Courts & Crime

Inmates in Illinois' only supermax prison face battle proving mistreatment

Anthony Gay always fought back. Even in first grade he was quick with his fists, especially when kids mocked his temper or taunted him because he lived with foster parents.

When he came home bloody and bruised, a big mutt he called Diamond comforted him. His aunt, Shirley Gay, who raised her nephew in a tough Rock Island neighborhood, said she always feared that someday Gay's anger would get him into serious trouble.

However, there was nothing in his juvenile record to suggest that Gay would end up where he is today -- serving 99 years in solitary confinement at Illinois' supermax prison, the Tamms Correctional Center -- after an initial conviction for punching another youth and stealing his hat and a dollar bill. He received probation for that crime, but violated it and landed in prison at age 20 to serve seven years, with parole possible after 3 1/2.

Gay was sent to the maximum security Pontiac Correctional Center, where convictions in the nearby Livingston County Court for assaulting guards added decades to the quick-tempered inmate's sentence, even though these crimes did not involve serious injury and such crimes often are not prosecuted at other prisons, a News-Democrat investigation found.

Gay spends 23 hours a day in a cell at Tamms, in the southern tip of Illinois, where he has been held for the last five years. He first was transferred to Tamms in 1998 and held for about a year before being returned to Pontiac.

To cope with the isolation at Tamms, he has regularly mutilated himself to the point that it required extensive suturing to close his wounds, sometimes without anesthetic, court records state.

Read the complete story at