Inmate wants out of Tamms; attorney says years of solitary confinement have harmed his mental health – Trapped in Tamms – bnd.com

Posted: August 29, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

BY GEORGE PAWLACZYK AND BETH HUNDSDORFER – News-Democrat

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 incuded 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.”

via Inmate wants out of Tamms; attorney says years of solitary confinement have harmed his mental health – Trapped in Tamms – bnd.com.

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