NO HUMAN INVOLVED
NO HUMAN INVOLVED
Two weeks ago I was invited to speak at an event organized by the Black Sex Workers Collective about how Backpage came to be and the importance of the Village Voice as a form of alternative press. As I proceeded with my research, I found so many connections to my experiences in Phoenix while making the film NO HUMAN INVOLVED that I decided to share my notes here. These thoughts are a work in progress and may become a more developed and carefully thought out piece later on. What struck me as I wrote these notes that very often this story is about white guys of relative (and often great) privilege being in control of the means of publication. However, sex workers are in this story too, as are Phoenix jails and prisons.
The Village Voice was established in 1955 as an alternative press in NYC. Today we remember the Village Voice as a form of progressive journalism--including on LGBTQ issues--but at its foundation the newspaper was anti gay even though the paper's office was right next to Stone Wall.
The news room was a tough and uncompromising environment to work in. One person recalled the "tantrum file" stored on a shared office computer where staff was rated in terms of how extreme their meltdown had been. Points would be lost if a person backed down and apologized.
In 1996 Village Voice became a free publication, relying on classified advertising revenues to stay open. David Schneiderman the former CEO of Village Voice Media is quoted as saying that this decision allowed the paper to continue: "it wasn’t going free that hurt the paper. It saved the paper. Kept it going, making money." Often the contribution of sex workers to local economies is not acknowledged. Given the number of ads sex workers placed in the adult and escort sections, they effectively paid for this alternative press.
The Village Voices income stream was eventually undercut by online sites. “Craigslist is the biggest single crisis the Village Voice has faced in its whole 50 years,” Schneiderman is further quoted as saying in a feature article in New York Magazine.
In 2004, in response to the growth of sites such as Craigslist, New Times Media, a publisher of 11 alternative newsweeklies, launched a free classified website called backpage.com. In 2005, New Times Media acquired the Village Voice--and its five affiliated papers including the L.A. Weekly and adopted the name Village Voice Media.
I had read that people in Phoenix had been arrested in April 2018 as a result of the federal seizure of Backpage. I went on an online search to find out more about the people named as having been arrested--Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin--and their New Times papers. The penny soon dropped that they were also the owners of the Phoenix New Times, the news paper that had printed all of the influential pieces about Marcia Powell written by Stephen Lemons. I had always been impressed with the direct approach the newspaper had taken on Marcia and the clear indictment in its pages of the Arizona Department of Corrections in her death. Digging into the history of the Phoenix New Times, I learned that it had been founded by two working class men. Michael Lacey, the son of a construction worker and recent Arizona State University drop out, established the paper in 1970 as an alternative to the conservative Arizona Republic. Soon after Larkin, a Phoenix local, joined to run the business side of the paper. Michael Lacey later summarized his approach to journalism saying, “As a journalist, if you don’t get up in the morning and say ‘fuck you’ to someone, why even do it?”
Beginning in 2010, Backpage was confronted with numerous lawsuits pertaining to adult section advertising. Repeatedly Backpage won these suits, arguing that content was protected on First Amendment grounds (free speech) and under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that allowed that, "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
In March 2012, anti-prostitution crusader Nicholas Kristoff wrote a piece about Backpage in regards to forced prostitution and trafficking. The Village Voice went through his claims and found numerous inaccuracies. Kristoff brushed off concern about the accuracy in his reporting, directing readers to focus on the issue of sex trafficking. Late in 2014 it was revealed that Kristoff had also hyped other questionable "facts" that turned out to be fictions in regard to a set of stories about sex trafficking and prostitution in Cambodia.
Later in 2012 Backpage separated out from Village Voice Media as a result of pressure from so many lawsuits. It was eventually sold to a European company. In early 2017 it ended adult section advertising.
On April 6, 2018, Backpage was seized by the United States Department of Justice, and it was reported that Michael Lacey's home had been raided by authorities. Lacey, James Larkin and five employees were arrested on federal charges. 120 people formerly worked at Backpage and lost their employment overnight. I am not sure about this issue and am still researching it, but I believe that people arrested in Phoenix would have been held in a Phoenix Jail or perhaps a prison.
One part of the almost finalized discussion guide for NO HUMAN INVOLVED is "why do prisoners use the mail?"
In 2014 I was interviewed by Tits and Sass about the process of making NO HUMAN INVOLVED. This week in the wake of the pardoning of Joe Arpaio I was approached by the Tits and Sass team to provide an update about how abuses in Maricopa County jails intersect with the prison system.
Here is the information from the update, the complete piece can now be viewed here.
