February 12, 2014
P.O. Box 1353
Durham, NC 27701
Re: Introductions, My desire to help, and some info regarding incident I saw
I’m not sure 100% sure that is your name. I’m sorry if I’m off. You see, I’ve heard so much about you from Jean-Claude Rinehart (spelling?) when he shared a pod with me, but I’ve never been in direct contact with you.
I’d like to first introduce myself. My name is Raven A. and I have the unlucky distinction of being the current longest continuously incarcerated inmate of Durham County Jail. I have been here since February of 2010. That’s right, four years! I’ve spent time in The Hole (3C-North), PC (3C-So), 3B, 3D, and have been in 5-C nearly 2 years. I went one stretch of 6 months on administrative seg, and am currently on my second stretch (This is, however, by choice) I’d like to say that in four years I’ve seen it all, but unfortunately I still get surprised now and then (more on that later!). I believe that my length of time in here offers me a unique perspective that I am willing to share with your group. I have also kept a journal over the years (which…is in an undisclosed location should the cops try to destroy it) and also hope to tell my story in an effort to bring change to Durham’s judicial system.
When I saw your first volume of the Inside-Outside newsletter my heart soared. Finally, I thought, there is a group trying to raise awareness of this forgotten corner of society. I have appreciated the publishing of inmate concerns and accounts of brutality by officers. Each volume seems a little more refined and definitely gives many of us on the inside a hope that change is coming. I also understand that you are somehow aligned with the group who has flown their flags, beat their drums, and waved their banner of support every New Year’s Eve. If you are, I wish you’d let them know how much it means to me. You see, I am not from here and have no friends or family even near here, and so I don’t get regular visits. The group of drummers remind me of my brother and sister and their group of friends. The first year I actually got tears of joy! It has renewed my strength and courage to see them every year. In fact, my desire is to personally thank them and shake hands before I return home to Utah. (And, as my trial begins next month, I hope to win my freedom soon! You or any members of the group are welcome to attend–my side of the aisle was fairly thin last trial! Heck, its got tons of media exposure last trial, this would turn heads!)
I think the work you are doing has had positive impact on the jail, but there is still a long way to go. I’m afraid many inmates–as soon as they are freed–lose interest in the fight to clean up our jail. And the public doesn’t seem to have a vested interest in what happens behind bars as long as they never have to be locked up. The question is: how do you convince the public that it does matter how their tax payer dollars are spent on their county jail? That it does matter how criminals–whether guilty or not–are treated within their–the tax paying citizens–judicial system
The Man in Black, the late Johnny Cash, was an advocate for prison reform and had to grapple with the same question I just asked. In a 1973 interview with Peter McCabe and Jack Killan (and re-published in Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reaer, edited by Michael Streissguth, (p. 138).
Mr. Cash said, “People say, ‘Well, what about the victims, the people that suffer—you’re always talking about the prisoners, what about the victims?’ Well, the point I want to make is that’s what I’ve always been concerned about—the victims. If we make better men out of the men in prison, then we’ve got less crime on the streets, and my family and yours is safer when they come out.”
Now, I recognize a jail is not a prison, and so there is a limited opportunity for programs and such for inmates, but it is also clear that a jail still needs to be a legitimate institution that pushes policies that are not overly aggressive, a violation of civil rights, and oppressive to those inmates who are just trying to do their time peacefully. We need jailhouse reform, too!
Your newsletters (and BTW, I have not seen one since Rinehart left for prison, will you add me to your mailing list) have touched on subjects such as the cost of canteen—which is actually incurred by the ones supporting the inmates, the banning of pencils, the cost of calling home, the officer brutality, the living conditions and so much more. What I would suggest is that inmates be asked if they are willing to stand behind their statements by putting their name behind it? Obviously, this creates a potential for additional harassment by c.o’s and believe me, I’ve had to deal with that—even though I’m a fairly easy inmate to get along with—and it sucks! On the flipside, inmates willing to publish their name could receive better treatment for fear from the jail staff that any harassment could lead to potential lawsuits and more bad press. And in any case, I don’t think change will occur as quickly without the inmates willing to out the officers by name and by publishing their own (maybe just first name w/ initial of last name, ie “John D.” for John Doe). Is there any liability for you, however, in publishing the C.O.’s names? If so, I can see why you’d avoid it…
With my best regards,
(more to come)