LEARNING-DISABLED MAN FORCED TO TAKE CLASS FROM WHICH HE WILL NEVER GRADUATE, DESPITE VOCATIONAL SKILLS AND AVAILABLE PROGRAMS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 30, 2015) — The Post & Email is in receipt of a letter dated “15 August 2015” from Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, an inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville, TN wherein he related that an inmate with intellectual and physical disabilities has been “held hostage” in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) course for nearly two years.
Fitzpatrick himself is currently enrolled in the same class despite his high level of post-secondary education.
In an article published on Saturday evening, The Post & Email reported that Fitzpatrick has been attempting to opt out of the ABE class based on not only his Master’s-level educational achievement, but also on the grounds that Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) policy allows for anyone age 62 or older or who would qualify for disability benefits following his release to apply for an exemption.
Fitzpatrick turned 63 on January 27, 2015 and was receiving a disability payment from the U.S. Navy, along with his pension, for a shoulder injury incurred during a helicopter crash in the waters of the Persian Gulf on July 31, 1987.
In late June, when Fitzpatrick was enrolled in ABE, he was told that a Release of Information form would be sent to his high school in California requesting a copy of his diploma or other proof that he had graduated. Later, however, Fitzpatrick discovered in the policy handbook that such a request should not have been necessary in his case.
In late May, Fitzpatrick was told he would soon be enrolled in the Pro-Social Life Skills course, a behavior modification program aimed at assisting hardened criminals to change their thinking patterns and develop positive relationships with others. When Fitzpatrick declined to participate, claiming that doing so required him to make self-incriminatory statements, he reported having been threatened with physical harm by the instructor, Terry Hopper, while another staff member, Candice Prince, looked on and said nothing.
On June 19, Fitzpatrick wrote to The Post & Email describing the confrontation which had occurred earlier that day between Hopper and him, a report which The Post & Email published and sent to TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor, who provided no response.
On June 26, Fitzpatrick reported having been released from the Pro-Social Life Skills class, moved out of the guild in which class participants are housed, and relocated to a different section of the prison while Hopper and others bid him a sardonic adieu.
Fitzpatrick filed what he termed a “criminal complaint” against Hopper and Prince. While disciplinary action was threatened against Fitzpatrick for his refusal to take part in the class, it apparently was not pursued. The facility is, however, reportedly pursuing disciplinary action against inmate Jerome Johnson, who also declined to participate in the class for the same reason as Fitzpatrick.
The Post & Email has contacted another Tennessee official in regard to the “prisoners-for-profit” operation Fitzpatrick has described which uses inmates who are unfit for or who have already completed classes as a “cash cow” for the prison, delivering up to a reported $3,000 from the federal government per enrollee.
Over the summer, Fitzpatrick reported that one inmate has taken the Pro-Social Life Skills class four times, including while an inmate in federal prison. In another case, an 84-year-old man who walks with a cane has been forced to participate in ABE without any hope of graduating based on his cognitive abilities and age.
In his August 15/16 letter, Fitzpatrick focused on the case of Mr. Howard Lark, also known as “Chico,” who has been a student in the ABE class for nearly two years despite an inability to complete it. Mr. Lark has requested placement in a vocational program, as his work history includes skilled maintenance and laborer positions, to no avail.
Beginning at the bottom of page 1, Fitzpatrick wrote:
The letter to which Fitzpatrick referred follows.
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.