[Ppnews] Illinois Prisoner Claims Years of Solitary Confinement Have Led to Mental Illness
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 2 15:32:44 EDT 2011
Illinois Inmate Claims Years of Solitary
Confinement Have Led to Mental Illness and Self-Mutilation
September 2, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Dear America wrote Anthony Gay, who is being
held in solitary confinement in Tamms supermax
prison in Illinois, It is like this place is
designed to psychologically kill you. How could
America be so cruel to its own people?
a need to psychologically kill prisoners? In
Gays case, his lawyers claim, a seven-year term
in isolation has damaged their clients psyche to
the point that he routinely mutilates himself,
and at one point cut off one of his testicles and
hung it from a string on his cell door.
Originally sentenced to seven years for assault,
Gay is now serving 99 years for offenses committed while he was in solitary.
The story of Anthony Gay, which appeared earlier
this week in southwest Illinoiss Belleville
News-Democrat, reads like a primer on what is
wrong with solitary confinement, including how it
drives prisoners mad, and how it can turn a
relatively brief prison stint into an effective
life sentence. It also documents a novel attempt
by Gays lawyer to apply a recent Supreme Court
ruling to a prisoner suffering mental illness as
a result of prolonged isolation. The story was
written by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer,
whose award-winning 2010 investigative series
<http://www.bnd.com/600>Trapped in Tamms
exposed the suffering of prisonersespecially
prisoners with mental illnessin the Illinois
state supermax. Read the
story on BNDs site, or here:
Tamms Correctional Center inmate Anthony Gay
wont be eligible for parole until he is 120,
unless his lawyers interpretation of a recent
U.S. Supreme Court ruling leads to an earlier chance at release.
Gay, 36, was sent to prison in 1994 on a
seven-year sentence for assault, but hes now
serving 99 years at Tamms, Illinois only
state-operated supermax prison. His prison term
was increased because of mandatory consecutive
sentences for throwing urine and feces at guards.
Gay has appealed to an Illinois appellate court
in what may be the first attempt to apply a 2010
U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting life
sentences without parole for people 18 and younger.
In a Florida case, the Supreme Court
justices ruled that youths were not mature
enough to fully understand the penalty of their
crimes, and deserved some chance at someday
getting out. The ruling does not apply to homicide convictions.
Gays mental state is deteriorating because of
his seven-year stint in isolation at the
solitary-only Tamms lockup, according to experts
on the effects of isolation. Last year, he cut
off a part of his genitalia, which a
physician identified as possibly a testicle
and hung it from a string tied to his cell door.
He was treated and then sent to a strip cell as punishment.
Assistant Appellate Defender Scott Main has
argued that years of isolation at Tamms have
diminished his clients mental state to the point
he shouldnt be held criminally responsible for
throwing body wastes, acts he claims
were induced by mental illness. To eliminate
hope of release by making Gay serve a 99-year
sentence is like the Florida ruling because it
violates the cruel and unusual punishment
prohibitions of the Eighth Amendment, Main has argued.
Gay, of Rockford, was included in the Belleville
News-Democrats Trapped in Tamms series
published in 2009, which focused on mentally ill
inmates held in continuous solitary confinement.
While the prisons population was made up
of more than 50 percent convicted murderers,
many of the approximately 240 inmates were sent
to Tamms for rules violations, despite entering
the prison system for relatively minor crimes.
Many inmates currently at Tamms have been held
in solitary confinement for more than a decade
and some for as long as 13 years.
Gay initially received probation for punching a
youth and stealing his hat and a dollar. But at
20, he wound up in state prison for violating
probation. If he hadnt violated prison rules,
he would have been released in 1998 after 3 1/2 years.
After spending two years in solitary during his
first stint at Tamms shortly after it opened in
1998, Gay became a cutter, or an inmate who
responds to the stress of isolation by
mutilating himself. This has happened hundreds of
times with Gay, who has occasionally required hospitalization.
His self-mutilation, usually with bits of metal
or glass, reached a new level on Aug. 28, 2010,
during an episode that spawned still another
lawsuit. In this case, filed in federal court
where he represented himself, Gay won a partial victory earlier this year.
After his lawsuit was denied at the district
level he appealed to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court
of Appeals in Chicago. He claimed damages caused
by alleged deliberate indifference by prison
physician Dr. Marvin Powers, who waited two days
to treat Gay after he cut himself. Nearly a year
later, the court ordered Powers to evaluate Gay
to make sure his life was not in imminent danger
from the results of the self-mutilation.
