Diabetic inmate denied access to special shoes, legal materials

Robert Whipple has sued state government at least four times over abuse within its prison system. (Photo David Tulis)

Robert Whipple has sued state government at least four times over abuse within its prison system. (Photo David Tulis)

The following is a letter sent Dec. 17 to Neysa Taylor, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction. In a reply Dec. 19, Mrs. Taylor says the following:

At this time it would be improper for TDOC to weigh in on Mr. Whipple’s claims due to pending litigation as it relates to offender Whipple.

Neysa Taylor, correction department spokeswoman

Neysa Taylor, correction department spokeswoman

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

I am writing regarding reports to me from my correspondent, inmate Robert Z. Whipple III, No. 399615, a minimum trustee prisoner who is involved in housekeeping and landscaping and some maintenance.

One persistent problem with Mr. Whipple is his denial of access to legal materials at the law library in a Catch-22 situation. A second serious problem is administrative overriding of medical prescription for extra wide shoes, given the fact that he has diabetes and diabetic neuropathy, and being unable to walk he is gaining weight, which exacerbates his medical vulnerability.

The following is from neatly typed letters dated Nov. 22 and Sept. 12. Please look at the four attachments which pertain to these grievances apparently overlooked by the Haslam administration.

My request: I would like comments for publication as to the substance of these complaints and indication of what Gov. Haslam’s appointees are doing to touching on any care his administration may have for this man pursuant to their charge in the state constitution: “That the erection of safe prisons, the inspection of prisons, and the humane treatment of prisoners, shall be provided for.”

‘Improper to weigh in’

The following is quoted exactly from Mr. Whipple:

I’m writing to update you on my situation here and thank you for helping to shine the media spotlight on problems within Tennessee Department of Correction. I continue to be denied physical access to a law library here at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville. In fact, it has grown worse. We used to be able to request legal material, and if the request was approved, and you had provided the exact case citation, they send you a copy of the case. Sometime in October, the law library just stopped responding to these requests. I have found is supplemental complaint in Whipple v. Tenn. Bd. Of Parole, which has not been addressed or screened by the court yet. I was able to speak to an Assistant Attorney General, Amanda Jordan, by phone recently, and offered to drop one of my pending lawsuit if the state would provide BCCX Annex inmates with law library access. She said she’d get back to me about it.

In other news, I am being denied prescribed “diabetic shoes” by the states medical provider, not because they aren’t medically necessary, but because they don’t want to spend the money. I’m sending a photocopy of a grievance I’m filing about this issue. ***

I’m serving a 14-year sentence for burglary and theft. During my incarceration, I have had cause to file lawsuit against Tennessee Department of Correction employees for various violations of my civil rights.*** [ four cases cited] ***

Stiff-armed on legal materials

My cases have involved the following civil rights violations: deliberate indifference to my serious medical needs, retaliation for filing lawsuits and grievances, denial of access to courts and denial of due process, among others. Without getting into the merits of any of my cases, I would like to bring to your attention that BCCX Associate Warden Cobble is actively trying to stop my litigation efforts right now, by denying me access to the law library. I’m housed at the annex, the minimum security portion of the prison. We don’t have a law library, so for 30 years they simply let us go to the main law library at Site 2, when we needed to do some legal research. Cobble was named as a defendant pendant in my most recent lawsuit, Whipple v. Board of Parole, filed in June. The following month, in July, Cobble suddenly declared that Annex inmates can no longer go to the law library, but must send a request for what they need. Given the timing, and the fact that for the first month or so, I was the only prisoner not allowed to go, I think it is clear that I am a target, in retaliation for my lawsuit.

The request or paging system Cobble put in place has been found unconstitutionally inadequate by many federal courts, but BCCX isn’t interested in following the law. Another an ex-prisoner, John Brichetto, who is appealing his conviction, was court-ordered to receive access to Westlaw (the online case law database, that is available at the main BCCX library, but not at the annex), but Cobble has defied this court order because he is afraid I could then argue that I, too, should have access. The paging system is a failure for many reasons, among them:

  1. It is too slow. It takes 5 or 6 days to get a response, while federal courts allow 14 days to respond to a motion, included time needed for mailing.

  2. They will only send cases if you cite them exactly. This is a classic Catch-22. I can get cases I already know well enough to cite, but I pretty much already know what was said, so don’t really need them. The undiscovered cases — whether because I haven’t come across them in my prior research or because they are new — I cannot see, because I cannot cite them.

  3. They charge you just to view them. By policy you are only supposed to pay if you decide to keep them and are supposed to have 5 days to review them. BCCX prison officials make you sign a withdrawal authorization just to see them and charge you for cases, even if you return them. Therefore, indigent prisoners like me aren’t able to get cases because we can’t afford them. Printouts of cases often run 50, 75, or even 100 pages, and they print the whole case, not just a paragraph that applies to your case, and charge 15 cents a page for all of them. As prisoners, we make only $20 to $60 per month, which has to also pay for hygiene items and phone calls and postage. We can either view cases or purchase soap and shampoo. *** Only the annex does not have a law library or Westlaw.

Ignored pleas for medically prescribed shoes

  1. First of a three-page grievance from Robert Whipple, imprisoned in Pikeville, Tenn., near Chattanooga.

    First of a three-page grievance from Robert Whipple, imprisoned in Pikeville, Tenn., near Chattanooga.

    Whipple 3Whipple 4

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