Sending mail into the jail is like sending it into a black hole


There’s trouble in the Durham jail mailroom. Again. People continually report that loved ones inside have not received their letters, nor have those letters been returned to senders. Inside-Outside Alliance has sent many, many letters to people we know inside, and we’ve received almost no responses. Although we have no way of confirming it, our best guess is most of these letters have gone straight into the trash can without their intended recipients ever knowing about them.

This isn’t the first time we in IOA have had trouble getting mail to folks inside. More than a year ago, the jail was returning our letters with the names blacked out and no explanation for the return. Returned mail from the jail is always in red ink with a stamp that says “Return to Sender” and has two check box options: ___ Not in this facility, and ___ Contents unacceptable. Those check boxes were rarely if ever marked.

We complained about this situation then and were told by two different jail officials (Sgt. Ellerbe and Sgt. Weaver) that it was an error in the mailroom. To quote Ellerbe, “The names were blacked out? They shouldn’t ever be blacked out.” We were assured that this would not happen again — that names would not be blacked out and that all mail returned would have a form explaining the reason for its return. They even emailed out a copy of the form:


Pretty official-seeming, right?  After this, mail delivery did improve for a brief time. But it didn’t last long.

Fast-forward: So far this week we have received six returned letters. (A shift from the receipt or return of nothing, nada.) Here are three examples — take a close look:


Probably you noticed that the names are blacked out. The jail did this, not us. (Sgt. Ellerbe, are you reading this?) Perhaps you noticed the above-mentioned red stamp: still no check box marked. Do you think there’s a form inside? There’s not. Clearly the mail has been opened, which we always expect, but there’s no form inside, nothing. And, did you also notice that the mail is stamped “RECEIVED” on two different dates, a month apart from each other? Tell us, how can a letter be received TWICE?

Point 6 of our released statement ‘What We Believe. What We Want.” says:

6. We want all mail to be delivered to prisoners or properly returned. If a piece of mail is rejected, jail officials are required by law to return the mail to sender with a stated reason for return. Further, the intended recipient should be notified of the mail being returned to the sender, to allow the inmate to appeal the censorship.

We stand by this statement, and encourage all supportive readers of this site to sign in its support if you haven’t already:

For proper delivery of jail mail,

For freedom,

Inside-Outside Alliance

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