“IF I MAKE IT THROUGH THIS HUNGER STRIKE…”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 1, 2017) — On Saturday, The Post & Email received a letter, now few and far between, from Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmate Grenda Ray Harmer, #88710, who launched a hunger strike on June 5.
Harmer said his protest stemmed from poor treatment he received upon his arrival at the Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) on June 3, at which time he reported the confiscation of all of his personal possessions and placement in segregation without cause.
Harmer is 64 years old and has several medical conditions which he has reported have remained unassessed for many months, including while he was housed at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) and the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC), both owned and operated by CoreCivic.
A written response from CoreCivic claims that Channel 4’s coverage contained “numerous factual errors, blatant omissions and gross mischaracterizations.”
Many of the claims made by relatives and a former CoreCivic chaplain in Channel 4’s Demetria Kalodimos’s series have also been communicated to The Post & Email in letters, emails and telephone calls recorded with the subject’s permission. As with Kalodimos’s claim made in her reportage that she was unable to tour TTCC, The Post & Email received no response to several emails requesting comment as well as a formal letter written to a CoreCivic executive in January containing written inmate complaints, particularly as to the medical care offered at Trousdale.
Harmer’s letters dating from June 5 and forward indicate that no medical intervention has been offered since he stopped eating after lunchtime that day.
He now describes his current condition as extremely “weak.”
Harmer said he refused food based on a “threat” he alleged was directed at him by intake officers which caused him to fear that his food would be poisoned.
Saturday’s letter indicates that some of his personal belongings have been returned but that his boots, hygiene items and some personal effects continue to be withheld. “They’re still going to throw my Union Supply boots (dessert [sic] boots) away. For me to come off this hunger strike they have to give me my demands:” he wrote, then enumerated them in a five-item list.
“I’ve done nothing wrong since I’ve been here,” he later wrote. “If I make it through this hunger strike it means they’ve met my demands.”
On June 14, a letter was sent to MCCX Warden Shawn Phillips by the No Exceptions Prison Collective (NEPC) detailing what was known at that time of Harmer’s situation, which includes his having been placed for 30 days in solitary confinement without a legitimate reason and having been deprived of his medications on several occasions, including at MCCX.
In Harmer’s letter informing us of his last relocation, he related that when he asked a correction officer why he was being placed in segregation, the response was, “For whatever I decide.”
Harmer added that his pens and writing paper were confiscated, with a pen but no paper provided later. It is The Post & Email’s understanding that a private person is sending the paper on which Harmer’s recent letter was written, while earlier ones sent from MCCX were written in very fine print on scraps of paper and the reverse sides of TDOC internal memos.
It is unknown at this time whether or not NEPC received a response.
In a letter Harmer sent to another acquaintance and shared with The Post & Email, Harmer acknowledged that the “outcome” of his hunger strike might not be “good.”
In his correspondence received Saturday, Harmer outlined his demands, which include his relocation, if he survives, to the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), where he was housed prior to his July 2016 move to TTCC and where he was employed in the “Wood Plant.”
He also demands that he not be placed in a cell with a gang member.
Uncontrolled gang activity is a constant complaint among Tennessee inmates, whether they are housed in state-run or CoreCivic-operated institutions.
The Post & Email can confirm that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the TDOC Legal Affairs Department, TDOC “Mental Health” support unit, TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor and her deputy, Alison Randgaard and MCCX administration have all been made aware of Harmer’s situation.
His hunger strike was also a topic of discussion on the Nooganomics radio show on June 23, and a major media outlet has been notified. In early February, The Post & Email notified the White House as to the reported conditions within Tennessee’s 14 prisons but did not receive a response.
On March 31, The Nashville Scene reported that three TDOC had committed suicide over the preceding month, attributed to “personal stress level” by TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker.