“I’M TOTALLY INSPIRED BY WALTER”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Nov. 6, 2010) — An inmate who recently spent time in the Monroe County jail contacted The Post & Email this morning and shared his experiences while there, including his interactions with LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, who was brutally attacked and arrested on October 27, 2010 and is being held without bond.
MRS. RONDEAU: How long were you in the Monroe County jail?
FORMER INMATE: Ten days, exactly, this time.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why were you there?
FORMER INMATE: I had a violation of probation. I got probation for just a minor misdemeanor possession charge; possession and disorderly conduct. It originally started from my calling the Monroe County Police Department to help me with a mountain bike, and they showed up, and they ended up searching me and found marijuana and a bag on the ground, and I got arrested for it. I ended up going to court, and I got probation and a $2,000 fine.
I told them that I couldn’t pay the fine because I’m on social security, a fixed income. I asked for community service, but they claimed they didn’t have it. They said, “This is a poor county.” I said, “I’m poor.” They claimed they didn’t have community service for me, but some people get it. I’ve seen people picking up papers on the side of the road. In other counties, I would tell the judge that I was on a fixed income, and I’d get it.
MRS. RONDEAU: So you have to pay the $2,000.
FORMER INMATE: Yes. I have to pay $45/month for my probation, and there are other fees and charges for drug court. If I have to have a drug test, I have to pay for that, too.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you get the feeling that Monroe County is trying to make money off of people because of all of the fines and charges?
FORMER INMATE: Definitely.
MRS. RONDEAU: What are the conditions inside the jail?
FORMER INMATE: They have black mold, and they keep painting it over white to hide it. It’s on the walls, on the floors. It’s bad. There are gnats coming out of the drain. It smells bad in there because everyone dries out chewing tobacco and smokes it, and it’s disgusting-smelling in there, because everyone smokes. You normally can’t smoke in prison or federal prison these days because somebody won a lawsuit for second-hand smoke. But in the Monroe County jail, no one really cares. People are in there with lighters and smoking cigarettes and they use paper and chewing tobacco. They dry out chewing tobacco and wash it out; they dry it out and roll it up and they smoke it. So it smells horrible; it doesn’t even smell like a real cigarette; it just smells like burnt cardboard.
MRS. RONDEAU: This is interesting, because the article I wrote on the Monroe County jail yesterday included a statement from the Monroe County Sheriff’s website that there is a no-smoking policy in the jail. Sheriff Bill Bivens said it was for the “health and well-being” of the inmates.
FORMER INMATE: Well, that’s a bunch of b——-. Everybody smokes. They sell chewing tobacco, which is a luxury to us. But they don’t really enforce the no-smoking rule; they don’t go in looking for the lighters; they don’t go in there trying to stop the smoking. There are no penalties at all.
Suppose you get caught with a lighter? What’s wrong with this jail is that they don’t have any kind of penalty system. No one really cares. So if you get in trouble, you don’t get put into confinement or anything like that. There’s no kind of penalty system. They do what they want. If they get in trouble, they get in trouble. If they get caught with a bunch of homemade alcohol, they just take it away from them.
In the other jails I’ve been into, if you get caught with a lighter or tobacco or anything like that, you go to confinement and you lose your privileges. You don’t get to use the phone, you don’t get to order from the commissary for a while. They don’t have no kind of penalty system for the people who are doing bad in there.
MRS. RONDEAU: How about running water?
FORMER INMATE: The water in there is horrible. There’s something wrong with that water. I didn’t even want to shower because of what it was doing to my skin. I have a foot condition where they dry out during the winter, and if I took a shower, it dried out my skin. My feet were cracking while I was there. It also doesn’t taste right. There’s something wrong with that water. Also the place is really unsanitary.
MRS. RONDEAU: How about the food?
FORMER INMATE: The food is not enough for what they should be serving inmates. I’ve been in different county jails and I know they’re not serving the proper serving amounts of food to meet the requirements.
MRS. RONDEAU: Are people going hungry?
FORMER INMATE: Oh, very hungry, yes, ma’am. Yeah. Especially at lunchtime. Where I was before, you always got two sandwiches, an apple and a juice, and a bag of chips. In the Monroe County jail, they give you just one sandwich, one piece of meat, and one piece of cheese. You have to have money to order commissary stuff to stay full in there.
MRS. RONDEAU: So they want to make more money by people buying extra food?
FORMER INMATE: Yes.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think Walt is going hungry?
FORMER INMATE: Oh, no. He eats enough and then we always tried to feed him, and he says, “No, thank you. I’m good.”
