On Friday, former CCA inmate Alex Friedmann, who so far has stymied the judicial ambitions of embattled CCA general counsel Gus Puryear
, attended the private prison company's annual shareholder meeting. It must have been an awkward affair. Considering that Friedmann has rallied nationwide opposition to Puryear's confirmation to a federal judgeship in Tennessee's Middle District, infuriating the nominee's powerful supporters, I figured he'd have an interesting story to share. Here's his written account of what went down:
From 1992 to 1998, I served time at the CCA-operated South Central Correctional Center in Wayne County, Tennessee. Today, May 16, I attended CCA's annual shareholder meeting as an investor.
It's been an interesting transition, although the meeting (in which I was likely the only former CCA prisoner in attendance) was not particularly noteworthy.
I've been to several other shareholder meetings over the years, usually in the company of Harmon Wray—a fellow social justice activist and tireless advocate on behalf of prisoners and criminal justice reform through his work with the United Methodist Church and Vanderbilt Program in Faith and Criminal Justice. Harmon died unexpectedly last July, so this year I went alone.
This was the first time that CCA had a metal detector set up at the front door, plus two uniformed Metro Police officers present for security (one informed me he was on-duty, but I haven't been able to verify that—what an on-duty officer was doing at a corporate shareholder's meeting is beyond me).
All of CCA's board members were present (including Thurgood Marshall Jr.) plus most of the officers, including CCA general counsel Gus Puryear. Gus and I don't have much in common. He's a multi-millionaire and I'm not. He's a member of the notoriously discriminatory Belle Meade Country Club; I'm not. He's been nominated for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. I'm working to stop him. We didn't exchange pleasantries.
Before the meeting I met with Sister Gwen Farry, with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), and spoke about the shareholder resolution sponsored by her organization and three others that would require CCA to disclose the company's policies and expenditures related to political contributions. CCA spent $2.5 million on lobbying on the federal level alone last year (down from $3 million in 2004). A 2004 report found that CCA and company insiders had donated about 94% of their political contributions to Republicans.
The BVM resolution failed to pass but did receive around 32% of the voting shares in favor, which I think is exceptional given the lackadaisical position taken by most shareholders in the companies in which they invest. The resolution will likely be re-introduced next year. Nuns are hard to dissuade.
As a shareholder of record (I own one share of stock) I addressed the meeting and mentioned that Harmon (also a single-share stockholder) had died. I noted that while Harmon's views did not always coincide with the Board's, he was a man of conscience who truly lived his faith, and his friends, fellow shareholders and CCA were poorer for his having passed away.
I also asked two questions. First:
"On March 13, Time magazine published an article, based on the allegations of a former CCA senior manager turned whistleblower, who accused CCA of failing to disclose full and accurate quality assurance reports to contracting government agencies. The next day, on March 14, CCA sent a letter to all of its government customers, informing them of the Time article and assuring that there was no basis for these allegations. That letter was filed with the SEC on a Form 8-K. Assuming there was no investigation by corporate staff in the one-day period between when the article was published and when the letter was sent, has CCA's Board initiated any investigation to determine whether CCA's internal quality assurance reports are being accurately and fully disclosed to contracting government agencies, so as to safeguard the interests of shareholders? If so, what was the result of that investigation? If not, why has the Board declined to conduct an investigation that would safeguard the interests of shareholders?"
CCA CEO Ferguson asked me to disclose my affiliations and "agenda," so everyone present would know about my opposition to prison privatization. I'm the associate editor of Prison Legal News, a monthly publication that reports on corrections and criminal justice-related issues, and I serve in a voluntary, non-compensated capacity as vice president of the Private Corrections Institute which opposes for-profit prisons. I was polite and didn't ask about Mr. Ferguson's own agenda—e.g., his annual salary of $712,249 and the 178,600 shares of CCA stock he currently owns, valued at $4.6 million.
Mr. Ferguson then remarked, without elaboration, that CCA's Board had indeed conducted an investigation and was satisfied with the results. And that, as they say, was that.
My second question:
"The Time magazine article was related to the judicial nomination of vice president and general counsel Gustavus Puryear. Has CCA expended any company funds in connection with Mr. Puryear's judicial nomination, such as with the public relations firm of McNeely, Pigott & Fox? If so, to what extent does the expenditure of such funds benefit shareholders?"
Mr. Ferguson acknowledged that CCA was spending company funds on Gus' judicial nomination to the extent that they were countering "unfounded" accusations and "mischaracterizations" concerning CCA as a result of media attention related to his nomination.
An audio recording of the shareholder meeting is available on CCA's website, here: (last entry at the bottom of the page; you have to register to access it).
Following the meeting I was approached by CCA's communications director, Louis Grant. We sparred a bit but I told her I was open to discussing matters with her and hearing her side; however, she indicated that would be pointless since it was obvious I wouldn't change my mind. In fairness, she probably wouldn't change hers either. CCA deputy general counsel Steve Groom also introduced himself. Gus left immediately after the meeting, without comment.
All in all it was fairly uneventful. I doubt CCA would have ever expected a former prisoner from one of their for-profit lockups to attend corporate meetings as a shareholder and question the company's practices. This could only happen in America —the "land of the free" which, at last count, had 2.3 million people behinds bars and growing. Including a growing number held in CCA prisons.