Letter to Wendy Jacobs from a Detainee in Durham County Jail

May 30, 2017

ATTN: Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs
To: The Honorable County Commissioners
Durham County, North Carolina

I write and appeal to each of you who revere and fear the Lord God Almighty, to search your hearts and consciences and hear my complaints, and do your duty in Godly fashion.  Keep in mind that as God has allowed you each to be in authority over how the Durham jail is operated, you each will be held accountable for whatever decisions you make when your every knee is bowed before Christ’s Judgement Throne to give an account of your life’s deeds.

We all can agree that jail is not a resort, and hardly anyone wants to be detained herein.  But for those of us who are here, be we guilty or innocent of the charged offense(s), we should be treated with dignity, respect and fairness.  Nevertheless, we also know that many abuses exist in jails nationwide and your office has the ability and duty to curb and put an end to such improprieties in the Durham County Jail.  If not, then such violations and abuses will continue to exist with your Board’s imprimitur.

 

VIDEO VISITATION

What is the purpose of video visitation?  The Sheriff claims it’s only an alternative – not a replacement – to face-to-face visits.  If that’s true, then it would be advantageous to those who live hundreds of miles away and out of state, provided they can utilize Skype or some other home computer video to implement such visits.

I believe most detainees’ families live in or near Durham.  If these family members are relegated to coming to the jail, only to sit before a monitor downstairs to see and communicate with us through another monitor upstairs, that would be a travesty of justice, an unnecessary invasion of privacy on our visits, and a waste of tax dollars.
Instinct and history tells me that video visitation is not going to be an alternative form of visitation.  Rather, due time, face-to-face visits will be phased out to give the Sheriff a captive audience to charge exorbitant fees for visits.  Otherwise, why try to fix what’s not broken?

For the most part, detainees in jail ahve not been convicted of any crime.  Under our system of jurisprudence, we are supposed to be deemed innocent until we are proven guilty.  But in reality, this jail treats us in opposite fashion with this Board’s seal of approval.

 

MAIL

Our mail is unlawfully censored daily, particularly by a black female officer named Snipes.  Too often she sits in the hallway outside the programs office opening and reading our incoming letters, line-by-line, on both sides of each page.  She does this to every letter her hand touches in the name of “security.”  She is just nosy as can be and knows she can get away with this abuse of authority.  She is not authorized to even touch our mail.

 

TELEPHONE CALLS

Likewise, our telephone calls are all recorded and are vetted by law enforcement to include the District Attorney’s office.  We don’t get to listen to the Sheriff’s and DA’s conversations and strategies concerning us, so why should they have this unfair advantage to hear ours?  Our most intimate conversations are violated by jail officials – telephone calls that cost us or our families an arm and a leg to utilize.  And now, the Sheriff wants to record our personal visits and charge this captive audience ridiculous prices for that too.  When will this Board put a stop to “Big Brother’s” abuses upon our privacy rights?  We are detainees – not convicted felons.

If we could afford bond, many of us would not be subjected to these privacy rights abuses.  We could talk unimpeded with absolute privacy to our attorneys and loved ones.  Simply because we cannot afford these staggeringly high and needlessly excessive bonds, the Sheriff is permitted to fleece our families and us in a myriad of senseless for-profit schemes.

 

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE ABUSES

Just a few years ago sheriffs did not outsource canteen and telephone services provided to detinees.  They provided such services themselves, just as the NC Dept of COrrection continues to do today (canteen services) at a 15% to 25% markup.

Allowing the Sheriff to outrsource canteen services, as well as our daily meals, invites abuse.  Rather than go with the vendor who offers the most reasonable products at the most savings to detainees (and our struggling families and friends who sacrifice to help support us), the Sheriff readily rejects them.  Why?  It’s all about greed and profit.  The Sheriff wants a 50% kickback off of every canteen item sold to us!  In all other entities, this practice is called illegal price gouging.  Here again, your Board is well aware of this unconscionable practice, yet turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.