MRS. RONDEAU: How about this commissary?
FORMER INMATE: I consider that kind-of a luxury, because we can’t really live the way that we would like to live on what they provide for us. That’s actually a luxury.
MRS. RONDEAU: If someone mails a letter to an inmate there, does he get it?
FORMER INMATE: Yes. They get it. That’s one thing they do; they do pass out mail every day, so they are pretty good about the mail.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do they open it first, or do they hand it to you sealed?
FORMER INMATE: I’m not sure; I never received a letter there. I think it’s already opened, though, from what I understand.
MRS. RONDEAU: I was wondering if someone sent money, would the jailers take the money out and Walt wouldn’t get it?
FORMER INMATE: What I would do is if you’re going to send Walt some money, just get a money order in Walter’s name. Don’t ever send cash to a jail, ma’am; send a money order. Then all they can do is put it on your books.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do they let you out for exercise?
FORMER INMATE: No, we don’t get to even see the outside at all. They have no kind of exercise at all, so everyone has a lot of stored-up energy and gets irritated. That’s why they want to fight each other in there.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you notice that anyone needed medical care and didn’t get it?
FORMER INMATE: Yes. It’s very, very hard to actually get medical attention, and when they do give it to you, they charge you $5.00. For example, there was a man who had a bad toothache, and the whole day, he asked the guards to see the nurse. He was willing to pay the $5.00. When you have a really bad toothache or a tooth that needs to be pulled, it’s considered an emergency where they need to get you up there. It only takes five minutes. They didn’t see the man, so finally at the end of the day, he had to throw something up at the nurse’s station window, because it was right above our pod. He just threw something up there and got their attention. They came in mad, but they got him treated after that.
MRS. RONDEAU: How long did that take…hours, days?
FORMER INMATE: No, it was the whole day and he was trying to work on being patient and nice about it, but he had a killer toothache. This is just an example. The only way to get medical treatment is to fill out a sick call request or a nurse request, and she will see you, but she will charge you $5.00 for the visit.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you see any fights break out while you were there?
FORMER INMATE: Of course. Every time.
MRS. RONDEAU: Is it every day?
FORMER INMATE: Not every day, but you could say every other day.
MRS. RONDEAU: I thought they were supposed to give everybody an hour of exercise.
FORMER INMATE: They don’t do it. They’re supposed to and they don’t do it.
MRS. RONDEAU: Was Walt a big help to the other inmates when you were there?
FORMER INMATE: Everyone wants to talk to Walter and get advice from him. Everyone looked up to Walter in there.
MRS. RONDEAU: They probably know he’s a retired Naval commander.
FORMER INMATE: Yeah, we all liked listening to his war stories.
MRS. RONDEAU: Were you mistreated in any way?
FORMER INMATE: Yes, well, the medical service is horrible. I had my fiancée bring my own medication bottles there from the pharmacy that were unopened, and it was hard just to get my medicine from them. Half the time, half my meds were missing, and then I would tell an officer. Sometimes they would help me, and sometimes they’d say, “Oh, there’s nothing I can do.” And they’re supposed to pass out medicines from 6:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night. Well, a lot of times 9:00 at night would roll around, and they would start passing out medications, and everyone was getting really irritable towards each other, because the medicine was late. My medicine is taken every 12 hours, and they would mess up the times on medication.
MRS. RONDEAU: Was there anyone who needed meds who didn’t get them at all?
FORMER INMATE: Sometimes, but the situation that needs to be addressed there was that the guards are not paying attention to passing out medications, and some people with mental health problems, people were talking them into given them the medications so that they can sleep or do whatever. So they’re not really monitoring the medications enough when they hand them out. They need to actually watch the person take the meds.
MRS. RONDEAU: So they’re never really sure if the person took it?
FORMER INMATE: No, they don’t care. They just hand you your pills and you can just walk off and do whatever with them. People sell them, you can barter with them. Some people take advantage of other people that get medicines and make them give it to them. Some of the guards don’t care, although some of them do. Some of them just hand you the whole envelope; they don’t even put it in your hand and make sure it’s all there or anything. They handed me an envelope with medicine the other night and I took the envelope, and I dumped it out, and it didn’t have my medication. So I wondered if someone took my medication, or did they forget to put it in? So the guy goes, “Well, how do I know you didn’t take it and hide it?” “Well, dude, you should have put it in my hand.” They should put it in your hand and monitor your taking it.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think the guards even know anything about the medications?
FORMER INMATE: Well, some of them actually pursue it and make sure you take it, and then some of them just hand it to you and let you walk off.