What Powers saw at 8 a.m. on that day in August
when he arrived to treat Gay, he later described in cool, clinical terms.
Gay stood next to a piece of his own genitalia he
had cut off and fastened to a thin string or thread.
He was standing at the cell door with some
scrotal part of him, possibly a testicle, tied
to the sliding door, Powers wrote in his report.
After Gay refused to be treated, he was subdued
and Powers closed a wound in his scrotum with
stitches. It is unclear from medical reports
filed in federal court in East St. Louis whether
the body part was a testicle and whether it
was returned to his body. In his federal
lawsuit, Gay stated it was his left testicle.
Inmates who cut off body parts should not be held
in solitary, said psychiatrist Dr. Terry Kupers,
an expert on the effects of long term solitary confinement.
Kupers, of the Wright Institute, a psychology
graduate school in Berkeley, Calif., said that
under conditions imposed by federal court decrees
in California, Mr. Gay would be permanently
excluded from supermax confinement
is so disturbed that he continually cuts himself,
and so bizarre and extreme in his emotional
disturbance that he cuts his testicles, is
clearly extremely self-harming and functionally
impaired, a grave and imminent danger to
himself, and should never be consigned to supermax isolation.
But medical and mental health staff members at
Tamms have long labeled Gay a manipulator who
cuts himself to get what he wants, according to federal court documents.
In the state appeal case, Main stated that the
added years on his clients original seven-year
sentence accrued during 10 months in 2000 and
2001 when he was held at the Pontiac
Correctional Center. He was charged by the
Livingston County states attorney with 21
counts of aggravated battery for throwing feces and urine at guards.
One of the judges, who handled some of the cases,
wrote a letter to another county judge stating
that a $2 piece of plastic could have stopped a
number of these prosecutions from being filed.
He referred to the prosecutions as a waste of taxpayers money.
In an opposing argument in the appellate court
case filed on behalf of the county prosecutor by
the office of the States Attorney Appellate
Prosecutor, Gays attacks on guards at Pontiac
were described as a scheme to force a transfer
back to Tamms because he was infatuated with a female psychologist.
That written argument stated that Gay threw body
wastes at officers in order to force a transfer
back to the prison (Tamms) to be with the
female psychologist with whom he was in love.
The initial outcome of the state appeal process,
if Gay wins, would call for the appellate
justices to order an evidentiary hearing where
witnesses and evidence could be heard concerning
whether he is mentally ill because of solitary
confinement. A ruling of whether he could be held
responsible for the in-prison crimes would follow.
Laurie Jo Reynolds of Chicago, founder of the
Tamms Year Ten Campaign that opposes solitary
confinement, said Gays situation is emblematic
of a failure by the Illinois Department of
Corrections to connect mental illness to long
term isolation, even though a federal court
ruling by a judge in East St. Louis last year made that connection.
This example is emblematic, she said, A man
cuts off his testicle and instead of admitting
he needs help, they punish him for malingering
Im so appalled. If we built a dungeon, it would be a reform.
Dr. Janis Petzel, a Maine psychiatrist who helped
lead an unsuccessful effort last year to
convince that states legislature to prohibit
prisoners from being held in isolation longer
than 45 days, said, It gets to be a vicious
circle the longer a prisoner is held in
solitary, the more abnormal their
behavior becomes, and the longer they are forced to stay in solitary.
Petzel, the former president of the Maine
Association of Psychiatric Physicians, said that
while she could not offer a clinical diagnosis of
Gay without first examining him, inmates in his
situation often find it difficult to obey the rules.
Prisons are full of people with a history of
child abuse, head injuries or mental illnesses,
all of which impact their bodys stress response
system and impulse control
and make it very
difficult for them to toe the line with the very
particular rules inside prisons, and also make
them targets for violence from guards and other inmates, she said
Gay spends much of his time in solitary writing,
including writing complaints for lawsuits and composing essays.
Court documents state that Gay is mentally ill
although his diagnosis is not considered serious
by prison medical staff. However, despite his
proclivity for self-mutilation and hours where
he is strapped by his arms and legs to a metal
bed-frame for violating supermax rules, Gays
letters to friends and supporters are often articulate and introspective.
In a recent installment in a series of letters
that begin with, Dear America, Gay wrote: It
is like this place (Tamms) is designed
to psychologically kill you. How could America
be so cruel to its own people?
Is there a need
to psychologically kill prisoners? Are we terrorists? Am I a terrorist?
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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