Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

“I Was Scheduled to Die in Solitary Confinement” – and May Soon Be Again

by Mark Wilson

Locked in solitary confinement for decades, mentally ill Illinois prisoner Anthony Gay engaged in severe and shocking self-mutilation. Stabbing a razor blade into his eye. Eating his own flesh. Cutting out one of his testicles and hanging it on a cell door. He also packed a fan motor into a gaping leg wound and cut open his scrotum, stitching in a zipper.

“I was trapped in a cell 24-hours a day, seven days a week,” said Gay of his 22 years in solitary. “On many occasions, I would be isolated on a wing by myself in a cold, freezing cell, stripped down in six-point restraints.” When he cut himself, he was punished for it, “given an unappetizing diet called meat loaf that looked like feces and tastes like dog food,” he added.

Equally alarming, and in many ways far more disturbing, is the behavior of the prison officials and prosecutors who had control over Gay’s life. Their cruel indifference to Gay’s serious mental illness made his shocking self-harm and other misbehavior inevitable. Worse yet, they repeatedly prosecuted him for behavior that he could not control because of the illness that they refused to treat, adding 90 years to his original seven-year sentence and denying him release eligibility until 2093.

“Instead of being removed [from solitary], I was buried deeper,” said Gay. “I was scheduled to die in solitary confinement.”

Widely considered the poster child for the problems inherent in incarcerating the mentally ill, Gay has suffered decades of heartless, dehumanizing indifference and torture. “He is the classic example of how we treat mentally ill people in this society,” said Alan Mills, lead attorney for Chicago’s Uptown People’s Law Center. “He should not even be in prison. This was a case involving stealing a dollar bill.”

Just 19 when arrested on May 27, 1993, Gay was accused of stealing a ball cap and a $1 bill from another teen during a fight. His attorney advised him to plead guilty to robbery, incorrectly telling him that it was a lesser offense of the charges he faced, when, in fact, it was a greater offense.

Gay pleaded guilty on November 2, 1993. He was sentenced to probation and released four days later. He violated the terms of his probation in 1994, however, by driving without a license. His probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to seven years in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). With good-time credit, he could have been released in three and a half years, according to his lawyer, Alexis Chardon. Sadly, that did not happen.

America’s Criminalization of the Mentally Ill

Prisons and jails have become America’s largest psychiatric facilities. According to a 2014 Treatment Advocacy Center report, over 350,000 individuals with severe mental illnesses were held in U.S. prisons and jails in 2012, while state psychiatric hospitals held just 35,000 patients.

In 2016, more than twenty years after Gay was first convicted, an estimated 10,600 DOC prisoners (22%) suffered from “some sort of mental health need,” according to spokeswoman Stacey Solano. About 4,600 (10%) were classified as “seriously mentally ill.”

In October 2022 the National Judicial Task Force To Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illnessissued State Courts Leading Change: Report and Recommendations. In it, the group noted that “[m]ore than 70% of people in U.S. jails and prisons have at least one diagnosed mental illness or substance use disorder or both, and up to a third of incarcerated people have a serious mental illness.”

Gay was one of those prisoners. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and several other serious mental problems, he suffers from what even prison doctors admit are “complicated mental health disorders” – problems so acute as to require inpatient care. In Gay v. Chandra, 652 F.Supp.2d 959 (S.D. Ill. 2009), a federal court noted that Gay’s illnesses “have not only required ongoing psychiatric treatment for more than ten years, they have also resulted in behavior that is so disturbing that even a person with no medical training could recognize that Gay’s ailments are ‘serious.’”

Prison and court records raise serious concerns about the ability of DOC medical staff to identify and treat prisoners who suffer from serious mental problems. Like most prison systems, Illinois has long regarded mentally ill prisoners solely as “security problems,” with little interest in actually treating their illnesses, notes Mills. Biased prison officials callously ignore symptoms of serious mental illness, accusing prisoners instead of “manipulation” and attempts to “fake” their way out of punishment for misconduct.

“There’s a tremendous pull toward seeing everything that you’re looking at as bad behavior that needs to be punished, rather than recognizing that it’s actually a response to mental illness,” explains Dr. Stuart Grassian, MD. A nationally renowned solitary confinement expert, he says that “[t]he paradigm in the prison system is if you punish bad behavior enough it’ll get better. That’s obviously a paradigm that doesn’t work.”

This punishment paradigm inevitably creates a vicious cycle in which mentally ill prisoners quickly end up in solitary confinement. In turn, that causes their mental illness to further deteriorate. They then engage in impulsive, uncontrollable behaviors that lead to more punishment, extending their solitary confinement and further aggravating their untreated mental illness. This cycle almost always ends very badly.

The Human Rights Watch, a torture watchdog group, estimated from 2003 data that one-third to one-half of those in solitary confinement suffered from some form of mental illness. “When I started touring ... solitary confinement units in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I found that 50% of [prisoners] suffered from [serious mental illness],” agreed Dr. Terry Kupers, MD, a leading national solitary confinement and mental health expert.

A federal judge found in 2018 that of the roughly 1,100 Illinois prisoners in solitary confinement, more than 900 (81.8%) had been diagnosed with mental illnesses. DOC also admitted in December 2018 that nearly one in three segregated prisoners had a mental illness categorized as serious. At that time, there were 1,302 prisoners in restrictive housing and just under 400 (30.6%) were identified as seriously mentally ill, according to DOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess.

Gay became a victim of this endless vicious cycle of misery when a fight with another prisoner first landed him in solitary confinement. “From there, he rapidly began to decompensate,” said Chardon. “Solitary confinement is known to ravage people’s minds. Anthony’s story illustrates how prison can be a real trap for the mentally ill.”

This undeniable truth has been widely recognized for more than two centuries. In the late 1700s, William Bradford, who would become America’s second Attorney General, cautioned against exceeding 20 to 30 days at a time in solitary confinement, noting that long-term isolation is more than most humans can bear. The U.S. Supreme Court later agreed. “A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane. Others still committed suicide,” the Court acknowledged in its 1890 decision, In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160 (1890).

In 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy added in his concurrence with the Court’s decision in Davis v. Ayala, 576 U.S. 257 (2015), that “[y]ears on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price,” including “anxiety, paranoia, withdrawal, hallucinations, self-mutilation, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.”

Three years later, Justice Sonia Sotomayor added her voice in agreement. Though agreeing with the Court’s decision not to hear the case, Apodaca v. Raemisch, 139 S. Ct. 5 (2018), she worried that “[w]e ... know that solitary confinement imprints on those that it clutches a wide range of psychological scars.”

