: 602-340-8806

Saturday, April 23, 2011

APRIL 23, 2011: DREAMSCAPE, Phoenix.

Word is that this is worth going to after the SB1070 protest...


"Dreamscape" (good blog post about it) addresses issues of racism, police brutality, and injustice against 'minorities' in the United States. Using a hip hop style including a DJ, dance, poetry, and theatre, "Dreamscape" tells the story of a 19-year old black woman shot to death by police, while she slept in her car. All too familiar to Phx these days...

Up and coming Tomas Sosa of Soul Phenomenal opens the show with spoken word! DJ Alkeme spinning outside. Live graffiti art and dance. Join in!

Dialogue to follow. Come prepare to speak your mind!

Saturday, April 23
7 pm (show)
6:30 pm (arrive early for the outside pre-show)
$8 advance/ $10 door

For tix: 480.227.6842 or

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Deaths in Custody: Michael Tovar, 20. ASPC-Florence/Central

Edited from AZ Prison Watch:

UPDATE: Weds 4/20/2011 5:45pm

I heard from Michael's family this afternoon - my heart goes out to them. Michael's suicide is a mystery, baffling even his mom. I spent the day with Dana Seawright's and Tony Lester's loved ones - all of whom send their best to Michael's family.

To the best of his mom's and brother's knowledge, Michael didn't have a history of suicidal behavior, nor was he previously diagnosed with a mental illness. He wasn't in trouble with any gangs, and seemed to have adjusted to prison. Michael had trouble with the other guys when he first got there - everyone has to show their court papers to prove they aren't a snitch or a child molester right away, or they draw suspicion. But his bro cleared that up for him, and he was doing alright, as far as he knew.

So, as is so often the case, this totally blindsided his family. Perhaps it came as a surprise to the ADC as well. For now, though, they just need to grieve;
an attorney will make sure to get to the bottom of what happened to Michael for them, once the ADC's criminal investigation is complete.

Whatever other folks out there can do to keep pressure on the Department of Justice to open a CRIPA investigation into these AZ prison suicides and homicides would still be greatly appreciated.
Let them know you're a concerned citizen, or have family in AZ state prisons, or whatever your standpoint is, in relation to the prisons. Point out there appears to be "patterns and practices" at the ADC that have increased the suicide and homicide rates, beginning in January 2009, from previous years. Use examples - search Google "deaths in custody" with "Arizona Department of Corrections" - tell them what you're seeing going on here (they hit the same stuff when they look). The point is to make it clear that the word is already out in the community about these deaths, and we want to know when they're going to get on the ball and help the ADC fix whatever problems they're having right now.

I want more for my tax dollars out of the ADC, though frankly - I want these kids coming home safe, and to be better prepared to move on with their lives than they were the day they walked into prison - not more likely than ever to return. We must first keep them alive, though...for $20,000/year, we should be able to do at least that much.

Send your "CRIPA Arizona" requests to:

Johnathan M. Smith, Chief
US Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Section
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Patrick Henry Building
Washington DC, 20530

Please also help us get the AZ House Health and Human Services Committee to open an investigation into the mental health and medical care - and the suicide and homicide rates - at the AZ Department of Corrections. We want testimony to be entered into the public record from prisoners and family members alike. We want transparency, and accounting of how all mental health resources are being distributed among the 25% of their prisoners with a diagnosed mental illness. We want oversight into both the public and private prisons.

You can add your own demands to that list, and write to the HHSC Chair, Cecil Ash (personal snail mail letters are best) at:

Rep. Cecil Ash
AZ House of Representatives
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
(602) 926-3160

If you are a prisoner or family member, all the better - you can give first-hand information.

Finally, here's the national suicide hotline, for folks who have a rough time with this kind of thing: everyone should be on the alert for another suicide in the coming days and weeks, too - keep a close eye on your friends, if they're troubled - suicide can be contagious...hopefully the prisoners most affected by this young man's act will be given the support they need coping with it, without having to fill out an HNR and come up with the medical co-pay. Unfortunately, I don't think state prisoners can dial out to toll-free hotlines - though it wouldn't be a bad idea to set something like that up for them.

If you're on the outside, though, need help getting through a crisis, and can't get it from a friend - or just need to bounce things off an objective third party - call these folks:

National Suicide Hotline:

(Veterans press 1)

----------now here's today's original post on Michael's suicide------------

The Department of Corrections announced today that this young prisoner from ASPC-Florence/Central killed himself yesterday morning, April 19. He was doing time for burglary - six years for a "non-repetitive, non-dangerous" property crime - why are we doing that to our troubled youth? He got more for that than for an attempted aggravated assault charge. I suspect I'll get more details on what happened to him in the next few days.

Michael Tovar
August 11, 1990 - April 19, 2011.

