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“I REALLY DID NOT EXPECT IT”
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 24, 2018) — On Thursday afternoon, The Post & Email was able to speak with former TDOC prisoner Robert Z. Whipple, III, who was released from the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX) at approximately 5:00 PM local time on Tuesday to parole status.
Whipple had been incarcerated since July 18, 2010 as a non-violent offender and was eligible for parole in 2014. Considering “good time” earned during his confinement, his parole date was later moved back to late 2013.
When we asked Whipple his reaction to learning that the Tennessee Board of Parole granted him parole after his April 18 hearing, he said, “Surprised. I really did not expect it. I had been up three times before, and of course, I sued the Parole Board twice, so I was surprised. I didn’t believe it at first; I kept having other people go check to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.”
He must reside at a halfway house for the next 90 days as a condition of his parole, he said, during which he will seek to reinstate his driver’s license and obtain employment. He will meet with his parole officer for the first time in early June.
Whipple told us that in the past, he has worked in the fields of tech support, computer networking and at call centers.
Whipple said he has “about a year’s-worth of credits” to complete a four-year engineering degree, which he would like to pursue. He already has an Associate’s Degree.
While incarcerated and when able to access legal materials, Whipple conducted extensive legal research and writing, filing four lawsuits against the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) since 2014. One of those suits claimed that the Department denied him his constitutional right to access the courts by means of a federal law library and engaged in “retaliation” and “bad faith negotiations.”
Another claimed that the Parole Board denied him timely release as a result of his having exercised his First Amendment rights in prison.
While acquiring a degree of legal acumen, Whipple assisted other inmates with their legal defenses. As a result, he said, he would like to establish a non-profit organization to provide inmates with legal assistance. “It’s so hard when you’re locked up,” he said. “It was very difficult for me to navigate the legal technicalities, and it’s that much worse for someone who has no kind of education.”
Whipple said he envisions an organization where “we could match up volunteer paralegals and lawyers to help people with their cases.”