Detainees are already deprived of their freedom and lose income, held by excessive bonds.  Why would any fair-minded person want to exacerbate our hardships by imposing grossly inflated canteen prices on us for the most generic brand items, e.g. one square packaged Ramen Noodle soup costs us $0.82, yet you can buy these same soups 6 for $1.00 at any Food Lion or Dollar Tree and they still make a profit selling at such price.

There is supposed to be a service fee of $1.00 for a pre-paid GTL telephone card.  A $10.00 card plus $1.00 service fee is supposed to cost us $11.00 total, or $21.00 for the $20.00 GTL card, but we are charged a whopping $7.00 service fee (profit) for each, having to pay $17.00 for a $10.00 card and $27.00 for the $20.00 card.  This is highway robbery and this Board’s sense of propriety surely knows this.

Hebrews 13:17 states in pertinent part: Obey your leadrs and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who MUST given an account.  I implore you each to depart from politics and from doing business as usual and do what is godly and righteous.  Jesus is often quoted to say: when you have done this (whatever you do) unto the least of these, you have done it unto me, Matthew 25:35-40.

It’s easy to shun those in jail and to care more about appearances to your constituents.  But you each will pay a steep penalty if you fail to exercise the God-given authority you have been entrusted.  If your conscience has not been seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2) then you will do what is just and equitable.

Please put a stop to the Sheriff’s abuse of the canteen system.  The annual budget your office approves for the Sheriff’s office is more than sufficient for all of its needs; in fact, it’s excessive.  The Sheriff should not be allowed to operate any “for profit” program against his detainee charges.  Again, such practice invites abuse administratively and monetarily.

The Sheriff’s office and Jail are stacked with excess employees; it’s like a huge welfare system.  Many of the jail’s detention staff are obese, out of shape, cannot promptly respond to emergencies and are paid well over $50 and 60 thousand dollars a year, a total waste of tax payers’ money, who sit in an office all day.  A lot of Pod officers are overweight, too.

There needs to be a qualitative management program put into effect for several reason.  All overweight personnel’s names should be placed on a list requiring mandatory weight loss over a specified period of time or be terminated.

A time-in-motion study should also be conducted to get rid of excessive personnel.  Too many people are assigned to do the same job but only few do the actual work.  I say this in all sincerity: you could reduce the actual personnel in the Sheriff’s department by 33 and 1/3% and get an increase in production by 50% by requiring the remaining staff to do their jobs.  A lot of cuts need to be made at the top in administrative and longevity positions, who demand the lion’s share of salaries.  If they had comparable jobs in the private sector they would have long ago been terminated for failure to produce, and their redundant job slots would have been eliminated.

There are ample people here at the jail who could easily operate the canteens (as Wake County Jail Sheriff’s staff do) to eliminate the existing price-gouging practice.  The same applies to the kitchen.  If our military can train and provide its own cooks, why doesn’t the Sheriff’s office still provide this service?  It would certainly help reduce contraband from entering in by private vendors providing such services and would reduce costs.

Let me comment on the new ABL management group that was hired 9 months ago.  ABL promised to improve the quality of our food by leaps and bounds provided they were paid the additional money demanded.

The first two weeks ABL came on board we were provided fresh bananas for breakfast on Saturdays, and then that stopped.  We still get grits or oatmeal (without sugar) each morning – no meat – but a turkey sausage gravy on Fridays.  The only improvement we see is the cheap plastic bag of milk we get daily and the elimination of soy producets.  We get a lot of moulded apples and oranges, no fish products at all, and maybe 3 times we have received some tough-to-chew greens.  The lack of fresh vegetables causes a lot of skin disorders.  We also get lots of unpalatable cole slaw and wilted lettuce as poor substitutes for green leafy vegetables.

