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“SOMETHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN”
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 28, 2016) — Since first reporting on May 17 about the conditions at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville, TN as related by an inmate at the facility, The Post & Email has spoken with a number of individuals who corroborated his account of severe short-staffing leading to a “lockdown” imposed virtually around-the-clock, even for minimum-security inmates.
Hartsville is located in Trousdale County approximately one hour from Nashville.
On Friday, The Post & Email became aware that not only have WSMV in Nashville and the Associated Press issued articles about the troubled facility over the last several weeks, but also WKRN in Nashville has been reporting on the developing situation, including most recently an interview with the wife of an inmate who corroborated our contact’s reports that inmates are confined to their cells nearly all of the time.
TTCC is operated by private contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which claims to “offer offenders a variety of dynamic evidence-based reentry and rehabilitation programs, including education, addictions treatment, GED preparation and testing, post-secondary studies, life skills, employment training, recreational options, faith-based services and work opportunities.”
However, such services have been reported as absent at TTCC, which opened in January, because of understaffing. On Wednesday, a regular visitor with an incarcerated relative told The Post & Email that according to the inmate relative, gang members are tasked with performing nightly “lockdown,” accompanied by threats of physical harm if anyone appears non-compliant.
In regard to educational programs, Bridget Thweatt, who has spoken with WSMV about visitation challenges, told us, “Every week we go up there, and they are so understaffed that they do not have any control over running that facility. They don’t have control over running the four that they have, period,” referring to the three other facilities CCA operates in Tennessee.
According to the AP and WKRN, TDOC Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton issued a memo in March following a two-day inspection directing that no additional inmates be brought to TTCC, although The Post & Email’s inmate contact arrived in late April.
Another inmate whose girlfriend maintains regular contact with whom we spoke on Friday arrived on April 12.
Spokespersons for both CCA and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) have declined to respond to questions about TTCC facility conditions and staffing to this publication.
According to the AP on Wednesday, as reported in The New York Times, TTCC ceased accepting new inmates two weeks before, despite being approximately two-thirds full.
On Thursday, The Post & Email received a letter from its inmate contact in which he related that gang members continue to pose a threat to the other inmates.
A regular visitor to TTCC told us that her relative was badly beaten by gang members when he first arrived in prison, a CCA facility in Whiteville. “There were five guys who came into the cell, and because he wouldn’t join a gang, he was beaten up really bad,” she said. “He’s in there for something he didn’t even do. I know there’s a lot of them that say that, but the system in Tennessee is so corrupt,” she reported. “They had nothing but circumstantial evidence, and nothing fit.”
She said that at TTCC, her inmate relative’s “good time” has been taken, which she believes will “keep him in prison longer.”
The woman whose boyfriend arrived at TTCC on April 12 reported that he was previously housed at NWCX, about which The Post & Email has extensively reported through eyewitness accounts from Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III and many other inmates for over a year.
“He came from Northwest, and I thought that things couldn’t get worse when he was there,” the girlfriend told us. “He was moved to Northwest in October 2015. At Northwest, there were lots of threats and gang activity. He was on pending PC (protective custody) four different times. I have a whole list of times I’ve called there, left messages, telling them that I was worried about his safety. No one would ever talk to me or call me back. When I did speak to someone, they told me that they couldn’t tell me anything. Finally, he did get on protective custody once he was actually assaulted and there were marks. They had kept saying there wasn’t proof.
“He never had any issues until he moved to Northwest. One of the ladies I talked to about my concerns for his safety at the prison admitted to me, ‘Well, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s the most dangerous prison in Tennessee, and nobody wants to be here.'”
The girlfriend said that when her boyfriend was in “segregation, pending PC” at Northwest, he sometimes did not receive a dinner tray.
“Northwest was terrible, and now he’s saying, ‘I’d rather be at Northwest'” she told us. “We thought TTCC was going to be better, but we’ve found out that it isn’t.”
Phone calls have been brief, she said, reporting that four telephones service a pod of approximately 150 inmates. Her boyfriend told her that he registered for prison employment but has received no response, which is consistent with what The Post & Email’s inmate contact reported.
She said that in letters she has received, her boyfriend has described the food as “absolutely terrible,” a comment made by other inmates’ relatives as well.
The girlfriend corroborated other reports that the mail appears to have been held or delayed going in to TTCC over the last 1-2 weeks. “I write him every single day, so I send six letters a week, and when I spoke with him on Tuesday, he hadn’t gotten any letters in a week and a half,” she said. “I’ve been seeming to get his letters a lot more than he has,” she said.
“I feel as if they’re supposed to help rehabilitate them, but they’re just beating them down and making them worse,” she told us.
Regarding purchases of writing materials and other items which are made through a prison commissary system, she said that her boyfriend sent a commissary list from NWCX and one from TTCC. “The differences which are frustrating include the cost of paper and pens,” she said. “At Northwest it’s 38 cents for a writing pad; at TTCC it’s $1.11. That seems crazy to me. A pen is five cents at Northwest; at TTCC it’s 60 cents. It’s not that much money, but it is a lot of money when you’re in there.”
“They say they encourage them to write letters and have contact with the outside, because it does help them get through their sentence, but they’re making it harder for them to do that,” she said. She added that her boyfriend was not made aware that money was added to his account. “He had no idea. It’s a little thing, but it all adds up,” she said.
Regarding TTCC gang activity, she said her boyfriend reported that “there was an inmate who was attacked by three guys, and it was all gang-related, and the CO didn’t report it.”
“Something’s going to happen,” she said he has reiterated to her of the prison conditions. Other relatives have issued the same ominous warning.
“He’s been locked down a lot, and that’s probably the only way the staff can control them,” the girlfriend said of the situation with gang members and potential for violence.
She said according to her boyfriend, inmates have been “moved around in there like crazy” recently, but she wasn’t sure why. Referencing Howerton’s memo, she said, “That was written on March 17, and my boyfriend was moved there April 12, so he shouldn’t even have been moved there once they knew that was happening.”
Regarding crime inside prisons, federal investigations in Maryland and Georgia have netted arrests of dozens of individuals, including corrections officers, for allegedly facilitating the delivery of drugs, cellphones and other contraband to inmates and allowing gang members to “take over the asylum” in the Maryland case.
While The Post & Email has received inmate accounts of similar activity at NWCX and notified the FBI, nothing appears to have been done.
On May 25, WKRN reported that “while investigating complaints from former employees about work conditions, training, and safety concerns inside the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) facility,” meaning TTCC, it discovered a Facebook page operated and updated by “a male inmate serving a 38-year prison sentence for attempted second-degree murder.”
WKRN quoted TDOC spokeswoman Alison Randgaard as having said of the discovery, “With respect to contraband, our dedicated staff and agents are constantly vigilant and work closely with our law enforcement partners. The introduction of contraband of any kind by anyone will not be tolerated and we will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”
Randgaard has not responded in the past to correspondence from The Post & Email, and TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor no longer responds to us despite our firsthand accounts of illegal activity at NWCX.
Concerns about “sanitation” at TTCC reported by WKRN through a statement from Howerton corroborate those of The Post & Email’s contact. Disciplinary and segregation reports were also missing, Howerton noted after his inspection, as well as a “video involving an inmate who was pepper sprayed even though the inmate appeared to be compliant.”