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by Sharon Rondeau

(Jan. 6, 2020) — A letter received Saturday alleges that the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) remains a dangerous prison in which gangs dictate daily routines and extortion payments, reportedly with the knowledge and consent of correction officers.

The author of the letter requested that his name be withheld to avoid retaliation, and the envelope in which it was received bears the name of a different inmate and inmate number.

The inmate indicated that he wrote the letter on “Friday 11-23-19,” although November 23, 2019 was a Saturday. The envelope is postmarked “26 DEC 2019” from Memphis and bears a Christmas stamp. We therefore do not know if the letter was written on November 23 and held for approximately a month before it was mailed or if the date should have read “12-23-19,” although that day was a Monday.

The writer, who claims he is serving time for drug abuse, reported that gang members regularly “jump” inmates with whom they have a quarrel and demand $50 in extortion payments. “Then on commissary day after it gets passed out they come in and rob you for everything and if you don’t get anything they tell you that you owe money and it will be at least $50 or more. And all staff does about is tells you to pay it because they aren’t saving you. So this alone will ruin a person along with your family,” the inmate wrote on page 1.

Gang violence has been reported for years to this publication by a number of Tennessee inmates in various prisons around the state.  Nearly three years ago, Nashville’s WSMV posted a four-part series detailing reported gang activity and other questionable conditions within Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC), one of Tennessee’s privately-run prisons.

On Saturday, WREG reported that in the neighboring state of Mississippi, the deaths of five inmates in three different facilities between Sunday, December 29 and Friday, January 3 stemmed from “gang violence,” according to outgoing Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall.

The sister of one of those killed, Candice Dobbins, was quoted by the paper as having said, “Really, the prisoners run the facilities. I know guards have to talk with inmates to keep control of other inmates.”

“Mississippi’s prison system has struggled to fill guard vacancies, with Hall saying it’s difficult to attract people with salaries that start below $25,000 a year,” the outlet further wrote. “Some guards end up bringing illegal drugs and cellphones into prisons. Criminal charges were filed in 2014 against 26 state correctional officers.”

The NWCX inmate claimed that “when I told the staff that I was in fear for my life and wanted to be moved I was cussed out by the Lt. And sent to the hole for 5 days. And then I was never asked about what was going on nor was I helped in anyway then the whole time I was in the hole on pending investigation I never recieved any of my property and was never given a toothbrush, soap or shower and come to findout they told another inmate to pack my belongings.” [sic]

He reported that “after 3 weeks I still haven’t got anything such as hygene items or change of cloths and I have followed all procedures and forms to get new stuff.” [sic]

“The hole,” more formally known as “protective custody” or “PC,” was for some reason cut short, the inmate said, and that prison staff “took me in cuffs back to the same unit I told them I was having problems in and threw me in the cell with one of the people I told them I was having a problem with and basically told me that my life doesnt matter and that they were about to go home.” [sic]

On page 2, the inmate maintained, “I dont cause problems I show respect to all I go up for parole in a few months and I want to live to get back to my family and I dont want my family ruined because they care and love me so they pay these gangs to keep something from happening to me cause I’m not safe and the staff wont allow me to go in to Protective Custody witch is made for this reason.”

His parole could now be in jeopardy, he explained later in the letter.

Both direct and indirect extortion payments have been reported to The Post & Email.  WSMV, too, reported the mother of an inmate claiming to have made “protection money” payments to gang members, at times on multiple occasions during a single day, to keep her son safe.

In the letter, the inmate specifically mentioned that gang members have protection while walking to and from shower facilities.  In the same article referenced above, WSMV’s then-long-term anchor and investigative reporter Demetria Kalodimos reported that the mother of an inmate “said gang members appear to control everything, including movement to and from the showers. If protection isn’t paid, inmates are liable to be beaten, stabbed or worse. It’s called ‘shower security.’”

Regarding access to drugs at Northwest, the inmate wrote, “…as a recovering addict I am trying to stay clean and all day everyday I have people putting them in my face and I struggle cause Im not perfect and dealing with all the things in here along with my personal issue’s like family and all I want to do is get back to them cause they are what matters. And I dont want to have drugs around me and being in the D.O.C. (Department Of Corrections) I shouldnt be and I should be able to get help. But its a joke and it is eazier to get drugs in here than it was on the street.”

He then reported having been informed of his assignment to a “vocational class” after he was expected to appear for the first time and then receiving a “write-up” for the alleged absence. Further, he said he was locked out one day on his way to class, resulting in a placement in “lockup.”