Solitary confinement leads to mental breakdown and behavior that becomes worse, not better, leaving individuals feeling utterly hopeless, explains Kupers. “One of the universal fears that people in supermaxes tell me is, ‘I’m going to die in here.’”

David Fathi, executive director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, agrees that “solitary confinement is one of the most damaging things you can do to a human being.”

“Prisoners Will Detest This Place. How Much … Is Going To Be the Key”

Illinois modeled its “supermax” prison, the Tamms Correctional Center, on California’s Pelican Bay lockup, which quickly became the target of extensive federal litigation after it opened in 1990. In a case before the federal court for the Northern District of California in 1995, Judge Thelton Henderson found that “many, if not most, inmates in the SHU [Security Housing Unit] experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU.”

“SHU conditions had either massively exacerbated a previous psychiatric illness or precipitated psychiatric symptoms,” the judge concluded in Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

George Wellborn, Tamms’ architect and first warden, toured Pelican Bay and kept a binder of the Madrid litigation, vowing that he would not make the same mistakes California officials made.

“Prisoners will detest this place. How much they detest it is going to be the key to how successful it is,” Wellborn proudly declared. “It is very, very hard time. Is it constitutional incarceration? Yes, it is. The court cases to this point have shown that. We’re not beating them. We’re not starving them.”

Of course, beating and starving prisoners are not the only ways to torture, dehumanize and destroy them. A mountain of federal litigation quickly exposed Tamms’ harsh and oppressive conditions. One lawsuit described “an atmosphere of terror and brutality.” Another recalled that guards punished mentally ill prisoners by shutting off drinking and toilet water, taking away clothing and other personal possessions, and restricting meals to a tasteless “nutraloaf.” Prison officials defended each of these practices as a part of the prison’s strict discipline policy.

Wellborn initially claimed that Tamms would not accept any prisoners with diagnosed psychiatric problems. He also vowed that a larger mental health staff would be available to identify prisoners who were about to snap. Both claims quickly proved false.

A 2009 Belleville News Democrat investigation found that of more than 250 prisoners held at Tamms, only a fraction were placed in the prison’s Special Treatment Unit for serious mental illness, after their mental health screening. The following year, DOC chief counsel Ed Huntley refused to provide information to the federal court for the Southern District of Illinois about the total number of Tamms prisoners denied admittance due to mental health reasons.

Judge G. Patrick Murphy then found what has long been indisputable: Prisoners deteriorated psychologically in the solitary confinement that defined Tamms. “Every [DOC prisoner] testifying in this case who currently is confined or formerly was confined in the supermax prison at Tamms complained bitterly of the intense isolation caused by the pervasive lack of contact with other inmates,” Murphy noted in Westefer v. Snyder, 725 F.Supp.2d 735 (S.D. Ill. 2010).

Many, the judge continued, “specifically linked the intense isolation at Tamms to deterioration of their mental health that they suffered during their confinement in the supermax prison.” Like anyone else who gives a moment’s consideration to the impact of solitary confinement, Judge Murphy found that Tamms prisoners suffered auditory hallucinations and beliefs that correctional personnel were poisoning their food, severe depression, self-mutilation, attempted suicide and continuing paranoia and fear of being around other people that endured even after transferring out of Tamms.

“In sum,” Murphy said, “it appears that the psychological toll exacted by long-term confinement in the intensely isolated circumstances of Tamms is, in many instances, a continuing one.”

Mentally Ill Dismissed as Fakers, Manipulators and Malingerers

Tamms guards and mental health staffremained callously indifferent to the serious mental illness exhibited by the prisoners who were confined there before the prison ultimately closed in 2013. Viewing them as “malingerers” and “manipulators,” staff insisted that Tamms prisoners would not be allowed to “fake” their way to an easier mental health unit.

Despite suffering from a well-documented Intermittent Explosive Disorder diagnosis and other mental illnesses, for example, prisoner Jerome Moore was regarded by prison officials as a “malingerer” who faked his symptoms. Tamms’ on-site supervising psychologist, Dr. Kelly Rhodes, also dismissed prisoner Faygie Fields’ long, well-documented history of schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses, arguing that he, too, was faking his symptoms. Rhodes and a Tamms psychiatrist, Dr. Rakesh Chandra, routinely called Gay and other prisoners “manipulators” to justify their own shocking indifference to alarming manifestations of mental illness, as well as their refusal to provide psychotropic medication and other treatment.

Gay was first sent to Tamms soon after it opened in 1998. Predictably his untreated mental illnesses quickly and dramatically deteriorated. He was soon self-mutilating and attempting suicide.

He did “superficial cuts,” at first but prison staff didn’t take him seriously, explained Gay. So he began seriously mutilating himself with staples, rocks, paint chips, paperclips, ink pens and any other object he could find in his cell. By the time the federal court got to his case against the doctor, Gay v. Chandra, it was clear that “Gay used any item that was in his reach – everything from zippers, cell surfaces, and toothbrushes – to injure himself.”

He cut his neck, attempting suicide. On another occasion, he cut his leg, sliced his arm and put a razor blade into his eye. Throughout decades of solitary confinement, Gay severely self-mutilated literally hundreds of times. Gay is far from alone. Chris Marcum was another of many Tamms prisoners known as “cutters.”

“I’ve seen in other prisons inmates cut on themselves, but there wasn’t that many people doing it,” said Marcum. “But at Tamms, every wing I went on there was at least one inmate that had a glass shield on his door, played with his feces, and cut on himself.” The glass shield was to prevent prisoners from throwing bodily fluids on the guards through the 400 dime-sized holes in their cell door.

Marcum’s left forearm is covered on all sides in long, white scars. “I just wanted to feel something. It was the only way I coped ... at the time, with being incarcerated,” said Marcum. “You lose all sense of everything. It helped me with what I was going through, but it hurt a lot.”

Gay expressed a similar motivation for his self-harm. “I wanted to know that I was human. I wanted to feel alive. And that’s the only means I could do it,” he said, echoing Marcum. “It made me feel alive because the nurses were very caring, compassionate. They would clean the blood off me, encourage me not to do it.”

Caring and compassionate are not the words many would use for the care Gay received. Most times, doctors did not use anesthesia while performing the extensive suturing necessary to close Gay’s deep wounds, according to court records.