How did Sheriff Arpaio’s inmate human rights abuses contribute to Marcia Powell’s death?
Marcia Powell died in Perryville Prison, a state facility in a town called Goodyear outside of Phoenix. State prisons are overseen by the Arizona Department of Corrections so there is no direct relationship to the Phoenix/Maricopa county jail facilities that Joe Arpaio ran for six terms until he was voted out of office in 2016. The person who [was] overseeing the prison where Marcia Powell died was Charles Ryan, who is still currently the director of Arizona Department of Corrections. (For more about the difference between County Jail and Prisons in AZ, see this.)
Even though the people in charge of the jails and prisons are different, the abuses in places like Tent City—a collection of tents set up under the direction of Joe Arpaio in a dusty lot next to Maricopa County Jail—are part of a continuum of what happens in the prison industrial complex. The tents in Joe Arpaio’s Tent City Jail are reported to heat up to over 150 degrees. Placing people in intensely hot environments like this is similar to what we know killed Marcia Powell.
In 2012 I visited Tent City, I saw inmates in the tents, and it is as bad as you could imagine it would be. Joe Arpaio wanted the public to see how badly he treated prisoners because he was proud of what he had done. Maricopa County Jails have been cited numerous times for violating health and rights for these and other reasons. After she was arrested, Marcia Powell spent time in a Maricopa County Jail in 2008 while awaiting court hearings and before being transferred to Perryville Prison. In No Human Involved, a woman who saw Marcia enter Perryville Prison described her as being “all tore up” because she was coming in from County Jail and explains that everyone who comes in from County is that way due to the conditions there.
In the years following Marcia Powell’s death in 2009, the ACLU AZ filed a lawsuit against Charles Ryan, the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, regarding failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to inmates. Many of the advocates I met during filming No Human Involved contributed to this suit—it was filed in 2012—and I had the chance to learn a lot about the situation, reading over the documentation of the incredible suffering people have endured while in prison in Arizona.
In 2015, Arizona Department of Corrections settled the suit, committing to provide health care and take 100 other measures to rectify the issues. But Ryan has not done so. In July this year, a federal judge compared Charles Ryan to “the recently convicted Sheriff in our county who thought he could do as he wished” because he has challenged the legitimacy of orders to comply with the settlement. Once again the theme of just how hot it can get in Arizona was noted by the federal judge who--it was reported in the Phoenix New Times-–visited a “prison health clinic that was so hot that his hearing aid was destroyed from sweating so much.” The judge found this worrying because “inmates who are taking medications that make them extremely sensitive to heat have to use that same clinic.” Marcia Powell was also taking medications that made her more sensitive to the heat.
During your work on the documentary, what did you discover about how other sex workers suffered from Arpaio’s violations of inmate human rights?
What I learned is that each year hundreds of sex workers and people convicted of prostitution-related offenses are subjected to the rights violating and unconstitutional conditions of Maricopa County Jails. And until 2016, they were serving under Joe Arpaio’s reign. In Phoenix, approximately 1000 people per year are arrested for prostitution, though in some years it can be nearly double that figure. Raids–such as [those for] the now defunct Project ROSE–can result in more than 100 people being arrested at a time over a weekend. Many of the people arrested for prostitution await their court date while locked up in Maricopa County Jails and then serve their sentence in Maricopa County Jails. Jail time for prostitution offenses is written into the law in Arizona, 15 days for the first offense, 30 for the second, 60 for the third and after that people are charged with a class 5 felony and must spend 180 or more [days] in prison. That is why Marcia was serving more than 2 years time, because she had 5 prior offenses so she received the standard mandatory sentence as per this sentencing chart.
It is very hard to fight prostitution charges in Arizona and very few people have the resources to do so. During Monica Jones’ initial court appearances after she was arrested for “manifestation of the intent to prostitute,” we got some indication of just how pervasive it is to route people through the system and into jail. At her initial court appearance in 2013, Monica indicated that she intended to plead “not guilty” and this was such a surprise to the court functionaries that they had to delay her appearance and send her to another courtroom. The reason? The primary courtroom set up for people charged with prostitution related offences is set up purely for people to plead “guilty.”
What sort of conclusions do you make from Marcia Powell’s death and the blood on Sheriff Arpaio’s hands about the necessary connection between the sex worker rights movement and prison reform/prison abolition?
I keep thinking back to something Peggy Plews (of Arizona Prison Watch) said to me back in 2012 on election night when people were hoping that Joe Arpaio would be voted out. She noted that even if Joe Arpaio were removed from his office that the system would continue with another Sheriff. It was such a good reminder of keeping focused on the overall picture of what needs to change and to not be distracted by a short term “win.”
