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A Kafka-esque Catch 22 Keeps Kini Seawright Off the AHCCCS Rolls, Thanks to Governor Brewer and the State Legislature

Kini Seawright, in Peggy Plews' apartment with a photo of her late son, Dana.
Stephen Lemons

When it comes to the war on the poor in Sand Land, I have little faith that the cruelty toward the less fortunate evidenced by our ruling Republican junta ever will be avenged.

Governor Jan Brewer, state Senate President Russell Pearce, their puppet-maestro, Chuck Coughlin of HighGround Public Affairs, and all the rest of that ilk have furthered their political careers, in part, by denying the unemployed a federal extension of their benefits and by whacking 110,000 childless single adults off the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, regardless of need.

That's 110,000 for 2012. Ultimately, the number will be more than twice that.

On the AHCCCS tip, this crowd claims the cuts have helped balance the budget. Which is a sad joke. Through gimmickry and tricks, they've rolled over the debt 'til next year, when they'll have to deal with it all over again.

Only the pending November 8 recall of Pearce, a man who has spent his entire career in the government's employ despite his hatred of same, offers promise of payback.

Meanwhile, the poor and the middle class suffer and the state's unemployment rate inches higher. Even if Pearce falls, his legacy and the work of his allies will have done their damage.

One of those harmed by the Brewer/Pearce/Coughlin cuts is Kini Marie Seawright.

Seawright, 45, suffers from diabetes and spinal stenosis/degenerative disc disease. She is in constant pain and has difficulty sleeping at night. Some days, she can get out of the house, but most of the time, she is confined to it. Often simply being on her feet is too much for her.

Until last year, Seawright was gainfully employed, working at Alcoa, and making about $16 per hour. But her world went into a tailspin when her only son, Dana, was brutally beaten down in prison, the result of a hit put on him by the West Side Crips, one of the gangs that effectively control Arizona's penal institutions.

As you might expect, Seawright was engulfed by horror and depression. Visions of her child, whom she last saw on his deathbed at Saint Joseph's Hospital, haunted her. Her work and her health suffered, and she ended up losing her job as a result.

She had an apartment in Chandler with a little long-haired Chihuahua named Joe as her only dependent. Initially, she was able to pull unemployment and was covered by AHCCCS. After paying her bills, she was broke but able to survive, barely.

In May, the Arizona Department of Economic Security cut off her AHCCCS. The reason? She made too much on unemployment to qualify. You know, on $240 per week.

Not long after, the DES informed her that her unemployment was about to run out. That's when I first heard of her situation through prisoner-rights advocate Peggy Plews. She knew Seawright because of a federal lawsuit Seawright's attorney brought against Arizona for negligence in her son's murder.

The attorney is keeping the lawsuit alive pro bono, BTW.

It seemed odd to me that Seawright's unemployment would run out so soon. So I called the DES' spokesman, Steve Meissner. He said he could not comment on Seawright's case but told me he would alert the appropriate person as to her situation.

By this time, Seawright had fallen behind on her rent. Her landlord had been as obliging as possible, but she had to move.

Though Plews is on disability herself and runs her Arizona Prison Watch blog on PayPal donations out of her tiny apartment in Phoenix, she took in Seawright and her pup and began paying for Seawright's medicine, which costs about $250 a month.

To do this, Plews took out loans. Her friends helped out, passing the hat at get-togethers.

After my call, the DES contacted Seawright, telling her the unemployment checks would continue after a brief pause. She eventually received a letter telling her she had $4,044 remaining in unemployment compensation.

That was in early July. When Plews and Seawright informed me of the letter, I figured I'd done my Boy Scout good deed for the year.

I was deeply mistaken. On August 5, the DES sent Seawright a letter informing her that she was not eligible for unemployment insurance.

Get this: because she's disabled. That's right — her doctor will not certify her for work. And since she cannot work or even look for a job, she can't get unemployment.

Meanwhile, Seawright appealed the AHCCCS decision. But the DES told her no dice. Though she'd been without unemployment, she didn't qualify under the new law, passed by the state Legislature and signed by Governor Brewer, axing benefits to adults with no dependents.

I called Meissner back about the Kafka-esque Catch 22 Seawright found herself in. He told me what I already knew: The DES doesn't make the rules; it just applies them.

What about the letter saying Seawright had four grand coming to her? Barred from commenting directly, Meissner could only speculate.

"Sometimes we think something is appropriate, and upon further review by someone else, it's found that it's not," he offered.

Seawright is a proud woman, and she does not want to rely on the charity of Plews or others. Her anxiety level grows higher with each passing day.

"Peggy can't keep doing this," she told me as I visited with her in Plews' apartment. "What really worries me is that she's going into so much debt."

Plews says she believes Seawright's condition is deteriorating. She worries her friend soon will have to be hospitalized for her ailments.

Arizona is a hateful place. I can already imagine the abusive comments this story will draw. I hesitated to write about it for this reason.

Though it's unimportant, Seawright is upfront about her past, admitting she once did time in Arizona's prisons for larceny.

I investigated Seawright's criminal past, which wasn't much of one. In 1999, she and her boyfriend were arrested for stealing seven containers of infant formula from a Basha's, then reselling it to another store.

Total loss to Basha's: $125 and change. For this, Seawright ended up doing a little over three years in the pen.

What makes Seawright special is that when she was released, she stayed away from drugs and got to work. Until her son was killed, she was doing okay.

Her son's demise is a story all its own, one I lack the space to detail here. Seawright's lawsuit alleges that corrections officers were absent on purpose as Dana was assaulted, then were slow to get him medical attention. By the time he reached a hospital, he was a vegetable.

The callous among you will sneer. But Dana was incarcerated on drug violations. He did not deserve a death sentence, which the West Side Crips imposed, according to one version, because of Dana's interactions with a Mexican inmate.

See, the prisons are segregated by race and controlled by race-based gangs. The Arizona Department of Corrections tolerates this, as do many prison authorities in America and beyond.

Still, watching the tears roll down Seawright's face as she bemoans her son's fate might make even a Tea Partier weep.

I urge those with compassion to assist Seawright by visiting Plews' blog (http://arizonaprisonwatch.blogspot.com) and donating.

Seawright is but one person. There are thousands of stories of pain and need, all created by our current political leadership.

I would like to see a karmic vengeance for that leadership. Non-violent, of course.

But I may have to wait a while, 'til those who sit in high places expire of old age or natural causes.

For then, as Elvis Costello once crooned in a song about former Prime Minister of England Margaret Thatcher, I'll stand on their graves and tramp the dirt down.

A piker's revenge, perhaps, but I'll take it.


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