This appears to be a routine practice. A prison doctor who stitched up Fields’ self-inflicted wounds testified that he didn’t always inject anesthesia, claiming that the skin of many Tamms prisoners becomes numb from massive scarring from repeated self-mutilation. Likewise, Dr. Marvin Powers, the Tamms physician who attended to prisoner Wade Thomas’s self-inflicted wounds, “cleaned his wounds and gave him stitches, but without any anesthetic, causing unnecessary pain,” a federal judge recalled on July 5, 2006, in a case he brought, Thomas v. Rhodes, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45610 (S.D. Ill.).

And, of course, encouraging seriously mentally ill prisoners not to self-mutilate is not an effective intervention for behavior they cannot control. “They can’t control their behavior enough, or please their wardens enough to ever get out,” notes Dr. Kupers.

“Although Dr. Chandra admits that Gay suffers from ‘complicated mental health disorders,’ he is unwilling to concede that these disorders are serious,” a federal judge noted in the prisoner’s case against the doctor. Though Gay repeatedly begged for medication, “Dr. Chandra continually determined that Gay did not need any psychotropic medication, even though Dr. Chandra had prescribed him medication years before and Gay’s medical records from other institutions show that he was frequently prescribed medication.” The court ultimately found “that a jury could believe Dr. Chandra’s decision not to give Gay any medication demonstrates deliberate indifference to Gay’s medical needs.”

Due to his dramatic deterioration in Tamms, Gay was transferred to the special mental health treatment unit at Dixon Psychiatric Center in March 2000. He remained there only briefly, however, before being transferred back to the isolated confinement of the Pontiac Correctional Center segregation unit on July 5, 2000. The Westefer court later found that while isolation at Pontiac was less severe than at Tamms, the conditions are similar to other isolated confinement settings that have prompted judicial and legislative intervention.

“As a Practical Matter, He’s Now a Lifer.”

Immediately upon return to Pontiac, Gay began deteriorating mentally and self-mutilating once again. He also misbehaved, racking up dozens of disciplinary rule violations by repeatedly throwing food, urine, feces, and other fluids at guards, pulling on or twisting away from handcuffs or struggling with guards. None of these incidents resulted in serious injury to anyone, and all were driven by his untreated mental illness.

The Belleville News-Democrat investigation found that officials at Menard Correctional Center and other DOC facilities respond to this type of non-criminal harassment of guards with loss of privileges or other internal disciplinary sanctions. Yet Pontiac officials, on the other hand, took a much harder line. Whether driven by untreated mental illness or not, they referred these prisoners for criminal prosecution, and prosecutors were all too happy to oblige.

“Most of everything (is) stuff that’s relatively non-violent, usually throwing some sort of liquids at guards,” admits Livingston County State’s Attorney Tom Brown. Nevertheless, his office still prosecutes non-violent harassment of guards because he says prison staff “have the same right to be safe at work and free of crime as you or I when we go to work.”

To that end, Livingston County prosecutors brought 22 successive indictments against Gay for aggravated assault on guards. Seventeen of those incidents occurred during a 10-month stretch in 2000 and 2001. Despite his obvious mental illness, Gay was not only criminally charged for non-violent behavior but he was also allowed to represent himself.

He was acquitted of one of the aggravated assault charges at trial, recalls former Livingston County Circuit Judge Charles H. Frank. The judge attempted to negotiate a deal with prosecutors to wrap up all pending charges in a single reduced sentence, but Gay refused to cooperate.

“He’d say ‘Nope. I want to try them all,’” Frank noted. And the people in the room who were not mentally ill allowed him to do just that. Gay was ultimately convicted of all 21 charges and sentenced to consecutive time, adding 90 years to his original seven-year sentence, barring release until 2093.

“I would think a $2 piece of plastic draping would have prevented all of these. Apparently, no one out there understands that,” Frank wrote to another judge, referring to 10 incidents during a two-month span in which Gay received 35 additional years upon being convicted of “throwing liquids” on guards. “Mr. Gay committed a minor theft. As a practical matter, he’s now a lifer.”

DOC would later identify Gay in court filings as one of a few dozen prisoners who are so acutely mentally ill as to require full inpatient care. Yet prison officials, prosecutors and judges repeatedly ignored his mental illness by charging, convicting and sentencing him far beyond his life expectancy for behavior that he could not control due to his untreated mental illness.

Sadly, Gay was far from alone. Of the 247 prisoners confined in Tamms on June 30, 2009, 55 (22.1 %) of them had been convicted of similar prison offenses, according to the Belleville News-Democrat investigation. Each of these prisoners was seriously mentally ill.

Prisoner Michael Williams, for example, originally received a two-year sentence for theft in 1994. He was eligible for release after just one year. But subsequent prison convictions pushed his release date to 2028. If released then, he will have served 34 years.

Prisoner Wade Thomas, an 18-year-old passenger in a stolen car, was sentenced to 12 years for vehicular hijacking in 1997. He could have been released in six years, but several prison convictions moved his release date to at least 2014, after serving 17 years.

Prisoner Damir Green was sentenced to six years for a 1992 drug conviction, with release eligibility after three years. But prison convictions added 19 years to his sentence as he remained continuously confined in solitary confinement for more than a decade.

Prisoner Jerome Moore had 10 years added to his sentence for throwing food, body wastes and twisting away from handcuffs.

Prisoner Faygie Fields could have been released in 2004, after serving 20 years of a 40-year sentence. However, his convictions for throwing food, urine and committing other offenses against guards added 34 years to his sentence, delaying his parole eligibility until 2038, when he is 79 years old. Fields once made a noose to kill himself; prison officials responded by charging him $5.30 for the bedsheet he tore.

Gay appealed his conviction, arguing that DOC failed to provide sufficient notice that prison misconduct could expose prisoners to criminal prosecution. Characterizing Gay’s argument as “absurd,” the Illinois Court of Appeals then held that a single unlawful act may give rise to both disciplinary and criminal charges. See: People v. Gay, 2011 Ill. App (4th) 100009 (Ill. App. 2011).

These criminal convictions marked mentally ill prisoners as ‘‘the worst of the worst,” targeting them for transfer to Tamms before the prison closed. DOC’s policy of using extreme discipline to respond to problems that many consider to be caused by mental illness resulted in psychological deterioration, even worse behavior, and sometimes suicide, notes Malcolm Young, a lawyer at Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.

“Whatever Treatment That They Did Give Me Was Never Sufficient.”