Based on what I’ve read, Joe Arpaio is similar to Trump in terms of courting media attention in spectacular ways and trumpeting [his] participation in human rights abuses to get that attention. It would be very easy to say that now that Arpaio is no longer there, things must be better because he built himself up in such a grotesque manner to make himself seem all powerful and essential to the system.
Yes, I am relieved that Arpaio is no longer in office, but day to day the system continues on without Arpaio because no one person is essential to it. The Phoenix vice squad is still out there arresting sex workers, the court system still operates exactly as it did when Marcia Powell received the mandatory sentence of 2.25 years, and Arizona systems of incarceration are just as dehumanizing and dangerous as they ever were. As sex worker rights advocates, we need to hold the totality of what needs to change in our minds–and activists I admire such as Peggy Plews, Monica Jones, and Kini Seawright do that–at the same time as concretely taking the system apart one bit at a time.
NO HUMAN INVOLVED screened for the first time in the UK as part of Unrestricted View in April 2017. Radio Ava had a chance to attend the screening braving the rainy weather. They recorded what they heard at the location and then interviewed PJ Starr later on. We were happy to hear that they had many questions provoked by seeing the film and some issues they felt needed to be explored in greater detail. The interview aired as part of the Birthday celebrations of Radio Ava. The entire interview is available here.
Radio AvA is for and by sex workers and allies. Radio Ava is a cultural community space broadcasting sex workers voices. Radio AvA is here for sex workers to be heard. To debunk myths. To give non Sex Workers direct access to information and knowledge about sex worker realities, sex worker struggles, sex worker demands. It is a political tool to fight intersectional oppression and stigma.
Here is what Radio Ava wanted to know and what is explored in their radio show. One of the questions about statistics is currently being researched by intern Taylor Faires. We prioritized this question after being interviewed by Radio Ava and will include this detail in the discussion guide that is coming soon.
1. Why did PJ decide to make 'No human involved' and was was her main aim as a film maker and an activist?
2. Are any statistics about numbers of sex workers currently incarnated in the US, or even the state of Arizona?
3. Is there much collaboration between the prison abolition / prisoners support the sex worker rights movements in the US? If so, how do they work together?
4. Are migrant workers not a main target of police raids in the US?
5. Did you intentionally not raise the question of was was Marcia arrested at all directly till Peggy does it at the end? Both Ava's felt they wanted to know more about Marcia Powell. We wondered if there was an artistic, political, or practical reason why who she was, her life, before she was basically murdered, weren't explored much in the film.
Hear the show: www.mixcloud.com/avaradio/may_ava-part3-nohuman/
NO HUMAN INVOLVED will screen as part of the Unrestricted View Film Festival in London. The festival is run by filmmakers and aims to celebrate the very best in indie and encourage all aspects of independent film making.
NO HUMAN INVOLVED screens Wednesday April 26 at 4.15 pm at the Hen and Chickens Theatre (109 St. Pauls Road, London, Greater London, N1 2NA).
Tickets can be obtained here. Unfortunately PJ Starr will not be able to make the screening herself but stay tuned for news about which friends will be attending on Twitter @Free_Marcia
More about NO HUMAN INVOLVED: The film explores the death of Marcia Powell while serving a 27 month sentence for solicitation in Arizona and follows a set of people--including women's rights advocates, prison abolitionists and artists--who become radicalized to paint red umbrellas in the wake of her death.
NO HUMAN INVOLVED is honored to be an extended official selection of the 2017 Nevada Women's Film Festival (the festival opens today March 23). According to the Nevada Women's Film Festival, Extended Official Selections are a select group of films that will be featured for online viewing from March 27 to May 1 by festival attendees only.
The Nevada Women's Film Festival celebrates and supports the fair representation of women in film. The festival organizers ask us to consider if films we are normally exposed to in theaters and online, pass the Bechdel Test. This test asks whether a work: 1) has at least two female characters, with names, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man. Incredibly, very few films can pass this simple test.
NO HUMAN INVOLVED celebrates the friendship of two women--Peggy Plews and Kini Seawright--who have dedicated years of their lives raising awareness of what happens to incarcerated people and highlighting the case of Marcia Powell through their art work. NO HUMAN INVOLVED passes the Bechdel Test.
