MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A contracted food worker at the Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX) who was assaulted by an inmate last week blamed understaffing for the incident.

Ginger Gross has worked at NECX for five years as a contracted worker with food supplier Aramark in the prison’s cafeteria.

The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) has struggled with understaffing and dangerous conditions at the prison for years.

The name of the inmate has not been released by TDOC, but charges are pending.

Gross said that understaffing led to an assault by a prisoner in the prison’s kitchen on May 27.

She claimed only one correctional officer was in the kitchen at the time of the attack. Even then, she said the officer was taking out the garbage when she was ambushed.

“There is supposed to be two correctional officers in the kitchen at all times. There’s only one. The door where the inmate was at was supposed to be locked at all times,” Gross said. “If there was two [officers], I think that they would’ve been in separate areas of the kitchen. I don’t think it would’ve happened.”

Gross said the assaulting inmate had been serving other prisoners on the food line.

She left to use the bathroom. Upon her return, she said the prisoner hid behind an ice machine and ambushed her.

“Whenever I came out, he grabbed me by my neck, pushed me back inside the bathroom and we fought for four and a half minutes,” Gross said.

Gross managed to get the prisoner off her, but he left scratches around her neck and bruising on her arm, knees and shin.

“To be honest, I thought he was trying to rape me, but after I spoke with the DA and stuff, he actually admitted that he was trying to kill me,” Gross said.

A week after the attack Gross is still struggling with the emotional trauma inflicted upon her.

“I can’t go outside at night. I’m constantly worried. I can’t sleep. If I sleep, whenever I close my eyes all I see is hand coming towards my throat again,” Gross said.

Current and former correctional officers at NECX have blamed understaffing for dangerous conditions and a sense of fear among workers.

Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) led a push for a pay raise to recruit more workers to the prison. The pay was eventually raised to $44,500, but he said that has not entirely fixed the problem.

“It’s not the staff growth that I was hoping for,” Campbell said. “Been working with the department at the state level to try to remedy and prevent situations exactly like this and here we are.”

Gross said she had not seen another contracted worker assaulted before during her tenure at the prison, but she had seen at least 10 correctional officers attacked.

TDOC confirmed another assault happened on May 27. Gross said other inmates beat up her attacker after she got away from him.

She is looking at other employment opportunities, unsure if she wants to return to NECX.

But she wants prison administrators to make changes to protocol for the safety of her co-workers.

“The two COs. That’s got to change,” Gross said. “Whenever we’re serving chow, they’ll sometimes pull our CO, so we have to deal with the inmates by ourself, which is not safe. You know, we’re food service, not security.”

Gross said contracted workers should also receive training on how to prevent and deal with situations like this.

News Channel 11 reached out to TDOC for an incident report, but were told the incident is still under investigation.