Durham News: Opinion

Rhetoric undermines Durham County jail critics

Tom Gasparoli
Tom Gasparoli

“Loneliness envelops me.”

These words, said to be submitted by a man in the Durham County jail, were posted last month on amplifyvoices.com, a site overseen by the Inside-Outside Alliance.

The detainee says a lot and also calls the detention center a “hellhole.”

The writer’s tale on his tough times behind bars, though, connects to the story of how he wound up there.

The detainee’s name on the entry is also the name of a man arrested in January 2014 after a Durham home invasion. It was more like a life invasion.

Two men brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and rifle reportedly grabbed a woman when she was simply emptying the trash outside her Cole Mill Road house. They forced her inside.

There, according to news reports, the two men continued the unprovoked nightmare. They tied up the woman and her husband with duct tape. They stole jewelry, money, an SUV and fled.

The victims will likely never forget the violence.

In the recent note, the detainee says he doesn’t care to address the specifics of what put him in jail. Maybe he should. His case ought be resolved by now, too.

The letter writers, overall, allege some pretty awful conditions. No detainee or prison inmate should ever face unjust, inhumane or unlawful treatment. But the jail isn’t a hotel.

The alliance has been protesting the care and handling of detainees. I respect some of what it’s doing, but not all of it. Portions of the written rhetoric are way over the top. I don’t know whom that helps.

As I write, the alliance is planning an event. A Facebook page calls it, “Smash The Durham Jail and Prisons Everywhere.”

Smash the Durham jail. What’s the plan there, I wonder.

Steve Lorenz speaks for the alliance at times. He wrote that the group has no leadership or founders.

I mentioned the intensity of some of his claims and asked about his background. Lorenz responded, “My ‘biography’ is not important.”

He emailed, “You might say my involvement is guided by the the principle that in ordinary people – and specifically in this case, detainees in the Durham jail (a symbol of white supremacist ‘justice’) – there resides the capacity to escape from the societal mess we are in.”

The detention center represents white supremacist justice? Well, if so, then I’m glad Durham has a new African-American police chief to help balance things out.

In a June 2015 essay in the N&O, Lorenz and two others immodestly wrote, “We stand humbly in the great tradition of such people as Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips and John Brown.”

In January 2013, someone named Steve Lorenz wrote a letter to the editor that included, “If there were a shred of integrity in the justice system …”

That’s just wasted hyperbole.

In 2011, almost exactly one year before the alliance was born, a man named Steve Lorenz did a piece for Indyweek recounting a home invasion – at his home.

Intruders with at least two guns he said, kicked in his back door, confronted his children and threatened to kill them. The kids, ages 12 and 14, were there alone.

The assailants stole some items and took off. Lorenz also said they stole his children’s sense of safety.

Lorenz stated that he didn’t want the suspects to go into the criminal justice system. He mentioned an alternative, “a form of street justice that relies on networks of people to expose perpetrators and hold them accountable in a ‘people’s court of justice.’”

Good luck with that.

What about the initial decision by a perpetrator to grab a gun or pull a trigger, or violently assault someone? The convenience store employee murdered last week? His killer shouldn’t be locked up?

The Durham County jail appears to have some areas to improve. The words apparently penned by many detainees and posted by Inside-Outside do paint a disturbing portrait.

But just because it is a massive building filled with many less-advantaged young minorities doesn’t make it a cruel, white supremacist place that cages people and treats them like animals.

There’s got to be a middle ground, and both sides should find it.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.