The Nevada Women's Film Festival works to address other issues as well such as the under representation of women behind the scenes in movies. The DGA’s 2015 Diversity Report reveals that only 6% of films released in the U.S over the last two years were directed by women. Yet despite the challenges, women directors continue to struggle to make their films and those who do complete feature films are now finding more support and distribution. NO HUMAN INVOLVED is directed by a woman and is fiscally-sponsored by Women Make Movies. Established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women.
NWFFest17 starts today March 23 in Las Vegas as part of Women’s History Month. Tickets and screening details are available here.
NO HUMAN INVOLVED premieres in NYC this Thursday. NO HUMAN INVOLVED has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Queens World Film Festival. Marcia Powell, you have not been forgotten.
Join PJ Starr, Monica Jones, Mar Trevino and friends for a screening of NO HUMAN INVOLVED at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens Thursday, March 16 at 5.30 pm. This is the first NYC screening of the documentary about the impact of incarceration on sex workers, specifically Marcia Powell who died in an Arizona prison after being incarcerated for more than two years for solicitation, that is speaking about prostitution. NO HUMAN INVOLVED will screen with a short and there will be a Q&A where you can ask us any question you like about campaigns that have emerged in the wake of Marcia's death, the process of making the documentary, our current work, and forthcoming feature with Monica Jones who has campaigned to challenge laws used to incarcerate trans and low income women in Arizona. Find out how to buy tickets at the festival website and use the code QWFF7 to get a discount.
After the screening, the discussion will continue at an after party in Williamsburg (8 to 10 pm). Get the information at the screening, or check out this FB page for party updates.
Please share widely, please come to show that films about the rights of people incarcerated for sex work can make it in a mainstream venue in the US and beyond. Please help us pack the theater, so that NO HUMAN INVOLVED will be invited to screen in other locations and to build support for the human rights of people in the sex trades, not incarceration.
Find out more about the film and upcoming screenings at the website and blog.
Moral High Ground Productions announces the official selection of NO HUMAN INVOLVED by the Queens World Film Festival
Join us at a press conference at the Museum of the Moving Image, 9.30 am February 14, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Director/Producer PJ Starr and Co-Producer Mar Trevino are proud to announce that the documentary NO HUMAN INVOLVED will screen at the Queens World Film Festival in March 2017.
Director PJ Starr will attend a press conference organized by the Queens World Film Festival at 9.30 am, February 14, 2017 at the Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens. "I am extremely proud to have No Human Involved screen for the first time in the NYC area at the Queens World Film Festival," PJ Starr commented. "The festival is both global and local, featuring 135 films from 25 nations. This is extremely meaningful to me as immigrant filmmaker who has had the honor to document the tenacious spirit of organizing for justice in the name of Marcia Powell."
NO HUMAN INVOLVED uncovers the truth about Marcia Powell—a woman destroyed by a 27-month prison sentence for prostitution—and documents the tenacity of those who vow to fight for justice in her name.
In 2009 after she was sentenced to more than two years imprisonment for prostitution, Marcia was locked in a metal cage in the desert sun at an Arizona prison. Four hours later she collapsed in the over 107 degree heat, and by day’s end she was dead. Even though an internal investigation revealed that guards had denied her water and ridiculed her when she pleaded for help, no one was ever held accountable for her death. Marcia’s story motivates audiences to question the system that justified her incarceration because of her engagement in the sex trade, as viewers empathize with her humanity realizing that what happened to her, may also happen to so many more people. Dan Pochoda, Senior Counsel, ACLU of Arizona writes about the film that, “Marcia Powell’s completely avoidable death is symptomatic of larger problems we see in the management of the Arizona Department of Corrections and prisons across the country… highlighting Ms. Powell’s tragedy will cause more people to realize that we, as a society, are responsible for the treatment of people in our jails and prisons and we must act to prevent such cruelty and inhumanity in the future.”
In addition to uncovering key issues that lead to Marcia Powell’s death, the film highlights the work of Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch, Kini Seawright of Seawright Prison Justice, author Carl Toersbijns, human rights advocate Monica Jones, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, the National Organization for Women (Sun Cities/West Valley Chapter) and many others.
Please join us at the Queens World Film Festival at 5.30 pm on March 16, 2017 at the Museum of the Moving Image to celebrate the premiere screening of NO HUMAN INVOLVED in the NYC area. Special guest Monica Jones will be traveling from Arizona to attend the screening along with director PJ Starr and others involved in the creation of the documentary.
Follow us on Twitter @free_Marcia for live updates from the press conference on Valentine's day and visit www.nohumaninvolvedfilm.com for more information about the film.
Moral High Ground Productions announces the premiere of NO HUMAN INVOLVED