Class War on the Color Line: Reform and Repression at the Durham County Jail

More than a year after the Sheriff’s department’s murder-by-medical-neglect of Matthew McCain, the Durham County Jail is, once again, in the news.  On Tuesday, January 3, after receiving letters from almost a hundred detainees and after three individuals blocked the entrance to the jail on the night of November 18, declaring it #ANightWithNoDetentions, the Durham Human Relations Commission released ten recommendations for how to improve conditions at the plantation on Mangum street.  Some of these, most notably that a community-based research team be allowed to do a survey in the jail, were things that detainees, their families, and the community at large have been demanding for a long time.  Others were extrapolations from what detainees wrote to the commission, and what members of the public said in a forum the HRC held on September 15 of last year, including concerns about mental health, corporate price-gouging of detainees and their families, bail, and the Sheriff’s department’s cooperation with ICE.

Then, on January 6, the News and Observer reported that the jail will move to video visitation this summer and that retrofits are already underway.  Inside-Outside Alliance has known for some time that this was in the pipeline – Global Tel’s latest contract to provide phone service in the jail includes a provision for them to run a video visitation system – but we’ve never had a definite timeline before.  Now it appears that, over the course of this summer, the jail will be retrofitted and its policies rewritten so that in-person visitation will be eliminated and replaced exclusively with visitation-via-videoscreen.  It should go without saying that depriving detainees of even the limited in-person interaction with friends and loved ones that they now experience at visitation is the height of inhumanity even for an institution like the Sheriff’s department that has raised contempt for human life to the level of a ghastly art form.  We should also note that GTL advertises video-visitation as a way to derive profit from and reduce the costs of inmate visitation. Continue reading

‘It’s cold and there’s nothing to do in here’

Hey,

It”s cold and there’s nothing to do in here…I don’t want the new visitation thing. My family comes from an hour and 30 minutes away. Crazy, rite?

You can put this poem in.

 

My friend, I stand in judgment now

And feel that you’re to blame somehow

On Earth I walked with you day to day

And never did you point the way Continue reading

Flood the phones to defend visitation at the jail–FEBRUARY 27th

The Durham County Sheriff’s Department is planning to end in-person visitation at the Durham County Jail this summer and replace it with glorified phone calls. We know this decision isn’t made out of concern for Durham families with loved ones on the inside — in reality, it is a callous money grab written into the Durham County’s contract with the telecommunications corporation GlobalTel. The Durham County Commissioners can put pressure on the Sheriff to keep visitation as is. Call and email them next Monday, February 27, to make sure jail visitation is on the agenda of their March 13th meeting. Our voices will be heard!

Wendy Jacobs: (919) 418-3169 wjacobs@dconc.gov
James Hill: (919) 536-8820 jahill@dconc.gov
Brenda Howerton: (919) 544-4160 bhowerton@dconc.gov
Heidi Carter: (919) 225-4268 hcarter@dconc.gov
Ellen Reckhow: (919) 383-3883 ereckhow@dconc.gov

***SAMPLE SCRIPT***
My name is _________________. I’m calling/emailing to ask that the County Commissioners place the Durham Jail’s decision to end jail visitation on the agenda for their 7pm regular session on March 13th. Many people in the community have expressed how the Sheriff’s Department’s elimination of visitation will hurt folks on the inside and their families. The community should have a say in a decision that would negatively impact so many Durham residents. We demand that you include jail visitation on the agenda for the March 13th session and allow for public comment. Thank you.

One year later, we remember Matthew McCain

Matthew PancakesOne year ago today, Matthew McCain died in his cell at the Durham County Detention Facility at the age of 29. Just over a month before his death, Matthew’s daughter, Kinslee, was born while he was in jail. He never met her.

Matthew suffered from diabetes and epilepsy, two serious long-term conditions but certainly ones that can be managed with proper medical care and adequate resources. But competent medical care was never to be found at the Durham jail for Matthew, as is the case for many other people unfortunate enough to be caged there.

