‘There’s good reason not to stand up: Fear!’

from a former Durham inmate in a state facility.
Hello. It’s been 1 month since I received your letter and I apologize for sitting on it this long. In your last letter you wrote: “When a lot of people are close together and are getting screwed in the same way it is a ripe place for organizing. Eliminating distinctions or divisions, and struggling, as a group, for the lot of the most oppressed among you and with the goal of expanding your ability to fight collectively in the future, is a good way to approach such situations.”

I say it sounds good, and guys will talk it up all day like they’ll stand up, but the unfortunate truth is most inmates are quick to bitch and moan, but are unwilling to take a stand. The thing is that they have good reason to not stand up. It’s called “fear”!

I personally believe that if you go about fighting what I call “the good fight,” you know you are right, and you do not resort to violence or reckless behavior (where we–I hope–can agree to disagree) then you will have nothing to fear, but recently I was proved wrong and I saw an inmate suffer because he went through the right process to resolve his grievance and became a target of the staff here until they got him back into the hole less than 72 hours after wining the first lock-up they gave him. Let me share with you what went down:

My fellow inmate and workout partner was asked to put his shirt on while he sat on his bunk after getting out of the shower. He complained that he didn’t have to but still put his shirt on. It happened again and he was bitching to me and I said that I had the copy of Bertie’s rules and did not think you had to wear a shirt on your bunk. After I showed him the rule book he waited to show it both the officer and the sergeant. Even though it was printed in black and white that “When not on your bunk you must have a shirt, pants and shoes on,” there was another section that said that “unless you are in the shower area, there is no nudity allowed in the unit.” We, the inmates, interpret “nudity” to mean the showing of the genitalia area, but the unit manager defines it as even your bare chest. The sergeant called the “when not on your bunk” saying our “opinion” and we said, “It’s not an opinion, it is your policy, how else can you interpret it?” So, this inmate put in a grievance asking politely for clarification. Less than 24 hours after the unit manager was made aware of the grievance this inmate was once again on his bunk shirtless and this time was taken to the hole and charged with disobeying an order. In prison getting sent to the hole is worse than Durham County Jail in that you get fined $10, lose your job (in this case a $4.90 a week job), and lose gain days (meaning you don’t get out of prison as early). That morning the inmate knew they would come for him now that he complained, and here it happened! I couldn’t believe it. I went to the unit manager to plead for leniency and to further discuss the irrationality of it all. I asked what he defined as nudity (shirt off, he said) and then caught him off-guard by bringing up how we are allowed to go shirtless out in the yard. “Are we all nude while in the yard, then?” I got him! I showed him the rule on the yard and found another policy book clarifying how you can be shirtless.

The unit manager would not drop the charge–which would have saved him face, because when Tuesday came the inmate went before the disciplinary hearing officer and got the charges dismissed and the unit manager looked like an idiot and was required to restore the inmates job and time, etc.

As I said, it didn’t end there. The inmate wasn’t even out 3 whole days when he was charged with destruction of state property and taken to the whole again. What happened is we are required to keep our IDs on us at all times and he’s got this small little wallet with his ID in it, and the way it sits in his pocket it cracks down the middle when he sits on it accidentally. It happened with me one time and I know he was totally baffled at how it broke and I assumed (to which he agreed) it was from sitting on it. They replaced the ID and a week later it happened again and they are accusing him of deliberately doing it! It is totally absurd, but that is what happened.

Guys here see this play out and everyone believes that this inmate was retaliated against for standing up to the prison and fighting back. So see, they feel their fears are now justified and so while they bitch and moan, they will not organize (like everyone signing a petition) and/ or complain thru a grievance process.

This is frustrating to me because right now Bertie CI is in disarray and will remain this way unless enough of us organize and join in a unified voice to get change. For example, there are dozens of inmates in need of shoes. Some are held together by pulling a sock over the whole shoe, others have shoelaces wrapped around the sole of the shoe to hold it together. The shoes are cheap (I broke 3 in less than 2 weeks while at Central Prison playing basketball) and yet Bertie never has any.

Then there’s the schooling and training that’s supposedly offered here. It’s been “about to start” for years now. There is no technical classes for ” heating and air”, “electrical”, or “computer” classes. There’s no college courses , no one is bettering themselves or learning skills that will improve their chances of success once they get out of prison. I was excited to get out of Durham County and get to prison so I could work in here and learn skills I could use once I got out, but I’ve been sorely disappointed to find out how many inmates are doing “dead-time” even though they too want to work and go to school and better their lives.

I believe that if the taxpaying citizens of North Carolina knew how this system is keeping inmates down and not preparing them for a life without having to sell dope or rob people, then they would demand change or vote to decrease prison spending because if they’re not putting the money in to help change people, keeping them locked up is only wasting taypayer dollars.

I know I haven’t articulated the argument right, but it’s not because I don’t care to, it’s just that I’m not quite sure how to convince myself it’s worth fighting for. I feel alone most of the time and even when people sympathize with me, they don’t think fighting for change will actually work.

Well, how’d your appeal to them confiscating your newsletter go? Bertie’s mail room is super strict and they’ve confiscated all sort of stuff from my mail. Hope you’ll take care and fight the good fight,

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