DeKalb County Jail, Decatur, Georgia
May 15, 2019
During a protest by outside supporters in front of the jail, prisoners inside smashed out over a dozen windows in all three buildings of the facility. Many of the prisoners then attempted to communicate through the smashed windows with protesters outside, shouting “help us” and “there is mold.” Another prisoner held up a sign to the window that read “strangled by CO King. While cuffed behind back.”
Some prisoners unsuccessfully attempted to throw letters out of the broken windows to protesters below, with most of them being caught on a ledge above. They shouted through their broken windows that guards were spraying them with pepper spray.
Prisoner workers could also be seen on the first floor jumping and waving to protesters outside. At least 100 officers responded including swat teams, a bomb squad, and a helicopter. Four outside protesters were arrested during the protest. A fund was established for their bail.
“Folks locked up are calling through their busted windows, saying guards tried to spray them. One tried to drop us a bag of mold as proof.”
— Atlanta IWOC (@AtlantaIWOC) May 16, 2019
Now someone inside DeKalb jail holds up a sign to the window: “strangled by CO King. While cuffed behind back.”
— Hannah Riley (@hannahcrileyy) May 15, 2019
— Atlanta IWOC (@AtlantaIWOC) May 15, 2019
— Atlanta IWOC (@AtlantaIWOC) May 15, 2019
The following night, on May 16, protestors held another demonstration outside the jail. The Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross released an article containing a description of that night’s protest:
“Protesters banged on drums outside the jail, while inmates banged on the windows to the beat. Police outnumbered protesters by a factor of about two. The sidewalks were lined with barricades. A new phone number not yet blocked by the jail was written in chalk on the sidewalk so that prisoners on that side of the jail would be able to see it–several who called had seen it that way. The number has also been circulating in the jail by word of mouth.”
The protests occurred about one month after a previous protest at the same facility on April 12, 2019, called by the same groups. Both protests were organized in response to urgent calls from prisoners for support and complaints of deplorable conditions at the facility.
Earlier this year, prisoners released a video using a jail-issued tablet during a video visit show the food they were being served and photos of themselves holding signs made of Styrofoam food trays. The messages included, “Dekalb jail is mistreating us!!!”, “We sleep & breathe mold”, and “Please help we dying! Need food!!!!”.
Prisoners inside the jail released the following statement about their conditions and call for support:
“Inmates in the DeKalb County Jail is actually dying and being subjected to unhealthy conditions; breathing and sleeping with mold, having skin break outs, being assaulted by correctional officers in areas of the jail where there are no cameras etc. STAND FOR THESE YOUNG MEN! they are caged away with no voice. No matter what they are incarcerated for, they do not deserve to live in such treacherous conditions! most of them are there awaiting trials or traffic tickets… They are innocent until PROVEN guilty. But judge ye not! Repost and share! Let our voices be heard for them to get attention of officials who can have this facility investigated and fix the conditions.”
DeKalb Sheriff Jeffrey Mann denied that there were problems with conditions at the jail, although he did admit that the jail is struggling with mold problems.
One of the protestors who was arrested during the outside demonstration of May 15 was interviewed by CBS46 following his release from DeKalb County Jail. He related stories of violence on the part of guards and police and echoed the food quality complaints previously made public by other inmates. Michelson also related the way guards treated another protestor who was arrested that night. “An officer yelled at him and said, and I quote, ‘I will put 16 in your chest; do you want to go outside?’ And following that, another officer replied ‘y’all better stop you’re making me horny’,” Michelson explained.
Following the demonstration, the Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross released an article summarizing the calls they received from inmates and family members to their hotline. Many of the complaints focused on lack of proper medical treatment, limited movement, and inadequate food.
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In the wake of the uprising, the jail took a number of steps to block communication between prisoners and outside supporters. These included blocking the phone number for Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross, putting a sticky film over windows facing the street, moving prisoners who participated in the uprising to more remote sections of the jail, and blocking access to news on the televisions within the jail. Despite these measures, prisoners have managed to communicate through different phone numbers to the outside and many have found ways to rewire their televisions to pick up cable signals. Others inside the jail have reported receiving ice cream and other treats with their meals since the protests began.
UPDATE: #DekalbCountyJail has BLOCKED the windows of the street-facing side of the jail to prevent inmates from communicating w/ the outside via signs, which has been one of the only channels of communication.
— Atlanta IWOC (@AtlantaIWOC) May 20, 2019
In phone calls with outside supporters after the uprising, some prisoners listed specific factors that led to the uprising. These were primarily related to food, medical neglect, and physical conditions of the prison.
One prisoner, Darrien White, recounted a specific instance in which his hand became infected from doing push ups in his cell and began to swell painfully. He went to medical multiple times only to be rebuffed and given Tylenol. Eventually he was prevented from going to medical at all. After a week the pain had gotten so bad that he had to bang on his cell door until the guards took him to the medical wing where he was finally told he had to go to the hospital.
Darrien also recounted other instances that have led to the unrest within the jail. He said that water from the pipes will often turn brown and guards will tell prisoners not to drink the water or take showers. According to Darien, this has happened at least four times in recent memory and three of those four times prisoners had to go without water for over four hours.
Another prisoner, Matthew Burkins, stated that the air ducts are infested with mold and as a result the jail will not turn on the air conditioning causing the cells to get extremely hot. He also echoed that prisoners often get sick in the jail and are routinely denied medical care. He further relayed that he believes the grievance system to be a sham. In relation to the outside protest on May 15, he stated that guards came into cells and threatened inmates with paintball guns. Matthew stated that trying to protest within the jail often results in being tased.
Malaya Abdullah-Tucker (@FirstLadyTucker) April 5, 2019. [Instagram Post]. Accessed May 15, 2019.
“‘Please Help We Are Dying’: Protests Called as Anger Grows Over Viral Photos from Inside Dekalb County Jail“, It’s Going Down, April 11, 2019.
“Please Help We Dying: Noise demo to support Dekalb Co inmates” [Facebook Event]. Hosted by Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross and Atlanta Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee – IWOC. April 12, 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019.
“Atlanta, GA: Defend Inmates, Destroy Carceral Capitalism“, It’s Going Down, April 13, 2019.
“Protests continue over mold, conditions at DeKalb County jail“, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 29, 2019.
“DeKalb Sheriff Mann rebuts claims of unsafe, dirty jail“, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 29, 2019.
Atlanta IWOC (@AtlantaIWOC) May 16, 2019. “Folks locked up are calling through their busted windows, saying guards tried to spray them. One tried to drop us a bag of mold as proof.” [Tweet]. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Hannah Riley (@hannahcrileyy) May 15, 2019. “Now someone inside DeKalb jail holds up a sign to the window: “strangled by CO King. While cuffed behind back.” [Tweet]. Accessed May 15, 2019.
Anonymous participant in outside protest on May 15, 2019 at DeKalb County Jail. May 15, 2019. Personal interview.
“Protest outside DeKalb County jail turns violent, several detained“, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 15, 2019.
“Protest at DeKalb County Jail – Shut It Down“, Atlanta IndyMedia, YouTube, May 16, 2019.
“Support DeKalb County Jail Protest Arrestees!“, The Action Network, n.d.
“DeKalb Jail Blocks Number to Anarchist Black Cross“, It’s Going Down, May 17, 2019.
Anonymous family member of an inmate at DeKalb County Jail. June 4, 2019. Personal interview.
Anonymous interviewee. June 19, 2019. Email.