“I AM IN A LOT OF PAIN”
by Sharon Rondeau
“I am in a lot of pain,” he wrote. Born in June 1950, Royston is 68½ years old. Over the last two weeks, we received three other letters from him describing chaos within the facility caused by short-staffing and an observed lack of adherence to TDOC policies and procedures.
The letter received Monday focuses on the absent medications.
A myriad of TTCC inmates have reported similar experiences since spring 2016, when large numbers of TDOC inmates were relocated there from other prisons after its opening in January 2016. In June 2017, WSMV, Nashville aired a four-part series focusing on reports that the facility is plagued with high employee turnover, inadequate medical personnel and emergency care for inmates, drug use and violence.
Inmates have written to us describing having observed others injecting drugs as well as rampant gang activity. Some related a number of inmate deaths. Staff assaults and improper contact between employees and inmates have also been reported.
An undated report in The Hartsville Vidette states that “The head of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center acknowledged to lawmakers last week that the state has fined the prison over $2 million since the start of 2018.” The fine, which followed a $322,059 levy in 2017, was reportedly “largely due to vacancies and some medical discrepancies” as reported by TTCC Warden Rusty Washburn to the Tennessee legislature’s Government Operations Committee.
In testimony to the committee, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger reportedly assumed “full responsibility for some of the challenges we’ve had at Trousdale Turner.” On Saturday, prior to receiving Royston’s most recent letter, we contacted the article’s author, Chris Gregory, to ask the date of its publication. He responded that he is out of the office until Thursday and unable to verify the date but that it was posted “earlier this year.”
An audit completed in November 2017 which apparently prompted the hearing cited Trousdale Turner’s “continued noncompliance with contract requirements and department policies challenges the department’s ability to effectively monitor the private prison.” The report directly contradicts emails and a telephone call in August 2016 this writer had with TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor, who said that the reports we were receiving from TTCC inmates and their relatives about substandard conditions there were “inaccurate.”
In May 2016, the AP had already confirmed some of the inmate reports, including “a February 26 stabbing” mentioned in a report the news agency obtained through an open records request.
The Post & Email is routinely denied documents generated by Tennessee government due to its location out of state, with officials citing the Tennessee Open Records Act‘s wording that the phrase “any citizen of this state” (p. 2) as to who can obtain records is to be taken literally.
The Commonwealth of Virginia’s open records act is worded similarly and regularly denies documents to anyone out-of-state. The law has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as constitutional.