Just down the hallway where family and friends visit with inmates via video conference is a room that’s been covered in human waste on at least three occasions.
Once, an inmate covered himself, the floor, and the security camera with feces, said First Sgt. Cedric Spearmon. Another time someone smeared it on the floor and made a brown-colored “snow” angel; and still another ate it, Spearmon said.
“That’s why it takes a special individual to do the job,” Spearmon said of detention officers.
The floors shined and not a speck of dust could be found inside the E cell block.
Spearmon said a janitorial staff came in to clean the jail daily, working on different parts of the jail.
Inside E Block, empty while the air conditioning was being worked on, the floor was so spotless the lights from the ceiling reflected on the concrete floors like mirrors.
Sounds bounced and echoed in the concrete confinement.
To the left hung plastic shower curtains, one on each of the two cell block floors, offering a small amount of privacy for the three-shower rooms.
Stainless steel picnic benches with rounded, softened edges lined the middle of the room where inmates sit to watch the television posted high on the wall in front of them.
Each cell has a drinking fountain with buttons for cold or hot water, the latter being used for late-night meals of ramen. The fountain connects to a stainless steel toilet. Metal bunk beds are bolted to the walls next to four hooks — all of which flip down when pressure is put on them to prevent suicides, Spearmon said.
Even with the preventative measures like breakaway hooks, inmates still find ways to injure and harm themselves and others — including climbing the metal poles that surrounded the top level of the block and jumping off, he said. Once, he had an inmate take the leap and purposefully land on the stainless steel picnic table.
“Every time I think I’ve seen it all, an inmate proves me wrong,” Spearmon said.
Detention officers sit in a glassed-in office at the block’s entry, leaving twice an hour at random times to do a check of the whole block, Spearmon said.
That officer also holds the key to the television remote, Spearmon said. The inmates vote on what they want to watch — except music. That option was taken away after all-out brawls happened when the CMT fans were forced to listen to BET and vice versa.
Inside the cell blocks
In one of the men’s blocks an officer popped out to do one of his hourly rounds.
The officer chatted with multiple inmates in what appeared to be a joking manner, and Spearmon said a rapport is built within the blocks between the inmates and the officers.
To pass the time during their incarceration, Spearmon said some inmates walk laps around the block. Male inmates walked alone, but women in groups of three chatted as they slowly circled.
Two groups of four men, segregated by race seemingly by choice, had decks of cards out playing games and others were moving around their rooms behind the small glass windows on the room’s doors.
In these minimum security blocks inmates have free reign to watch television, hang out in their rooms, visit with the other inmates, or read, Spearmon said. They’re released from their rooms around 8 a.m. each morning and locked back in the rooms by 6 p.m. at night.
In medium security, inmates have four hours per day of recreation time, Spearmon said. The hours are also separated by tier with the lower level getting four hours separately from the upper level’s four hours.
In maximum security, the tier system is still used, Spearmon said, but there are three hours instead of four where inmates are allowed out of their rooms.
After being put away, a couple of inmates mashed their faces against the small rectangular window that looked out into the cell block. The television stays on until 11 p.m., Spearmon said, and the inmates sometimes continue to watch it through the glass.
Inmates are allowed to have four books with them in addition to a Bible, Spearmon said. They can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines as long as they’re not sexual or gang-related.
The books have to be shipped directly from a seller like Amazon or Barnes and Noble to prevent people from smuggling in drugs or other contraband, said Onslow County Sheriff Hans Miller.
A watchful eye
Miller pointed out the 17 desks with video monitors used for visitation. The large screens had telephones on the side, which are the only way inmates are allowed to communicate with friends and family from the inside.
“We don’t want body-to-body contact,” Miller said.
There’s not only a safety issue with in-person visits, Miller said, there’s the possibility for contraband and drugs getting into the jail. Video conferences prevent those issues. The only time inmates see their friends and family in person is in the courtroom, he said.
The video calls are limited to 15 minutes in order to allow all inmates time to speak with their loved ones, Spearmon said.
The visitation monitors are far from the only cameras in the jail.
There are cameras on multiple monitors manned by four officers at a time on 12-hour shifts, Spearmon said. From their chairs they operate the elevators, the phones and doors throughout the jail.
The monitors are located on each of the three floors with two people on the ground floor operating floors one and three and two people on the second floor operating that level, Spearmon said.
In the corner, two large monitors showed two different white padded cells, the top one showing only two crumpled blankets. Spearmon said the occupant was in court and would return later.
The other cell showed a person Spearmon said was a man. He was laying on one blanket and had his upper body, head included, covered with the other, his bare tattooed legs poking out of the bottom.
A couple of hours later, one of the padded cell doors, the room Spearmon said has seen so much excrement, shook as the inmate inside banged on it over and over.
At the processing station, a large white board broken down into blocks held magnetic, color-coded rectangles with the inmates’ names and charges. Spearmon pointed out what each color meant.
Yellow was for misdemeanor offenses; blue for holding, like those waiting for prison or held due to child support arrears; and orange was for juvenile inmates, he said. Gray stood for the out-of-county inmates held in Onslow County Jail due to space issues, and green meant the inmate has been sentenced but has additional charges and will be going back to court again.
White meant the inmate was charged with a felony, Spearmon said, and the blood red magnets meant the inmate had been charged with murder.
There were other magnets that had “lock down” written on them.