Had Aramark been given the same amount of money as ABL, we would be provided more wholesome meals.  Aramark did give us baked chicken for our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.  After many complaints, ABL gave us baked chicken on New Year’s only.  ABL likes to feed us patties for lunch and supper, with wilted lettuce and baked potato fries and molded fruit as a whole meal.  That might work for teens and kids but not for adults

Why is it difficult for us to get dry cereal like corn flakes, bran or rice krispies or something similar to them?  Why can’t we buy a salad tray for $2.00 as ABL sells to staff – a salad that is wholesome and contains fresh veggies and meat?  It’s punitive to deny us a mere chef’s salad.

Why are we not served any fish products ever by ABL?  What happened to the fish sandwich that schools and even prisons serve?  ABL is as greedy as they can be.  They put excessive salt in food items that we often cannot eat.  And when we complain, they get an attitude or claim to still be training cooks!  And why do they put nasty tasting stewed tomatoes in scrambled eggs?

Lastly, jail officials put too much emphasis on sports and entertainment on the jail’s TVs.  Every morng when TVs come on at 9 am, they are automatically placed on channel 31, ESPN, for an hour or more.  At noon they watch TMZ, a celebrity entertainment news program.

TVs are supposed to be on Univision from 5pm to 6pm for Hispanics and from 6pm till 7pm for the local and world news.  But too often staff will not turn TVs to the news, catering ot the youths’ desire to watch videos, gangsta movies, and other incorrigible programs.

The jail has all but cut out newspapers for us to stay informed – a constitutional violation.  We get one newspaper a week if we get to go to the library on our scheduled day to read it.  We should get newspapers daily, as well as get to watch local and world news.

Commissioners, why don’t y’all make surprise visits to the jail during lunch and supper time so you can see for yourselves what is being provided us to eat?  Visit the pods so you can see what is on our food trays.  The Sheriff is only going to show you the good food items ABL provides for staff to eat.

These problems will continue to fester and become more systematic until you each say “ENOUGH” and put a stop to it.  Please make some positive changes.  Give the food contract back to Aramark (with the same money you now give to ABL) until the jail takes this responsibility back.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

 

KFO

PS: your office controls the Sheriff’s budget.  You thus have a lot of influence as to what occurs in the Sheriff’s office.  So use it!

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“17 plus hours in a cell is a lot, especially when we are supposed to be considered innocent.”

G___,

Thanks for keeping in touch and for the newest Feedback booklet.  I finally did receive the second Human Relations Commission report you sent.  The first one you sent is missing, most likely due to the mail services here, not a surprise!  I read it thoroughly and agree that a community based research team to survey the facility would be beneficial, along with a civilian oversight board to address continuing issues within the jail.  More knowledge can never hurt, except for the jail’s reputation and how they function.  Video-visitation seems to be a hot topic raising significant controversy.  I’m trying to remain optimistic throughout the whole process and shift to this “hybrid” approach.  I agree that video-ONLY visitation should be prevent.  Though, at the moment, I’m trying to see how the hybrid approach could be beneficial.  They plan to launch the “hybrid” approach funded by the US Department of Justice sometime in the near future.  The newspaper quoted Mike Andrews (Sheriff) today 5/12/17, stating that in-person visits will remain and that the implementation of this new technology was to better serve the community and allow more access to visitation.  From what I’m understanding, there will be more days and times family members can come to utilize the video-visitation.  And there is talk about the possibility of external use for visitation.  Meaning that people can connect and speak to you face to face from their home device, without the inconvenience of coming down to the jail to do so.  I understand the frustration everyone is having with the possibility of them converting completely to video-only visitation.  And one can assume that this trial period with this “hybrid” approach is a way of slowly but inevitably transitioning to video-only visitation.  So, I think it is important and a good proactive step that everyone is already voicing their opposition of the jail to utilize video-only visitation just like other counties including Wake.  But, like I said, I’m trying to see what good things may come from these new computers.  My family does not live in this state and most of my friends have graduated and moved away to where their careers took them.  I have not physically seen my family in over a year.  I would love the opportunity to speak face to face with them even if it’s on a computer.  Talking on the phone only does so much, actually seeing them would be great.  And I’m sure my family feels the same.  I can’t be the only one in this predicament at the jail.  Hopefully the jail doesn’t convert to video-only visitation but I can see how the technology may give people more opportunities to visit and more options to those who can’t physically come to the jail.

