I have a very intimate understanding of the effects of long-term isolation on a person’s mental and physical health. An entire decade of my life was spent involuntarily entombed in isolation at the notorious Tamms supermax prison in southern Illinois.
While serving a sentence of life-without-parole, I was sent to Tamms for punching an assistant warden in another Illinois prison where humans are simply warehoused without any programs and with few jobs, and where we were constantly disrespected and dehumanized by staff and administrators alike. In retaliation for that incident, I was assaulted, while in handcuffs, by several staff members who broke my nose and did other damage, prior to shipping me off to Tamms.
Tamms was allegedly opened as a sort of “shock-treatment” for violent prisoners and gang leaders. If the prisoner behaved, he was supposed to be transferred out after a year. But the reality was that the Illinois Department of Corrections abused its power and used Tamms to mete out retaliation and not just against those who were violent. Jailhouse lawyers and many of the mentally ill prisoners, whom the administration wished to lock in a closet somewhere, were sent to Tamms.
In the 10 years I was there, I never received a single disciplinary infraction. Nonetheless, I was denied a transfer out of Tamms 39 times. For the first seven or eight years after my arrival at Tamms, I was repeatedly told that I would never be released from indeterminate disciplinary segregation and would, in fact, die alone of old age in that concrete box. I was 26 at the time.
For nearly the first three years, I was denied a television or radio. Thus, I spent every waking hour reading, writing,…