by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 3, 2015) — On Monday, The Post & Email received a second letter from NWCX inmate Bryant K. Lewis expressing his deep concern over the reportedly worsening crisis within the Tennessee state prison system encompassing low staffing levels and dangerous gang activity.

The Post & Email received a similar letter from Lewis and published it on Saturday, August 1.

The Tennessean and other local publications have reported on a shortage of corrections officers apparently caused by a change commenced last summer in the way overtime pay is accrued. At the same time, Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) officials received significant pay raises over those of their predecessors in 2010.

On July 24, eight gang members housed at NWCX were taken to area hospitals following a violent altercation.  On the same day, another instance of prison violence occurred at the Western Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) which TDOC officials reportedly denied.

In 2011, TDOC Derrick Schofield became TDOC commissioner, after which he instituted a number of changes, including the overtime provision rolled out one year ago.  The TDOC states that its mission is “to operate safe and secure prisons to enhance public safety in Tennessee through incarceration and rehabilitation of felony offenders.”

Enclosed with Mr. Lewis’s letter is an article from a newspaper titled “The Commercial Appeal” containing an article datelined “Tiptonville, Tenn.” and attributed to the Associated Press. The article is titled, “two prisons go on lockdown for violence amid staffing shortage.”

The article was published online on July 27, 2015 and reports that the TDOC “also has four communications officers now, compared with one in 2010 according to payroll lists from the Tennessee Department of Human Resources. Neysa Taylor, the agency’s communications director, makes $86,400 a year — $17,880 more than her predecessor made in 2010.”

The “starting wage for correctional officers is $27,070,” the AP reported, also citing the reportage of The Tennessean.

On Monday morning, The Post & Email contacted Communications Director Neysa Taylor to advise her of the letter we received from Lee Baxter over the weekend from his son, Timothy Aaron Baxter, who is suffering from a staph infection in his upper jaw and has been unable to undergo anticipated surgery from medical complications.  In his letter, written last week, Baxter wrote to his father that he was “about to give up.”

Mr. Lewis is very concerned about the threat of gang violence within Tennessee prisons and reports that he himself has been assaulted while incarcerated.

He also references a prison break from NWCX not widely publicized in the mainstream media but reported by The Tennessean on the day it occurred, last Wednesday.

Indicating that he has been housed at NWCX since 2002, Lewis stated, “The violence I have seen is really heinous acts. I myself have suffered a brutal beating just last year, at the hands of GANGs.”

In his letter received on Saturday, Lewis stated that he is several months away from an eligibility-for-release date.  At present, he can be reached at:

Bryant K. Lewis #163260
960 State Route 212
Tiptonville, TN 38079

Lewis learned of The Post & Email from Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, who is been imprisoned for nearly a year on convictions of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” stemming from his numerous attempts to bring evidence of corruption to the McMinn County grand jury.

Since 2009, Fitzpatrick has reported on the systemic corruption within the Tennessee judiciary and greater state government. His reports have been corroborated by numerous other victims of a system which denies constitutional due process to criminal defendants and utilizes hand-picked grand jury foremen.

Atty. Stephen Pidgeon, who represented Fitzpatrick in 2010, stated that Tennessee’s courts are “hopelessly corrupt.”  Fitzpatrick’s current attorney, Van Irion, commented after Fitzpatrick’s sentencing last August that he now feared approaching a grand jury for fear that his First Amendment rights would be criminalized.

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