The following is an excerpt from testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Human Rights, and Civil Rights, which held a hearing on solitary confinement on June 19th. Brian Nelson, in written testimony, testifies to his 12 years in Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax prison in Illinois. Nelson, transferred from a minimum security prison in New Mexico, describes a harrowing experience of prison isolation and the significantly detrimental effects on his health and well-being. Tamms has recently been in the news for a contentious debate over its closure; this week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced its closure by August 31st. For the full testimony, click here. –Sal Rodriguez
As the time went by I remained in he gray box I degenerated even worse. I lost the will to live. I lost hope, even though I was scheduled to be released in a couple years. Depression overwhelmed me. Then a lawsuit as filed over the treatment of inmates with serious mental illness not being properly treated at Tamms. I was named in that suit. In reply, Tamms mental health employees began to harass me and started placing me on suicide watches for no reason. I was given the Minnesota Multi Personality Test. When the results came back, the head psychologist called me to the infirmary had me locked in a bathroom and screamed at me that I was making her look bad. She then ordered officers to strip me naked–which they did leaving me locked on the bathroom for approximately 10 hours. The psychologist then ordered that my medication be immediately stoped. As part of the case, our lawyer arranged for two doctors to come into Tamms to evaluate me–Dr. Kathryn Burns and Dr. Terry Kupers. Both doctors confirmed that I was severely depressed and the conditions at Tamms exacerbated the depression. Both found that I was actively suicidal. Even though Drs. Burns and Kupers are experts on the conditions of supermax prisons, the Tamm’ psychologist refused to initiate any of the therapy they proposed. I got worse. Another serious suicide attempt followed and I lost so much weight that the Deputy Director, after seeing me in the holding cell, ordered that some sort of treatment be started, and immediately had me weighed. I weighed 119 lbs. All the boned in my body protruded. I shuffled instead of walked. I had no appetite and wanted to die.
Everyday I went to sleep I got down on my knees and prayed that I would die in my sleep, yet God’s will was not mine. When I woke up in the night I prayed harder for death. I couldn’t sleep, and during thos period got no more than 16 hours of sleep a week. I went days pacing back and forth like a zombie (a condition now recognized as a sign of severe mental illness when exhibited by animals in zoos–but apparently its okay when people suffer this way). I looked like I was already dead and I had no will to live. Day after day all I saw was gray walls and over time my world became the gray box. I fought hard with my own mind, and I prayed. I copies the Catholic Bible word for word which took me 1 year 9 months and 2 days. I copied the Rule of St. Benedict 3 times and studied with Cisterician Monks and Priests. I watched a friend give up and kill himself at Tamms. Sadly, several minutes before he died, he told the nurse and mental health worker that he was going to commit suicide. They just didn’t care and walked away. Marcus Chapman was finally released from the gray box in a black body bag on August 24, 2005.
He concludes his testimony with the following:
I spent 12 years in solitary confinement and I was never told why I was placed in solitary. I am a human being and every day I still struggle with the trauma being held in that gray box. I wake screaming at night. I can’ get it out of my head some days. Solitary confinement in my opinion is worse than being beaten. That I spent twelve years in such conditions in America is appalling.