In the newspaper the new replacement of Lt. Colonel Perkins was announced, Colonel Prignano.  What he said showed some promise.  Though, is it all just talk like Trump’s first 100 days in office?  The new colonel said he is willing to sit down with members of organizations like IOA to address any concerns head-on.  Lets hope he keeps that promise.  But, what I would like to see is that the new colonel make regular rounds through the pods just like Lt Col Perkins did.  I will give her credit, she came into the pds during our recreation time and addressed many of our concerns personally.  It showed that she cared and was actually doing her job well.  As for Major Couch, the person who temporarily filled LtC Perkins spot, I haven’t seen him in months.  When I did see him we were all locked in our cells and he quickly snuck right beck out the door without ever talking to a single detainees.  I’m glad they did not promote him to the new position – but let’s hope the new colonel surpasses LtC Perkins’ performance.

Last week the gentleman that manages Aramark and the canteen at this facility, over both Paul and Ms. Myers, indicated that they have numerous items in their inventory that they “could” sell, however the jail and its “security” refuses to let them do so.  Apparently every time sold must be approved by the jail.  Interestingly, he said that they have small radios, like ones similar in most prisons, but the jail refuses to allow them to be sold.  We asked the person in charge of security (Cpt. Barnes) about his position on allowing these radios to be sold.  The only excuse he gave was that he was too concerned about them being stolen, lost, and/or broken.  Is this a valid concern that outweighs what these devices could provide for us?  If prisons across the country have permitted the use of handheld radios, I’m not sure why the County Jail cannot.  17 plus hours in a cell is a lot, especially when we are supposed to be considered innocent.  I would love the opportunity to listen to music, news, and even NPR each day.  Every day its a fight with the officers to be able to even watch the news on TV for 30 mins, and don’t even try to watch MTV, VH1, or BET; those channels are blocked and some officers even go a step further and prohibit any music videos from being watched.  I don’t understand why its censored?  What’s even more interesting is that when Cpt Barnes was pressed with the issue even more he indicated that the jail was looking into “new technology” that would have access to the radio, among other things.  Though, I don’t know if this was said to pacify us or if it was really being researched.  My only comment, don’t get your hopes up anytime soon – things progress so slowly around here, it might take yars to actually see whatever this new technology is!

Now, the Food!  you asked if you could rely my previous complaints in my last letter to the Human Relations Commission and Wendy Jacobs.  I have no problems with that.  Back in March, I sent a grievance to the kitchen and ABL notifying them on multiple occasions that portions of their meals are not edible due to massive amounts of salt.  The one bite I took I had to spit out, I couldn’t bear the taste.  I didn’t receive a response for almost 8 weeks and when they finally did they aid, “we are working on training our cooks” and to be patient, the food will get better.  If I counted correctly, we are in the 8th month of a 10 month contract with ABL.  What?  What has ABL been doing up to this point?  Is their management that poorly handled?  They obviously have problems.  Yesterday, the officer refused to pass out the fruit and sent it back down to the kitchen because they were rotting.  Why would they even send that up here?  Probably the same reason they sent up curdled milk that looked grey, obviously past the expiration date.  I will admit that over the past couple weeks the cooking itself has improved but their menu is no where near healthy or nutritious.  It is filled with complex carbs, breads, starches,a nd processed meats or breaded patties.  how is this healthy, especially when you can’t even eat part of it due to its sub-standard quality.  I’ve already mentioned before about them cutting foods from the menu they originally began serving.  Where did the bananas, raw tomatoes and cucumbers, spinach/lettuce, and real meat go to that we saw the first couple weeks?  The only thing I see now is brown soggy lettuce overpowered with dressing.  It’s obvious they are cutting corners and the reviews I saw in the paper prior to their start here was nothing but a show.  Whoever manages ABL at this facility needs some help, a better menu, and better quality food.  What irritates me more is that I see the officers purchase food that ABL makes for them and it doesn’t even compare to what we get.  I’ve seen salads with freshly cut veggies, chicken on the bone – things we’ve never had prepared for us.  I understand this is a jail, but they are being paid more in a 10 month period than Aramark.  I don’t know the obstacles ABL faces down in the kitchen, but they were given more funds to outperform Aramark and provide healthier, more nutritious foods.  But I don’t see much of an improvement.  I’m left to think Aramark would have done a better job if given the extra funds.  And that’s crazy to think.  I think part of the reason we were all so disgusted with Aramark and what they served us was partially the jail’s fault with the limited funds they provided to them.

