Sunday, September 05, 2010

No justice for Marcia Powell

I blogged about this case when it was new. Marcia Powell, a nonviolent offender serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, was left to bake to death in a cage in the blazing Arizona sun. And those who killed her will not be prosecuted.

This is staggering. Aside from the entire concept of putting people in cages in the blazing sun:

  • Prison rules limited the time an inmate could be left in the cage to 2 hours. Powell was left there for four.
  • She wasn't there as punishment; she was just in holding pending transfer for a psychiatric evaluation.
  • It was 107 degrees out.
  • Powell was left in the sun until her internal core temperature reached 108 degrees, and there were burns and blisters all over her body.
  • Witnesses report that Powell's pleas for water were ignored -- or even mocked. She was so badly dehydrated that her eyes dried out.
  • She wasn't even permitted to go briefly inside to cool off or use the restroom. When she was found, collapsed, she was covered in her own filth.
  • Powell suffered from mental illness, and her medications made her even more vulnerable to heat, sunlight, and lack of water.
  • Powell was still alive when brought to the hospital; a Department of Corrections official made the call to remove her from life support. (So she couldn't testify to the torment she was subjected to? Why didn't he wait until her guardian could be located? He claims it's because doctors insisted it would be "cruel" to keep her on life support. But evidently it wasn't cruel to bake her to death for absolutely no reason.)

    Yeah, some prison staff were disciplined. Some were fired. And the cages were modified:

    The outdoor cages are still in use, but have been retrofitted to provide shade, misters, water stations, and benches, which ... are metal, and would thus soak up the heat.

    And, as a sad coda, no family member, not even Powell's adoptive mother, came forward to claim her remains. A local church interred her ashes.

    I could cry. Was there nobody anywhere in the world to love this woman?

    Katie said...

    Oh my gosh, that's horrible :(

    Lilliput said...

    Yet another unwanted baby ending up adopted, with mental illness turning to prostitution being killed by someone or herself through addiction.

    And you're telling me that its not better for her never to have been in the first place....

    Christina Dunigan said...

    So your solution, instead of becoming more loving, is to just kill her sooner.

    You know, Lil, they used to just put people with Down Syndrome in horrible institutions. And people looked at those institutions and had two reactions:

    1. The prochoice response: "Let's just kill them in advance so they won't suffer."

    2. The prolife response: "Let's close down these terrible institutions and give these people a better life."

    Which mindset is behind the way we now treat people with Down Syndrome?

    Prochoicers continue to call for them to be aborted. Prolifers -- who shut down the damnable institutions -- continue to call for even greater improvement in the lives of people with Down Syndrome.

    Which is REALLY merciful? Doing the hard work to actually love people, or just saying, "Fuck it. Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out?"

    La Vida Frida said...

    I am a visual artist in Phoenix. I was extremely saddened by what happened to this person I only knew from the headlines. Unfortunately mental illness is something that still has a lot of stigma and few people empathize with. I have decided to dedicate my altar this year to her, to honor her. To recognize that none of us are perfect but to die in this way is the cruelty that we think only happens in other parts of the world. It will be part of the Day of the Dead exhibition at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

    Lilliput said...

    Christina, I think its wonderful you have these beautifully loving ideals - and I too have flights into fantasy but then I am brought down to earth every time I wake up and realise its human beings I share the world with - not angels.

    Who is it you think looks after the disabled, downs, and unwanted children - people! And they aren't the most saintly - they are on the next level up the heirarchy, the uneducated, imigrant or anyone else that can't get a better job the cooking, cleaning and washing someone that can't do it for themselves. How much warmth can that relationship hold!

    In the uk they also got rid of the institutions and started the "care in the community" strategy. Now people with mental and physical disabilities live in their own places and have carers coming at times during the week. They are now lonely and even less supported.

    The institutions weren't the problem - its that they were run by people acting like heartless monsters - they just should have had a change of management.

    Christina Dunigan said...

    Lil, the institutions themselves are a problem. They keep the people isolated so that the harm done to them is a secret thing. And they deprive the rest of the community of the presence of people who should be part of that community.

    Nothing will ever be ideal until Jesus returns, but in the mean time it's our duty and calling to love and serve. And things DO change. Not overnight. Not into perfection. But significantly better.

    I think of just one of the mentally disabled men I worked with. He started out in a total institution, where he was terribly abused. He was moved into a group home in the community, where he was often neglected but still in a much better situation, very often treated with love and kindness, having opportunities he'd never had while warehoused. Then he got moved into his own home, with his mother overseeing his care. MUCH better!

    The important thing was not to give up. Not to say, "Screw it. It's too hard." Because it IS hard. It's very difficult to overcome human indifference and greed and laziness. But that doesn't mean it can't be done, if only in small ways. And those small changes accumulate into big changes.

    Most children with Down Syndrome live at home now with early intervention, mainstreamed in school, given the support they need. It's not unheard of for folks with Down Syndrome to go to COLLEGE. It took FORTY PLUS YEARS to make that progress. There was no quick fix. But does that mean it wasn't worth the effort?

    And the people who most appreciate how difficult it is -- are the people actually DOING it. Not the people criticizing from a distance.