A Pontiac psychiatrist noted in December 2000 that Gay had mutilated himself, suffered from mood and personality disorders and asked to be given medication. He was then transferred to Menard Correctional Center, where a psychiatrist noted in May 2001 that he had slashed his right thigh with a razor and exhibited hostile behavior by cursing and making threatening gestures.

Gay later required emergency transfer back to Dixon due, in part, to removing his bandages from a self-inflicted wound and scribbling blood on his cell wall. A Dixon psychiatrist determined that Gay needed to continue psychotropic medication.

At least one judge found that Gay suffers from serious mental illness, which courts have ruled to be a basis for exclusion from solitary confinement and supermax prisons. Yet despite his deteriorating psychiatric condition and repeated acts of self-harm, the state refused to remove him from the toxic environment of isolated confinement.

Instead Gay was transferred back to Tamms on January 28, 2004. The transfer summary stated that Gay had previously inserted foreign objects into his penis, had personality and “impulse control” disorders, mutilated himself and assaulted staff. Yet despite his six requests for medication, he was not prescribed any psychotropic medications at the time of his transfer.

A Tamms nurse put Gay on psychiatric observation and recommended placing him on a mental health treatment plan on January 29, 2004. Dr. Chandra then conducted an initial psychiatric evaluation of Gay on February 6, 2004.

Chandra diagnosed Gay as suffering from Axis II diagnoses of “antisocial personality disorder” and “narcissistic personality disorder.” Gay again asked Chandra to prescribe Elavil and Sinequan because they had helped him in the past, but Chandra refused, concluding that psychotropic medication was unnecessary because “Gay was just angry about being transferred back to Tamms.”

When Gay cut his right thigh three days later, Chandra placed him on suicide watch in a “strip cell” on February 9, 2004, naked and with only a “safety blanket.” Gay still managed to cut himself repeatedly throughout February 2004, despite being on suicide watch in a cell that was not supposed to contain any objects he could use to hurt himself. Guards were also supposed to check on him every ten minutes.

On February 13, 2004, Gay cut his thighs and legs. Seven days later he again cut his leg and reopened a wound in his right groin. Then, on February 23, 2004, Gay cut his penis, right thigh and reopened the wound over his right groin.

Under oath, Dr. Rhodes revealed her apparent incompetence, cruel indifference, or both, dismissing self-mutilation as a game rather than a symptom of serious mental illness. “They’ll compete with each other to see who can cut because it’s fun,” she testified during a deposition. In several lawsuits challenging Tamms conditions, DOC officials have repeatedly claimed that self-mutilation is not a symptom of serious mental illness because the prisoner can stop at will.

Dr. Kupers and other mental health experts vehemently disagree. “In the adult male population of the United States, self-mutilation occurs only in solitary confinement,” explains Kupers. “It’s an epidemic across the country. They’re not faking.”

“What kind of guy is slicing up his penis and his arms to get out of prison?” asked Jean Snyder, a Chicago attorney who has represented Fields. “Is it an answer to say he could stop if he wanted to?”

Yet Rhodes and Chandra insisted that Gay and the other DOC “cutters” radically harm themselves because they are manipulators, fakers and game players – not mentally ill.

“Dr. Chandra claims that Gay cut on his penis and thighs, not because he had a ‘true mental illness,’ but because he is an intelligent manipulator who mutilated himself to obtain attention from female members of Tamms’ mental health staff,” a federal judge observed. “Dr. Chandra further states that Gay also did this because he knew that the staff would have to clean his wounds, and he used this attention to gratify himself sexually.”

Chandra released Gay from suicide watch on February 27, 2004. Six days later, Gay again asked the doctor to put him back on psychotropic medication because he felt isolated, upset and intended to cut himself.

A Brutal March 2004

Dr. Chandra again diagnosed Gay as suffering from antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders, but he again refused to prescribe medication. Soon thereafter, Gay began pulling on his scabs and cutting his penis. Chandra ordered him placed back on suicide watch in a strip cell, and he still refused to provide medication.

Even as DOC officials asserted that self-mutilation was not a symptom of serious mental illness, Tamms policy authorized them to torture “cutters” by restraining them naked, except for a “chuck” (i.e., a small pad) over their pelvic area, holding them in “therapeutic restraints” up to 16 hours at a time.

Under this policy, “cutters” were strapped down, spread-eagle on a metal framework, with their arms and legs bound with leather straps. The policy also required that a mattress be placed under them, but Gay and others were routinely denied a mattress. He described the bed that he was restrained on as “a metal frame with a solid metal bottom” and no mattress. It was like “being tied down to the hood of a car,” Gay explained.

While he was still on suicide watch, Gay began yelling, verbally abusing nurses, reopening old cuts on his body and saying that he intended to harm himself even more. Dr. Chandra responded by again ordering him confined in therapeutic restraints on March 14, 2004.

Naked and restrained in the excessively cold cell, Gay complained to one nurse that he had “chills.” Another nurse later admitted to being often cold while working there even fully clothed. Other prisoners described being restrained with “icy cold air” blowing on them. Gay was routinely restrained naked in such conditions for 16 hours. On at least one occasion, Gay was restrained in the room for 32 hours.

“Dr. Chandra argues that he did not allow Gay to wear clothing while he was restrained to prevent Gay from harming himself with his clothing,” the federal court noted in its 2009 ruling in Gay v. Chandra. “But Gay argues that he had never harmed himself in the past with his clothes. He also notes that both male and female prison staff could see him naked, and Gay claims this embarrassed him.”

“[A] genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Dr. Chandra’s decision not to allow Plaintiff to wear any clothing denied Gay a ‘civilized measure’ of life’s necessities,” the Court found, citing Payette v. Hoenisch, 284 Fed. Appx. 348 (7th Cir. 2008). “Given that Gay had never attempted to harm himself with his clothes before,” there was “a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Dr. Chandra violated Gay’s Eighth Amendment rights by requiring that he be restrained without clothes. The court leaves to the jury to decide whether Dr. Chandra made this decision recklessly or for the purpose of punishing Gay.”

The court also found that “a jury could find that the cell where Gay was restrained was excessively cold - especially in light of the fact that Gay was restrained for several hours with no ‘alternative means of warmth.’”

Dr. Chandra also ordered that Gay be denied food while confined in therapeutic restraints, claiming that he could harm himself if there was something in his mouth. Yet “it’s very rare to not give meals or water or anything to the inmate,” Chandra later admitted under oath. “Sometimes ... we hold the meal because they are so agitated that they would regurgitate their food and choke to death,” he added. But he was dismissive of any suggestion that Gay was harmed by the denial of food. “He’s a healthy male,” Chandra testified. “I mean, if he misses a meal for a couple of hours, it was not going to cause him any harm.”

