by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 14, 2015) — The Post & Email has received documentation of an appeal filed by Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmate Jerome L. Johnson to a “Class A” disciplinary write-up he received for his refusal to enroll in the Pro-Social Life Skills (PSLS) course at the Northwest Correctional Center (NWCX), where he is currently housed.

According to the TDOC’s website, the PSLS course is designed to assist inmates exhibiting need in the areas of “Pro-Criminal Attitude/Orientation, Anti-Social Thinking Pattern, Companions, Leisure/Recreation, and Family/Marital.”  Other classes offered by the department are tailored to offenders who have been involved in drug abuse and parole violations.

A 2011 description of the PSLS course states that it runs for “12-16 weeks.” Currently it is reported that “Run in a full time setting, the duration is 3-4 months; while run in a part time setting the duration is 4-6 months.”

NWCX’s stated mission is to “encourage all offenders to participate in rehabilitative programs” which include the programs listed on the TDOC’s website.

The Post & Email has been told that for each enrollee in the Pro-Social Life Skills class, the prison bills the federal government $3,000.  Other classes also appear to garner federal payments for each participant.

In a mailing on Thursday, we received the yellow copies of Johnson’s appeal, while on Friday we received the pink copies of the same document with a one-page handwritten letter and a typed, two-page memo directed to NWCX Warden Mike Parris.

The subject of Johnson’s memo is “PSLS Program” in boldface type (shown below).

At some point in the recent past, Johnson became acquainted with Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, who has been incarcerated at NWCX since December.  Fitzpatrick was relocated to NWCX from the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX), where he was sent one year ago following his sentencing for convictions on aggravated perjury and extortion in McMinn County.

During the standard intake process at Bledsoe, Fitzpatrick was told that he did not qualify for any TDOC educational programs. Nevertheless, he was sent to NWCX, whose focus is on education rather than on industry, manufacturing or community service.

Fitzpatrick also refused to participate in the PSLS class, as he believed that statements he was asked to make in workbook exercises and written essays would be falsely self-incriminating. Fitzpatrick’s convictions from last year were appealed on May 19 in Knoxville by his attorney, Van Irion.

Following his refusal to participate in PSLS, Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email in numerous letters received in June and July that he was threatened with physical harm by the course instructor, Terry Hopper, were he to maintain his stance. Fitzpatrick held firm and filed what he termed a “criminal complaint” against Hopper and an educational counselor, Candice Prince, who Fitzpatrick reported looked on as Hopper advanced on Fitzpatrick, backing him against the wall while threatening him with “I’ll beat you into the middle of next week!” on June 19.

One week later, Correctional Officer Lexie Smith announced to the group of inmates which included Fitzpatrick that one of them would be relocated to a different part of the prison for having allegedly accused his fellow inmates of cheating the federal government out of thousands of dollars. However, Fitzpatrick, in his letters, had accused NWCX staff of bilking the federal government, not any of the inmates.

The disciplinary hearing with which Fitzpatrick was threatened was reportedly abandoned.

NWCX also offers Adult Basic Education (ABE) toward the achievement of a high school diploma equivalency.  Once relocated, Fitzpatrick was enrolled in ABE, despite the fact that he holds respective Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.  He has asked repeatedly to be excused from ABE to no avail. Reasons offered by NWCX educational staff for his continued enrollment include that a request for proof of his high school graduation is delayed for presumably being unavailable electronically and that his first request filed on June 29 for an exemption was not received by the appropriate staff member for processing.

Fitzpatrick fits both of the criteria on page 5 of the Administrative Policies and Procedures handbook, which states that anyone 62 years of age or older or who would qualify for disability benefits upon release from prison is eligible for a waiver.  Fitzpatrick has concluded that NWCX is “running a con game” to bilk the federal government out of money by forcing inmate participation in various educational classes for which they should be exempted.

The Post & Email is not aware of Johnson’s convictions but has been told by Johnson that a post-conviction hearing in his case is expected in the near future, perhaps within 30-45 days at present.  In his appeal directed to Parris, Johnson referred to codes and acronyms used in the Administrative Policies and Procedures booklet.

As The Post & Email reported, the booklet is 26 pages long; was issued on March 15, 2015 bearing the name of TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield; and states that the Pro-Social Life Skills course “is not voluntary.”  The handbook also refers to a “PSLS community” which is undefined.

In a previous letter, Johnson reported that as a result of the write-up, he would be fined $5.00, lose his job working in the prison kitchen, forfeit privileges he earned from good behavior since his incarceration, and spend ten days in solitary confinement in what is termed “the Hole.”

Johnson suspects that the upholding of his conviction for refusing to take part in the class is racially-motivated and has filed a Title VI Civil Rights violation complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Coordination and Compliance section of the Civil Rights Division.

NWCX’s Mission Statement reads:

Johnson’s memo to Parris is as follows:

Johnson’s appeal reads as follows:

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