As if this outraged owl needed more proof that Maricopa County's gone mad, Sheriff "Nickel Bag" Joe Arpaio announced two months ago that he would implement a new policy on jail mail on May 1. That is, inmates ain't allowed none. Or nearly none. Already, prisoners of Arpaio's gulags can communicate out only via prison postcards featuring Joe's wrinkled mug or pics of stripe-wearin' denizens of Tent City with the greeting, "Hello from Sunny Arizona!" Now, most all incoming mail will be restricted to postcards as well.
Remember, about 75 percent of those in Joe's jails at any given time are awaiting trial, and presumed innocent. So, if you've been pinched for a minor crime and can't afford bail, not only do you languish in Arpaio's slammer, eat his grody grub, and risk getting beaten to death by guards or fellow inmates, your loved ones can't even write you a friggin' letter.
Legal mail is exempted, as are periodical subscriptions and money orders to a prisoner's account. But personal correspondence must come in the form of metered postcards, meaning you can't use a stamp, but must have the card run through a postal machine. Also, blue or black ink only, folks, though Joe and his supporters are usually more comfy using crayons.
According to Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, Joe's new policy is the most restrictive one of its kind in the country.
"Beyond the legality of it, it seems to be just another mean thing that Arpaio's come out with to further alienate and isolate the prisoners in his captivity," said Wright. "For many people in jail, the mail is an essential means of communicating with their families, and everyone else. I don't think this policy will pass constitutional muster."
That depends on whom you're askin'. AZ ACLU legal director Dan Pochoda insisted the ACLU's looking at the new policy but is not sure it can challenge it yet.
"Unfortunately, shitty acts and bad policies don't translate into constitutional wrongs," explained Pochoda. "They can open all letters now, other than legal mail. So, it's a relative standard. The law is so crummy in terms of any rights of people in jails or prisons, and certainly any privacy rights, that it's hard to [challenge], as bad as this is on its face."
The justification for this pinheaded postal ban? "To ensure the safety of jail facilities, inmates, and staff," according to the MCSO. Interesting, considering the fact that Arpaio's facilities are often deadly for those inhabiting them, spawning lawsuit upon lawsuit, with multimillion-dollar cash awards going to plaintiffs.
Currently, crackerjack counselor Mike Manning is in court, suing Arpaio and Maricopa County for $12 million in the wrongful death of Phillip Wilson, an MCSO informant who was discovered and beaten by the Aryan Brotherhood into a coma from which he never awoke. This razorbilled chirper got hold of some of last week's trial transcripts, and alighted on the fact that Peter Crowley, head of the county's risk-management department, admitted in his testimony that he hand-delivered a letter to the sheriff's offices in 2003, months before Wilson was murdered, warning Arpaio that if certain changes weren't made in the way Tent City's run, both the county and Arpaio could be held liable for deaths occurring on their watch.
If the county's own risk-management guys think Tent City's unsafe and liable to result in successful lawsuits that taxpayers of this county have to pay, then Joe should be doing something to make those facilities safer and more humane rather than clamping down on a basic human right like receiving mail, one that even most POWs are afforded.
But it's Arpaio's policy to keep Tent City and his incarceration chambers understaffed, unsafe and generally negligent. In Arpaio's 1996 book, America's Toughest Sheriff: How We Can Win the War Against Crime, he writes, "The tents weren't only for drunk drivers and purse snatchers, we were entertaining drug dealers, and sex offenders, and murderers too, with no more than two or three detention officers guarding them at any time."
As this spoonbill's spat before, Arpaio routinely flouts the rights of Maricopa County's citizenry, as well as of this paper, by refusing our public records requests, and urging Pinal County to prosecute us for revealing Joe's address online, even though anyone with an Internet connection can discover same. Joe remains accountable to no one, no matter how obvious his misdeeds are, or how many times the county takes a hit on his behalf in civil court. How much longer must we endure this reign of error?
There's nothing this cee-gar chompin' chickadee enjoys more than bending a wing at a local watering hole, firin' up a triple Corona and doing its best Ron White impersonation for all the assembled alcoholics. It's one of the many perks this parakeet discovered after its move three years ago to the Zona from California, where the socialist nanny state barely permits a peregrine falcon to wipe its own tail feathers, much less blow smoke in bars.
By contrast to candy-ass Cali, here in Sand Land, they still allowed you to wear a pistol on your hip, ride a motorcycle sans helmet, and up 'til the beginning of this month puff like a choo-choo in taverns. Valley-wide, only in the Peoples Republic of Tempe did you have to worry about a do-gooder ordinance restricting your freedoms in drinkaterias. Oddly, Mormon Mesa had a fairer law, which let businesses restrict cancer-stick suckers, either by not allowing them at all, giving them a ventilated area to light up, or letting them inhale Marlboros to their lungs' content. (Chandler also had an anti-smoking ordinance, but it excluded bars from the mix.)
Then along came Prop 201 last November, and the whole state went pussy on this pelican. By 55 percent, AZ's electorate approved the tobacco smack-down, outlawing the fiery enjoyment of that aromatic leaf in all public places such as taprooms and eateries. The exceptions: veterans halls and Indian casinos. Otherwise, you've gotta light your fag on a patio, if the establishment has one (a patio, that is), or stand 20 feet from any entrance while you puff that butt. Reminds this wild turkey of that crack from cross-dressing Brit comic Eddie Izzard about CA's smoking ban: "[There's] no smoking in bars now, and soon, no drinking and no talking."