The Court ultimately found that “Dr. Chandra’s decision not to allow (Gay) to eat during this time creates a jury question regarding his alleged Eighth Amendment violation.”

Despite ordering suicide watch and therapeutic restraints, Dr. Chandra continued to insist on March 14, 2004, that Gay did not need psychotropic medication; he still believed that Gay was simply being a manipulator who engaged in “self-harm for secondary gain rather than as a result of any mental illness.” He also continued to claim that Gay was receiving sexual gratification when female medical staff had to treat his wounds.

Brutality Continues in Spring 2004

Gay’s self-harming behavior became increasingly destructive throughout April 2004. He cut his right thigh and forearm on April 1, 2004. “I’ll cut every time you’re here,” he told a nurse. ‘‘Next time I’ll cut my dick so you have to clean it.”

Chandra responded by again ordering Gay into therapeutic restraints without food, water or medication. Before Gay could be restrained, however, a guard told nurse Kay Jordan that he had either a staple or paperclip lodged between his front lower teeth. When Jordan attempted to see the object, Gay threatened to bite her and refused to let her see it.

Chandra ordered staff to confine Gay in therapeutic restraints anyway. While strapped down about two hours later, Gay threatened to throw feces on a nurse then swallowed what he announced was a paperclip. He immediately began coughing and spitting up mucus and blood, telling staff that the paperclip was stuck in his throat.

Guards released Gay from restraints, tried to open his mouth and perform the Heimlich Maneuver. Both attempts failed, so Gay was rushed to a hospital emergency room by ambulance around midnight.

“A jury could find that Dr. Chandra was deliberately indifferent by ordering that he be restrained even though he knew that Gay had an object in his mouth,” the federal court continued. “A jury could plausibly find that Dr. Chandra disregarded a serious risk to Gay’s safety by undertaking this course of action.”

When he returned from the emergency room a few hours later, Gay was immediately confined for what remained of the 16 hours that Chandra had ordered him held in therapeutic restraints – again without any assessment of whether restraints were needed to prevent self-harm.

In fact, Dr. Chandra did not re-evaluate Gay until the next day. He then determined that Gay was not depressed, psychotic or upset. Rather, he was merely manipulative and showed poor judgment, Chandra decided. He ordered that Gay remain in therapeutic restraints until 10:45 p.m., on April 2, 2004.

Three days later, Dr. Chandra again ordered Gay back on suicide watch after he cut his wrist, thigh and left hip on April 5, 2004. He remained under close supervision for the next three days, but again managed to cut his penis, smearing blood in his cell and shoving blood-stained pieces of paper out of his cell door.

Gay told a nurse that he was going to cut himself and asked ‘‘to be tied down” on April 17, 2004. Dr. Chandra again ordered Gay confined in therapeutic restraints for 16 hours.

Twenty minutes after releasing him, however, Chandra ordered another 16 hours in restraints, for a total of 32 hours. During that time, Gay was denied at least three meals and did not eat again until he was released from restraints. “Dr. Chandra’s decision not to allow (Gay) to eat during this time creates a jury question regarding his Eighth Amendment violation,” the federal court then found.

Throughout May and June 2004, Gay reopened wounds and made additional cuts on his arms, wrists, legs, and penis. He also placed toilet paper and toothpaste on his penis. Chandra responded by ordering Gay confined in therapeutic restraints about 10 times between April and July 2004. Chandra defended his actions by claiming that Gay called nurses vulgar names, tried to gratify himself and encouraged other prisoners to cut themselves.

Gay’s federal suit against Dr. Chandra ultimately proceeded to trial, but a jury ruled in Dr. Chandra’s favor. Lacking the ability to pay the $500 appellate filing fee, Gay requested leave to appeal without paying it. His request was denied, however, because he had three “strikes” – prior failed federal suits, which prevented him from proceeding again in forma pauperis under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

All told, Gay filed more than 30 civil suits between October 1996 and January 2011. He lost two at trial, settled two others and lost or withdrew the rest. Many were dismissed as frivolous, which is how Gay “struck out” under PLRA in his attempt to appeal the jury’s call.

“The combined effect of the (PLRA) and the Supreme Court’s precedents in the area of prisoner rights has been that courts have essentially left the field of regulating the treatment of prisoners in this country,” explains attorney Locke Bowman, director of Chicago’s McArthur Justice Center.

So Gay’s appeal was dismissed for failure to pay the filing fee. The federal court then also awarded Dr. Chandra $2,169.45 in costs and charged them to Gay. See: Gay v. Chandra, USDC (S.D. Ill.), Case No. 05-cv-00150.

Self-Harm Gets Worse

But that didn’t end the saga. Rather, the severity of Gay’s endless self-mutilation continued to escalate unabated. In 2010, he cut out one of his testicles and hung it on his cell door. Sometime later, he cut his leg, sliced his arm and put a razor blade into his own eye. He was rushed to the hospital for the eye injury but once there, Gay repeatedly resisted Dr. Jonathan Ortman’s efforts to examine his eye. As guards attempted to hold him down, Gay started thrashing and yelling that he had a right to refuse medical treatment. The guards eventually let go and a nurse intervened to finally calm Gay enough to administer medical treatment. See: Gay v. Ortman, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:16-cv-50310.

Former prisoner Marcum recalls seeing a lot of bizarre behavior at Tamms, but none as bizarre as when he witnessed Gay eat his own flesh, an incident that is corroborated in federal court filings.

“I was in the infirmary for 11 days because I was on a hunger strike and he was there on suicidal watch,” said Marcum. “And every four hours they came around and took my vitals. And he did it right in front of the window when I was standing there at my cell getting my vitals checked…He just cut a little piece of his skin off and ate it. Right in front of them.”

As Marcum added, “[T]hey didn’t do nothing except go in his cell and search for the object he used to cut on himself.”

Jon Giles, aka Mustafa Afrika, another former Tamms prisoner, said he heard what he believed to be guards choking Gay after he was strapped down in therapeutic restraints. Giles reported in a grievance that he was in a temporary cell next to the one that contained the strap-down bed where Gay was restrained. He saw guards put on gloves and helmets before ordering a nurse to leave the area. The guards then entered the cell.

“I heard this muffled sound,” said Giles. “He got a gasp out and screamed my name, ‘Mustafa, they’re trying to kill me.’”

