by Sharon Rondeau

(Jun. 6, 2016) — In late April, Tennessee resident Bridget Thweatt spoke to Nashville-based television station WSMV regarding limited visitation time with her husband, James, who was then incarcerated at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville, TN.

In addition to Ms. Thweatt, nine other female relatives of inmates expressed frustration with frequent lockdowns resulting in truncated visitation sessions after making long trips to the prison.

The facility, owned and operated by private concern Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), opened in January with a severe staffing shortage and has consequently been in a constant state of “lockdown,” as reported by numerous inmates.  The Post & Email exclusively reported on Sunday that by a May 26 company memorandum, TTCC was declared to be on continuous lockdown until further notice.

Over the last month, The Post & Email has received multiple letters from TTCC inmates consistently reporting confinement to their cells virtually all of the time, which is not normal protocol for minimum-security prisoners.  Other problems cited are poor food which is never warm; no exercise time; a lack of employment opportunities, no hot water, irregular medication dispensing, assaults, and no ability to use the facility’s law library.

On May 25, the AP reported that TTCC ceased accepting new inmates approximately two weeks before.

An inmate letter not previously released which graphically describes the conditions at TTCC as of May 30 will be published in the very near future.  “This C.C.A. prison is not allowing me to do any thing [sic] but sit in a cage 24 hours a day,” wrote the inmate in a letter received on Saturday.

Private prisons have been a topic of extensive reportage by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News.

Thweatt’s husband, James, was relocated to another CCA prison in Whiteville, TN shortly after she spoke with the media, which she believes was done out of retaliation.  “When they moved him from Trousdale, the guard, a Sergeant Vance, told him, ‘Now tell your ****in’ wife to go to the news media now,'” she told us.

He was moved a second time to a third CCA-run prison within the last ten days.

On Friday evening Thweatt told us that “medically, he’s not doing well” after having undergone “five surgeries” on his neck at Centennial Hospital with poor results.

“They did that surgery on his neck and never did follow-up care with him,” she said, “and either the cadaver bone is gone again, or the hardware is spilling in his neck.  I’ve been fighting for two years to get him to an outside doctor for follow-up.”

She continued:

He has night sweats; he’s soaked in his bed. he has chronic pain.  He is severely stressed because he cannot lay down and sleep at all.  I just talked to him; his mother has been passed away for two years, and he said, “Baby, you’re not gonna believe this, but I was fixin’ to ask you, ‘Have you heard from my momma?'”

I said, “What’s the matter with you?  Are you delirious?”  He’s exhausted. He can’t sleep; he can’t get any relief from the pain.  I’m very concerned about him, but they do things on their time frame.

Ms. Thweatt visited James on a Sunday while he was at Whiteville and reported a similar circumstance to that which she described to WSMV of TTCC:  “We were visiting, and during the middle of the visit, they told us that the facility had gone on lockdown and all visitors had to leave.  As we left, the internal affairs guy was coming in, and all of us heard him say that an inmate had ‘beat his celly to death,'” she said.

“Celly” is vernacular for “cellmate.”

While a similar incident in Whiteville was reported in 2012 by WSMV, the incident Ms. Thweatt reported does not appear to have reached the public as of this writing.  Inmate attacks on Tennessee correction officers resulting in death have been reported and prosecuted in the past.

Thweatt’s husband is now at South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), which she said is a bit closer to her.  “At this point, I wouldn’t care if he was a block down the road.  My concern is this man’s medical condition.  He has one lung and a history of seizures since a car accident.  He’s suffering and they have no compassion for that,” she said.

Of his surgery two years ago, she told us:

They put in cadaver bone during the operation, and it disintegrated in his neck.  Then a screw broke off during surgery; the hardware was not secured in his neck, and he is moving his Adam’s apple to the side to swallow.

I have a copy of his medical records, and they botched the surgery.

He turned in four medical requests and got to go to the clinic yesterday, and the nurse just told him, point-blank, that she could not guarantee that he’s going to get to see a doctor.  He told her, “Lady, at this point it’s an emergency.  I can’t keep going through this; I’m stretched to the max.”  He told me he broke down crying to her.

He has jerking in his left arm and drops his utensils while he eats.  He can’t lay down at all because he has jerking inside his neck.  I’m no doctor, but I think there’s something sitting on the nerve.

They never took him for follow-up visits after the five back-to-back surgeries.

At the time he had that done and he was in a step-down unit from the surgery, a guard by the last name of “Washington” had jerked him by the ankle chain – because they keep ankle chains on them when they’re in the  hospital like that – and the man tried to suffocate him with a pillow.  He pressed his call-button light and the nurses’ station heard every bit of it, and they did not even act on it when he told them, “Get somebody in here; I’m in fear for my life.”

There was a captain sitting in the room, and this particular guard left his post from another inmate and came into my husband’s room at 1:30 on the morning to share chicken with the captain.  My husband asked him, “Please don’t eat that in front of me; I haven’t been able to eat in so long and I’m starved to death.”  That’s when the guard jerked him by the ankle chain, spit on his face, and told him, “Man, I’ll suffocate you right here; there’s not nobody gonna miss you.”  I called the hospital ethics board on that one.

At that point, The Post & Email asked Ms. Thweatt if she received a response from the hospital, to which she replied:

The lady told me that I was right; that he was in their care, and they should have done something and didn’t, and they would use this as a training tool and apologized. That was it.

I contacted [TDOC Deputy Commissioner] Jason Woodall and he said he’d investigate it; he was well aware of it; and all that guard got was a three-day suspension.  An inmate gets charged if they touch a guard, so why can’t a guard be charged if they touch an inmate like that?

My husband at that time was totally disabled in a step-down unit, and there’s no way he could have defended himself.

“Is there any indication that they moved him to SCCF to help him?” The Post & Email asked.

Oh, no, absolutely not. They told him when they moved him from Whiteville that they were going to move him to [Lois DeBerry] Special Needs Facility in Nashville, which is the medical-needs facility. He was the only one on the van to transport.  They pulled up to South Central and he said he asked the van driver, “How many are you picking up here?” and he said, “We aren’t picking up none; we’re dropping you off.”  My husband said, “You told me you were taking me to Special Needs.”  He said the man laughed at him and said, “This is your Special Needs.”

“You’re not the only one who has told me this.  Why are the guards and people in Tennessee government seemingly so vindictive?  Why do they like to see people suffering?”

Because they feel that they’re criminals and that they’re not worthy of being treated with any decency.  My husband said that a unit manager at South Central was telling an inmate to “Shut the **** up.”  Now that’s really professional in her job.

An inmate got into it with two guards today.

During the orientation he got at SCCF, he told them that he needed some help, and the lady said, “CCA’s not going to pay for your medical bills.”  But TDOC isn’t paying its bills on the inmates, either.  The general hospital here – we call it Meharry Hubbard – takes inmates but is now in trouble financially.  Someone has stepped in to try to take it over, but if TDOC would pay its bills where they take these inmates, that probably would help that hospital.  And yet the taxpayers are the ones who are going to make up the difference, and we are in the form of insurance premiums, which are going up because they’re not paying these bills.

“When will you see your husband next?”

I’m going in to check on him tomorrow because he’s telling me he has swelling in his face and hands.

Over more than six years, The Post & Email has exposed corruption in the grand jury process in Tennessee, which brings every criminal indictment into question.

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