GANGS DOMINATE PRIVATELY-RUN PRISON WHOSE MANAGEMENT WILL NOT ANSWER QUESTIONS
by Sharon Rondeau
“Something is going to go down,” one inmate predicted at the beginning of this month as a result of the frequent 23-hour lockdowns, lack of employment and medical care, and other harsh components of daily life there.
Neither Warden Blair Leibach nor his secretary will answer calls from the media, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), TTCC’s owner/operator, has refused to respond to The Post & Email’s requests for comment made last spring.
On Thursday, Sally Yates of the U.S. Department of Justice announced that contracts with private companies currently operating federal prisons would not be renewed, which will affect CCA and The GEO Group. However, the decision does not apply to private prisons utilized by state governments.
Although the Associated Press reported in May that TTCC had stopped accepting new inmates as a result of various irregularities noted in a report by a Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) official from mid-March, the relative of the individual with whom we spoke was moved there relatively recently.
For an unknown reason, the AP removed its article detailing the documents it had acquired through public records requests as well as the critical report issued by TDOC’s Tony Howerton, although reproductions of it remain on some websites, one of which The Post & Email preserved for its records.
One of the outlets at which the article appeared and where it remained after some of the others were pulled, the Albany Times-Union, now also shows an error message at the url. The Yahoo! News version remains intact as of this writing.
In the spring, WSMV in Nashville interviewed several relatives who described a frustrating visitation experience at TTCC which began, for many, with an hours-long drive to the facility followed by an hours-long waiting period to visit their loved ones. Relatives have an unusual lack of “control” over the facility on the part of management; orders from staff prohibiting the use of restrooms and inmates’ use of vending machines, the latter of which is reportedly permitted at Tennessee’s state-run facilities; and problems with head-counting procedures, which Howerton mentioned in his report.
Several relatives have reported that gang members perform nightly lockdown and essentially run the prison from day to day.
In dozens of letters received since late April, when an influx of inmates arrived from other facilities to begin filling the beds at TTCC, conditions have been described as “harsh,” with as many as nine deaths reportedly occurring over several months. Inmates have related being unable to obtain medical care or their prescribed medications on-schedule, if at all, with one inmate observing diabetic patients rushed to the hospital “because they didn’t get their insulin.”
Consequently, TTCC inmates have been kept on a 23-hour lockdown a majority of the time, even if they were classified, as were many, as “minimum-security” upon their arrival. TTCC is classified as a “medium-security” prison, which is inconsistent with the conglomeration of prisoners now housed there with insufficient staffing.
The relatives’s Friday night interview corroborated many of the reports The Post & Email has received over the last four months, although she said that embracing at the commencement and conclusion of visitation is now permitted.
However, another inmate was reportedly murdered in his cell by a slashing of his throat early this month.
Of the visitation process, the relative told us:
On my first visit, I got there around 3:00. They started a count, and so they wouldn’t let anybody back. Two and a half hours later, I kept asking why the count was taking so long. She said, “It doesn’t usually take this long. Usually it’s 30 minutes; evidently they can’t account for everybody.” So that was a red flag.
I waited two and a half hours, finally got back to see him, and he wasn’t even in there. They didn’t call them and tell them they had a visitor until after we had gotten back there and sat down.
Nobody explained the rules of visitation. There is a square table with four chairs, and they just said, “Take a table,” so I did. I sat down, and he finally came in and sat down beside me, and we were sitting there talking, and I said, “This is a very strange atmosphere,” and he said, “You have no idea.”
A few minutes later, a security guard came around and made him move to sit directly across from me.
“Were you ever told that?” The Post & Email asked, to which the relative responded:
When I first walked in, I specifically asked the security guard,”Do I just sit anywhere?” and he said, “Yes, just pick any table, and that was it.”
So he moved across the table from me. Every table was full. I started to look around; there was a man and a woman directly behind me visiting their son. They asked him to move around across the table. I looked at them and thought, “How strange is this?” because all the black people were sitting next to their visitors.
“Was the prison guard black?” we asked.
No, he was white. I think the officer was afraid to ask the black to move. They will not say anything to the blacks; the black gang members are running the prison.
CCA needs to be very afraid, because they’re covering up some bad stuff that doesn’t need to be covered up. It’s out of control. They are so short-staffed that they have brought in people from other prisons and are putting them up in hotels.
The relative added that the move of her loved one to TTCC was a surprise given that several online articles she had found indicated that the facility “wasn’t ready” to accept additional inmates. “He said, ‘This place is so bad; they are not ready for inmates; they can’t keep up with anybody; they keep us locked in the cells; I’ve been to the chow hall twice since I’ve been here…’ it’s just horrible,” the relative quoted her loved one as having reacted once relocated to TTCC.
The prison is frequently placed in “lockdown,” with a recent occurrence attributed to a “TB test” being administered to inmates. “They like to wander around and we can’t find them, so that’s why they had them locked up” a relative was reportedly told of the cause of the most recent lockdown and her relative’s inability to contact her by phone.
“There is no order; it’s as if they’ve thrown these people in there; they don’t know how to separate the gangs; they don’t know how to separate the maximum-security from the minimum-security inmates. It’s obvious; nine people have been killed since January, and this may be the tenth,” we were told.
The relative said that inmates’ ability to place phone calls is difficult because of the need to constantly “look around” during the call. “The phones are ‘owned’ by certain gangs,” she said. “You have to ask permission to use one.”
An inmate reportedly was observed in his cell “shooting up” with an unknown substance. Last year, a documentary produced by WSMV’s I-Team revealed drug use, the smuggling-in of contraband, at least one corrupt prison guard, and the prevalence of uncontrolled gang members within Tennessee’s prisons which prompted legislative hearings.
Programs which inmates are required to complete in order to be approved for parole are nonexistent thus far at TTCC. The relative confirmed that jobs, which the incoming inmates were accustomed to holding at their former facilities, are not available. “Of all places, you have got to have order in a prison, or it’s an unsafe atmosphere. A prison’s a prison, and there are going to be gangs, but when you throw in maximum-security, violent offenders in with minimum-security people, you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s harder on the workers, too; they don’t know what they’re doing from one minute to the next,” she continued. Somebody’s got to bring in people who know how to run a prison.”
“There is no control. It’s going to take a lot to get control of that prison again. The gangs are running it…I don’t know what it’s going to take… a SWAT team to come in there…When they come in, they’re already classified; already know what gangs they’re in from their tattoos…why would they throw them all into one big pod?”
“In the other facility, the gangs were there, but they didn’t all run together. Where he was before, I would go back to that in a heartbeat. I could sleep at night because I knew where he was and I knew he was safe. Here, you cannot call up there and ask them if he’s OK. They don’t care, and they’re not going to tell you,” the relative said. “To have somebody locked in a cell all the time…if you keep them away from talking to their family on a regular basis, they’re just going to lose their mind. To have somebody locked in a cell all the time, that’s just inhumane. They’re not animals — some are, I’ll give you that — but you can’t just keep them locked up all the time.”