Who better than a prisoner to criticize Arizona's prison system?
The most recent issue of Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine largely written for prisoners by prisoners, features a long, detailed overview of what's wrong with the Arizona Department of Corrections, including ADC's alarming suicide rate, its excessive use of solitary confinement, the push for privatization by Governor Jan Brewer and ADC Director Charles Ryan, Brewer's "stingy" clemency policy, and the ACLU's current lawsuit over the ADC's failure to provide adequate medical care to the incarcerated.
The piece draws liberally from information already published in various media outlets and reports by watchdog groups. Much of it is familiar, but the article does put it all in one place and punctuates it with stinging commentary provided by a prisoner currently serving a 12-year sentence in ADC for a string of armed robberies.
In fact, his name may be familiar to readers of this paper: Joe Watson, the so-called "Salon Bandit."
See Also: Chad Campbell Seeks Charles Ryan's Hide, as Female Corrections Officer Brutally Beaten in Winslow Prison Joe Watson -- Salon Bandit, Jail Poet and Former New Times Writer -- Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison
Watson worked for New Times for several years before being axed for disappearing on deadline -- the worst possible offense for any journalist.
He also wrote for Phoenix Magazine under the assumed name of "Zachary Best" and did some editorial work for the now-defunct 944 magazine.
A selfish and self-destructive obsession with gambling led him down a path of scuzzy and ultimately criminal behavior. He was arrested in 2007 for a string of armed robberies, during which he coerced young female employees of tanning salons into turning over the contents of cash registers by implying that he had a gun.
Watson did all this with his face exposed to security cameras while wearing his favorite Boston Red Sox baseball cap. His fiancée recognized him in footage shown on the local news and called the cops.
He was taken into custody while playing poker at Casino Arizona, which seemed appropriate, as he once told me that his favorite movie was Rounders and that he idolized the character of a degenerate gambler played in the film by Ed Norton.
I haven't thought about Watson in a while. Then I read his recent piece in PLN after it was forwarded to me by a lawyer.
All the quotes are cribbed from the sources Watson cites at the end of the piece, a style imposed by the magazine's editorial policy, according to managing editor Alex Friedmann.
But then, one wouldn't expect Watson to score his own quotes while doing time at the Arizona State Prison in Kingman, Arizona.
Friedmann tells me PLN has published 23 pieces by Watson in print. A handful of others have been published online.
"Around 90 percent of PLN's content is written by current or former prisoners," Friedmann stated via e-mail. "Thus, Joe isn't unusual in that regard. PLN's editor (and co-founder) Paul Wright, and managing editor (myself), have served 17 and 10 years behind bars, respectively."
Wright later wrote to explain that Watson snail mails in his submissions, which are sometimes typed, sometimes handwritten.
I can't argue that Watson deserves anything other the time he's currently serving. That said, his assessment of the Brewer-Ryan regime in this current piece is dead-on.
Such as in the following quote:
"[B]y playing politics, contracting with for-profit prison healthcare companies and kowtowing to private prison firms, Governor Brewer and ADC Director Ryan have taken a prison system already infamous for its draconian conditions and unfettered incompetence and made it deadlier and even more vindictive and profit-driven than ever before."
Couldn't agree more.
Put aside humanitarian concerns and read Watson's piece as an exercise in cost-benefit analysis.
ADC's current state of atrophy is a menace to the safety of Arizona residents, no matter what you may think of those behind bars.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.