What I noticed is that they’re not putting any money into the jail. They don’t have any uniforms; they barely have enough sheets and towels. It’s very limited. You’re lucky to even get a uniform to wear to court. The ones they gave me were all ripped up, the feet…They were like onesies, like a big onesy was what it was, and they’re not really supposed to be wearing those anymore. They don’t let you wear them to court, so you have to borrow someone’s clothes to wear to court just to wear a proper uniform. If you didn’t have one, they’d just say, “Well, just borrow from someone else.”
MRS. RONDEAU: So you’re essentially dressed in rags, at least part of the time?
FORMER INMATE: Yes, they were damaged old clothes. They need to put some money into the jail, that’s what I think. They need to get uniforms. Recreation is out of the question, so everyone is caged up in this stinky pod all day. You can’t go outside. There’s a day room that they’re supposed to take us in once a day, and they don’t do it. They don’t even do it. So “recreation” is just another room with a TV and just a little more peace and quiet.
The phone is always broken. You can’t ever really hear anyone on the phone. I’m sure when Walter calls you, you’re like, “What? What?”
MRS. RONDEAU: Yes, it is hard to hear him, and Walter did say that when a priest visited him, the phone communication was very bad, even with the person being right there.
FORMER INMATE: Yes, they recently had somebody break them by ripping them out. They didn’t fix them; when people came around for everyone, they just had to work with what they had. It would take all day to do visitation. They don’t fix stuff when it’s broken.
Recently they’ve been keeping it at about 58 degrees. They keep the air conditioner on at night. They say it’s to keep germs down, but it’s also to keep you from fighting. They figure you’ll stay in your bed, wrapped up in blankets so you don’t get up and try to do anything. It’s also overpopulated; they have people all over the floor. I’m sure you’ve heard about that.
MRS. RONDEAU: So they’re purposely making you cold; it’s not as if there’s just no heat. They’re actually blowing cold air on you when it’s already cold.
FORMER INMATE: Exactly. They keep the thermostat at 60 degrees, because I would look at it when I would go to the nurse’s office. I told them that they shouldn’t have it so low. Sometimes some officers would come on, and I’d be like, “Hey, can you please turn the temperature up a little bit?” and sometimes they would do it if you had a good officer, but most of the time, they really don’t care. They’d say, “No, it’s gotta go through the higher-ups.”
There are a couple of good officers there, but it equals out with the bad officers. Some days are better than others; it depends which shift is working.
MRS. RONDEAU: Are you willing to name the good and bad officers?
FORMER INMATE: Yes. The good ones are Officer Grande, Officer Burnett and Officer Miller. All the sergeants are doing their jobs. There are more good ones than bad ones. The nicest one who really gets stuff done for the inmates is Grande. Cpl. Ellen is very fair with the inmates. I know they’re overwhelmed, and they were shorthanded for a while, but they’ve recently hired a bunch of new people. So they should be more attentive. If an inmate asks for a sheet, and he won’t get it for a couple of days. They say they can’t find one, just give you the runaround…if you have someone like Grande, he’ll get it done for you.
As for the bad, I’d say the worst would be Officer Taylor. Officer Taylor is the bulldog of all of them, and he’s the one who gets too physical with inmates. He works the night shift, and when they get in the door, he’s the one who gets physical with people and hog-ties you up with shackles and stuff like that. They have a policy that if you go in there and you’re drunk at all, they’ll throw you in the coldest room in the jail and you can’t have a mat, a blanket or anything for four hours. So you’re laying on concrete, literally, and if you’re wearing a T-shirt or something, you sit there and shiver for four hours straight.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why do you think they do that?
FORMER INMATE: I think they do it to sober you up.
MRS. RONDEAU: Does it work?
FORMER INMATE: It usually causes someone to get really upset, either fight or bang on the door. Really, I think Taylor kind-of feeds off that; he likes to go in there and he likes to get physical with people, and he hog-ties ’em with handcuffs. He gets pleasure out of that, I think. I think he really gets off on that.
MRS. RONDEAU: What is Officer Prock like?
FORMER INMATE: Officer Prock is a pr—. I’ve met him in court. I haven’t really experienced him too much at the jail, but in the courtroom, he was standing behind Walter that day…the only impression I have of him is that he’s just a very rude man. If you’re an inmate, you’re a piece of s—- in his eyes.
I think it was wrong the day they brought Walter into court and it just happened to be the same people that Walter had gotten into it with, and they had to escort him around. With everything that’s going on, they had the same men handling Walter in the courtroom and taking him around. I’m not sure about threats. Now where he’s going to, I’m not sure; but why do they have the same people handling Walter that he got into a confrontation with…that’s what I’m wondering? In this situation, I don’t think those people should be near him.