Anyway, The Bird decided to mosey on down to two of its fave spots this past First Friday to see how these formerly smoky saloons were handling the new legislation. First stop was Bikini Lounge, where future emphysema patients like DJ Shane Kennedy were fuming on the sidewalk, while the coolios and hipsters who always make the First Friday scene were jammed inside, breathing smoke-free air.
"Smoking is all part of the experience of hanging out at some dive bar," explained butt-head Kennedy. "Without it, it's like sex without an orgasm."
Makes this magpie recall that joke from Woody Allens Manhattan:
Party guest: "I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor said it was the wrong kind."
Isaac Davis: "You had the wrong kind? I've never had the wrong kind, ever. My worst one was right on the money."
Protectors of public safety might as well ban other sinful activities such as unprotected fornication, overeating, drinking and driving, tweaking, or snorting cocaine. Hey, wait a sec: The last three are already illegal. Heh, you get the idea. How're we gonna have any fun if all the good stuff is verboten?
Near Kennedy, Ryan Piscitelli, a scraggly 24-year-old musician and illustrator, was equally p.o.'d as he lit up outside with his hottie girlfriend, Sam Cordova.
"This is killing me. It wounds my very soul that I'm sitting inside there and I can't have a cigarette with my beer," peeped Piscitelli. "If you're really concerned about your health, what're you doing in a bar in the first place?"
Piscitelli and Cordova also kvetched about the voting apathy of their fellow smokers.
"Young people and smokers especially should've gotten out and voted. When I went to vote, I was surrounded by geriatrics. I had to shower for 45 minutes to scrub the smell of Ben-Gay off," quipped Piscitelli.
Over at the News Room, a hole right out of some short story by boozer scribe Charles Bukowski, the drag of taking a drag al fresco wasn't the only thing under discussion, as owner Pete Palandri revealed he'll be closing the downtown mainstay this Saturday after 26 years, selling his joint to developers. Scuttlebutt is this scurvy dive, with its pool tables, stark interior, and pinball machines circa 1980, will end up being torn down for condos or some ASU building. Sigh . . . is nothing sacred?!
Palandri was equally upset about the smoking ban and claimed it doesn't bode well for any bar.
"It's a pain in the ass," squawked Palandri. "Applying for patio permits and everything. The rules and regulations won't work for every joint. A patio wouldn't work for me because I don't have the room. Contractors are just gonna get richer off of this."
Palandri also took time to berate some of the smokers outside, saying "I guess you lazy fucks didn't get out and vote."
Palandri's point is well-taken. Plus, it just ain't the same driving home from a night out without that magical reek of stale ciggies all in your feathers. Suddenly, Phoenix and all of AZ is a lot less Kool.
To paraphrase Mick Jagger, this migrant-lovin' macaw went down to the demonstration May 1, to get its fair share of abuse.
The demo in question was actually the counter-demonstration to the big pro-immigrant march that drew about 15,000 people to Wesley Bolin Plaza last week. As much as this heron's heart was with those shouting "Si se puede," or "Yes, we can," in Spanish, this avian loves agitatin' agitators more. So it flew straight to the extremist picnic for United for a Sovereign America, a local anti-immigrant rights org.
There, under a big tent, skinheads, rednecks, and senior citizens alike lined up for apple pie and ice cream after signing up for the latest anti-Mexican legislation. U.S.A. kingpin and Kia-titan Rusty Childress was present, but generally avoided chatting with this chestnut-rumped warbler, scurrying away whenever The Bird approached.
Others weren't as shy. Gabby Hayes-lookalike and crippled Vietnam vet Buffalo Rick Galeener scrambled up, pointed at this tweeter's chest and screamed at the top of his hoarse voice: "Liar! Liar! This [bird] is a liaaaaaaaar!"
Asked what this loon lied about, Galeener said he didn't have a New Times in front of him, and so couldn't answer. Galeener's life is devoted to going to every anti-immigrant event possible, and it's hard not to feel pity for the coot, no matter how obnoxious his views.
Speaking of obnoxious, nearby, a snaggle-toothed biddy named Harlene, carrying a jumbo-sized Good Book, informed this egret (regarding illegals) that "the Lord said we are to keep man's laws," no doubt referring to the Jesus Christ quote "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."
The Bird didn't have the heart to inform the elderly wench that there's no way J.C. was that big of an asshole.
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Anna Gaines, the group's token anti-illegal-Hispanic Hispanic and an intelligent, well-spoken lady, asserted that she was "American first, Hispanic second." She said she came to this country with "strong moral values" but believes new immigrants don't share these. Gaines complained that lots of those coming here are criminals, and that the illegal immigration via Arizona's Sonoran border constitutes an "invasion." This gizzard-packer figures you could use "invasion" as a metaphor, but these nuts are using the term literally to ramp up their reactionary rhetoric.
Gaines also argued that the 20 million illegal immigrants in the United States will "self-deport" as soon as we begin enforcing existing laws. You know, kinda like those tapes self-destructin' in the Mission: Impossible flicks.
While The Bird was conversing with Gaines, Buffalo Rick kept shouting non-sequiturs from nearby. Gaines defended the vet, saying, "He's pretty frustrated; he suffered a lot. He's got that leg missing." (Rick usually gets around with the help of a couple of canes.)
"Yeah," this yellowtail interrupted. "But the Mexicans didn't shoot it off."