Of course, no prisoner who has spent any time in solitary confinement will be surprised about the way the guards and medical staff treated Gay and other DOC prisoners. It is standard operating procedure in most, if not all, American prisons.

“There is one set of rules for everybody else in the country and a different and less favorable set of rules for prisoners,” acknowledges David Fathi of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Prison officials are essentially left to do as they please with respect to solitary confinement, strap-downs and the like,” agrees attorney Locke Bowman. “If it became known that animals were treated in this fashion, there would be widespread public outrage.”

In the absence of such outrage, mentally ill prisoners have little recourse but to turn to the courts. Yet, that is no panacea for what ails them. Success there is rare, takes far too long to have any meaningful effect and is often inadequate and short-lived.

Treatment Remains an Illusion

Mills, the Chicago attorney, filed suit on behalf of 36 Tamms prisoners in 1999, one year after the supermax opened. The case was certified as a class action and finally proceeded to trial ten years later. Judge G. Patrick Murphy of the federal court for the Southern District of Illinois found that the severe isolation of Tamms contributed to the psychological deterioration of the prisoners confined there and issued an injunction. See: Westefer v. Snyder, 723 F.Supp.2d 735 (S.D. Ill. 2010). Still the decision was not enough to protect the prisoners from the abuse they suffered; prison officials appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction. See: Westefer v. Neal, 682 F.3d 679 (7th Cir. 2012).

While Westefer was still pending in the district court, Tamms prisoner Ashoor Rasho filed a separate pro se federal suit in federal court for the Central District of Illinois in 2007, alleging that DOC’s treatment of his mental illness was constitutionally deficient. Rasho ultimately picked up counsel, who filed an amended complaint that was ultimately granted class certification in 2015 on behalf all prisoners who “are identified or should have been identified by the [DOC’s] mental health professionals as in need of mental health treatment.” See: Rasho v. Walker, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 196413 (C.D. Ill.).

The next year, when Defendants objected that a consent decree would be too politically volatile, the district court approved a comprehensive settlement agreement requiring DOC to make dozens of changes to its mental-healthcare system. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.58.]

Dr. Pablo Stewart was appointed to monitor the agency’s compliance. His first report back to the district court in 2017 harshly criticized DOC’s failure to make progress in fulfilling the settlement agreement, creating what he called “a state of emergency.”

Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction focusing on deficiencies Stewart identified. By the next year, testimony at evidentiary hearings showed DOC had spent $45 million to build new residential treatment units and $75 million to develop a new data system for intake assessments, procuring another $150 million to build a new inpatient facility. The agency had also given mental-health training to its entire staff and hired administrators to coordinate prisoner health care. What DOC had failed to do was hire enough mental health staff to provide the treatment levels required by the settlement. Acting Statewide Mental Health Supervisor Dr. Melvin Hinton admitted having less than half the 65 psychiatrists that were budgeted.

But to address this short-staffing, DOC authorized unlimited overtime, partnered with a local university to provide psychiatric care, expanded the use of telepsychiatry, offered travel stipends and bonuses for providers willing to do extra work at different prisons, set salaries at the 90th percentile nationwide, and got state officials to streamline licensing for DOC psychiatric providers. These and other reforms reduced treatment backlogs at several prisons.

The Courts Giveth, the Courts Taketh Away

Following a 2018 evidentiary hearing at which Gay offered critically important testimony, the district court entered a preliminary injunction on October 3, 2018, requiring DOC to cure its “persistent” staffing deficiencies and also setting specific staffing targets, as well as giving a set number of days in which to meet them. [See: PLN, Mar. 2019, p.34.] Plaintiff class was then awarded the second half of $1.9 million in attorney fees on December 20, 2018. See: Rasho v. Walker, 316 F.Supp.2d 888 (C.D. Ill 2018).

“The [DOC] knew what the Constitution required and simply ignored its obligation to these sick prisoners who have nowhere to go for care,” declared Harold Hirschman, one of the attorneys representing the class members. “They should be ashamed.”

But, of course, they were not ashamed. Rather, prison officials immediately appealed both the injunction and the attorney fee award. On January 12, 2022, the Seventh Circuit sided with them and vacated the injunction, saying it was improperly granted. Rather than showing deliberate indifference to the prisoners’ serious medical needs, DOC had responded reasonably to the risk of harm, the Court said – even if its measures were so far unsuccessful. Citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Court said that “reasonable efforts to cure the deficiencies” meant there was no need for an injunction. Besides, the one drawn was too broad to pass muster anyway under PLRA.

In his lengthy dissent, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple said the majority’s conclusion that DOC had acted reasonably could only be reached “in a temporal vacuum.” The district court had “correctly” and “legitimately” looked at a decade of DOC foot-dragging and concluded an injunction was necessary to prevent “loss of staff and services due to the inability to sustain the financial and human resource burden of overtime requirements.”

Since short-staffing is one of “the central contributing factors to [DOC’s] failure to provide constitutionally adequate mental health care (if not the only one),” a legal remedy “must include guidelines for staffing levels,” the judge continued. “However, there was no serious effort by [DOC] to participate in the crafting of a remedial order.” That was why the district court adopted staffing levels DOC had set for itself in 2014. So how could the majority then accuse the district court of “imposing staffing targets that did not leave much to [DOC’s] discretion”? See: Rasho v. Jeffreys, 22 F.4th 703 (7th Cir. 2022).

A request for rehearing en banc before the full Seventh Circuit was denied on April 25, 2022. See: Rasho v. Jeffreys, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 11169 (7th Cir.). The case returned to the district court, where DOC argued – surprise! – that the settlement agreement was really a consent decree, after all. Admitting to its own “lack of due diligence to ensure that what the parties agreed to … was indeed a private settlement agreement,” the district court conceded that argument on July 21, 2022. See: Rasho v. Walker, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129805 (C.D. Ill.).

With its latest ruling in the case, the district court ordered that $873,002.75 of the $1.9 million award to Plaintiffs’ counsel must be returned. See: Daniels v. Jeffreys, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178732 (C.D. Ill.).

“This message that they can do anything they want to you ... is just the tip of the iceberg at Tamms,” noted Nadya Pittendrigh, a member of the Tamms Year Ten Committee, a confederation of activists supported by at least two Chicago lawmakers that has long pushed for reforms at the supermax. “It is a form of insanity to put people in a place that provokes mental illness and then waste taxpayers’ money to treat the symptoms. Or worse yet, releasing them without treatment,” added fellow member Laurie Jo Reynolds. “Either they went in crazy, or they go crazy once they are there.”

Much to the satisfaction of the committee, DOC closed the supermax in January 2013, just 15 years after its opening (See: PLN, June 2013, p.1). Gay and 178 other prisoners were transferred back to Pontiac. But even after closing Tamms, Illinois continued to pay $750,000 annually to maintain the prison.

“I Am Here, and It’s Awesome To Be Free.”

Gay’s 97-year sentence was so morally repugnant that attorney Mills filed an Amicus Brief with the Illinois Court of Appeals in 2011 on behalf of PLN’s nonprofit publisher, the Human Rights Defense Center, along with the ACLU National Prison Project and 10 other mental health and prison reform advocacy groups.

“Amici file this brief because the outcome of the Illinois prosecutions of Anthony Gay is an unconscionable and shocking criminalization of his mental illness,” wrote Mills. “Amici write to convey to the Court their shock and dismay that an individual with serious mental illness who was originally sentenced to a suspended term of seven years now faces 97 years in prison for behaviors that are a direct result of Illinois housing him in isolation and failing to provide him with adequate mental health treatment.”

Sadly, the Court of Appeals did not agree that “these results shock the conscience, violate evolving standards of decency, and violate the Illinois and Federal Constitutions.”

But two years later, Bluhm Legal Clinic attorney Scott Main noticed that the 17 aggravated assault convictions for conduct occurring during the 10-month period in 2000 and 2001 had been improperly run consecutively to one another. At the time, the law allowed only for each conviction to be run consecutive to Gay’s original seven-year robbery sentence or to a 1998 prison assault conviction. Fortunately, the State’s Attorney agreed to renegotiate Gay’s sentence. As a result, a judge granted a joint motion to slash 75 years from Gay’s sentence on January 31, 2013, moving his release date back from 2093 to August 2018.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t a judge who had the power to overturn those convictions,” said attorney Alexis Chardon. “It was state prosecutors who recognized the injustice of what had happened and were willing to negotiate with Anthony’s criminal defense attorneys to reduce his sentence.”

Regardless of who is credited for finally doing the “right thing,” it still took 24 years – 22 of which Gay was kept locked in the torture chamber of solitary confinement. Gay also remains unjustly convicted of 21 counts of Aggravated Assault.

Gay was finally released from prison in August 2018, one week after his 44th birthday. He said the best part of the day that he was released was seeing his niece, who thought he still had a life sentence to serve.

“When they came to pick me up, I was actually able to give her a hug and tell her, ‘Don’t believe everything (you) hear,’” he said. “I am here, and it’s awesome to be free.”

Stating the obvious, Gay noted that “whatever treatment that they did give me was never sufficient.” But after release, he was finally able to get the treatment he needed. He regularly went to therapy and discussed his history and how to move forward. As a result, Gay said he was behaving “like a human would under human conditions, under civilized conditions.”

Fighting for Others Who Remain Trapped

“I think Ghandi said it best when he said, ‘The only way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” said Gay. “So, I’m trying not to focus on my scars, but focus on those that (are) left behind and try to throw them a lifeline to help pull them out the ditch. My goal always was to get out and make a difference for others still there.”

Gay became a leading advocate for House Bill 3564, also known as the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which was first introduced in the Illinois legislature in March 2020, then reintroduced on February 19, 2021.

The bill proposed limiting the use of solitary confinement in Illinois prisons to 10 days within a 180-day period. It would also require DOC to publish quarterly data about who is in solitary confinement, including information about their age, ethnicity, reason for segregation and access to health care while there.

“Transparency is absolutely a vital part of this bill,” said Gay’s attorney, Nicolette Ward of the Romanucci & Blandin firm. “That kind of oversight, candidly, could have saved Anthony. Right now, we don’t know how many Anthony Gays are in the system.”

The legislation also would require DOC to give isolated prisoners access to group therapy, medical appointments, educational classes, job assignments and exercise.

“There is a difference between putting someone behind bars and putting someone in a hole,” said state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief sponsor. “It goes beyond punishment. Now you’re torturing someone.”

After pushing unsuccessfully for solitary confinement reform for nearly four years, Ford believes this bill had the strongest chance of passage, given Gay’s involvement.

“Anthony’s story touched many people in Springfield,” said Ford. “[The proposed legislation] has a new life because there’s now a real face to this issue. These are the stories that help get legislation passed.”

“It has been a long, tedious process,” said Gay when HB 3564 passed the Illinois House of Representatives on April 22, 2021. “I’m grateful [for the bill] - not so much for me, but for the people who are still trapped.”

Sadly, it seems he spoke too soon. The legislation stalled in the Senate one month later, on May 19, 2021. It may even have been Gay’s advocacy that ultimately sank the bill, as lawmakers became squeamish of being seen continuing to support him.

New Charges Lead to Hung Jury

A little more than a year after Gay’s release, his son, Anthony, was born in October 2019. Gay initially worked in his cousin’s barbershop and spent time with his family. But adjusting to life outside was difficult. He struggled to make choices about the most basic decisions, like when to shower or do laundry. He was also haunted by the painful memories and trauma of his two decades in solitary confinement.

Everything started unraveling when four of Gay’s cousins were shot on May 23, 2020. One of them was killed and the other three were injured. When Gay and his three surviving cousins left the hospital later that day, their car braked at a stop sign and they were again shot at 13 times. Two of his cousins were hit but survived.

Rock Island police officer J.T. Key was the first officer to arrive on scene. He pulled his gun, pointed it at Gay and demanded that he put up his hands and get on his knees. Gay put up his hands but told Key that he could not get on his knees. When officer Scott Gable arrived as backup, he handcuffed Gay and forced him to his knees. Officer Key then ran up and kneed Gay in the face, took his phone and threw it, saying “fuck your phone,” according to court filings.

Gable put Gay in the back of a squad car and attempted to force him to talk about the shooting. Gay was in distress and kept asking why he was being detained or arrested, court filings allege. Gable refused to call a mental health professional and continued attempting to compel Gay to talk.

When it was clear that Gay was not going to talk, Gable removed him from the back of the patrol vehicle, placed him against the vehicle’s front grill and searched him. Officers seized Gay’s hotel key and $1,500, according to a federal suit later filed.

