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!

‘This damn jail is destroying my family’

What’s going on? Sorry it’s taken me so long to write back, but let’s just say I have not been myself lately. Sometimes I don’t know what or how to feel. Because I am so weighed down by personal issues and with the fact of being incarcerated for a year now. As far as this jail goes it’s still the same slave ship it has always been. These people act like they care about us, but they really don’t. They have made it much harder for our people to see us. Speaking of which, I have not seen my kids in 3 months. And that is the only way I can maintain. Hell, I have a son that’s about to be a year old, and one that’s soon to be 8 years old. I can’t take not seeing them…This damn jail is DESTROYING my family! Continue reading

“Its a vicious cycle where their goal is for you to lose everything you have”

G___,

I received two letters from you on March 31st, one was dated February 11th and the second March 27th. So I think there may be some lag time with the mail. You asked if I had received the Human Relations Commission’s Report and I have not! The only thing I received in the mail are two written letters and both March and April “Feedback” booklets. There is no report anywhere to be found if it was sent. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if it conveniently was lost by the mail inspection here.

As for your inquiry about any knowledge in regards to Uniece Fennell. There is none in 3D, no one knows a thing here and the officers are tight lipped as if it never happened. When I called home the day after the incident my family was asking about the death – And I had no clue about it at all. When I asked the officer in the pod about it he would not comment and wouldn’t even confirm that anything happened. I watched the local news that evening, there was no story about it there either and nobody gets the newspaper. The women’s pod is on the 5th floor, we are in the dark down here on the 3rd floor. Sorry I couldn’t be of any help this time.

Video visitation seems to be a hot topic lately. I heard that the jail was going to transition to it like Wake County but I didn’t realize it was happening NOW! A couple days in the past few weeks we have been prevented from coming out of our cells in the morning because they had someone working in the visitation room: They’ve already started installing metal mounts to house the video screen. It looks like they are progressing forward despite all the protests inside and out. The feedback booklet hits on a few critical points such as profiting GTL as well as the jail’s profit and how video visitation will dehumanize personal interactions. I want to point out how the District Attorney’s office will directly “profit” from it, too. Just like our phone calls I would think the video visits will be recorded. The district Attorney’s office has access to your phone calls and will now be able to pry into your visits. There is no privacy whatsoever. They read our mail, they record our phone calls, and now they will be keeping tabs on our visits. What would it be like if we had that privilege to listen to the prosecutors and DAs discussions and every phone call that they make. Invade their private interactions. Now that would be something. My point is that the deck is already stacked against you and anytime I speak my mind I have to worry whether or not what I say could be falsely used against me or perceived some other way. It’s ridiculous!

On to other topics! The food and ABL. It has been a roller coaster with them and there is no consistency. When they began in October, there was promise, but now I can see that was just a front. The first 3 weeks were good! A variety of fresh fruit including Bananas, green vegetables, including chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, good portion sizes, and no soy. Currently, the fruit we get is not ripe, heavily bruised, and tastes awful, easily finding its way into the trash container. We have not seen a banana since the first couple of weeks. We hardly get greens, nothing like we got the first few weeks even if we do. Lately the food has been so salty you can’t even eat it. The pancakes yesterday were hard as a rock. At this point I don’t know which company was worse, ARAMARK or ABL. There is absolutely no variety ether. You get the same meals every week multiple times a week. It’s getting old very quick. Honestly, at this point I hope the jail does not review ABL’s contract. What reviews I saw and the article about ABL in the newspaper raving about their good quality and healthier menu is a lie. My vote would be to kick them out too. Their quality and service has been declining since day 1.

I wrote last time about the DA’s office and the prosecutor threatening to obtain another search warrant after a judge has already noted significant misconduct by officers. Well they mangaged to get one, how, I have no clue. The only way is by lying and bad faith, which the DA’s office is notorious for so I’m not surprised. I just read an article in the newspaper on 3/31/17 quoting a supreme court judge. In summary it mentioned that the average person does not think the justice system within North Carolina is fair and a large percentage think the process is too slow. My follow up question to that would be to isolate Durham and see how it compares. My guess would be that Durham would be far worse. I sit here day after day watching how the system in Durham works and it is concerning. Most of the prosecutors are no better than Mike Nifong and Tracy Cline, maybe even worse. I swear they teach a class to these prosecutors on the best way to hide the truth, withhold evidence, and when all else fails keep them in jail and delay, delay, delay. Its a vicious cycle where their goal is for you to lose everything you have; whether its your job, house, car, marriage, etc. And once they’ve exhausted and beat you down by holding you in jail they wait until you give up. It’s just crazy to me and something needs to be done.

Oh, I want to give my thoughts on this jail with regards to Uniece Fennell. I don’t know what happened, but if it was suicide I don’t think that means the jail can wash their hands from liability. My understanding is that this jail was supposed to get more funding for mental health. Officers were supposed to get training on how to better handle mental health issues. If Uniece was troubled enough to harm herself, there were obvious signs that should have been caught. These officers don’t care about anyone in this jail and they are certainly not observant enough. Next, how does the jail provide the means for someone to commit suicide. This should not have happened and should not have even been possible. I’ve lived in these cells for 17 months, if she was able to be successful in her attempt – something was not right and something needs to change. You stress the hell out of people and then place them in a harsh environment. We already know that mental disorders are widely prevalent within the jail. It’s a shame that yet another person dies in this jail.

Alright! Thanks for the letters and Feedback! Looking forward to hear from you soon and any new updates!

– E.X.

‘What a screwed-up system!’

Thanks for your letter. I was surprised and glad to receive it. Please overlook my tardy reply…

I’ve heard some views about bail reform and I hope something positive comes about. These bonds are ridiculously high in Durham County. I just don’t get it. I was very happily surprised last month to hear I had a visitor (I don’t normally get them). I walked into the room and there was IOA member –. He asked me about the court date I had for the week of Feb. 6th, but I did not go. It turned out my lying lawyer again failed to file my motions to dismiss and to suppress in January as promised. Such motions are typically heard during the first full week of the month but must be filed during the previous month at least 5 working days in advance. Continue reading

“ARAMARK got fired! That is a great, great accomplishment.”

Hi ____!

It is good to hear from you again.  Yes I am still here.  I have been for here a year and a half now.  The SBI Lab stuff finally came in.  So I am hoping that my case will be finished this year.

Yes thanks to Inside-Outside Alliance jail life has got better.  We get out 6 1/2 hours a day that is still better than 4.  We got thicker mats to lay on.  That’s also a plus.

And last but not least ARAMARK got fired!  That is a great, great accomplishment.

The food is a whole lot better.  I can dig it!  We get milk in the mornings now also!

I hope that the Door didn’t hit ARAMARK in the ass!  On second thought, I hope their ass is sore!

Thanks for writing,

K.N.

‘They won’t let me out the hole’

1-4-17

Hello,

I thank you for your letter and I appreciate your concern about us here. How have you been? Me I been doing good. I’m sorry for taking so long to write back, I just been gettin things together for trial in March. I want the Inside-Outside Alliance and the news people at my trial so everybody can see how court doing in Durham County. I been here going on 3 years. This jail is some bullshit and the court system, too. The D.A. trying to give me 26 to 34 years. That’s crazy. I haven’t even seen 20. I’m only 18, about to be 19…And the jail they got me in the hole for 50 days now, and they won’t let me out the hole. Thank you for the card. Hope to hear from you soon. Take care.  –S.B.

‘They should do away with these high-ass bonds…’

Jan 4 2017

IOA

What’s up? Thanks for the holiday card. Your reader’s poll made me think a lil bit because doing away with bail could do some good, but at the same time hurt. It can help those who can’t afford to bail out of jail for whatever reason. You also got those people that has stupid crazy bonds set by the court that can’t be touched at all, so they’re put in a situation where they have to sit in jail against their will. But then you do have those complete assholes who would take something as good as that and throw it away, so I guess I would say getting rid of bail is crazy but strongly do think they should do away with these high-ass bonds, like the average motherfucka is living like Donald Trump….other than that, ain’t nothing changed in this shithole but the fact I’m currently trying to fight to get off 22 and a half hour lockback after a year plus and they’re pissing in the wind. It’s easy for them to blow it off because they get to go home at the end of the day. I’m left in a box all day for what??? Really don’t know how much more of this bullshit I can take.

-Ghost