MRS. RONDEAU: My understanding is that Officer Prock was one of them, and that Capt. Wilson was another, and I don’t know who the other two were. The photo of Walt afterward was on the internet which showed some very bad bruises. Did you happen to see Walter right before you left?
FORMER INMATE: Yes, he was actually in the same pod as me, and me and Walter spoke a lot, actually.
MRS. RONDEAU: How were you able to cope emotionally and mentally in the jail, and how well is Walter able to cope?
FORMER INMATE: Walter is every day the same man. He’s the same person every day, and everyone has so much respect for him that Walter doesn’t really have to really worry about anything. He doesn’t have any money in there right now. Walter came in and he was on the floor, and he wasn’t on the floor but a couple of days, and someone gave up their bed, gave him two mats, and they hooked Walter up. They all respect Walter a lot and they always give him extra food, commissary, drink, whatever he wants. Most of the time, Walter will be like, “No, no, no, I’m fine, I’m good; thank you.” Walter has everyone’s respect in the pod, not just for what he’s doing, but just how he carries himself, I think. Despite everything that he’s going through, he handles it very well. You can tell sometimes that he’s kind-of thinking about stuff, but he doesn’t let it affect him at all. He doesn’t break down. He has a lot of stuff going on in his mind, but he’s coping with everything very well.
MRS. RONDEAU: How did you do during your ten days?
FORMER INMATE: I’ve done incarceration in the past, and I’m trying to turn my life around. Ten days is just a nap to me. I’ve been to prison before; I’ve had to do a year in county jail for some DUIs, and it really was nothing to me. Just ten days, and I knew I was out. That’s like a light. They call you a “short-timer” and people give you a hard time for being a short-timer there, so ten days is nothing to me, really.
MRS. RONDEAU: Did you deserve to be incarcerated in the past, or do you believe you were you dealt with more harshly than you should have been for what you did?
FORMER INMATE: I deserved to be incarcerated but maybe not the way that Florida did it. I was in Florida when this happened. I believe that maybe the sentences were too long, but at the same time, I think I kind-of deserved it, and it taught me a lot.
MRS. RONDEAU: Of all the jails that you’ve been in, which one was the worst?
FORMER INMATE: Brevard County, Florida.
MRS. RONDEAU: How long were you there?
FORMER INMATE: I was there off and on for five years. There’s a lot of gang activity there; there are a lot of beatings in jail and everything…a lot of fighting going on there. It’s just a very bad jail, ma’am.
MRS. RONDEAU: Now that you’re out of the Monroe County jail, are you free and clear of the correctional system, or are you still on probation?
FORMER INMATE: I have a misdemeanor probation, and I’m going to a Steps recovery house on Monday in Knoxville. It’s like a halfway house recovery system, because I’m becoming a father here on New Year’s Eve. So I’m trying to stay off the alcohol and pot and everything and just live a sober life.
MRS. RONDEAU: You said you have a child on the way?
FORMER INMATE: Yes, ma’am.
MRS. RONDEAU: That’s wonderful. As you’re trying to turn your life around, are you going to stay in Monroe County?
FORMER INMATE: I’m going to live in Knoxville for a while, but my fiancée and I are thinking about buying a house in Greenback, maybe, but we’re not really certain. We’re not sure of our plans yet. We’re taking one day at a time.
MRS. RONDEAU: What is it like living in Monroe County?
FORMER INMATE: I consider it a “good old boys” system. It’s hard to get a job unless you’ve been living there and you’re tied into everyone else. But it’s not just that; I love the scenery; it’s probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve lived. But as far as jobs go and stuff like that, it’s kind-of hard unless you’re already in the system and tied in to other people.
MRS. RONDEAU: Are most of the jobs in county government, such as the courthouse, the sheriff’s department, public works?
FORMER INMATE: I’m not really sure where the jobs are. I’m on social security, but I find my own work: wash cars, do whatever. I try to find jobs and it seems like once I get close to getting one, for some reason I don’t get it. It’s hard, especially if you have a felony or you’re not tied in to somebody who knows everyone.
MRS. RONDEAU: Is there anything you’d like to add about your experiences at the Monroe County jail?
FORMER INMATE: I’m totally inspired by Walter, and I think he’s doing great things in Monroe County right now.
MRS. RONDEAU: I wish you a lot of luck, and thank you for sharing your experiences.
FORMER INMATE: You’re welcome, ma’am, and God bless you.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.