Filed under: Action, Community Organizing, Incarceration, Labor
WINSTON-SALEM, NC – On Friday, January 26th Members and supporters of Raleigh-Durham Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee led a march on the offices of the Salvation Army Center of Hope Residential Reentry Center (RRC). The RRC takes advantage of residents, many of whom are on parole, through punitive and arbitrary policy enforcement, poor food and laundry services, and appropriating 25% of residents’ gross income from their low-wage jobs. Residents who violate even the most idiosyncratic of policies are sent to the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, VA.
Raleigh-Durham IWOC was marching on behalf of incarcerated worker DeMarcus Thomas, a Durham native who had previously been an integral part of the struggle against the Durham County Jail from the inside through his work with comrades in Inside-Outside Alliance. DeMarcus was recently released on parole after serving six years in a federal penitentiary. Upon arriving to the halfway house, DeMarcus immediately started organizing his fellow residents against abuse from monitors and case managers, and building bridges with outside members of Raleigh-Durham IWOC. After a few weeks, he was placed on home confinement. On the outside, he met with Raleigh-Durham IWOC to think of ways to mobilize his comrades in the halfway house. Meanwhile, he was also holding down two low-wage jobs, he signed a lease on an apartment with his girlfriend, who was pregnant with his first child. Things were going well.
Then, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, DeMarcus slept through some phone calls from the RRC (he’s required to always answer the phone when they call as part of his home confinement) after working a double shift at Walmart. For this, he is being written up for 100-level escape, akin to escaping from a secure facility. There is little doubt DeMarcus is being targeted for his organizing efforts, especially given the RRC’s willingness to bend its own rules for punitive purposes.
After going back to the RRC to rectify the situation, DeMarcus was effectively detained there while he waited for a decision on his write-up from an anonymous Discipline Hearing Officer before whom he won’t have the opportunity to testify on his own behalf or have representation. On Tuesday, Jan. 23, DeMarcus was transferred to Piedmont Regional Jail, where he remains as of the writing of this report. He still has not received a decision on his situation and there is no indication of when he will.
Given this situation, and the ongoing oppression of DeMarcus’s comrades inside the RRC, Raleigh-Durham IWOC traveled to Winston-Salem to demand to speak to the program director, Melissa Burgess. After not letting us inside the building, we were met by a public relations rep for the Salvation Army, someone who doesn’t even work for the halfway house.
We told him we weren’t leaving until we spoke with Melissa Burgess. After it became clear to him we weren’t going to leave from outside the front door – and despite, by the way, him saying he ‘supported what we were doing’ – he called the cops. We had previously judged our capacity not able to provide adequate jail support outside our Raleigh-Durham base, so when the cops came we moved to a moving picket strategy on the sidewalk outside of the RRC. We received a phone call from Allen, one of DeMarcus’s friends who we’d also been in contact with – he was watching us through the window – and he expressed his support.
The event was not only an occasion to fight for DeMarcus and the residents at the RRC from the outside, but also an opportunity to build connections between Raleigh-Durham and worker-led movements in the Winston-Salem area. The latter ensures a broader base from which to further organize against this enemy.
We will be back! We will be stronger! We will not take this any longer!