“Those are individuals who don’t play well with others,” Spearmon said.
It could mean the inmate had been threatened, rival gangs were in the same block, or the inmates request it. It’s the inmate’s request nine times out of 10, Spearmon said.
After an inmate is processed — during which time they’re kept in a holding cell for a couple of hours in case they make bail — Spearmon said the inmate is sent to the shower to cut down on the spread of diseases and is issued the standard orange jumper.
The rare inmate who refuses is pepper-sprayed, Spearmon said. After that, they want a shower.
Canteen bags and church
After traveling up one floor in the elevator, which bumped and shook a bit and is scheduled to be replaced, Spearmon said, the door opened onto a hallway with more officers and monitors. It was the control room where the in-person visits were allowed among inmates and a limited few, like attorneys, school officials and DSS.
To the left was a room with another teleconference video on that showed the clerks at the District Courthouse working on paperwork and an empty judge’s seat.
In one of these rooms, inmates in for domestic violence charges video in to the courtroom in lieu of being transported, said Sgt. Greg Collins, who works in that area of the jail. In another similar room, inmates charged with felonies and probation violations checked in with the courtroom, he said.
And just across the hall is a room filled with clear plastic canteen bags that held shoes, long johns, and a lot of snack food, including one bag weighted down with at least a dozen honey buns.
The items were purchased by inmates, Spearmon said, and since there was no cap on what they could spend, he said some inmates stocked up — including on sticky sweets.
To buy these items the inmates’ friends and families provide money for their accounts, he said. There’s no way at the local jail, like at state prisons, for inmates to work for money.
The room the bags filled up is used for religious services on Sundays, Spearmon said, noting the podium sitting in the bathtub used for baptisms. Protestant services are offered, three during the day and three in the evening, unless someone requests another religion specifically.
The preachers offer to do the services, Spearmon said, and are not paid for their sermons.
During services the inmates have on the full belt cuffs and shackles, Spearmon said, and inmates sign up to attend with a maximum of 20 inmates per service.
Even with precautions taken, trouble still happens in the jail.
“There’s always going to be something,” Miller said. “People are in jail for a reason.”
In February, two inmates in two separate instances were transported to Onslow Memorial Hospital after being punched in the face and having their orbital sockets broken, The Daily News reported at the time.
Miller said due to the ongoing investigation, he was unable to release the amount of money paid so far for their medical treatment.
For more common ailments, longterm treatment and check-ins, the nursing station inside the jail is staffed 24 hours a day, Spearmon said.
If someone comes in with a medical problem, like diabetes or cancer, and needs medicine for treatment, Justice Complex Accountant Gary Gibson said the jail pays for it while they’re incarcerated.
When an inmate is in jail, they are the jail’s responsibility, Miller said.
“Medical is a big issue for us,” he added.
When a hospital visit is needed, Miller said an armed deputy has to come along and stay with the inmate the entire time they’re being treated before escorting them back to the jail.
Two nurses completing paperwork sat with a burly detention officer, and Spearmon said the nurses are never without an officer’s escort. If they’re visiting cell blocks or assessing someone in the exam room, the officer stays by their side. There’s also a big red panic button inside the exam rooms if the officer needs additional assistance.
There’s a sick call sheet for the inmate to fill out and write down their issue, Spearmon said, and an average of 20 inmates are seen in order of priority during the day.
For mental illnesses, a psychologist Skypes in to an exam room monitor weekly, Spearmon said.
On Friday a doctor comes in to address the more serious cases; and all prescriptions have to go through him, Spearmon said, adding that the doctor visits different jails throughout the week regionally.
In the storage room there are rows upon rows of tan bins with numbers fixed on the outside. Opening one, Spearmon said each bin was filled with the inmate’s personal belongings and stayed in the bin until they left, the one in his hand holding mostly clothing.
The inmates swap their personal gear for a clear bin filled with everything they need their first night in jail. Pointing out each item, Spearmon said each bin includes two towels, two sheets, one blanket, a roll of toilet paper with a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, and soap shoved inside, one extra orange jumper, one hard plastic cup, and a pamphlet with a list of rules. They also receive a blue mattress with a built-in pillow.
The cup is used for their drinks, Spearmon said, which come in a clear plastic bag on their plastic lunch trays.
Walking through the kitchen near 11 a.m., the kitchen staff, an outside agency, was putting together a lunch of a hamburger, slaw, chopped potatoes, applesauce, and lemonade.
The inmates receive three meals per day, two hot and one cold, which equal 2100 to 2500 daily calories, Spearmon said.
Across the hallway is the laundry room, which Spearmon said is run by one sergeant and three female inmates. Like the organization found elsewhere, the laundry runs on a schedule.
Mondays are for whites, Spearmon said, like T-shirts, boxers, and socks, that come to the laundry room in white netted bags; Wednesdays inmates swap soiled blankets and sheets for clean ones; and Thursdays are for washing the orange jumpers.
Spearmon said the jail has 11 blocks with 528 beds and each block holds a maximum of 48 people. As of Friday, the jail had 347 inmates.
With a combination of all expenses, Spearmon said it costs roughly $40 per day per inmate, a total of $13,880 per day with 347 inmates.
That number fluctuates, Gibson said. There have been 307 people booked into the jail in March as of Friday afternoon, Gibson said, but some people are booked and bond out an hour later.
If the jail was maxed out at 528 inmates, the monthly cost would total more than $633,000.