A struggle emerges in downtown Durham

durhamjailIf nobody ever listened to the voice of Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, or Gandhi, what type of world would we be living in? We have voiced the indignities that are placed upon us and we ask that you amplify our voice so that we may be able to facilitate change.”— an inmate in Durham County Detention Center

The Durham County Detention Center (DCDC), aka the county jail, looms large on the corner of Pettigrew and Mangum Streets in downtown Durham, North Carolina. The tiny, dark windows of the hulking gray building contrast starkly with the shiny panes of the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) directly across Mangum. To some Durham residents, the buildings – juxtaposed as they are against the re-purposed industrial skyline of the former tobacco mills-turned-“revitalized” landscape – symbolize the “quirkiness” of Durham. After all, what other city builds a $48 million, high-profile performing arts venue right across from the local lock-up?

And yet, the people detained inside the jail clearly are NOT “Finding Their Cool” downtown.

On September 19, 2012, 33 courageous inmates of the DCDC, representing the majority of people housed in a single “pod” (a jail housing unit), signed and mailed a letter of petition to Durham County Sheriff Michael Andrews. Copies of the petition, which protested DCDC’s failure to provide adequate basic necessities such as toilet paper and soap, its failure to provide adequate writing materials, and its ongoing use of unsanitary food trays and drink dispensers, were also mailed to Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Jails and Institution Division, the Durham Herald-Sun, and WTVD-TV.

A short article covering the protest ran in the September 22 edition of the Herald-Sun. Since the publication of that article, we have obtained a copy of the petition itself, signed by 33 inmates of Pod 5C. The conclusion of the six-page petition reads as follows:

Our protest is simple. All we ask is that we be allowed adequate supplies to maintain proper personal hygiene, cleanliness, to be able to correspond with attorneys, courts, family members, and to be free from undue harm by the bacterially hazardous food trays and drink dispensers. It is unconscionable to think that in our progressive humane society that “pretrial” detainees should be treated with disdain, indifference, and such basic disrespect.

We are also communicating with several inmates, including some who signed the petition. On this website, we will share their words and, perhaps, those of their family members, friends and loved ones. Due to the very real fear of retaliation, we will share only stories we have permission to share, or documents that have been sent to media outlets or public officials (or both). Our intent is to AMPLIFY the VOICES INSIDE in the hopes that people on the outside will hear them.