Your sister is getting married. Such a joyous occasion. Everyone is there … parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and of course Grandma. There’s laughter, dancing, champagne — all are having a good time. But then it’s time to say goodbye and head home. Who could foresee that so much joy could end up in heartache?

You see, as Granny is driving home she gets into an accident. When the police arrive they discover that her blood alcohol level is a bit too high. Not a lot, but still too high. She is arrested and taken to jail. Your loving, beautiful, petite, 70+-year-old grandmother now has to go through the arduous legal system of Arizona.

When the legal battle ends, the unthinkable begins … Granny is sentenced to prison time. “Oh, that would never happen to an elderly person.” you think. Oh, but think again! It does happen, quite often, I recently spoke to 2 such women. One, a 71-year-old with an 8-year sentence. The other 76 with a 2-year sentence. Neither of these women has ever been in trouble before, not even a speeding ticket. Both readily admit they were in the wrong. One even said, “If only I had waited for an extra 30-minutes, only 30-minutes.” To make matters worse, both of these women have been placed on a medium/maximum security unit by ADOC staff.

Any time for a 70+-year-old woman at Perryville becomes a possible death sentence. The conditions are generally inhumane at best. Severely lacking health care, poor nutrition, cells that become sweat boxes, with temperatures of over 100 degrees in the rooms during the summer, and showers filled with black mold all possess health risks. But that’s not all, there’s danger from other inmates, and danger from corrupt or insensitive and overworked guards and staff.

Each of these beautiful women broke down in tears, partly for the regret of the actions, but also because of the fear that is their constant companion, and the memory of the horrors, degradation, and humiliation they have had to suffer.

There are some of us here at Perryville who try to protect and care for these lovely, fragile women. We try to help them feel safer and not so alone during the day. But at night, when the doors slam closed, they once again are alone and at the mercy of whoever ADOC has housed them with.

What is wrong with Arizona’s legal system that these women were sentenced to prison? Was there no alternative? Probation? House arrest? Ankle monitor? Loss of driver’s license? Is mass incarceration so important to this state that they are now taking our elderly too? Shame on the prosecutors who insisted on prison time. Shame on the judges who allowed it.

So next time there is a family celebration, keep an extra eye on your grandparents. Give them a ride home, because you never know when Arizona’s mass incarceration efforts will strike next.

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