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

Monday, February 18, 2013

AZ DOC: Resisting prison violence (REVISED).

The letter below is my response to a slew of requests lately regarding the continued increase in prison violence, and the numbers of AZ state prisoners seeking a safe place to do their time. It's a revised version of one I wrote in October, so discard previous copies, if you have one, please.

While most of the letters I get about protection are like those I characterize below, I also hear from prisoners who are explicitly anti-racist and being persecuted by the gangs for refusing to abide by their racist rules, from prisoners who are mentally ill and just can't navigate the nuances of yard politics, from gay and trans men who are being told they don't need PS because being openly gay doesn't subject one to a statewide threat of violence and extortion (the New Mexican Mafia has something different to say about that), and from men who witnessed and testified to horrible crimes, thank god, in order to put the perpetrators away - then got labeled as snitches in prison as a result. The stories are diverse and complex and often reflect what I see as a strong spirit of resistance to violence and racism - and these men are literally fighting for their lives. If you can reach out and help any of them, please do.

At the end of the following letter I'll embed links to those resources I most often send to AZ state prisoners in the process of seeking protective segregation (also known as the 805 process, named for the DOC policy number). They are not to substitute for the qualified opinion of a criminal justice/legal professional. But it's stuff they need to know. 

We have a real need for a community-based prison law library - a core group out here that meets once a week who helps get basic info to prisoners like the stuff posted below - otherwise these guys have to depend on the DOC for all their legal resources, which is one reason the conditions are so bad. If anyone wants to help organize something like that, let Peggy know at

My apologies to the women out there needing protective segregation as well - I only get these requests from the guys, so my letter, this time, went out directly to them.


February 2013

AZ State Prisoners:

I’m sorry some of you have been waiting awhile to hear back from me; my Dad was ill and I had to head back home for awhile - I’m an immigrant from Michigan. Anyway, this is an update to the October PS letter I put out - 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 PS 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’m still not the DOC’s most-loved activist, by the way. In January I organized friends of prisoners and family members of those who have died under this administration to chalk the walk at the Federal Courthouse in PHX with all the names of Ryan’s dead.  And I’ve been pretty aggressive about confronting the violence on the yards. It’s really out of sight. But I don’t think the DOC will turn down your case just because I stick up for you anymore.

So, I’ll keep writing Central Office about the more compelling cases, if you ask, but don’t expect that to win your argument for you - in fact, it could still be a kiss of death, so think of me as a last resort. I can’t step in the ring on your behalf, like an attorney can, anyway - 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 like Donna Hamm to help you, do so. She is at Middle Ground Prison Reform, 139 E. Encanto Dr. Tempe, AZ 85281. Your family can call her at 480-966-8116. 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, if you master it, 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 Brenna 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.  You also need to read “Farmer v Brennan.” In the meantime, I’m working up some bullet points to help you guys fight those claims a little better.

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 - a yard leader or gang member looked at your police report 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. I’m trying to figure out the most tactful way to point that out - without getting myself killed, that is.

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 - not so much the guy who shit his pants when he was put into cuffs and confronted with his crimes - often that at least tells you who has a conscience. So that whole method of finding out who can and can’t be “trusted” to share a prison yard with is fundamentally flawed.

Which tells me the whole police report test isn’t really meant to see who can be “trusted” - 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. So who are the gangs ending up recruiting this way? A lot of jerks who go ahead and “clear their names” by lowering their own moral standards even more and assaulting fellow prisoners they have no business messing with - that‘s who makes up these gangs. I wouldn‘t call one of those guys a brother. As far as I’m concerned, most of you guys are pretty noble for saying no to that crap.

Besides, you’ve already been judged and sentenced for your crimes - most of you far too harshly. There’s no need for other prisoners to further the punishment - THAT’s complicity with the state and the cops, as far as I’m concerned. Those gangs should be showing solidarity with the struggle of prisoners, based on their espoused ethics,  not adding to the misery.

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 they threaten to kill them. 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.

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.

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 you can come out of there whole and proud of who you are, nonetheless - which is the only way to win, since 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, and 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 non-qualified, illegal opinion:

Read the actual DOC policies about the 805 process (or STG validation and debriefing, if that applies to you instead). 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). Write to them (or have a loved one do so) - 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. They really need to read “Farmer v Brennan” too. My phone number is 480-580-6807 (that’s for your families: do not call me on a contraband cell, please…). My email address is

The best people to include in their correspondence to the DOC appear to be; Charles Ryan, Director; Dawn Northup, General Counsel; 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: James Lyall, ACLU-AZ (PO Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011); Middle Ground Prison Reform (139 E. Encanto Dr. Tempe, AZ 85281); and if you want to keep me in the loop, Arizona Prison Watch (PO Box 20494, PHX AZ 85036). Just remember I’m an antagonist. If they have an attorney they should put them in the cc too.

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 sorry to those of you with poor vision - I need to conserve. I wish I had better news. 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. Don’t send me stamps by the way - I’ve been told those are now contraband, and since my correspondence will likely be under increasing scrutiny, I don’t want to get anyone into any trouble.

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

PS:  I have a friend helping me handle your correspondence now - Margie Diddams. Look for her letters. She’s good people.

OLD!!! DO 805: Protective Segregation 

(still analyzing this - it's going into effect march 7, 2013

(families at least read the TOC and chapter 1 of this manual if you can, then decide which chapters from the whole thing to send in. I'm only posting links to the ones I use the most)
(more compact than the above manual, and you can orger one for only $2 from the NLG - they must send it to the prisoner from their HQ - or print this PDF version up and mail it in to prison yourself)

Columbia Human Rights Law review Article posted by Just Detention International about the case law regarding a transsexual prisoner in part re: whether or not a prisoner must be assaulted before the threat is taken seriously, how deliberate indifference by the prison authorities is defined and established, etc.

Prisoners should ask the AZ DOC for a copy of this, just to learn how the "law library" access works and how responsive they are. They should document any resistance they get from the DOC to accessing a copy of this case and file a grievance, if necessary, about their access to the courts being hindered, and send me copies of their documentation. If they can't get a copy of this case from the DOC, though, print it up from here.

It's best for prisoners to write the courts directly for this information. They need to establish a relationship with the court themselves if they plan to file a civil rights suit, and they should be getting instructions from there first, not other sources, as to how to proceed - the court will make sure their paperwork is complete and current as well. But above are the links to what the District Court of AZ has posted that prisoners need to ask for; if you are helping someone, you need to know all this too.

ACLU-AZ Complaint form for prisoners (to send in after you have appealed and been denied PS. Even if they can't help, they need to know what's going on)