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How a Former Prisoner Took Down a Big Shot from the Private Prison Industry (and Cheney Pal)

Gus Puryear had his judicial nomination scuttled by a former prisoner turned criminal justice advocate.

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CCA senior vice president J. Michael Quinlan, a former director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, referred to Jones as a "former disgruntled employee" and said he was "personally willing to stake my 37 years of correctional experience and reputation as a corrections professional on the integrity of our work." You could almost see the wagons being circled.

Incidentally, while employed with the BOP, Quinlan was sued by a male co-worker who alleged that Quinlan had sexually harassed him in a hotel room -- a suit that was later settled. [See: PLN, June 2000, p.20]. He was also accused of silencing a federal prisoner who claimed to have sold drugs to then-Vice President Dan Quayle. [See: PLN, Feb. 1992, p.4; Oct. 2000, p.14]. So Quinlan's reputation might not count for much.

Regardless, the damage to Puryear's reputation before the Senate Judiciary Committee had already been done, even though no official investigation resulted from the disclosure that CCA was concealing information from government agencies and the public.

Country Club Connection

Puryear listed the Belle Meade Country Club as one of his organizational memberships in a questionnaire provided to the Judiciary Committee. Most people aren't familiar with the Belle Meade Country Club unless they have seven-figure bank balances; it's so elite that not even its website is accessible to the public.

The Club, founded in1901, is the most exclusive private golf and social club in Nashville. It is also almost exclusively white, not having admitted its first (and still only) black member until 1994 -- and since that member lives in a different state, he doesn't attend often. Not that there aren't any blacks at the Club; it's just that they mainly cut the grass, serve the food and clean the facilities.

With its stately columned facade and well-tended grounds, the Belle Meade Country Club is reminiscent of a quaint Southern mansion where Nashville's rich can role-play what it must have been like during the nostalgic era of slave plantations.

The Judiciary Committee's questionnaire asked Puryear to indicate whether any of the organizations to which he belongs "currently discriminate or formerly discriminated on the basis of race, sex, or religion -- either through formal membership requirements or the practical implementation of membership policies."

His response? While acknowledging a lack of racial diversity prior to 1994, Puryear stated, "To my knowledge, during my membership at the club, it has not discriminated on the basis of race, sex, or religion."

Which is an interesting answer, not only considering the Club's almost completely lily-white membership, but also because female members (and the Club's single black member) do not have voting privileges.

Only members with Resident Member status are able to vote on Club business or hold office. As it so happens, the Club's approximately 600 Resident Members are all male. None are black. Women join the Club as "Lady Members" without voting privileges, and Non-resident Members, which include those who live in other states, likewise cannot vote.

While there is no official policy that prohibits women or blacks from being Resident Members, none are -- and new members must be proposed and recommended by the existing all-male, non-black Resident Members. Not surprisingly, the Club's Constitution, By-laws and member handbook do not include a non-discrimination statement.

That the Club's Resident Members have never successfully proposed a black or female member for Resident Member status over the Club's 108-year history smacks of intentional discrimination -- or at the very least de facto discrimination. But Puryear, who is by all accounts a highly intelligent attorney, maintained he was unaware of any discrimination.