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by Sharon Rondeau

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay, License

(Feb. 14, 2019) — A letter dated February 1, 2019 directed to Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Commissioner Tony Parker states that protective-custody inmates at the Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) are denied “access to the courts” in the form of a legal aide.

Inmate Grenda Ray Harmer, who has written about the issue in the past, stated in his recent letter that while the new library supervisor, Amanda Kelly, “eagerly corrected many of the problems involving P.C. inmates access to legal supplies” [sic] and “liked the idea,” suggested by Harmer, of legal aides being dispatched to the PC unit, it was never implemented.

“Ms. Kelly told me that she does not have the authority to implement the program,” Harmer wrote. Ultimately, Harmer reported, Kelly said that a “Larry DeWeese, Principal,” “rejected the idea because legal aides can only pass out legal materials.” Acting on his idea would have necessitated a “policy change,” Harmer reported Kelly informed him of DeWeese’s response to his suggestion.

“On December 8, 2018 I wrote Associate Warden of Treatment (“AWT”) Ken Hutchinson stating Principal DeWeese lied. I wrote no ‘policy change needs to be made’ for two reasons,” Harmer contended.

Rather, Harmer wrote, other Tennessee prisons employ legal aides, administering them “a test under TDOC Policy #501. 04. Once they pass the test (I’ve taken one) they provide legal assistance to offenders. One legal library aide, for security reasons, is assigned to high security areas and P.C. Units,” Harmer wrote.  “It’s common knowledge at every facility I’ve been banned from legal library aides provide legal assistance.  Mr. DeWeese’s lame excuse is nothing more than a smoke screen to deny P.C. offenders legal assistance,” Harmer concluded.

Harmer has been housed at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC), the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), and the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX) prior to his transfer to Morgan County in early June 2017. He has been in the protective custody unit since approximately August 1, 2017 and claims he should be afforded transition services given that he has less than one year of a 25-year sentence to serve.

Further, Harmer reported, he contacted MCCX Warden Mike Paris, who reportedly “quickly told me that no legal aide from population would provide P.C. offenders and illegal services,” referring to the “general population” outside of the PC unit.

Harmer said he agreed with Parris that inmates from GP “can not, and should not, have access to P.C. inmates.” However, on page 2 he wrote, “I went on to explain the legal aides would not have physical access to any P.C. offender for one simple reason. As soon as the legal aide entered the front door the aide would be escorted into a cage with a lock on next to the officers restroom. Furthermore, the inner security door prevents the legal aide from accessing the unit. So the legal aide could not even enter the pod area while being locked in the cage that is not being used. Warden Parris said, basically, it did not matter. That legal aides would not be ever allowed to help P.C. offenders.” [sic]

Harmer countered Parris’s response with, “What is interesting is Warden Parris allows a general population inmate to actually pass the inner security door, enter the pod itself, go to the G.E.D. classroom and give P.C. inmates haircuts. This is every month. Interesting!”

In his list of parties receiving copy of his letter, Harmer listed “Harmer v. Parker, et al.,” the federal lawsuit he filed last March and which a number of federal-court employees have accessed, as shown by The Post & Email’s reader log.  The lawsuit claims federal civil-rights violations including alleged denial of medications and adequate medical care; retaliation against him for allegedly blowing the whistle on fraud within the prison system; and confiscation of his personal property, among other claims.

Also copied was this writer, a number of Tennessee state representatives and state senators, an editor of USA Today, Parris, Kristin Farley of WATE Channel 6, Tennessee’s new governor, Bill Lee, and “Nooganomics” radio show host David Tulis, who has frequently hosted guests reporting on Tennessee prison conditions.

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