[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
http://solitarywatch.com/2011/09/02/illinois-inmate-claims-years-of-solitary-confinement-have-led-to-mental-illness-and-self-mutilation/
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?
 Is there 
a need to psychologically kill prisoners?” In 
Gay’s case, his lawyers claim, a seven-year term 
in isolation has damaged their client’s 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 Illinois’s 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 Gay’s 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 prisoners–especially 
prisoners with mental illness–in the Illinois 
state supermax. Read the 
<http://www.bnd.com/2011/08/28/1837463/inmate-wants-opportunity-to-get.html>full 
story on BND’s site, or here:

Tamms Correctional Center inmate Anthony Gay 
won’t be eligible for parole  until he is 120, 
unless his lawyer’s 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  he’s 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.

Gay’s 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 client’s mental state to the point 
he shouldn’t 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-Democrat’s “Trapped in  Tamms” series 
published in 2009, which focused on mentally ill 
inmates held in  continuous solitary confinement. 
While the prison’s 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 hadn’t 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
someone who 
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 client’s  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 state’s 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 State’s Attorney Appellate 
Prosecutor,  Gay’s 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 Gay’s 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
 
I’m 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 state’s 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 body’s 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, Gay’s 
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?”





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