“VIOLENCE AS A WAY OF LIFE”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 29, 2019) — On Wednesday, The Post & Email received a four-page letter from TDOC inmate Omowale A. Shabazz, who in February filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the agency and a number of its employees on which we reported last week.
In the letter, Shabazz described prison as “an unnatural environment” which creates a different sense of reality, or “abnormal” existence. “This writer is an abnormality in the prison environment because for years, twenty-five at present, he has totally rejected all conscious attempts by the keepers of the keys to force him to accept the abnormal as normal,” he wrote on page 1.
“For some people, it has become normal to accept violence as a way of life and of resolving conflicts,” he continued, “regardless of whether this violence is perpetuated by another inmate or a prison official.”
Punctuating his thoughts on that theme, he wrote, “For some people — but not me.”
Shabazz, whose previous name is “Fred Edmond Dean,” is housed at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville, TN, which has been known to have incarcerated some of the state’s most violent criminals and is reportedly plagued with gang violence.
In his lawsuit, Shabazz described an alleged incident during which he said a correction officer was “striking me repeatedly in the face with closed fists” after he was relocated to a different area of the prison. A number of NWCX inmates have related similar incidents and imminent threats of physical harm from inmates and correction officers.
In the past, Shabazz has reported what he believes could be interference with his mail, a complaint not uncommon within Tennessee’s prison population. On page 4 of the letter, Shabazz added a handwritten note indicating that he mailed a copy of the lawsuit with its filing number to us, a document which as of this writing we have not received. We did, however, receive a draft of the document prior to its filing about which we responded to Shabazz on March 3. He confirmed receiving that letter earlier this month.
In his personal reflections of prison life over the last quarter-century, Shabazz alleged, as related in the lawsuit, that he was assaulted on January 4, 2019 “by prison staff for no reason whatsoever,” a separate instance from the alleged facial beating he suffered.
He also described assaults on prison staff. “On 1-26-19 an officer was stabbed and on 2-11-19 an officer was beaten,” he wrote.
Other horrors have been publicly reported.
Further detailing violence within the prison, Shabazz related, “Inmates were stabbed on 1-26-19 and 3-17-19, this does not include the numerous fights that occur behind closed doors and one inmate was killed on either 3-4-19 or 3-5-19, he was stomped to death by another inmate 90 days before he was scheduled to go home.” [sic]
While The Post & Email is speculating, Shabazz’s reference to the murder of an inmate could have been to the death of Richard Andino, Jr., whose sister reportedly discovered through a prison chaplain that her brother was “beaten to death in his cell” at some point prior to March 7, 2019.
The sister, Joanie, is reportedly experiencing difficulty in obtaining information about how her brother died, having been told that the incident is under investigation. Others have reportedly never been provided a complete picture as to how their loved one died in a Tennessee prison.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Andino’s death was reported by the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise on March 23. He was reportedly imprisoned for two probation violations, and his death was not announced by the TDOC.
As have scores of others in communications to this publication, he stated that “corruption is alive and well in Tennessee’s prison system.” He referred to an incident reported in a local paper and by the TDOC and involved at least one prison employee.
Of the drugs which enter the state’s prisons, Shabazz wrote, “The guards bring it in!” The same allegation has been made by MCCX inmate Grenda Ray Harmer, who has meticulously documented his observations in Tennessee prisons over approximately 25 years. Harmer has reported numerous instances of the introduction of contraband not only into the prison, but also into the protective-custody unit, where he is housed.
Regarding the inmate who Shabazz said “was stomped to death on either the 4th or 5th of March,” he observed, “That was someone’s son, brother, uncle, father. He was not sentenced to death. The guy that stomped him to death was allegedly high on ice or meth.”
A copious writer, Shabazz co-authored “Journey To Consciousness: While Behind Bars,” published last June.