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AZ Chain Gangs Protested

When Arizona became the second state to reinstate the use of prison chain gangs, Donna Hamm wasn't going to allow it to happen without her voice of protest being heard.

On June 12, 1995, Ms. Hamm, a long time prisoner rights activist, PLN supporter, former judge and organizer for the prisoner rights group Middle Ground, grabbed a bullhorn, jumped in her car and drove to the roadside where prisoners were being paraded in chains for an ogling contingent of media. The prisoners were working alongside Wilmot Road, not far from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Tucson. She parked her car legally along the shoulder of the road, beyond a parked DOC truck with an armed guard.

Ms. Hamm twice refused requests from DOC hacks to move her car, telling them that she was legally parked and as a free citizen had every right to be there. The guards reported the incident to warden Sam Sublett, who ordered the Pima County Sheriff's office called.

Donna spoke to the 20 prisoner chain gang through a bullhorn for about an hour with reporters present. After the media left, two Pima County deputies told her she was being placed into "administrative detention" while they handcuffed and pat-searched her. When the prisoners saw her being placed into handcuffs they sat down and refused to work. A second work crew inside the prison also sat down and refused to break rocks for the media contingent who arrived to collect footage of the spectacle.

Ms. Hamm was released after only a brief "administrative detention." She was told that if she returns to the chain gang site with her bullhorn, she will be arrested.

"I am going to exercise my first amendment rights," with a court order if necessary, she said. "I will not be intimidated by the Department of Corrections or, quite frankly, the Pima County Sheriffs Office." As we go to press, Ms. Hamm has already sued the AZ DOC and Pima County sheriff.

The kind of courageous activism demonstrated by Donna Hamm can be quite effective, but not when it is a lone voice in the wilderness of corporate media crime hype demagoguery. Arizona's tinhorn fascist governor, Fife Symington, has since announced his intention to implement a program whereby the state's 121 death row prisoners will be put to work breaking rocks and digging holes.

Symington announced his latest scheme on the heels of a state supreme court stay of execution for death row prisoner Luis Mata. Symington made the announcement at a press conference, flanked by the parents of the woman Mata was convicted of killing.

"This is clearly a campaign speech aimed at getting votes votes," asserted Denise Young of the Arizona Capital Representation Project. She criticized Symington for turning a purely legal matter into a political issue, and for exploiting the victims of Mata's crime for political purposes.

Donna Hamm certainly merits the respect of prisoner activists everywhere for her valiant efforts on behalf of Arizona prisoners. It is also good to see that Arizona prisoners are asserting their human rights as well. Anyone desiring more information about Middle Ground and their newsletter should write: Middle Ground, 139 East Encanto Dr. Tempe, AZ 85281.

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