Jon's Jail Journal started in February 2004 to expose the human rights violations in the maximum-security Madison Street jail run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The blog attracted international media attention. The jail was shut down two years later. But Sheriff Joe is still in charge of six jails in the Maricopa County jail system. His detractors call him the Angel of Death not just because of the abnormally high death rate in his jails - 62 inmates died from 2003 to 2007 - but also because some of the guards found responsible by a federal court for the deaths of inmates were subsequently promoted by Arpaio.
Jon’s Jail Journal was set up anonymously to avoid retaliation from the guards. My aunt smuggled what I wrote out of the jail as shown in the video above. After I was sentenced and moved to the Arizona Department of Corrections, The Guardian and the BBC reported the blog and interest snowballed, surging to an all-time high with the worldwide broadcast of Banged-Up/Locked-Up Abroad Raving Arizona in 2013.
In the state prison system, I focussed more on the characters I met. I’ve always been fascinated by extremes of human behaviour, and there's no shortage of that in prison. If you look to the top right of Jon’s Jail Journal, you’ll see some links. If you click MEET THE PRISONERS, you’ll end up with a list of the prisoners I chose to write about. They range from Mafia murderers like Two Tonys who left the corpses of rivals from Tucson to Alaska, to men who think they’re women, such as Xena, a six-and-a-half foot transsexual who almost bled to death attempting to cut “her” man parts off. To read the blog entries on any of these characters, just type the name of the prisoner into the Blogger search box at the top left hand side of Jon’s Jail Journal. All of their stories should come up.
The prisoners I wrote about started to receive mail from all over the world, and the blog became a bridge to the outside for all of us. When my sentence was almost up, I promised to keep the blog going so that their voices would continue to be heard. Prisoners in Arizona do not have Internet access, so they mail me their stories and I print them out with the comments and mail them back to them.
If you scroll down the right hand side of Jon’s Jail Journal, you'll arrive at an archive menu. If you click back to March 2004 you can read the early blog entries I wrote from Arpaio's jail. Here are excerpts from my first two posts:
19 Feb 04
The toilet I sleep next to is full of sewage. We’ve had no running water for three days. Yesterday, I knew we were in trouble when the mound in our steel throne peaked above sea level.
Inmates often display remarkable ingenuity during difficult occasions and this crisis has resulted in a number of my neighbours defecating in the plastic bags the mouldy breakfast bread is served in. For hours they kept those bags in their cells, then disposed of them downstairs when allowed out for showers. As I write, inmates brandishing plastic bags are going from cell door to door proudly displaying their accomplishments.
The whole building reeks like a giant Portaloo. Putting a towel over the toilet in our tiny cell offers little reprieve. My neighbour, Eduardo, is suffering diarrhoea. I can’t imagine how bad his cell stinks.
I am hearing that the local Health Department has been contacted.
Hopefully they will come to our rescue soon.
20 Feb 04
My cellmate couldn’t hold his in any longer. He pinched his nose and lifted the towel from the toilet. Repulsed by the mound, he said, “There’s way too much crap to crap on, dawg. I’m gonna use a bag.” So as jail etiquette demands in these situations, I rolled over on my bunk and faced the wall. I heard something hit the rim of the seatless toilet, and him say, “Damn! I missed some!” When he was done, he put the finished product by the door and the stink doubled. He had no water to clean where the errant piece had fallen on the toilet, so it remained forming a crustation on the rim. We were hoping to be allowed out to dispose of the bag, until a guard announced, “There will be no one coming out for showers and phone calls, as we have to get one-hundred-and-twenty inmates water from an emergency container!”
The water came back on in stages. In our toilet, its level slowly rose.
“Oh no,” I said. “It’s about to overflow, and we’ll be stuck in here with sewage all over the floor.”
“One of us needs to stick his hand in the crap to let the water through,” my cellmate said. “And you’re the closest.”
The brown soup was threatening to spill from the bowl, so I put a sandwich bag on my hand. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I said, plunging my hand into the mound. The mound took the bag from my hand. Almost up to my elbow in sewage, I dug until the water level sank.
“I owe you one, dawg,” my cellmate said.
“It’s your turn next time,” I said.
Because the tap water hadn’t come back on, I couldn’t wash my arm. Not wanting to contaminate anything in the cell, I sat on the stool until a guard let us out for showers hours later.
Click here to go to Jon’s Jail Journal
Video of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's guards murdering Latino war veteran, Ernesto Atencio whose alleged crime was kicking a door.