The inmate described himself as “PREY to all” at Northwest because he is not a gang member. “I just want to get to a place where it is calm and laid-back where I can do my time and go home,” he added. “This is my first and last time in prison. But I don’t care where I got ago to finish my time a piece with structure in order. I tried to get in P. C. Here and they denied me and put me in handcuffs and carried me back to the middle of the chaos.”

He said that he would prefer being “locked in the cell 24/7 other than taking a shower” than to his current circumstances. “I dont want to be locked in like that all the time. But if it gets me out of Unit 14 at Northwest Complex I am willing.”

The complete letter can be read below.  The Post & Email has removed the name of the referring inmate on page 1 as well as the writer’s name and inmate number at the end of page 3.

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  1. the gangs are so bad they have what ever they like the women officers do what ever they say they get away with murder they have officers have new employees to do what ever they say officers have been caught Nemours times with inmates and still work because the gangs run it most dont last 6 months and lose everything while the gangs get what they want when they want they will control you in side and out make your life a living hell if you don’t mothers and daughter’s are not safe from the gangs they need to be stopped

  2. The information in the writer’s letter is very much the same that my loved one and family have experienced. TDOC denies everything, but when the same things are happening to multiple people there’s truth in what is being said. Gang extortion is rampant and not by just 1 gang, COs who don’t do their job or think it’s their place to decide who deserves protection and who doesn’t, inmate abuse and assault, all of this happens because it is allowed to and TDOC has not addressed it. The standard answer from many departments is “that doesn’t happen”. The response upper management uses now is ‘we will investigate’. Then you either never hear anything or the conclusion is that your inmate is the one extorting you. Everything is denied and every inmate who tries to get help is a liar.

    The writer is correct in saying gangs run the prison, because TDOC certainly doesn’t. Certain gang members don’t even lock down when everyone else does. They have free run of the facility and access to anything they want from the street. The writer also noted write ups that are without merit. I can tell you I have personally paid to have them removed for the same or similar situations. An inmate on 2 class/job rosters at the same time and getting written up for not being in both places at the same time. Write ups when the inmate is locked down and when they aren’t allowed through the gate to get to class because COs are gang affiliated and will do anything to create as many problems for nonaffiliated inmates as possible. Receiving write ups means no sentence credits, which means the inmate is there longer or doesn’t make parole and therefore all of the hands that are involved in the extortion continue to collect from the family of the inmate. The D-Board is a joke. Once a write up occurs there is no way to fight it unless the family pays. How can an inmate be in class when they are locked down or be in 2 classes at the same time? That’s not an inmate problem. That’s a TDOC employee and D-Board created problem which they refuse to even acknowledge. For most it would seem to be a simple fix, but not in NorthWest and not unless you pay someone off.

    When an inmate tries to check in instead of following policy the COs tell the gangs the inmate is trying to go PC. What do you think happens then? Either the inmate is attacked or the family is extorted for even more, or both. The gangs like to play games too. One will act as so called ‘protection’ if paid but then another gang decides it wants in on the money and before you know it the family is paying multiple gangs a lot of money just to try to get their person home alive. The amount of money goes up and up. Each of the gang members in the pod wants their cut….$50 for the lowest ranking $100 above that and $150 or more for the shot caller. Hundreds to well over a thousand dollars each week depending on how many gangs and gang members are on your inmate at the time. Then there are the times when you pay one gang only to have your inmate attacked by another gang or by other members of the same gang for no reason. Members of the same gang have no concept of loyalty even to their own when they aren’t getting a cut of the money…..and in there money is what drives everything.

    If you have a loved one in TDOC and he is not affiliated this is what you can expect. Even the toughest, most street savvy person gets worn down with constant attacks. The gangs know that and are unrelenting. Their prey are the unaffiliated, usually young and Caucasian, inmates. Gangs determine which inmates have a family that cares by watching the inmates’s phone use, property, commissary, etc. So when you do things to try to help your person get by just a little easier inside it sets them and your family up as a target.

  3. I can’t express my total contempt for District Attorneys and prison wardens who are as corrupt as those they prosecute and incarcerate, but I’ll try.

    When I was a vetted presidential candidate in 2012, one of my campaign promises was to change our prison system to mimic the prison system in Japan: run as a Boot Camp and no early out; eliminate the corrupt parole boards.

    No early out for “Good Time” behavior but added sentence for “Bad Time”.

    If a DA is caught withholding exculpatory evidence, then the DA will spend the time in prison had the defendant been found guilty, same with the sentence of death. As they say: do unto others.