Our condolences go out to Michael's family. Please get in touch with me if there's anything I can do to help you though the process of dealing with this - you don't have to go through this alone
. I can at least help you connect with other families surviving the same kind of trauma. They are the families of Susan Lopez, Dana Seawright, and Tony Lester - and they all know good attorneys, sad to say... They're also mad as hell and getting organized to take the state on in court. There's a resource page we just started here, with a memorial gallery of victims in custody linking to articles about prison deaths in the past two years:

Click on Duron Cunningham and Tony Lester's portraits, at the bottom of that site.

What happened to Michael didn't happen in isolation.

Duron was at Florence/Central, waiting for a decision on protective segregation, when he killed himself in September - after being raped and beaten on separate occasions. He was terrified that what was coming next for him would be worse than death.

Tony Lester apparently killed himself, too - he w
as at ASPC-Tucson/Manzanita and cut his throat after being told he didn't belong on the yard by members of the Native American gang.

My name is Peggy: I'm just a human rights activist and blogger. My door is open to survivors any time. My office is at 1009 N. 1st St., Phoenix, AZ 85004. My email is Call me at 480-580-6807. I don't charge any fees. I've been tracking and reporting civil rights violations the AZ state prisons for the past two years; your attorney needs to know what I know.

The suicide and homicide rates doubled after Brewer took over the budget and Chuck Ryan took over the prisons. There have been far too many of these kinds of prison deaths lately, so survivors have also been organizing to push for AZ Legislative hearings, to get testimony from both prisoners and their families about the conditions of confinement, medical neglect, and the increasing level of violence and victimization over the course of the past 2 years on the record, and hold our legislators responsible for taking some kind of corrective action.

On May 1st, at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix, some of those survivors of AZ prisons will be gathering for the May Day Workers' Rights Rally, at about 1:30. That's by the Main Public Library, off of Central. The coalition of human rights groups organizing it agreed that we won't get far in the worker's liberation struggle if we don't deal with the prisons - the most urgent matter being to bring down the level of violence, neglect, and suicide. We'd love to have you join us. (Look for the blonde in the black hat and bandanna - I look like something of an outlaw...)

To all the other AZ prisoners:

I believe that when we survive hell with any kind of voice intact,
we need to raise it so the others can find their way through, too. So please don't bail on us, or return to a life of crime - come join the Revolution, instead. Raise your voice in protest, or help someone in worse circumstances resist.

Fight the battles really worth taking a stand on through the grievance process -and write to me, if you're struggling to do so, or have exhausted all you administrative remedies already. We'll help you work through the process of defending your rights.

If you have family out here, have them contact me too - they're your best allies - we need their help.










Peggy Plews
Arizona Prison Watch
PO Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036

Saturday, April 16, 2011

APR 26: Montgomery and the MI in CJ Roundtable

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and I will both be on this roundtable this month. Note that it is not to be adversarial. I've heard that he's somewhat understanding of the struggles of people with mental illness, so perhaps we will find places where we agree.

For more in the criminalization and incarceration of the mentally ill in Arizona, see this post on Shannon Palmer.

Also see this report from the National Sheriff's Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center: for every one person with a mental illness we hospitalize in Arizona, we put almost ten behind bars. There's something really wrong with that.

Shannon Len Palmer, 40. Homicide victim: ASPC-Lewis (September 2010)
Sentenced to three years in prison by Maricopa Superior Court Judge Connie Contes
for climbing a utility tower in a thunderstorm to be closer to God...


Roundtable Forum

Incarceration of the Mentally Ill:

Punitive or Restorative Justice?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Gregory Sales exhibit: "It's Not Just Black and White"

ASU Art Museum

10th St and Mill Ave., Tempe, AZ 85281

Sponsored by David's Hope
and the Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition

"Please join us in this non-adversarial forum for a mediated discussion of the care and treatment of those with mental illness as their lives intersect with the criminal justice system. The goal is to bring together individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences, from the advocates for increasing rehabilitation for mentally ill offenders to those who feel the criminal justice system in place in Arizona is working well..."

For more information, Contact May Lou Brncik at David's Hope at 602-774-4382.

Visitors using ASU museum parking spaces must sign in at the front desk in the lobby of the Nelson Fine Arts Center.


David's Hope is an education and advocacy agency designed to provide people living with mental illness, and all those involved in their care, the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the behavioral health and criminal justice systems. David’s Hope teaches people how to advocate for themselves and others by empowering them with information, training, resources, and mentoring. Through education and mentoring we hope to create understanding in the community of the issues facing those living with mental illness involved in the Criminal Justice System.

"The mission of David’s Hope is to increase collaboration between the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems, to promote restoration and provide support for the mental health needs of those within the Criminal Justice system.”