Each year in memory and celebration of Internationalist’s founder Bob Sheldon, the collective of Internationalist Books & Community Center chooses a local group, individual or movement to uplift with the Bob Sheldon Award.
This year we reflect on the strength of vision and dedication over the long haul, and honor Bob’s memory and enduring legacy on the 25th anniversary of his death. The example of people in our community’s history like Bob Sheldon inspires us to understand how our acts of bravery, defiance and persistence can be strong threads in a community of resistance and change.
Bob said, in 1983, that “the world situation demands sweeping changes and we must do our part to meet that challenge. We support the unity and liberation of oppressed peoples worldwide, and are working toward the day when all oppression and inequality will be removed from the face of the earth.” We award the Bob Sheldon Award each year to celebrate individuals and groups whose work is done in this spirit.
We extend our love, gratitude and support this year to the work of Inside-Outside Alliance. Since 2012, Inside-Outside Alliance has fought both the abuses of the Durham County Jail and the isolation and violence of a society that uses cops, jails and prisons to break apart communities. Inside-Outside Alliance is a Durham-based, multi-generational group made up of folks who are incarcerated in the jail, people who are formerly incarcerated, friends and family of those incarcerated, and community members. IOA has fought to amplify the voices and experiences of the people inside the Durham County Jail through prisoner support, demonstrations, pressure campaigns, and media tactics. Inside-Outside Alliance has fought brutality by law enforcement and corrections officers, inhumane conditions in the jail, medical neglect, restrictions on writing and reading materials, and other specific conditions of the Durham County Jail. The immense bravery of this resistance on the part of those held in captivity at the jail cannot be overstated.
In the past year, IOA fought the lockback – a policy of the sheriff’s department that restricted time out of cells from 6 and a half hours per day to 6-8 hours a week – in a months-long campaign that demonstrated the tenacity of the folks on the inside and outside working together as Inside-Outside Alliance. After months of weekly demonstrations at the jail, call ins, and other tactics, the lockback was lifted in October.
IOA has also recently been on the front lines of helping people inside the jail and his family report on the death of Matthew McCain, who died in January 2016 because of medical neglect. IOA has also fought to refuse the jail administration’s attempts to cover up Matthew’s death and the deaths of others who have died in the jail, like Dennis McMurray, whose death in January 2015 only became publicly known after Matthew’s death. IOA continues to demand that the sheriff and jail officials be held responsible for these deaths.
One long-running project of IOA is their website, amplifyvoices.com
. The website has served, since November 2012, to “publish the words of Durham jail prisoners and former prisoners talking about conditions inside and outside and how they see the world. The name Amplify Voices comes from something a brave and rebellious prisoner wrote in the fall of 2012.” Inside-Outside Alliance also produces a regular newsletter, and a publication “Feedback: Inside & Outside, Voices From The Jail Struggle” with letters and statements from folks inside the Durham Jail, as well as letters and articles from activists and family members on the outside.
The collective of Internationalist Books and Community Center believes the work Inside-Outside Alliance is engaged in is a perfect example of the work we hope to uplift and connect with through the Bob Sheldon Award each year. We encourage people in the community who are not familiar with their work or the ongoing movement against the Durham County Jail to use IOA’s publications and website as a way to learn more and find out how to be involved.
The collective of the Internationalist is happy to be able to draw attention and support to this work with the Bob Sheldon Award. We feel that this work reflects the commitment, dedication and vision that characterizes the histories of resistance in central North Carolina that we honor as we remember Bob’s legacy. We also hold the abolitionist values of IOA, and honor their work to contribute to conversations and action focused on transforming our society. As Inside-Outside Alliance wrote in a statement about the campaign against the lockback last year,
“We believe safety comes from having meaningful connections to loved ones. We believe safety is generated when people are treated with dignity. We desire a Durham where safety looks like joy, interdependence, and mutual care, rather than walls, cages and banishment. We dream of, and dare to struggle for, a Durham where no one is treated as a criminal and no one person’s safety is dependent upon the exile of another, and we invite others to do so with us.”
Members of Inside-Outside Alliance will be sharing about their work at Internationalist’s celebration of Bob Sheldon’s memory on February 21st, as well as at the Internationalist Cabaret on March 18. Members of the collective of the Internationalist will also be joining IOA for some community events, like IOA’s monthly letter writing night, to celebrate and extend support to organizers on the inside who cannot join us at outside community celebrations.