Lastly, Canteen!  They need help and bad.  it’s a sad sight to see each week.  Bull, the previous manager of the canteen here before he got fired, never had any of the problems I see now.  The two women, Pam and Ms. Myers, don’t get along and refuse to work together.  It’s a confusing mess.  They can’t keep anything stocked downstairs in their inventory.  There are weeks without essential things like stamps, phone cards, toiletries, clothing including socks and underwear.  In the year and a half I’ve been here I’ve seen nothing that compares to this dysfunctional management.  Even when they have the items in stock it’s hit or miss if they decide to come to the Pod to deliver our purchased items.  They posted a schedule in our Pod when canteen is to be delivered each week – what good that did, they didn’t follow it.  And it irritates me every time they substitute the items I purchased with something else I didn’t want and is usually at a cheaper price.  I get responses like, “we don’t have that item and we charged you for it so we are giving you this other item instead.”  Ahh, what?  No you’re not, I don’t want that.  And if you don’t catch it and they sneak it in without you noticing, too bad, they won’t refund it even though your order is wrong.  The whole service is pitiful.  Since Bull left Canteen has been falling apart.  I’m waiting for it to finally crash and burn.  Don’t even get me started on Hot Trays canteen offers.  The one time I order a meal it doesn’t come until after midnight and was ice cold.  Since then I refuse to purchase one and that’s been a good thing.  Lately they’ve been charging you, processing your order, and then deciding not to make the meals when scheduled, but at a time and date they want to even though you’ve already purchased it.  Last week they decided out of the blue not to serve meals with chips due to some “executive” decision, even though when you purchased it the order said w/ chips.  I don’t think they understand that some of their decisions are fraudulent.  when I purchase something I don’t expect to be cheated and deceived every time.  Then they get mad at me for being frustrated with them!

Due to the new technology coming in, the jail has been replacing their computer systems.  This inhibited us from puchasing anything from canteen for a week and a half.  No stamps, phone cards, toiletries, nothing.  We complained, so canteen provided us with physical paper ordering sheets.  We asked over and over when our orders would get filled!  PAM told us they had absolutely NO intentions what so ever of filling the paper order sheets even though they were provided.  Some people went 2-3 weeks without the ability to purchase anything because of complications with the new system.  This jail doesn’t give you anything when you are forced through that door into this facility – and then Canteen refuses to process paper orders despite not being able to access the computer system.  Again, pitiful, it’s not Aramark that needs to change – it’s the people who work here that need to change!  Okay, thanks for your letter and checking in, hope to hear from you soon.

 

E.X.

‘Because we need things, we are “needy”‘

this letter was also sent in October.

Hi,

Thanks so much for the books and letter. I’ve gotten your letter I didn’t write back b/c I just don’t know what to say. I hate it here. I’ve been here 18 months, seen a lot of stuff that human beings shouldn’t have to deal with: being told to piss in the shower because they don’t want to mash a button. The way we are talked to–here’s the thing: everybody in this jail is going through something, some more tragic than others and they don’t need this jail b.s. in their lives. Continue reading

‘There has been remarkable improvement–Thank you!’