In the one year since Matthew’s death, there have been marches, speak-outs, and vigils; there have been balloons and candles, tears and rage. But one thing there has never been is an apology or a public acknowledgment of responsibility for Matthew McCain’s death by anyone connected to the jail, or Correct Care Solutions, the company that profits from providing detainees as little care as possible.

Sheriff Mike Andrews, whose office is responsible for jail operations, never apologized or acknowledged Matthew’s death, either, even as he glad-handed at events attended by Matthew’s girlfriend, Ashley, with Kinslee in tow.

Matthew’s death dramatically affected the lives of many people, including Ashley’s children; his mother; aunts; cousins; and friends, some of whom he got to know inside the jail. Besides the initial report of Matthew’s death that was shared with outside members of Inside-Outside Alliance by a comrade inside, many people on Matthew’s pod shared recollections of him and their own accounts of his death.

See the following: We still place his chair at the table; They do not listen; I feel they may have lied; Officials acted with neglect; There is a rumor going around; Something gotta give; Everything is a mind battle; They try to punish you for little things; Fight til you can’t fight no more

As we joined Matthew’s loved ones to press the sheriff’s office for answers about his death, we were contacted by the daughter of a man, Dennis McMurray, who had died at the jail a year before, and whose death was never made public. This fact made the brave truth-telling of detainees on Matthew’s pod all the more important and integral to the struggle.

The tragedy of Matthew’s death has helped to gain the attention of many who otherwise had not been paying much attention to conditions and treatment in the jail. Recently, the Human Relations Commission of the city of Durham published recommendations about the jail that they will share with the county commissioners and the sheriff’s office.

In the aftermath of Matthew’s death, in the struggle to obtain answers and demand accountability, we published a pamphlet, No More Jail Deaths, No More Jail. As then, we still know the only way to ensure there will be no more horrible, undignified deaths in jail is to get rid of these cages as we transform the world which produces them.

November 25, 2016 marked the day Matthew would have been 30 years old. A week later, his daughter Kinslee, full of life and spark, turned a year old. These birthdays and anniversaries hurt those who loved Matthew and they will continue to be painful. But we take today to say that we have not forgotten Matthew, and we will not forget that the jail killed him. For those who are able to, join us at the jail this evening, January 19, 2017, at 7 pm for a vigil to remember Matthew McCain.

Facebook Event: Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Matthew McCain

‘I HATE DCDF and everything it stands for’

10/13/16

What’s up?

I’m ok. I could be better but I’m hanging in there. Thanks for writing back…You’re right about the mail, my wife sent me mail on the 6th of October and I received it on the 11th, how crazy is that? I’m also very ecstatic about the change in the food, it’s way more appetizing than Aramark. But anyway, they do all they can to try to make us seem irrelevant, but they can’t stop the mail services. So, with that being said I would like to see them try to stop us from writing you guys. Continue reading

‘It pose to be justice system not slavery system’

Sep 18-16

I’m doing ight. I’m making it. The HRC form—I never got it!

I heard about the march and they locked down the whole jail because of it. This shit is crazy how this system work. But the thing is how the people let them do it. If we gon’ do something, let’s do it right. I heard that there pose to be a new company that’s doing food. When is that supposed to start? Continue reading

‘I am going to defend us because I need to…’

“This is a bunch of overblown distorted lies that are not an accurate reflection of the jail and I’m not going to sit here and let people get away with it…Just because someone wrote something in a letter doesn’t mean it’s true…These letters haven’t even been authenticated.” –Major Paul Martin, Durham County Sheriff’s Office, at forum hosted by the city’s Human Relations Commission
on the Impact of the Durham County Jail on Durham City Residents, 9.15.16.

Martin was talking about the letters received by the Human Relations Commission, as well as the more than 600 letters (and other words and images) published on this website (which is just a portion of letters we receive).

