IN PRIVATELY-OWNED PRISONS
by Sharon Rondeau
TTCC is owned and operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Opened in January 2016, the prison was noted to have staffing problems and other issues by a Department of Correction (TDOC) administrator just two months later as reported by the Associated Press.
The Post & Email’s inquiries to CoreCivic officials have remained unanswered, and the TDOC, which oversees the private prisons in the state along with its own facilities, has denied allegations of a “riot” last Thanksgiving among gang members and other reports of dangerous conditions.
An outside organization which advocates for safer prisons and humane treatment, No Exceptions Prison Cooperative (NEPC) contends that the reports from TTCC inmates and their relatives are accurate, although the TDOC has denied it.
In late February, then-TTCC inmate Grenda Harmer was told he would no longer be administered three longstanding prescription medications because they were “no longer on the formulary” and he could purchase them himself in the prison commissary.
The removal of one of the medicines, Prilosec, caused severe burning from Harmer’s acid reflux disease to return and eventually lead to chest pain, which is a documented symptom of the untreated condition.
Naproxen, which he takes to achieve relief from a degenerative joint disease, was denied him, as was Terazosin, a muscle relaxer which he takes to assure that his bladder will function normally.
On March 16, The Post & Email contacted TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor and a spokesman for Correct Care Solutions (CCS) about the withdrawing of Harmer’s medications. A letter received several days later from Harmer reported that the Prilosec had been restored the following day.
We received no response from the CCS employee nor from Taylor.
Harmer is a whistleblower who documents departures from prison protocol and has contacted TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker and CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger in the past. An assiduous writer, Harmer has documented alleged safety and protocol violations on the part of correction officers; inmate drug overdoses and at least one death earlier this year; and the enrollment of ineligible inmates into the Pro-Social Life Skills (PSLS) course in an apparent effort for prison officials to capitalize on federal dollars paid for each student.
As with other TTCC inmates who correspond with this publication, Harmer reported having been “employed” in a prison job which he did not hold and even receiving compensation for it.
Former Tennessee inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III documented the same phenomenon while he was incarcerated in 2015 at NWCX, a state-run prison in Tiptonville. Inmate Jerome L. Johnson wrote that he, too, was enrolled in the class against his will and retaliated against for refusing to participate, an action which led to a Title VI civil rights complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Post & Email has received documentation from the OCR indicating that Johnson’s complaint, which he said stemmed from discrimination based on race, is under review.
In a recent letter, Harmer stated that medical care was far superior at TCIX, another state-run facility in Only, TN. However, The Post & Email has received typewritten and signed letters from inmates there alleging brutality toward inmates on the part of correction officers.
On April 5, Harmer was abruptly told to pack his belongings for a relocation which he believes occurred as a result of his communications with this writer. He reported that angry staffers referred to us as “that woman in Massachusetts” in apparent confusion between two adjoining New England states. Harmer said his cell was ransacked and personal documentation confiscated, some of which was returned but of which some remains outstanding, according to a recent letter.
After being told by TTCC staff that he was “under investigation,” Harmer said a staffer gave him a “thumbs-up” sign as he was walked past her to the segregation area.
Shortly after his arrival at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), another CoreCivic-run prison, Harmer alleged that his eyeglasses and a foam wedge he uses for sleep following a reported joint surgery were confiscated by the medical department and not returned. In several recent letters, he related that he requested to see a doctor to renew his prescriptions. He reported that medical staff responded that it would take two weeks for a doctor to evaluate him.
Many observers speculate that CoreCivic is attempting to save money by allegedly denying necessary medications to inmates.
It has been exactly 30 days since Harmer’s relocation. In three recent letters received on Monday, Harmer said he had not seen a physician, had been placed in segregation on the allegation of “possible intimidation,” and exhausted his supply of prescription medications.
On April 27, Harmer wrote that he was divested of allowable personal items and unceremoniously placed “on a piece of steel for about 6 hours freezing.”
Harmer, who is 64 years old, said that the withholding of the Terazosin, in particular, “will kill me,” which he reiterated in a letter dated April 28, 2017 addressed to Parker.