“I BELIEVE STAFF ORCHESTRATED IT”
by Sharon Rondeau
Harmer remained overnight in the prison as medical staff attempted to “stabilize” his blood pressure, which he later said had fallen to 70/36. As the effort was unsuccessful, Harmer was transported to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where he stayed until July 8.
Harmer said he commenced the hunger strike on June 5 in response to MCCX correction officers’ confiscation of his personal property consisting of clothing, footwear, grooming supplies, personal photos and writing materials. He reported that despite that, he was instructed to sign a form stating that he was in possession of his belongings.
Refusing to sign the form, Harmer was placed in the “high security” section of the prison, which is the equivalent of solitary confinement. Writing on scraps of paper after a correction officer provided him a pen, Harmer told The Post & Email that the intake guards had threatened him and that he feared his food would be poisoned.
During the month he went without food, Harmer reported that medical staff were aware he was not eating as evidenced by his untouched food trays but that they made no effort to check his vital signs or monitor his health in any way.
Harmer said he survived on cartons of institutionally-packaged milk, water and a small amount of coffee during his strike.
In a letter received on Monday, he reported that he currently experiences dizzy spells and more recently, is having chest pains. “Dr. Higgs won’t give me snacks to curb my hunger and dizziness,” he wrote in a letter received on Monday.
Harmer has attempted to assist other inmates to obtain medical care, necessary classes and assistance in re-entering society for those close to finishing their sentences. A prolific writer, he has sent dozens of reports and grievances to TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker citing examples of prison staff’s alleged failure to adhere to the TDOC’s “Tier Management” system, specifically, Section 506.14, V, (E).
The five-page section of the 2014 Administrative Policies and Procedures dealing with Tier Management are below. While minor changes are made to the manual periodically, procedures are generally not altered substantially, and the controversial Tier Management system of managing inmates’ time outside of their cells remains in place.
Some of Harmer’s documentation has been copied to Tennessee State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who has expressed an interest in the many problems reported by inmates and their relatives within the state’s prison system.
On July 28, Harmer was unexpectedly confronted by a gang member when he entered his cell as a result of what Harmer believes was a deliberate action by a correction officer. As Harmer described it, the gang member’s cell was unlocked in violation of Tier Management guidelines. “I personally believe staff orchestrated it,” Harmer told us. “Look, the officer let out only the bottom [tier] as policy requires. Then he went upstairs and let out gang members (“Crips”) and left the pod until after it was over.”
According to Harmer, the correction officer left his post unattended, allowing the gang member to find his way to Harmer’s cell, where he brandished a knife and demanded some of Harmer’s personal property.
After seeing the weapon, Harmer said he reflexively “laid hands” on the gang member to protect his cellmate and himself, reinjuring his sprained right ankle in the process. “I can’t believe I put my hands on a gang banger,” he wrote in a letter dated August 8.
After the incident, Harmer was placed in a maximum-security area, a situation which he said prevents him from gathering valuable information from other inmates. “Also, they’re keeping some of my legal work, stamped envelopes, etc.,” he wrote.
Harmer has written to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam about the Tier Management system and MCCX gang activity but to our knowledge has received no response.