CHICAGO (CN) – A mentally ill man imprisoned after stealing $1 and a hat claims in a civil rights lawsuit that Illinois prison officials tortured him by putting him in solitary confinement for two decades, where he self-mutilated, including slicing off his testicle and hanging it on his cell door.
As a teen, Anthony Gay got into a fight with another boy and was accused of stealing the boy’s hat and a $1 dollar bill. He was charged with robbery and sentenced to probation.
While on probation, Gay was caught driving without a license and was sent to prison to serve out his sentence - three and half years with good behavior.
But Gay was unable to abide by prison rules due to his mental illness – a borderline personality disorder – and he kept getting cited for acting out, which extended his prison stay.
Four years into his sentence, the Illinois Department of Corrections put Gay in solitary confinement, where he stayed for the next 20 years, deprived of all human contact for 23 hours a day.
“The impact of solitary confinement on Anthony was catastrophic,” according to his complaint filed Sunday against the state of Illinois. “Deprived of any sustained human interaction, Anthony’s mental condition deteriorated, and he began to engage in horrific acts of self-mutilation. He cut his forearm and his neck. He cut into his left inner thigh and wove the wound together with strips of a blanket.”
The lawsuit continues, “He cut into his scrotum and embedded a zipper there. He cut off a testicle and hung it on his cell door. He cut open his scrotum again and pierced it with paperclips. He mutilated his penis on multiple occasions, embedding a pen, plastics, and a zipper into the cuts. He stuck a pen into his eyelid and stabbed his thigh with a spoon, so deep that it had to be removed surgically.”
Represented by lead attorney Alexis Chardon with Chicago firm Weil & Chardon, Gay claims solitary confinement was driving him crazy, but instead of getting him mental health treatment, the Department of Corrections simply moved him from one solitary confinement cell to another.
The prison system also vigorously “ticketed” Gay for other manifestations of mental illness, such as throwing his urine and feces at prison guards.
For these violations, Gay’s prison sentence was extended to the year 2152, or two lifetimes in solitary confinement.
“At any point during his confinement, they could have rescued him, either by providing adequate services within prison or by transferring him to inpatient psychiatric hospital,” the complaint states. “For the defendants, however, it was simply more convenient to deal with a difficult inmate by keeping him locked away in an isolation cell. That ‘solution’ inflicted decades of unthinkable pain on Anthony, and continues to harm him after his release.”
Gay’s case eventually won legal assistance from the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University and the Fair Punishment Project, who helped him win a reduction of his sentence by 73 years.
After media investigations into Gay’s case and others, a federal judge eventually found that mentally ill prisoners held at Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax prison where Gay spent the majority of his incarceration, were cruelly treated, and the prison was closed in 2013.
While it still operated, Tamms spent more than $60,000 a year to house an inmate in solitary confinement, as compared to an average of $22,000 for inmates in other prisons, making it the most expensive prison to operate in Illinois.
In August, Gay was finally released to his family in Rock Island, Illinois, at age 44 after serving 24 years. His arms are covered with the scars from having cut himself more than 500 times due to the psychological pressure of living in solitary confinement so long.
In an interview with the Belleville News-Democrat, Gay said of his self-mutilation, “It was psychologically chaotic.” He explained, “You’re doing it to feel alive. I saw somebody else do it. It blew me back.”
Gay says he also mutilated himself knowing that it might give him a chance to go to the hospital, the only time he was allowed to be in the presence of other people – nurses and emergency room staff.
The lawsuit claims that the Department of Corrections’ actions amount to “torture.”
“Confronted with a prisoner whose mental illness made him hard to deal with, the defendants chose to address the problem by keeping Anthony in a penal tomb—even though they knew that to do so was to inflict torture on him, for years on end,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also names as defendants John Baldwin, Jeff Sims, Shane Reister, Dr. Doe 1, Melvin Hinton, Sylvia Butler, Kelly Ann Renzi, William Puga, Dr. Chess, Dr. Nunez, and Wexford Health Sources.
Gay seeks punitive damages for alleged violations of his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition to attorney Chardon, he is also represented by Antonio Romanucci with Romanucci & Blandin and Maggie Filler and Daniel Greenfield with the MacArthur Justice Center.
The Illinois Department of Corrections did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.
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