At Townhall: Tennessee Prison System Accused of Putting Prisoner Rights Groups Before Victims

Jan 14, 2021 | op-ed

Nikki Goeser, the CPRC’s Executive Director, has a new piece up at Townhall.

Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) doesn’t seem to think it’s a criminal offense that a murderer harasses a victim of their crime from their prison system. Despite a Federal judge ruling that there is sufficient evidence for the murderer to face stalking charges, the prison system announced on Tuesday that they are still not willing to seriously review this case. 

In 2009, a man who was stalking me murdered my husband, Ben, in front of me in the middle of a busy restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. The murderer, Hank Wise, came up behind Ben and shot him in the head before firing six more rounds into his body in the middle of that busy restaurant. All of this happened in front of security cameras and 50 witnesses.

When the police searched Hank Wise’s truck at the crime scene, they found two more guns, ammunition, a baseball bat, binoculars, gloves, rope and a knife. What I experienced and saw that night has haunted me for 11 years. 

The murderer was finally sentenced to just 23 years in prison for taking my husband from me, destroying my life and future. For 11 years, I have tried as best as I can to piece my shattered life together and try to get back to some kind of relative normalcy. 

But Hank Wise wasn’t finished tormenting me. In October 2019, I learned the murderer had for years been sending me twisted love letters from prison. He sent them to my former attorney that represented me for my wrongful death suit against him. He had sent Valentine’s Day and Christmas cards. He had included pictures of himself. He wrote that he had always loved me and that even if I had found someone new in my life, he would continue to love me. These letters were stacking up at my former attorney’s office, and I only found out about them when I contacted him for information needed while I was writing a book about the murder.

I know you are thinking: “Why did her attorney not tell her?” Because my stalker had sent two letters before the murder trial and, after I notified the prosecutor, Dan Hamm, about it and sent him the letters, the prosecutor did nothing. Nobody in the court system helped me. No extra charges were filed. No restraining order was issued. Nothing. So, I gave up and out of self-preservation for my own mental health, I told my attorney to no longer tell me if any other letters came. He honored that request from a very distraught and traumatized widow. 

What made things worse was that I learned TDOC was letting the murderer earn early release credits from prison for “good behavior” while he was writing these letters.

I’m now back to square one with the daymares and nightmares that I have tried so hard to get past. The anxiety, stress, and sleepless nights are back again. 

So, I reached out to TDOC and sent them proof of the letters, hired an attorney, and tried to get his early release revoked. Any reasonable person ought to clearly understand that Hank Wise’s actions do not constitute good behavior and should not be rewarded with early release.

I was told by TDOC early on that prisoner rights advocates would get upset if early release credits are taken away from an inmate. TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker was told early on at the State Capitol what I was dealing with. I was told Commissioner Parker was angry and said he was going to have the inmate “talked to.” I begged TDOC: “No, please don’t do that because I need his cell searched first for additional evidence.” I worried that if they “talked” with my husband’s murderer, he would destroy any other evidence that may be in his cell.

When I was able to finally talk with the Director of Investigations and Compliance for TDOC, her tone became defensive at my suggestion that Hank Wise’s cell be searched first before anyone speaks with him, telling me she knows how to do her job after spending decades in law enforcement. I have no idea what took place first, but apparently TDOC had a “talk” with him and had his cell searched and nothing was found. They put a “cover” on his mail, which just means they get a copy of what he mails out. They said they could not do it for long because he has first amendment rights.

Months went by while I tried to get even the most basic responses. TDOC was apparently more concerned about prisoner rights advocates getting upset they they were about doing the right thing for victims. 

When I pressed TDOC about his early release, I was told they could not revoke his credit because he had not been charged with a crime. I looked over the law and I’m not sure where it clearly says he must be charged with a crime first. It merely requires any major infraction that is designated by the department as a Class A disciplinary offense.

Time after time, TDOC thought that telling him not to do it again was sufficient. The notion that someone could commit a crime while in prison and the prison system believes a warning is enough.

I ended up going to the media because the bureaucrats over at TDOC were not budging. WSMV Nashville 4 News asked TDOC for a response, and TDOC said the following: “We reviewed the complaint and determined that the letters in question were not sent directly to Mrs. Goeser and at least two years had lapsed before any notice was given to TDOC.”

A murderer using the U.S. Postal Service to send letters to harass/stalk a victim of his crime, IS A CRIME. It is a federal crime and comes with a 5-year federal prison sentence. The Department of Justice has now charged Hank Wise with federal stalking.

A preliminary hearing before a federal judge took place this week. The Judge ruled the harassment definitely meets the standard for probable cause. But, despite this, TDOC is still not moving forward to remove his early release/good behavior credits.

TDOC, there is no excuse anymore — it’s time to start caring about victims. Revoke all early release credits for Hank Wise. It’s time to do the right thing.

Nikki Goeser, “Tennessee Prison System Accused of Putting Prisoner Rights Groups Before Victims,”, January 14, 2021.

Nikki Goeser



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