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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‘You’ll never succeed in walking if you don’t take the first step’

July 6, 2017

IOA

Whats up? I’m living, just trying to keep this jail from stealing my spirit. Yea, I passed word to a couple people in my pod about writing and giving their thoughts on our visits or incarceration problems period. Continue reading

‘I’m not a half person’

10-3-16

Dear —

Thanks for writing to me. It took me a long time to write you back cause of my mental health and medical problems. Right now, as I write to you, it is very much a hard struggle. I don’t want my name in the feedback, only my initial L.

These are the things I want talked about. One, I’m not a half person. I’m like the singer Usher. If I’m gonna tell it, then I’m gonna tell it all!

1.) Bed bugs, or some kind of bugs I’m not sure. Now I don’t know what this meant, but before they did it I kept complaining. These bugs were eating away at us. But n-e-ways, over the weekend in the women’s pod of 5D (maybe the whole jail), Mr. Ham and his supervisor gave “everybody” brand new washcloths, towels, 1 sheet, blanket and laundry bag! Continue reading

‘Something to make the time go by’

Thank you for all that you all are doing for us. It really means a lot to know that it’s some people out there in the world that cares about us. The woman’s pod is still the same. They could at least let us have a radio or something to make the time go by. Also, some board games and some uno cards–anything is better than nothing. Other than that there’s nothing else, just a shout out to my peeps in 5D: SC, GBae, Gooch, Pinky, Rd, BL. To everybody else, keep y’all head up.

‘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.

 

 

‘Coffee is like air, and sleep the cousin of death…’

As my daily routine changes, coffee has become like air, and sleep has become the cousin of death. I’ve been operating on 3 to 6 hours of sleep, my revolutionary studies have reached an all-time high. I currently have been disregarding individuals whose presence only waste time, and I’ve been spending more time preaching my outlook/standpoint on social issues and conditions we face. In any area, my vision has been clearing up by the day, my self-discipline  been worked on also daily. Noticing my influence, I’ve also been trying to tap into the other brothers’ consciousness.
Continue reading

‘I’m a black male–that’s why I’m still here.’

Hello feedback world,

I have been housed here in the Durham County Jail since April 8, 2016. After checking my house on the night in question, the Durham police left with nothing. But they came back a week later cause the word of a white woman. Yes, I’m a black male, that’s why I’m still here. Thanking God for the change in my life. I’ve been out the system for eight long years. Continue reading