The Trousdale Turner Correctional Center was supposed to provide quality jobs to residents of Trousdale County.
But according to the mayor and several other people the Channel 4 I-Team talked to, not many locals work there.
Until recently, before a contract expired, guards from another security company were recruited, put up at hotels and bused in to work. They told the I-Team they earned higher wages than those employed by CoreCivic.
But some say the people expected to keep the peace at Trousdale Turner are known gang members chosen by administrators and transferred there.
“He called me and said, ‘I don’t know where I’m going. I’ll call you when I get there,’” said a woman who asked to be identified as Casey.
The I-Team first met Casey in December. She was panicked over her husband’s sudden transfer to Trousdale Turner.
After 24 years in prison, the last five with a stellar record at Riverbend Maximum Security, he had a real shot at parole. But his wife said something he walked away from long ago was suddenly seen as a “valuable asset” to CoreCivic.
“Internal affairs told him he was transferred there because he’s considered an O.G. in the Crips,” Casey said. “An O.G. is shot for an original gangster. It means he’s been in a gang for a long time. He’s highly respected. He’s a leader.
“He has not been involved in any gang activity since he’s been at Riverbend, that was the purpose of him going there. And so they told him they were transferring him there so he could keep the peace and get them in line,” Casey added.
Keeping the peace has been a challenge at Trousdale Turner. Families, inmates and even some of its former correctional officers told the I-Team it’s an institution on the brink.
“Trousdale Turner is like no other facility I’ve ever experienced,” said Jacque Steubbel, a former chaplain. “The staff turnover there is tremendous. I’ve been told 245 percent in less than a year.”
CoreCivic will not say how many employees have quit or why.
“They put these huge facilities in the middle of nowhere you can’t staff. What are you going to do?” said Jeannie Alexander, an activist with No Exceptions.
The prison was built with the promise of 350 new jobs in a rural county where people need work. But they didn’t bite.
“If you asked 90 percent of the unemployed in the county, 90 percent would say, no, I don’t want to work at the prison. Because law enforcement and corrections is not an easy thing,” said Trousdale County Mayor Carroll Carman.
Several former guards told the I-Team they were brought in from out of state, housed at a hotel, bused into work, paid a per diem, and made more money per hour than CoreCivic employees.
Records show some who were hired by G4s, a third party company, didn’t stay because they couldn’t pass the background check or walked off.
One female guard said she was left alone and in charge of 120 men without a radio or a weapon.
“We’re getting reports of massive assaults and gang rapes in the middle of a pod, but with no intervention, because you simply cannot stop that sort of thing when you have one person,” Alexander said.
And other guards seem to have also been at risk.
A recent emergency call described a female correction officer who “fell out.” The caller was instructed to say she had a seizure, a description that seems to be used often when an ambulance is called.
There was no call placed at all for a county ambulance last month when inmate Dantwan Crump allegedly stabbed a lieutenant four times – in the arms, back, stomach and head – with a 7.5-inch sharpened, prison-made knife.
According to the official report, the correction officer had supposedly “sprayed his homie” and he had to jump in.
“They can’t maintain that pod. They can’t maintain security or control. So if something happens in the pod, if violence breaks out or if there’s a medical emergency, there often isn’t anyone in that pod, because if something happens, you don’t stay in the middle of it,” Alexander said.
That’s where the imported gang members apparently fit in.
Casey, the inmate’s wife, said she was told about the strategy personally by two prison administrators.
“He doesn’t want to participate in gang activity,” she said.
“It’s almost as if they are encouraging gangs to start up,” the I-Team said.
“Very much so,” Casey replied.
“They’re asking him to be a security threat, because once you’re involved in gang activity, you’re labeled a security threat,” she added.
“Over half the inmate population is gang affiliated, and the TDOC actually brought in a sort of team or special security op group to identify gang affiliations to every inmate at Trousdale,” Steubbel said. “I talked to one officer. I said, ‘How many gang affiliations did you find?’”
The officer told Steubbel they round 1,465 gang affiliations.
“The last month there have been three weeks where they were locked down four days out of the week without showers, without anything. They’re just in their cells,” Casey said.
“This is absolute chaos. It’s absolute chaos,” she added.
“Danger continues to brew in our correction systems across the state,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville.
Lawmakers say they’re convinced Tennessee is heading back toward the mess in the 1980s when the feds took over the entire prison system.
“We have long known of environments of harm not only in our state facilities, but also and especially those operated by private corporations, especially the Trousdale facility,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons had asked early in the fall to tour the new Trousdale facility. An invitation was granted, but when he asked to bring Channel 4’s Demetria Kalodimos along, it never happened.
“Prisons love to say they can’t allow people inside because of concerns for the security of the institution. What we’re really talking about here is security of their secrets. That’s why they don’t want people inside,” Alexander said.
Steubbel no longer works at Trousdale or for CoreCivic. The company said she was fired “for cause” after what they referred to as an investigation that “substantiated misconduct.”
The company claimed she was “providing misleading information to investigators” and now has a motive to “impugn our company.”
Prior to our interview, Steubbel told the I-Team she was terminated by CoreCivic based on what she claimed were false allegations from an incident at her previous post in Texas. She provided documentation of her claims.
She also shared an unemployment determination that awarded her compensation, charged to CoreCivic, with a finding that her employer fired her for a “reason that was not misconduct connected with the work.”
The I-Team has tried many times to get specific answers to questions and concerns we have heard about the prison.
Late last week, CoreCivic responded to some of our long-pending questions, saying in part, “Medical privacy considerations precluded them from providing details on deaths or injuries.” They also generically stated that their staff acted appropriately in all situations.
So far, no one from CoreCivic or the state will grant the I-Team an interview.
Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.