Tennessee Inmate on Hunger Strike Heard From on Wednesday

REPORTS NO FOOD CONSUMED FOR TWO WEEKS AND COUNTING

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jun. 22, 2017) — Since receiving a letter on June 11 dated June 8, 2017, The Post & Email has not heard directly from normally-prolific writer and Tennessee inmate Grenda Harmer.

In his last letter, Harmer, 64, said that he began a hunger strike to protest the confiscation of his television and desert boots by intake officers upon his arrival at Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX), to which he was transferred on June 3.  He also took issue with having been placed in a “high security” section of the prison without a specific reason.

During the course of his intake, Harmer alleged, he was threatened by officers with, “He’s a problem. Take care of him.”

Both MCCX inmates and their relatives have told The Post & Email over a number of months that some correction officers, including a Sgt. Cashmore, are physically abusive to inmates without cause.

Previous to MCCX, Harmer had been housed at South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Clifton for two months, preceded by the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) for approximately nine months from July 2016 to April 5, 2017.

Harmer had learned of The Post & Email from another TTCC inmate and began writing to us in December.  His letters often contained copies of grievances he filed on various grounds and reported inmates’ access to illegal drugs and at least one resultant death.

While at TTCC, three prescription medications Harmer takes were discontinued without explanation in late February, then reinstated on beginning on March 17.  Again, after his transfer to SCCF, staff ceased to dispense the medications. On both occasions, The Post & Email contacted both TDOC spokeswoman Neysa Taylor, who did not respond, and Jim Cheney, spokesman for Correct Care Solutions, a private medical provider utilized by the two aforementioned prisons, who did respond.

In each case, shortly after we contacted Cheney, the medications were resumed.  Following his relegation to “high security” at MCCX, Harmer said that the medications stopped coming.

Harmer’s and others’ accounts of draconian conditions at TTCC have been corroborated in a four-part series aired by Nashville’s WSMV (Channel 4) this week, with the final segment airing Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. CDT.  In assembling the feature broadcasts, award-winning journalist Demetria Kalodimos performed a nine-month investigation into reports she had received of unexplained deaths, inmate abuse, uncontrolled gang activity, and excessive use of force.

Kalodimos also interviewed the facility’s former chaplain, who provided documentation showing that TTCC’s owner, CoreCivic, terminated her for having become a whistleblower.

The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) has denied to The Post & Email that there exist any of the reported problems at TTCC while the state of Tennessee is funding the privately-owned facility at a reported $275 million over the next four years.

On Wednesday evening, another individual who has been in touch with Harmer told The Post & Email of a letter he/she received that day after having heard nothing since June 9 or 10.

The new letter the individual reported having received was postmarked June 19 and delivered on June 21.

The individual read parts of the letter to us over the phone, some of which are as follows:

Until I get all of my property back and out of here, I will continue refusing to eat.

There are a few kind ones, but very few.  I’m hoping they’ve not thrown all my stuff away as they said they were going to do.  I hope they were only bluffing; I can only hope.

I stay in my bed a lot due to the cold.  They do this intentionally.  My hands and feet have had about all they can take.

The individual said that Harmer related that he had fallen and bumped his head, presumably from weakness, just before he wrote his previous letters on or around June 8.  He/she said that Harmer wrote of the incident, “That got my attention.”

Harmer wrote that he is drinking milk but consuming no food.

On June 8, he reported that his supply of writing paper was confiscated.  The source said that Harmer is apparently using paper supplied by an outside source.

On June 14, a letter was sent on Harmer’s behalf by the No Exceptions Prison Collective to MCCX Warden Shawn Phillips.  The letter reads:

June 14, 2017

 

Warden Shawn Phillips
MCCX
541 Wayne Cotton Morgan Dr.
Wartburg, TN 37887

Re:  Grenda Harmer, TDOC #88710

Dear Warden Phillips,

We are writing to express concern about the treatment of an inmate in your custody, Mr. Grenda Harmer, TDOC #88710.  MCCX is the fourth facility where Mr. Harmer has been housed in less than a year, and he has alleged a number of unprofessional acts by staff.

In approximately July 2016, Mr. Harmer was shipped from TCIX to the Turner Trousdale Correctional Facility. During his time at TTCC, he documented alleged violations of law and policy, and sent dozens of letters to state representatives, senators, Governor Haslam, the ACLU, the Human Rights Defense Center, The Post and Email, No Exceptions Prison Collective, and other organizations and individuals regarding those violations.

In February 2017, Mr. Harmer’s prescribed medications were discontinued at TTCC without explanation.  He continued to write letters documenting his treatment, resulting in calls to the facility, and on March 17, 2017 his medications were restored.  On April 5, 2017, Mr. Harmer was transferred to SCCF.  Just as he had done at TTCC, he began documenting violations of law and policy at that facility, and contacting the aforementioned individuals and organizations.  His medications were again discontinued without explanation.  On April 27, Mr. Harmer was placed in segregation pending an investigation, and on May 9 he was released from segregation.

He was transferred to MCCX on June 3, and reported that upon his arrival at your facility, his clothing, bedding, personal property, hygiene items, paper and writing implements were taken by MCCX staff. It is our understanding that on June 5 he commenced a hunger strike in protest over his treatment.

While we do not dispute the TDOC’s right to transfer inmates from one facility to another for various reasons, when someone is transferred four times in less than a year, without disciplinaries, and while documenting violations of policy and engaging in protected political speech, such transfers have the appearance of retaliation.

We recognize, of course, that you did not personally play a role in Mr. Harmer’s transfers, but due to the nature of what has transpired we are reasonably concerned about his well being and violations of his First Amendment rights.  If retaliation is in fact occurring, that should be taken seriously and stopped.

Accordingly, we are asking that the organizations and individuals copied on this letter investigate the rationale for Mr. Harmer’s repeated transfers, the discontinuation of his medications, the policy and statutory violations he has documented, and his current conditions of confinement and treatment by staff. We are not aware of any disciplinaries that would prevent Mr. Harmer from being allowed writing implements, paper and envelopes, and there is certainly no reason to withhold prescribed medication that is essential to his health.

Warden Phillips, while you are certainly not responsible for what did or did not take place at CoreCivic-operated facilities, we trust that such violations, including any retaliation by staff, will not continue to occur at MCCX. Thank you for your time and consideration;

Sincerely,

Jeannie Alexander
No Exceptions Prison Collective

Alex Friedmann
Human Rights Defense Center

cc:   Commissioner Tony C. Parker
Regional Administrator David Sexton
ACLU Staff Attorney Tom Castelli
Rep. John Ray Clemmons
Rep. Mike Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

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