12-21-16

Dear —,

My deepest apologies. This letter is well overdue. Through no other fault than my own, I have avoided writing for the past 12-14 months. I blame this avoidance on my own indolence, self-consciousness of my penmanship (sloppy and unreadable), and also mostly due to the depression of being incarcerated and what I’ve lived through in the hands of the city of Durham Police department. I believe you have spoken with my parents; you may already be aware of some of what has happened to me.  Continue reading

‘The only thing left is to beat me’

Hi, my name is Joseph Clayton. I’m currently an inmate in the Durham County Jail. I’ve been here since January 4th 2015, so I’ve been here since the lockback started. I have several concerns. First, I’m a diabetic. My first two months I wasn’t given the correct medication. As a result, my vision had started getting bad. And I experienced weight loss and weird headaches and dizziness. Continue reading

Exposing the Indecency of a Trusted System

11-23-14

Greetings “free” society and my fellow captives.

Anthony McInnis here, sounding an alarm loud enough to reach all tax paying citizens of Durham and remaining counties. In 2013, I was booked into Durham County Detention Center on a case that should have been a misdemeanor. Due to my consistent stance to refuse plea offers for active time and an inability to post bond, I remained in jail for eleven months. In N. Carolina, the accumulation of a criminal background basically guarantees you a prison term, partly because you’re sick of having to endure such a dehumanizing experience, but mainly because we usually can’t afford a paid lawyer

The whole community needs to know that: Durham County inmates spend almost eighteen hours a day in cells that remain cold year round. Two inmates often share a cell designed for only one man. Meals by Aramark are almost inhumane with no fruit and processed meat patties. Dinner consists of two sandwiches (thin) and an excuse for dessert. It is served at four pm and breakfast does not arrive until six am (13 hours!). Meals are served on trays and lids that are completely outdated and contain dishwater from weeks earlier. Inmates load these trays each day assembly-line style and carry out all the duties of the food service process. They do not earn money nor does any other man on jail work detail.

Now let us consider the following points:

  • N. Carolina acquires over 85% of its court convictions from those who accept plea offers.
  • Today, significant numbers of young Black males are populating the jail, particularly 16, 17, and 18 year olds.
  • No other group has been affected by American criminal justice like the Black community.
  • At least 80% of the incarcerated in the state are Black males.

It is simply impossible to justify the mass incarceration of over 2.1 million people in America, the vast majority of them Blacks who represent only 12% of the total population.

– Chapel Hill Resident,

Anthony McInnis

#0270116

P.O. Box 839

Vanceboro, NC 28586

What We Want to Tell Durham

JoseCOsjpg

Ryan: 11 months without seeing my lawyer or going to court.

Jose: Coleman refused to feed me my lunch tray

Demon: Lock me back for taking my time to eat.

FLAME: C.O. Coleman tried to fight me because of my facial expression.

Joe: Cold water in the hole and unjust bonds.

Reinhardt: The jail has failed to provide any FRUIT! No apples, no pears, no bananas, no grapes, no berries, no melons, no oranges–in 3 years and 7 months.

Tito: I was locked because beef n greed in the free world, because I could be locked back.

Bull City: The officers beat you down in the hole.

Redsz: Food was not all the way done/ need more food.

Ronnie: they don’t want to provide hygiene products and are constantly out of supply. Have to go days without toilet paper.

Quadarius: Said my bond was too high to attend my grandmother’s funeral.

The MAN: ants on tray.

Gary: My lawyer Lisa Williams has not done anything for me in 6 months.

Ramirez: denied medical care because I’m ‘illegal.’

Butch: TVs blast all night, we are deprived of sleep, each officer turns pods their way–no order to anything.

Alex: No charges in North Carolina but being held here.

Abdullah: There is corruption from the police department to the jail house. How do you sell the food that we are supposed to receive. It’s not fair that palms are being greased at inmates’ expense.

EAdragon