The News 4 I-Team has heard from several families of inmates housed at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center who say they routinely pay “protection money” to make sure gang members don’t kill their loved ones.
One woman had receipts for the hundreds of dollars she said she has been paying regularly to keep her son safe from gangs.
She also claims to have someone inside “erase infractions” on his prison record.
The woman said it began as soon as her son entered the prison, which is operated by CoreCivic.
“I had never heard of it until he got here,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified.
The disabled widow’s son is serving time at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. She said he began calling almost immediately after arriving, claiming gangs had marked him as a target. The only thing that could keep him safe was money.
“I had to stop and pull over and send $50 through Western Union today on my way here,” the woman told the I-Team. “Last week it was $200, and that was supposed to be for protection from the other gangs beating him up. It just goes on and on.”
The mother 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.”
James Middleton, who was recently released from Trousdale Turner, confirmed it and explained it.
“When an inmate comes up and whispers in your ear, ‘Me and my brothers are going to get you if you ever do this again,’ you don’t do it,” Middleton said.
Several times a week, sometimes several times a day, the mother has been sending money through Western Union to Memphis, Cordova and Nashville, often to the same names.
Sometimes anyone can pick it up without showing an ID. All they have to do is recite a pre-arranged question and answer.
It has pushed the woman to the financial and emotional breaking point.
“I can’t. I’m a disabled window, and I actually have gone for Advance Financial, and that’s crazy. And now I have two full credit cards,” she said. “I don’t know who to call or who to get help from. You can hear the fear in his voice.”
But could it be more than just the gangs profiting from others?
The I-Team listened on the telephone as the woman’s son described what needed to happen one day. Before 3 p.m., $300 would allegedly get behavioral write-ups wiped off his record on the prison computer.
“Are we going to get it in time so they can pull it off the computer?” the woman asked.
An inmate liaison claimed he had made arrangements to pay someone on the CoreCivic staff to do it.
“There’s a lot of write-ups, you know,” the woman’s son said. “If they get 10 people to pay them, then they’re making money on it.”
“How many times have you been beaten up by these people?” his mother asked.
“Four,” her son replied.
The I-Team has spoken to several CoreCivic correctional officers who have questioned why write-ups they’ve submitted later seem to have disappeared from the official computer record.
They said even some perpetual troublemakers seem to have missing disciplinary write-ups when they pull up the computer data.
“I’ve had no hot water all summer. I’ve been taking cold showers,” the mother said.
The woman said she will not take the chance that her son might die in prison, so she continues to pay regularly.
“I cried my eyes out for this last $50,” she said. “I just can’t. I have to pay my bills this month.”
Days ago, the I-Team was contacted by another woman whose husband had died and left her with an insurance policy. She said gangs have now found out her son has an inheritance and are ordering her to send money through Walmart’s cash delivery system.
The Tennessee Department of Correction issued the following statement concerning this report:Based on the information you provided which does not include any identifying factors, the Department of Correction is unable to confirm an investigation into the allegations. A key part of the Department of Correction’s non-negotiable mission is to operate safe and secure prisons. The Department encourages anyone with information about criminal activity involving our prisons to call our 24-hour tip line at 1-844-TDC-Find. All tips are investigated by the Department’s Office of Investigation and Compliance and if criminal wrongdoing is found the information is forwarded to the District Attorney for prosecution.CoreCivic also issued a statement chastising News 4, despite the fact that we went straight to law enforcement:We weren't aware of these allegations. Although there are multiple means of anonymous and confidential reporting available to our employees, inmates and the public, we have no record of these issues being raised.
It's really unfortunate, too, because if we had known only a few details—details you don't even include below, we could have investigated this and, as needed, protected the affected individuals. If the person(s) who told you didn't feel comfortable coming to us, we wish that he/she/they had gone to TDOC. They have anonymous and confidential reporting systems, too. What you're describing, if true, suggests real people are in danger. Our not knowing more, and the state's not knowing more, prolonged and likely escalated any potential dangers.The I-Team shared names, confirmation numbers and currency transactions with the TBI. We have yet to hear what, if anything, has happened.
Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.