Dear Durham County Jail and Renovo (powered by GTL),
You are not dear to me, actually. What was dear to me is the time I lost, the time of mine you wasted last week at visitation. It is time I will never get back. I know I am not alone in feeling robbed by your staff and your “convenient” scheduling system.
Let me back up a moment. As everyone is required to do, I scheduled a visit with my friend online. I made it for 6 pm, a time that fit in well with the rest of my day (coming home from work, etc.). I received an email notification telling me my visitation time was confirmed. But when I arrived at visitation time on Monday and checked in at the desk, the detention officer said initially to me “You’re going to have to go later.” I didn’t think I heard her correctly, or I misunderstood. Then the officer turned to her colleague and said “It scheduled two visits at the same time in admin segregation again…” She continued looking at her paper, where my name was directly across from my friend’s name (handwritten–yes, despite your high-tech online scheduling it seems your officers prefer pen and ink.)
She then tried to explain, “He’s on admin (in the hole) and we can’t have two people there getting a visit at the same time.” It still seemed she might work with me, so I said, “I was able to schedule it online, which is the only way to schedule a visitation. And I was able to do it, and got a confirmation. Now you’re telling me I can’t go up there?”
She did not answer, but rather went back to talking to her colleague, and then, getting ready to call names for visitation. Behind the huge black curtain which was suddenly and without explanation in the lobby in front of where the lockers were, she called the names for six o’ clock visits. When she did not call the name of my friend, I was there waiting for her.
“So, I’m not going to have my visit?”
“I told you, you maybe can go later. We can’t have two visits in admin at the same time and the other people got here first.”
So now we were playing people against each other.
I said, against my principles: “They have handcuffs on. What’s the difference?”
“We can’t have two visits at the same time,” she said.
“But your smart scheduler software can schedule two visits at the same time? Listen, I don’t want to take this out on you, but this is ridiculous. This place just can’t do anything right.”
“I can let you go up later.”
“When? I can’t stay here all night. I made a visit for 6 pm because that’s what works for me. I have other stuff going on. We all (pointing to others at visitation) have other stuff going on.”
“I can’t tell you pacifically (sic). Maybe 7:30.” At this point, she started walking back over to the desk that is behind glass.
“Can I get a complaint form? I’d like to file one.”
The officer did not get a complaint form right away, as she started addressing people in the line that had formed for the next visit sign in.
I tried to make eye or some contact with her to no avail. I wanted her to know I was leaving and coming back. Angry, but still wanting to visit my friend, I decided to leave and come back just after 7, as she said 7:30 might work (Side note: it is absolutely infuriating and insulting when jail personnel try to tell people they should arrive a half hour or more in advance of a fucking twenty minute visit).
When I returned at 7:10 and went to the window, the same detention officer told me she had been looking for me, that the person with a visit scheduled with someone on admin segregation at 6:30 had not shown up.
Wow, unbelievable. Except not.
“You told me ‘probably 7:30.’ Did you expect me to stay here just waiting? It’s your fault, not mine, that I didn’t get in at 6. Can I go at 7:30?”
“No, there’s someone else here for 7:30 and 8. The soonest you can go up is probably 8:30.” (note the continued inability to say anything for certain)
“That’s too late. I was here at 6. You can’t get me up there sooner?”
“That’s the best I can do.”
I thought maybe there was a possibility the 7:30 person wouldn’t go up, or wouldn’t be there, so I decided to stick around a little while. I sat down in the desolate lobby.
There were only a few people sitting in the very few seats there now are in the lobby. I was sitting, wondering why I couldn’t have at least received an email telling me my visit had been postponed, the way Thursday visitors had all been told their visits had been cancelled on July 21. Although no reason was given in the email (which nowhere near everyone got), jail staff told people it was for “security concerns.” Also known as there was a protest at police headquarters, nearly a mile away. I was thinking about this, and was contemplating all my lost time and thinking about all the time that family members and friends sit and wait to visit at county jails, state and federal prisons, and immigration detention centers. It’s a lot of time. It’s so much time, and there’s little to do in these waiting areas. For all that time, though, none of it can count toward their friend or loved ones’ sentence.
Then I was thinking about what might be happening behind this black curtain that was suddenly up in the lobby. Like the orange construction fencing right outside, and the suddenly missing chairs in the lobby, there was no sign of explanation or information. A few weeks ago, when I asked the people at the security desk just inside the door about the plans for outside, they said it was “construction” and they “didn’t know how long it would last, probably a while.” Helpful.
I was thinking about all this, and thinking about the rumors I’ve heard about video visitation being implemented. It was nearing 7:30. Suddenly, the relative quiet in the lobby was interrupted by a blast of music straight out of the 1980s: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News was blasting from the laptop of the officer at the front security desk. He was looking at the monitor closely. And now he was laughing. Cracking up, in fact. I soon realized he was playing the movie “Back to the Future.” It was not a clip of the movie. He was settling in to watch it while he ‘worked.’
After 7:30 passed, and the movie played on, I realized I was not going to be able to recover the past hour and a half-plus, and that there was no future for me, or anyone, in this lobby. I tried to ask at the desk again if I could go up for my visit, but the officer was otherwise engaged.
I left the building, not even angry anymore.