Mr. Martin’s words should not be dignified with a response, so we’ll keep it brief:

We (continue to) Believe Prisoners, Detainees, Inmates, Convicts, Human Beings Behind Bars, or whatever people want to call themselves.

We believe prisoners.

We believe prisoners.

We believe prisoners.

 

 

‘That fist bump keeps me going til the next time’

fencing at DCDF (1)

This photo was taken near the end of June. The fencing is still up.

In front of the jail last week, topics of conversation ranged from the construction all around us (that has been underway since late June with little to show for it), to the jail’s plans for video visitation, to the new contract for food preparation, and much more. The following are snippets of conversation:

M: You look around, and it just seems like things are going to get worse here. This construction, for one. They used to have trees here and benches. Then they took down the trees, and they took out the benches.

Y: Yeah, when we started protesting.

M: But what are they putting in here? It’s not gonna be better. You can only assume it will be worse based on what goes on here. They also seem to be doing some kind of construction on the roof. I saw porta potties up there, and stuff hanging off the edge. What’s going on up there?

S: I don’t know.

M: This whole place is a mess.

S: And then there’s fewer benches to sit on in the lobby, and the recently removed curtain where the locker area was. That’s gonna be for video visitation, right?

M: There’s fewer benches because there will be less waiting for visits maybe? We don’t know because they never say. For video visits, forget it. If it comes to that, I won’t go. I’d rather talk to my dad on the phone. It’s bullshit that they’re doing that. I would rather talk to him on the phone than through a video screen.

_______________________________________________

C: Visits on a video monitor is gonna be worst on children of inmates. And on the inmates themselves. Why would they take away face to face when there’s no reason to? That’s gonna kill people. It’ll make people so much worse off than now even.

T: They’re not doing that, or, if they try it’s not gonna fly. No way. It might be with glass between you, but you’re really seeing them. And the fist bump. I live for a fist bump at that end. You can’t do that on video. If I don’t have that fist bump…It keeps me going til the next time.

S: What do you think they’re doing here (construction)? Do you know?

G: I don’t know. They don’t say. Maybe someone is digging a tunnel out of the place? (Smiles).

S: I like the way you think. (Smile)

_______________________________________________

N: We were told they put up this (construction fence) to stop us and others from talking to the inmates at the windows.

S: Really? Someone from the jail told you that?

J: No, other people said it, not anyone who works here, I don’t think.

S: So, I see it hasn’t really stopped you from communicating. Or anyone else.

J: (Laughs). No, not really.

S: Does anyone from the jail ever try to tell you to stop signaling?

N: Hell no. They know it ain’t gon’ stop me.

 

 

‘You need to see what goes on behind closed doors’

What’s up IOA?

First off, thanks for reaching out to me. I’m just now getting your letter…7 DAYS LATER!!

I can’t stand how this system treats us, it’s like they couldn’t care less about what goes on with us because they wear a badge and can go home at the end of the day. Some of these officers think they can say and do what they want because we wear orange. But we humans, too and we got rights as well. Continue reading

Visitation blues

In the lobby, Sunday morning visitation

Person 1, seated and waiting: What happened to all the rest of the benches in here?

Person 2, who sat down next to him: I don’t know.

P1: There used to be two or three more long benches.

P2: Now there’s no place for more people to sit down. You got to stand.Any more people come in here and they got to stand.

P1: And they want you here early (the sign says to arrive 30 minutes before a scheduled visit, which lasts only 20 minutes).

P2: Yeah, so people be standing longer.

P1: And then they got this mess going on outside, and no explanation for it. (Orange fencing extends around the front of the jail. There is a contractor’s name on it, but no explanation of the project)

P2: Oh, this fence? Yeah, what’s that all about?

P1: Beats me. And the officer at the desk didn’t know, either. And he didn’t know how long it would be up.

P2: (Shakes head)

Continue reading