by Sharon Rondeau

(Dec. 23, 2015) — In a letter received on Monday, NWCX inmate Jerome L. Johnson informed The Post & Email that he has been inexplicably relocated from the minimum-security building where he was housed to a medium-security area populated by a significant number of gang members.

A letter from fellow inmate the same day Walter Francis Fitzpatrick III corroborated Johnson’s news. Fitzpatrick’s letter reminded us that Johnson has been moved to “the Thunderdome,” or Building 1, considered to be the most dangerous of the three buildings which comprise the NWCX complex in Tiptonville, TN.

Johnson believes he is the object of retaliation resulting from his having filed a civil rights complaint against Warden Mike Parris and prison staff this past summer. Johnson has since filed his complaint with Tennessee and federal officials.

His grievance arose after he was treated differently for the same perceived infraction than was Fitzpatrick. Johnson is black and Fitzpatrick white.  Following Johnson’s filing of the complaint, however, Fitzpatrick was declared guilty from having declined to participate, as did Johnson, in the Pro-Social Life Skills program, whose workbooks require the inmate to admit to thinking patterns and behavior which led up to criminal activity and their incarceration.

Both men believe that participating in the class will compel them to self-incriminate.

Because he refused to participate in the PSLS course, Johnson lost his job working in the prison kitchen and has been threatened with ten days in solitary confinement along with a $5.00 fine and loss of privileges earned for good behavior.

On July 24, the Thunderdome was the scene of a violent uprising which sent eight inmates to the hospital with serious injuries. Fitzpatrick reported at the time that Parris had unsuccessfully attempted to keep news of the incident from reaching the press.  The Thunderdome remained on “lockdown” for several months afterward, with the two other buildings in the complex maintained on “partial lockdown.”

Prison safety and staffing levels were topics of several legislative subcommittee hearings over the summer during which correction officers testified to the dangerous conditions they face each day.  Also at issue was a change in the way overtime pay is calculated instituted in August 2014 by Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Commissioner Derrick Schofield.

Since overtime pay became more difficult to accrue, more than 300 correction officers have resigned statewide. Others have been seriously injured in incidents not classified in official reports as “assault” brought to light by The Tennessean and at least one retired deputy warden.

By state law, prison internal investigation reports are not available to the public. Also by state law, Public Records Act requests made by anyone residing outside of Tennessee are routinely ignored or denied.

A portion of Johnson’s letter notifying The Post & Email of his unexpected relocation appears below.

A form indicating that Johnson has been placed into the PSLS course against his stated will was included with Johnson’s communication.

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