Former prison employees claim retaliation after reporting problems

HICKORY, NC (WBTV) - The memories of working at the Catawba Correctional Center are still raw for Kevin Holsclaw, even years after he left his job as a corrections officer at the prison.

Holsclaw and a fellow former officer, Steven Eades, say they were forced to leave their jobs by the prison's administration after trying to report problems to the western region office of the state prison administration.

Instead of the problems being investigated, their complaints landed them in hot water with their bosses.

"I contacted the region office with a three-page letter and word got back before I got to work," Steven Eades recalled. "Then they called me in and interrogated me. I've never been treated so bad in my life."

Eades worked as a corrections officer for twelve years, until he was fired in April 2016. The first time Eades met with a WBTV reporter, he had been suspended. During that meeting, he predicted he would be fired, he said, because he continued to speak out against the actions of the prison's leadership.

WBTV interviewed Eades and Holsclaw in April 2017. Neither man had worked in the prison system for more than a year but both said they were still determined to shine a light on the problem of retaliation they claimed was rampant within the organization.

"When you go to the region office and the phone call beats you back to the camp and you're interrogated, that's not a life to be living," Holtsclaw said.

Both men have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, they said was caused in part by the harassment they experienced while working inside the prison.

Their pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears.

In February 2017, State Senator Andy Wells (R-Catawba) agreed to investigate their claims of whistleblower retaliation.

Documents obtained by WBTV show Wells submitted questions to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety—the agency that oversees the state's prison system—about the complaints Eades and Holsclaw said they submitted to the region office and the retaliation that followed.

The documents also show NCDPS provided a response to Wells' office that was written by the director of the region office.

A spokeswoman for NCDPS Secretary Erik Hooks refused WBTV's request for an interview to explain, among other things, why prison leadership that is the subject of a complaint would be allowed to provide the agency's official response to that very same complaint.

Holsclaw said he's been trying to shine a light on what he said is a culture of fear and retaliation amongst employees within the prison system for years.

"Catawba Correctional Center and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety have known about this problem since October 2014 and this is 2017 and they have yet to contact me in any way, shape or form.

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