Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Gulags on Lockdown Over Hunger Strike, Candlelight Vigil Tonight (Monday) at 7:30p.m.

True to form, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is milking a hunger strike ongoing in his jails, locking down three of his uncertified, Amnesty International-condemned gulags today over the so-called threat of "inmate-on-inmate-violence."

Alas, the danger of "inmate-on-inmate violence" wasn't a concern for Arpaio following the murder of inmate Robert Cotton on May 1, 2008 by a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, one of the gangs given carte blanche in Arpaio's vast incarceration complex. It took jail personnel 20 minutes to respond to the murder, which was caught on video by surveillance cameras.

Nor has the threat of "guard-on-inmate violence" concerned Arpaio, such as in the beating death of Juan Mendoza Farias, who was booked into Joe's inhumane dungeons on a probation violation December 2, 2007 following a DUI. Days later Farias was a corpse after a brutal beating, allegedly at the hands of MCSO corrections officers.

I could go on and on listing case after case of deaths in MCSO facilities 'cause of the brutality and incompetence of Arpaio and his minions. But I don't have enough time right now to write a doorstop.

In any case, Joe's locking down his inmates because they refuse to eat the slop Arpaio dishes out to them. Can't say that I blame the prisoners. My sources tell me inmates are currently being fed something that looks like mashed potatoes, or a close facsimile thereof, with a gross brown liquid on top of it. Supposedly the brown stuff is mystery meat and whatever else put through a blender. Or so it's been described.

Thus, in  his own way, Arpaio's making the hunger strike easier for those in his custody. No wonder the protest has been so successful. If Arpaio's recent press release on the subject's to be believed, "On Thursday of last week 1,504 refused the evening meals, on Friday - 1,800 refused, on Saturday 1,219 did not eat and last night 1,080 inmates turned down the evening meal."

But then, the MCSO's story keeps changing. On May 6, a Board of Supervisors representative informed me that the MCSO's line to Correctional Health Services was that the hunger strike was a one-day-deal, on Cinco de Mayo only. Now Arpaio's shifted his message to better spin the situation behind county bars.

If the prisoners really wanted to get Arpaio's guff, they would cease purchasing candy bars, potato chips and all the rest from the MCSO's commissary. Such items are sold to inmates at greatly inflated prices. According to an MCSO press release from September of 2008, prisoners purchase "millions of dollars of canteen items each year, many of them food products as a way to augment the 17 cent meals inmates are served twice daily."

In other words, there's a method to the MCSO's madness. The food is nearly inedible, forcing the inmates to supplement their diet with junk food, which turns a nice profit for the MCSO. Refusing the daily slop is one thing, refusing comestibles offered at the commissary would cut into the MCSO's profit margin.  

On a related matter, Salvador Reza and his group Puente will be holding a candlelight vigil in support of the hunger strike tonight at Joe's 4th Avenue Jail (4th Avenue and Madison) jail at 7:30 p.m.  

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons