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!

‘The system seems like it’s on its last leg’

Hey —

What’s been up, I’ve been waiting for a letter from you for forever. Me I’m doing as good as I can. I’m at one of the worst prisons in the state. How are things? That draft (of Durham Human Relations Commission’s recommendations on the jail) looks great! What’s the status with things in the jail? Trump is…I don’t know,,,but what is very evident is that change is coming and not the kind that’s easy transitional type kind of stuff. This is more of the brute force, force feed kind of thing. I listen to the news radio about 3 hours a day and the global climate went from progressively hopeful and optimistic to almost hostile. You got Trump banning people from certain countries from entry, and Iran doing missile tests. Continue reading

“five years and still no trial”

Dear G___,

I just want to say thank you for the letter and all you do for the people inside.  I appreciate people like you who genuinely care even though myself and others are locked up.  I do read the Feedback and enjoy what you all have put together.  I enjoy it.  In fact I just got a Feedback paper from another inmate yesterday so I find it ironic that I get my very own personal one today.  Yes, I read it all over again.

As you may know I’ve been locked up 4 years and 3 months and I had a trial date for October but like a month ago my lawyers came and told me its been moved and its not gonna happen this year.  That’s going to make five years and still no trial.  Something has to change because I’m not the 1st and I won’t be the last unless something changes.  So keep doing what you’re doing and inmates will see better days.

Thank you again.

— P.A.

“I have no doubt it’s because of inmate petitions, IOA and the volunteers and the protesting in front of the jail. It seems like we are making some headway and things are starting to change.”

G___,

Thanks for the letter and the Feedback pamphlet.  I was the first person to receive the new April edition and it has been a hot commodity with everyone wanting a chance to read it.  As for me, I’m doing okay, just waiting for court dates for things to progress a bit faster.  Trying to be as patient as possible.

By the sounds of things, the IOA and the volunteers have been very busy this past month.  I wish I could have been present for the debate with Michael Page and Major Martin to hear their responses and the appropriate actions they are taking to everyone’s concerns regarding the jail.  I will say that after March 15 and for the past two weeks we have been receiving hot meals for dinner instead of cold bologna sandwiches, which has us all a bit shocked.  For the past 5 months it always been cold sandwiches and all of the sudden hot meals.  I have no doubt it’s because of inmate petitions, IOA and the volunteers and the protesting in front of the jail.  It seems like we are making some headway and things are starting to change.

I had a lengthy conversation with one of the CO’s this past week.  We were discussing the IOA and he told me that the Sheriff is starting to make changes and the food is not the only change to come.  Hopefully this is true and we will see here shortly.

There are plenty of things I could go into detail about but one of my concerns now is with the mail.  I have had recent problems with both outgoing and incoming mail.  In February I was notified by my family that my mail was opened and taped shut.  From that point on I started to secure each envelope so that if it was tampered with, it would be noticeable.  Again my family notified me that my mail continued to be opened.  The jail is only supposed to open outgoing mail if there is a threat to security or order of the jail and have probable cause to do so.  My mail should not be subject to this and there should be no probable cause to repeatedly open my mail.  Also, I am not being notified that my mail is being searched.  I questioned the mail services here regarding the issue and the only response I got from Mrs. Walker is that she doesn’t deal with outgoing mail and it being opened or searched.  Still today, I’m unsure why my mail was opened and searched.

Now, incoming mail is a similar problem.  Recently, I have been receiving scanned and printed copies of a national geographic magazine.  I was notified that magazines are contraband and my mail would be returned.  What I am receiving is not a magazine but what is similar to an article printed from the internet.  So now my mail is being censored and I am not allowed to receive National Geographic articles.  How is this contraband?  How can this possibly cause any threat or harm to the jail?  The only thing I can do is write a grievance to appeal their action to send my mail away and prevent me from receiving it.  Though it has been over a week and the sergeant has yet to reply to any of my concerns or problems.

Lastly, my family has also sent me bookmarks and puzzles in the mail.  I know this because they specifically mention them in the letters.  However, they are nowhere to be found within my mail.  This means that whoever is inspecting mail is taking these items out before giving me my mail.  Again, this is an example of them censoring mail.  What bothers me is they do so without your knowledge, without notifying you that they removed items from your mail.  There is no mention as to why it was censored or how it violates any regulations or policy.  I’m almost certain that if the jail censors your mail you should be notified of their actions so you are given the appropriate time to appeal that action.

So to answer your concern about mail from the IOA; I wouldn’t be surprised if incoming mail is being screened and censored or just blocked from being delivered, especially from IOA.  Much of the staff here do not like being within the newsletters or on the website to begin with.  Though, nothing is certain and it seems that I’m receiving your letters without difficulty.

Again, thanks for the letter and newsletter.  I look forward to hearing back from you and the IOA.  We do get to go to the “Library” every week or so and of course there is always a very limited selection.  I would never turn down an offer for a book, and I’m certain that many inmates here would also like it too.  Books are consistently shared among the Pod, especially if it is a good read.  My favorite authors are ____________ and ___________.  So far I’ve found “__________,” “__________,” and “__________” here in the library by ____________ and have read them.  I’ve also read “__________” and “__________” series by ___________.  I’m sure there are plenty of other books by these authors.  However, do not feel obliged to purchase any books, but of course it would be much appreciated.

  • _____

‘They use violence to subdue us but we wrong for using violence back’

The following letters came to us late last week.

Here is Genapher’s note of explanation: The one letter was mailed out on 11/9 and returned to me 12/22. The other letter was mailed out on 11/25 and was returned back to me 12/22. They say the address was wrong when I know it was right. Hope y’all had a good Christmas. Please don’t give up protesting. Continue reading

‘I try to keep my hate in check. If you can’t hate, you can’t love.’

Kropotkin wrote a lot on the wrongs of prisons. These two paragraphs hit the nail on the head for me. Sadly I feel these effects.

The theory of will power

“There is another important cause of demoralization in prisons. All transgressions of accepted moral standards may be ascribed to lack of a strong will. the majority of inmates of prisons are people who did not have sufficient strength to resist the temptations surrounding them or to control a passion which momentarily carried them away. In prisons as in monasteries, everything is done to kill a man’s will. Continue reading

‘As women, we should stick together more’

I hope you are doing well, also…. I got my final plea offer — 12 years. I flipped out a little, which I think anyone would. I sign my plea Wednesday. I feel like God gave me that much time for a reason. There must be something I’m meant to do in prison. I want to help others with their faith while strengthening my own faith…. I’m nervous about the change, but I will adjust. I make friends easily, so I’ll be okay.

My favorite uncle passed away. Losing family while in jail is hard. It hurt but I am healing.

Continue reading