Gay was ultimately released, but the officers refused to return his key, money, or phone, even though Gay told them he needed a key to get into his hotel room. Gay lodged a complaint against the officers with Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms (R) two days later. Thoms claimed, however, that there was nothing he could do and refused to report the police misconduct, according to court filings. “Thoms and Rock Island Police Department are hostile and bias (sic) against plaintiff and plaintiff’s family,” the filings allege.

Six days later, police stopped a vehicle in which Gay was a passenger for an alleged traffic violation. Gay ran from the scene but fell as police chased him, and he was arrested a short distance away. Retracing Gay’s path, officers reportedly found a loaded Glock .45 caliber pistol near where he fell. The gun had been stolen two months earlier.

No witnesses ever saw Gay with the gun. His fingerprints and DNA were not found on it. Nevertheless, he was taken into custody on a state charge of being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm. About two weeks later, police were called to a Rock Island motel on June 14, 2020. Gay had been renting a room there when he was arrested, and motel employees cleaning the room had removed Gay’s belongings and allegedly discovered a bag of .45 ammunition, containing the same type of rounds that had been loaded into the Glock pistol. Gay’s fingerprints and DNA were not found on any of the ammunition, and police had retained possession of Gay’s hotel room key since seizing it from him on May 23, 2020, which his supporters see as evidence that they framed Gay in retaliation for his complaint.

Gay was ultimately charged with federal firearm and ammunition possession offenses. He alleges that those ‘‘trumped up” charges were brought in retaliation for reporting the officers’ excessive force, illegal detention and theft of his hotel key, phone and money.

“They said I had a firearm and that they found ammunition in my hotel room,” said Gay. “The detectives secured state charges against me and went to the federal prosecutor to get me federally indicted with the intention of getting me sentenced as an armed career criminal before they even had me indicted.”

Gay filed a hand-written federal suit against Officers Key and Gable, Mayor Thoms and the City of Rock Island on November 30, 2020. A settlement conference was held on November 21, 2021, but the parties did not reach an agreement then.

Meanwhile, Gay represented himself in a criminal trial from April 18-22, 2022, on the federal weapon and ammunition offenses. The jury could not agree on a verdict and a mistrial was declared. “They were upset with that,” recalls Gay.

Then Came the Backlash

“His first federal trial on these charges ... ended in a hung jury, demonstrating that Anthony had convincingly argued that these charges were false,” declared famed activist and scholar Angela Davis. “Even more remarkably, he achieved that hung jury pro se – that is, representing himself. Anthony has no law degree. He learned the law through his own independent studies while spending 24 years in Illinois prisons, twenty-two of which were spent in solitary confinement.”

A second trial was quickly convened on May 16, 2022. Gay acknowledged that he was facing an uphill battle but insisted that it was a battle he was “cut out for.”

“I don’t think no one should back down from corruption,” said Gay. “I don’t think no one should back down from being wrongly prosecuted. I think you should always stand up. And since that’s my belief, I believe I have to lead by example.”

Gay, who is Black, was assigned a white federal judge who his supporters say colluded with prosecutors to ensure that Gay would face an all-white, pro-police jury the second time.

While the prosecution called several expert witnesses to testify, the video they presented to the jury “showed none of what they claimed it showed,” according to Gay’s supporters. Gay argued that police did not have physical evidence to prove he was carrying a gun. Following a three-day trial, however, the jury returned verdicts against Gay on both counts on May 19, 2022. The Government also established the legal basis for imposing mandatory minimum sentences under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), by proving that he had prior convictions including the robbery that resulted in a suspended sentence in 1993 and the aggravated assault convictions that he racked up in prison due to his untreated mental illness. See: United States v. Gay, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 4:20-cr-40026.

Gay’s supporters quickly cried foul. “The prosecution had no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses to testify to seeing Anthony with a gun,” according to a statement posted on the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression website. “No fingerprints or DNA were found on the pistol the police found near where Anthony was arrested,” Davis agreed. “Even harder to explain, there were no prints or DNA on the bullets. There is no physical evidence tying Anthony to the gun they convicted him of possessing, and the police officer who testified that Anthony looked like he had a gun also falsified some of his testimony.”

The judge scheduled sentencing for September 16, 2022. He also denied Gay’s request to be released on electronic monitoring and ordered him taken into the custody of the Peoria County Jail.

“I didn’t do too well in the county jail,” noted Gay, who was confined in a restraint chair for 30 hours. “I was so distraught that I stabbed a pencil through my arm and they put me on suicide watch.”

“I was bouncing off the walls. They wouldn’t give me therapy or nothing ... just had me on suicide watch in the strip cell. I cut on myself several times,” added Gay, who was transported to six hospitals in seven days. “A forensic psychologist already said that isolation would be a trigger for me because of my PTSD of being tortured in solitary.”

Meanwhile after the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment and for sanctions due to protective order violations in the federal civil suit, Defendants made Gay an Offer of Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, to resolve the suit by paying him $22,500.00 inclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs. Gay accepted the offer and judgment was entered on June 3, 2022. See Gay v. Key, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 20-cv-4250.

Gay’s attorney, Jennifer Soble, of the Illinois Prison Project, visited him in the jail and found him in a restraint chair, with a bloody bandage on his arm and blood on his hands. She filed an emergency motion, and a hearing was held the next day. Gay was then transferred to the Livingston County Jail on July 1, 2022. Four days later, he was moved to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, for what was to be a 30-day mental evaluation.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) first requested a delay of sentencing on September 13, 2022, to allow for further evaluation, testing and interviewing of Gay. The court granted that request and two more, delaying sentencing until February 1, 2023. By then Gay’s son was three years old and facing the prospect of losing his father for the remainder of his childhood. Sentencing has since been postponed again to May 23, 2023. That will be four days shy of the 30thanniversary of Gay’s arrest, on the only charges that he ever hurt anyone:

A fellow teen who said Gay stole his ballcap and a $1 bill.

“The banality of our racist system of mass incarceration,” noted Davis, “is punctuated with the heroism of stories of unconquerable souls” like Gay. A Free Anthony Gay – Dismantle Solitary Confinement account was established by Dod McColgan, co-Chair of Chicago Against Racist and Political Repression. As of March 13, 2022, $4,320 had been raised toward its $25,000 goal, to hire an attorney to represent Gay on appeal.

“It is unfortunate and disheartening to see Anthony once again fighting for his freedom,” said Bishop Travis Grant, national field director for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. “I still believe in Anthony’s quest for redemption. Simply put, he’s worth saving.”

Additional sources: ACLU, Belleville News-Democrat, Chicago Crusader, Chicago Tribune, Truthout, WBUR

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login