[Pnews] Illinois inmate out of prison after decades in solitary - robbed a hat and dollar bill

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Sep 10 12:33:56 EDT 2018


  Illinois inmate out of prison after decades in solitary

By Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk
September 07, 2018

As a teenager, Anthony Gay robbed a fellow teen of his hat and a dollar 
bill, which landed Gay in prison.

His prison odyssey spanned 24 years, during which he was locked in 
solitary confinement in Illinois prisons for 22 to 23 hours a day, cut 
and slashed parts of his own body more than 500 times in protest, was 
strapped naked to metal bed frames without food, and, on a grim day in 
2010 during what court records state was extreme mental delirium, sliced 
off part of his testicle and tied it to a cell door.

Ten days ago, Gay, now 44, woke up in solitary in the prison’s mental 
unit. In the space of minutes, he was escorted out of his cell at the 
Dixon Correctional Center by a three-man “extraction team” to a dressing 
room, where he got out of his yellow jumpsuit and into civilian clothes. 
A short walk followed until he reached a final door. Then freedom.

“I felt alive again. I couldn’t believe it,” said Gay, who met his 
sister in the parking lot. “It’s good to be home.”

She had rented a small U-Haul trailer, and Gay loaded about a dozen 
large cardboard boxes jammed with thousands of court documents and 
letters that fueled his court battles for decades. They immediately left 
for the family home in Rock Island.

Gay’s unusual case 
<https://www.bnd.com/news/local/article217934425.html> was detailed in 
the BND’s 2009 award-winning investigative series “Trapped In Tamms.” 
That and numerous follow-up articles helped bring attention to the 
plight of Gay and others. A federal judge in East St. Louis would 
eventually find that mentally ill prisoners held in solitary for over a 
decade in the now closed Tamms supermax prison in the southern tip of 
Illinois were cruelly treated. Reforms were recommended but the prison, 
the most expensive per inmate to operate, soon closed. 

Anthony Gay.JPG

Anthony Gay

George Pawlaczyk

Gay expected to die in prison because of a long series of felony 
assaults on guards that consisted of throwing body waste or yanking back 
on chains. These sentences were consecutive and added 99 years to Gay’s 
prison time. He was up for parole at age 120.

      Reviewing the prison sentence

But attorneys Scott Main of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern 
University in Chicago and Jennifer Soble of the Fair Punishment Project 
reviewed a series of 17 assaults on guards by Gay, mostly in Livingston 
County where he was then held at Pontiac Prison, and determined that the 
consecutive sentences were improper. The local prosecutor agreed, and 
Gay’s sentence was reduced by 73 years. He faced just 4 1/2 more years 
and finally knew he would be free.

But while he was out from prison, he wasn’t completely free. Gay must 
wear an electronic ankle bracelet for 90 days and can leave the home 
only to look for a job, which he has done several times.

After his first night at his mother’s house, attorney Main stopped by 
for a visit. Gay was sitting at the dining room table talking to family 
members on a cellphone that took him some time to figure out.

“My feelings in that moment were of disbelief and joy,” Main said when 
Gay answered the door. “Am I going to say what he did was right? No, I 
am not. But we put someone in segregation and when he manifests symptoms 
as a result of that and then we punish them for the symptoms, we can’t 
be terribly surprised by the outcome.”

As for whether Gay will stay out of prison, Main said: “I’m not in the 
prediction business. He has a strong support system from his family and 
his team at Northwestern. But in the end, it’s a matter of hope.”

      Need for a support system

Johnny Perez, director of the U.S. Prisons Program for the National 
Religious Campaign Against Torture, said, “Gay’s success in society 
depends on creating a support system and assessing resources to help in 
the transition.” Perez was held for three years in solitary 
<https://www.nbacares.org/files/file/bio-for-johnny-perez.pdf> on New 
York state on a robbery charge.

“They go from being all alone into families that have learned to get 
along without them,” Perez said. “Choices and responsibilities in small 
things such as food, clothing and transportation can seem overwhelming.”

Perez offered this advice to Gay to improve his assimilation:

“Connect with people who have been in the same situation as you. Use 
them as mentors and service providers because only they can know what we 
are going through. It gets better with time. Every day gets a bit 
easier,” Perez said.

Able to talk freely without guards listening in, Gay told a visitor he 
believes his basic inability to cope in the prison system started about 
1994. He was diagnosed with relatively minor mental illness, including 
borderline personality disorder.

“I was acting out,” he said. “I didn’t know who my friends were. The 
environment was all about hate. It was a nightmare.”

      ‘The only way I could feel anything’

The Department of Corrections sent Gay to Tamms in 1998, and there he 
encountered the most extremely restricted environment in the entire 
prison system. He said his answer to solitary confinement was to fall in 
love. As unlikely as this sounds in a prison where inmates are basically 
denied human contact, Gay said he found a way. It was his therapist, a 
woman in her 30s who saw him on a weekly basis.

“The only way I could feel anything was to fall in love,” he said. ”I 
was in love with her.”

The love was unrequited. The therapist only provided therapy. The human 
contact and the communication helped him cope with the lonely hours in 
his cell spent in solitary confinement. That one relationship helped 
sustain him, he said.

But suddenly, Gay was returned to Pontiac, which has been listed in 
court documents as the second worst environment in the state prison 
system. He was sent directly to solitary. He said he didn’t know why he 
was transferred and desperately wanted to get back to Tamms to see his 
former therapist.

“I knew if I could get back to see her I would be all right,” he said.

But no transfer came.

So that’s when he began accumulating years and years on his sentence by 
assaulting guards and getting charged with more crimes.

“I never thought they’d charge me for throwing (feces),” he said.

The years-long battle to return to Tamms was won, but the therapist was 
gone by the time he returned.

      Feeling ‘human’

At his mother’s home, Gay mows the grass and dreams of writing a book 
about his years in solitary. He has a title, “Life on Impulse,” and even 
a cover designed by a friend in the publishing business. His own letters 
from various state and federal court files show him as an articulate, 
often impassioned writer.

Daily chores make him feel “human,” he says.

Despite seeking a normalcy, there are outward indications of his time 
spent in solitary. His arms are roped with scars, making an odd road map 
of his time in prison.

Gay’s right arm is so scarred by cutting that it’s impossible to count 
the wounds. The inner thigh on one leg and his neck also contain this 
type of scarring. Psychiatrists say inmates who spend long periods of 
time in solitary sometimes cut themselves simply “to feel something” again.

Records from Tamms obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 2009 
by the BND showed that sometimes inmates were sutured without 
anesthetic. He said of the times he had cut on himself he was brought to 
a hospital maybe 50 times, although he said there were other mutilation 
incidents that should have resulted in a trip to the emergency room.

His introduction to “cutting,” a practice seen in society by inmates 
held for great lengths in solitary and adolescent girls, was sort of a 
breakthrough, even though it was painful and dangerous.

“It was psychologically chaotic,” he said of self-mutilation. ”You’re 
doing it to feel alive. I saw somebody else do it. It blew me back.”

One of the advantages of a trip to a hospital was the care, contact and 
communication given to him by the emergency room staff.

“I love nurses,” he said. “They are the greatest humans on earth.”

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