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BASED ON WHAT EVIDENCE?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 16, 2017) — Over the last two months, editor of Nooganomics David Tulis has received a number of letters from Tennessee inmate Grenda Harmer, #88710, a prolific writer and documentarian who has relentlessly pursued the exposure of corruption within the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC).
Harmer is serving a 25-year sentence for conviction of crimes including aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary. He does not dispute, and in fact has agreed, that he deserved to be punished for those violations of law.
This writer and Tulis have discussed Harmer and other TDOC matters in two interviews on Tulis’s “Nooganomics” radio show, the first occurring in late June when Harmer was on a hunger strike and the second in late August.
On Friday, Tulis asked TDOC spokeswoman Neysa Taylor for comment after sending her one of Harmer’s letters alleging retaliation and mistreatment at the Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX), where he has been housed since June 2. In her responsive email, Taylor asserted that Harmer’s written claims are “fictitious.”
“This letter is the latest in a series of fictitious letters that Mr. Harmer has written in recent months,” Taylor told Tulis, adding that “It appears that Mr. Harmer would like to not only circumvent the grievance process but be able to select his own housing location and job assignment. The non-negotiable mission of the Department of Correction is to operate safe and secure prisons and provide effective community supervision in order to enhance public safety…”
Harmer has confirmed in dozens of letters throughout his stay at three different institutions within nine months that he has not held a prison job. In fact, earlier this year when Harmer was at TTCC, he sent documentation showing that he had been paid for work which he did not perform.
TTCC is owned and operated by the private prison company CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Many from inside and outside of the prison system allege that private prison operators seek only to increase their bottom line At the expense of the safety and security of prisoners.
Harmer was not the only inmate to inform The Post & Email that TTCC was “the worst” institution in which he had ever lived. However, after he was suddenly relocated to CoreCivic’s South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in early April, he told us that that institution was “worse” than Trousdale.
During his time at each institution, Harmer wrote to this publication to say that his prescription medications were discontinued without cause, a claim which appears to have been confirmed after we contacted a spokesman for Correct Care Solutions (CCS), the private contractor responsible for ordering and dispensing inmates’ medications.
In both instances, Harmer afterward contacted us to report that his medications were restored, providing the dates he again began receiving each one.
As had inmates from Tennessee’s NWCX in 2015, Harmer related while at TTCC, he was “enrolled” in a class for which he did not qualify by state law, presumably to enrich CoreCivic with state and federal reimbursements. A January 27, 2017 letter Harmer sent to Tulis states that “The sad part [sic] there are many inmates who are parole mandated and unable to get in the class. The reason you people put me in it is so you can get the funding and keep the inmate and/or convict. I am requesting you stop this fraudulent act and start complying with state law and federal funding requirements.”
In August of last year, this writer was able to speak with Taylor about the dozens of reports we had received over the preceding several months describing dangerous and substandard conditions at TTCC. Without investigating any of the claims, Taylor dismissed the corroborating accounts of freely-roaming gang members, contraband, inadequate medical care, retaliation against inmates for voicing concerns, violations of TDOC grievance procedures, and severe under-staffing. Taylor termed the reports we related “inaccurate” despite a number of comments and letters we sent to her relating dire circumstances at the prison.
We have sent Taylor copies of emails we have received from a significant number of relatives concerned that their loved ones will not survive their time at Trousdale.
Taylor was formerly a Tennessee broadcast journalist and in an email to this publication stressed the importance of verifying claims before they are reported.
During the third week of June, following a nine-month investigation, Channel 4 (WSMV) in Nashville ran a much-anticipated, four-part series on the Trousdale facility to include an on-air interview with a former TTCC chaplain and longtime CoreCivic employee and accounts from inmates’ relatives regarding difficulties for those incarcerated to obtain much-needed medical care.
One account included an instance in which an inmate conducted surgery on himself in a desperate attempt to escape from pain after months of requesting a sick call.
Another segment focused on gang activity at the prison which is reportedly reinforced by TTCC management.
After the series ended, CoreCivic issued a statement claiming that WSMV’s reports contained “numerous factual errors, blatant omissions and gross mischaracterizations.” Without naming her, CoreCivic attempted to malign the reporter, Demetria Kalodimos, who said CoreCivic was unresponsive to her requests for a tour of TTCC, CoreCivic claimed that “Despite claims to the contrary, we also offered a tour of the facility to the reporter in April 2017.”
WSMV has stood by its reporting as evidenced by the broadcast segments, accompanied by written articles, remaining available on its website.
Earlier this month, the station reported on an assault on a correction officer at Trousdale reportedly carried out by an inmate “high on meth.”
Although privately-run, the TDOC maintains a supervisory role over the eight CoreCivic institutions in the state, according to Taylor.
In July 2016, Harmer was transferred from the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX) to Trousdale, where he remained until the early-morning hours of April 3. Shortly before his next relocation to SCCF, he related that TTCC inmates were seen injecting drugs and that at least one had died.
On April 5, Harmer reported that two days prior, he was rustled out of bed and told to pack his things posthaste. As correction officers reportedly ransacked his personal belongings, they demanded to know of him, “What is your relationship with that woman in Massachusetts?” meaning this writer.
The correction officers evidently confused Massachusetts with Connecticut. According to Harmer, the officers were seeking correspondence from The Post & Email and from the No Exceptions Prison Collective (NEPC), a non-profit organization which attempts to expose inadequacies within Tennessee’s prisons and advocate for changes in its sentencing and parole guidelines.
Harmer was placed in solitary confinement, or “segregation,” at MCCX after he refused to sign a form stating that he had received all of his personal property after the move. He has reported that while some items were returned to him over time, some continue to be withheld.
To the best of this writer’s knowledge, he has again been in solitary confinement since July 28, when he said a member of the “Crips” gang was allowed out of his cell at the wrong time and confronted him after entering his own cell. Because Harmer “laid hands” on the gang member reflexively, he was forced out of the general population and into “protective custody,” the equivalent of solitary confinement.
A letter from Harmer received on Friday by this writer confirmed that his situation has not changed.