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Winds of Unrest Blowing Over Arizona

In the August 1994 issue of PLN it was reported that many oppressive policies were being instituted in the Arizona prison system ("Oppression on the Rise in Arizona"). These changes, for the most part, are nothing more than a return to the tried and failed barbaric practices of the past in which prisoners were stripped of all personal possessions, treated harshly and unfairly, and were subjected to conditions that most courts found to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Arizona has forgotten the mass riots and destruction that erupted in prisons nationwide during the 1970's and 1910's. Instead they have taken our fans, taken away all of the weights, restricted commissary to mere candy items, now charge $3.00 for any medical visit, banned personal clothing, banned tape recorders and CD players, no longer allow representation in disciplinary cases, instituted the "no parole laws" and brought about dramatic changes as reported in the February 1995 issue of PLN ("AZ Passes Repressive Prison Laws"). We will also be charged $3.00 a month for electricity! Whether the money is earned or sent in, it will automatically be deducted from each prisoner's account. If the prisoner is indigent, their "electricity bill" will be charged to the Inmate Activities and Recreation Fund!

In the August 1994 article it stated, "Sooner or later it [the effect of oppressive policies on prisoners] will seek expression such as the massive riots of the late 1960's and early 1970's; a fact that Symington [Governor] and Lewis [Director of ADOC] obviously lack the experience to understand." Sooner or later has arrived.

In February, 1995, the prisoners at the Florence South Unit had a full sit-down refuse to work strike in response to the dictatorship rule of the new deputy warden, Angelo Daniel's, oppressive and unfair practices. Mike Arra, DOC spokesperson and prevaricator [these days prevaricator is better known as "spin doctor"] stated the disturbance would not be tolerated and that "the inmates had better learn who is running things." Mr. Arra should learn what it's like to live under such barbaric conditions.

Following the sit-down strike in Florence, prisoners at the Winslow Kaibab facility staged an uprising that resulted in injuries to three prisoners and one prison guard. About 75 prisoners barricaded themselves inside the kitchen after a tactical team fired tear gas and assaulted them with "stingball" grenades, devices that shoot out hard rubber pellets designed to inflict pain. After barricading themselves, the prisoners set fires. The siege lasted approximately six hours. It was evident from the quick use of excessive force by prison guards that they enjoy these kinds of incidents. Many were heard bragging in the following days about how they had inflicted pain and injury on the prisoners. That is precisely the type of attitude that has been instilled in staff by Director Sam Lewis, and is condoned by Governor Fife Symington. What neither realize is that the word is spreading of these abuses, and prisoners are likely to respond in kind with the same level of brutality and callous disregard that is being shown to them. When justice removes its garb of civility and dons the gloves of brutality, those who are brutalized feel justified to defend themselves by any means necessary.

In March 1995, yet another prisoner uprising erupted. At the Safford Graham Unit prisoners used rocks and sticks to assault guards and set fires to several living areas and administrative offices. For over five hours the prisoners had free run of the facility. Several shotgun blasts were fired into crowds with no regard to who was in the line of fire or if they were taking part in the melee. Several guards and numerous prisoners sustained injuries during this uprising. ADOC officials said the matter was "a racial incident between Hispanics and Blacks."  However, the root cause is the level of tension caused by the restrictive policies that have been implemented over the past year. Everyone is becoming increasingly fed- up and disgusted.

The complaints of some prison administrators to Director Lewis and the efforts of outside prisoner family organizations like Middle Ground have fallen on deaf ears. The cry that called out from Attica prison in 1972 moments before many staff and prisoners were killed in the deadly riot is echoing again as the lessons of the past are ignored by DOC officials. Men and women cannot and will not be treated like animals. It is a sad commentary on the American injustice system that the pompous, elite rulers do not listen to the voices that can no longer tolerate such abuses. The tension grows stronger with each coming day, and the echo from the decade of Attica grows louder and louder; "Do You Want to Live Like Dogs, or Die Like Men?" At Attica the answer came in the form of forty-three dead bodies of prison staff and prisoners that filled the prison yard.

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