Looking Back: Petition on 5C Led to Formation of IOA in 2012

the following was written for publication in feedback, to share with comrades inside.

How did it come to be that folks regularly demonstrate at the jail? How and why do people you don’t know write to you when you’re locked up out of the blue? Where does this little publication come from, and how did it get started? Because these are questions that people currently inside the Durham jail might ask, and because it is vital to keep up on history, from ancient times to the recent past, I’m going to try to briefly tell y’all about the brave inmates who got this all started.

On September 19, 2012, exactly five years ago, 33 courageous detainees on housing unit 5C at Durham County Detention Facility signed and mailed a letter of petition to Durham County Sheriff Michael Andrews. Fed up with numerous facts of daily life, but especially the jail’s failure to provide adequate basic necessities such as toilet paper and soap, writing materials, and its ongoing use of unsanitary food trays and drink dispensers, they mailed the petitions to others, also, including media and the state department of health and human services.

A short article about this petition/ protest ran in the September 22 edition of the Herald-Sun newspaper. This article was a clarion call to a small, multi-racial, multi-generational collective of people who were trying to figure out how to intervene with purpose in Durham’s political landscape.

To quote the last page of the detainees’ petition: “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.”

 

Here it was: a group of detainees taking the stage of history and speaking up for themselves. We got in touch, we talked to friends, family and loved ones at the jail, and we did what they initially asked us to do, which was “amplify their voices” by creating a blog/website (called amplifyvoices.com).  People inside wrote back to those of us outside—a lot. Soon, more petitions came from other pods, along with more news, stories, analysis, manifestos and art. We were asked what our name was, and we began to call ourselves Inside-Outside Alliance.

 

The bravery displayed by those 33 signers cannot be overestimated. In fact, the person who sent the petition to Chris Wood at the Department of Health and Human Services, was told by Mr. Wood that “submitting petitions could be construed as inciting a riot.”(Sound familiar? Oh, they’ll get their riot someday…) Certainly detainees at DCDF had written petitions before. They didn’t know that this time, people outside were going to notice. They did it anyway, even though we are all taught to believe that nothing we do matters, that we cannot alter our conditions, that we cannot ignite a social war against official society. And those locked up? They’re simply told they ain’t shit. But those 33 didn’t believe that. And from that petition began this group, in which people outside have the back of people inside.

Many people who were instrumental in the founding of Inside-Outside Alliance, due to their tremendous analysis, wit, artistic talent, creativity and bravery, have moved on from DCDF and even from Durham. To all of those, I send a heartfelt thank you for leading the way. The same goes to others–detainees and family members, former prisoners and random activist-types–who have given their time, energy, and intellect along the way. People will continue to move through the jail system, and move through this city, but the idea of IOA—that struggles are being waged inside of jails against conditions and against an inhumane and white supremacist system—will remain. Who better than the detainees and prisoners to speak for themselves about the brutality of that system, and ways to overcome it and make the world anew? That, at its core, is what IOA is.

As I have done before, I will (very humbly) paraphrase the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara (who was talking about Vietnam and the need to wage anti-imperialist war): We need to create 2, 3, many IOAs! From a modest beginning, we have a modest vision, in the words of James Connolly: We just want the Earth.

Forever in struggle and with much love,

Steve L.

 

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‘What’s gonna happen now that we only have shower shoes?’

What’s up? I’m doing fine. I might be on the ropes, but I refuse to go down. Although I don’t know who Ghost Z is, I did enjoy the feedback. It was me that sent the poems and pictures. I know it’s a little confusing to have two people with the same name. Nothing has really changed in this dump other than the fact that they took our shoes, which, in my opinion, was dumb as hell. We hurt ourselves enough playing ball in regular shoes, so imagine what’s gonna happen now that we only have shower shoes? When the inmates in our pod ask what was we pose to play ball in, they said “Buy the shoes off canteen.” Why the fuck do we want to pay $18.95 for shoes that ain’t gonna last a week. When damn near the whole jail has some, then we pay damn near $20.00 for them to sit in our cell all day until rec is open. If they’re gonna assign shower shoes, then they should give us shoes to play ball in, too. But, shit, it’s their world, we just living in it.

-Ghost

‘I think they wanna control every aspect of each inmate’s life’


Ms. Bell,
Everybody know that DCJ is the worst jail in NC and now they are going to cut out face to face visits.

I think they wanna control every aspect of each inmate’s life. I understand that this is jail but it is very cold in here even in the summer. I don’t know why they feel it has to be this way!

Continue reading

‘One voice is but a whisper, a thousand are a mighty roar’

Dear IOA

I am a female inmate currently in custody at Durham County jail. First, I want to praise the work and efforts made to give voice to any and all parties willing to speak out against issues that would otherwise go unaddressed. As a temporary resident in this jail I am expressing the need for all inmates, male and female, to be properly screened and searched. Lice were discovered in 5D (women’s housing unit). The woman came into the facility with them, and was a part of general population for nearly a week before they were discovered. She was given one treatment, placed on medical lockback and virtually forgotten about besides meals. When approximately two weeks had passed, there was a breech in communication. One squad was told she was medically cleared, when she had not been. She again joined general population, only to be locked back until she was released. There have been grievances filed about females grooming and styling hair in the eating area, which is highly unsanitary, but no one has formally addressed this matter. Another issue in the female pod is the constant unnecessary request for toilet paper and feminine products, which should be kept on hand. There is no reason a woman should have to wait for items that are necessary to ensure good hygienical practices. Continue reading

‘It’s about to be rough all over’

February 16, 2017

2:20 PM

Hello,

How are you doing? Well I would like to start off by saying that I am so sorry for taking so long to write you guys (IOA) back. This letter is well overdue, but I hope I’m not too late. I hope you all (IOA) are doing well and this letter gets to you quickly.

Well I have been doing ok, given the circumstances I’m in. I have been having a lot on my mind these past few months, but other than that and trying to stay out of trouble, I have been ok. What’s been going on with me? Well, not too long ago I had a talk with my lawyer and found out that after almost two years (22 months) the D.A. is just now getting the autopsy back. Which should have been back, but as you already know Durham County justice system is messed up and they will do anything as well as whatever they want to do to you. Continue reading

‘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

‘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