In 1998, the first prisoners were transferred from prisons across the state to Tamms CMAX, in Southern Illinois. This new “supermax” prison, designed to keep men in permanent solitary confinement, was intended for short-term incarceration. The IDOC called it a one-year “shock treatment.” Now, ten years later, over one-third of the original prisoners have been there for a decade. They have lived in long-term isolation—no phone calls, no communal activity, no contact visits. They only leave the cell to exercise alone in a concrete box 2 to 5 times per week. They are fed through a slot in the door.

Tamms Year Ten is a coalition of prisoners, ex-prisoners, families, artists and other concerned citizens who have come together to protest the misguided and inhumane policies at Tamms C-MAX, and to call for an end to psychological torture. We have initiated a program of cultural, educational and political events to publicize Tamms after ten years of operation.

The John Howard Association of Illinois Reports on Tamms

Here is a report from John Howard Association of Illinois director Malcolm Young detailing the findings of the October 2008 trip to Tamms with Rep. Eddie Washington. The John Howard Association makes a series of strong recommendations and emphasizes the need for legislative oversight.  Summary of RecommendationsFull Report.

Campaign is back in full swing

We need your help now! Please come to the upcoming organizing meeting and attend our upcoming events.  We need everyone's energy and talents to build the campaign against the brutal conditions at Tamms.

Dear Tamms Year Ten and friends of Tamms Year Ten,
Tamms Year Ten has come a long way in one year because so many people participated. Our accomplishments reflect the work of hundreds of people, some who have been working on this for over a decade. This year, our collaboration between prisoners, ex-prisoners, family members, attorneys, artists, students, community groups and other concerned citizens produced the following results:
1. Cultural Events  Presented over 24 educational, musical, and artistic events to educate people about Tamms, solitary confinement and torture.
2. Hearings  Held the first legislative hearings in Illinois about Tamms (before the House Prison Reform Committee) chaired by Rep. Eddie Washington.
3. House Bill  Introduced a Supermax Reform Bill in the Illinois House, sponsored by Rep. Julie Hamos.
4. Lobby Days  Held two Lobby Days at the Statehouse.
5. Sponsors  Persuaded 22 legislators to sign on as co-sponsors.
6. Press Conferences  Held 4 press conferences (2 in Chicago and 2 in Springfield).
7. Group Tour  Took a group visit to Tamms, as part of a legislative tour arranged by Rep. Eddie Washington. Resulted in an excellent John Howard report on the supermax.
8. Roundtables  Organized two roundtable discussions with legislators, IDOC and members of TY10--arranged by Rep. Julie Hamos--one in Chicago and one in Springfield.
9. Press  Conducted research, followed leads, and pitched stories to reporters--resulting in at least 10 news stories on Tamms.
10. Fundraising  Wrote and received grants from the Crossroads Fund and RESIST!, held fundraising events at the Hideout and Chicago Art District, and benefited from the tremendous generosity of the Saints of Humboldt Park and the Illinois Institute for Community Law. Many thanks also to MacArthur Justice for their partnership and support. And especially to the individuals who have donated.
11. Art World Collaboration  Collaborated on many cultural fronts with political art groups CAFF, Temporary Services, Sewing Rebellion, RATIO, AREA, Chicago County Fair and Feel Tank.
12. Coalition Building  Worked in solidarity with NAARPR, Stateville Speaks, CEDP, CER, PrisonCORE, STOPMAX-AFSC, National Boricua Human Rights Network, CURE, the Tamms Committee and the Saints of Humboldt Park. 
13. Transfers  Most importantly, at least a dozen men were transferred from Tamms. We can't take credit for that, but we can still celebrate. And the IDOC told us that they have heard our message loud and clear. In fact, we have the word of Sergio Molina and Tim McLean that the IDOC is concerned about the lengths of stay at Tamms.
Some folks are giving holiday donations to Tamms Year Ten--some in their own name, and some on behalf of others. You can too! For contributions of any size, we will send you a Tamms Year Ten thank you (emailed to you to print as a gift) AND a thank you note written by a current prisoner AND (with permission) we will add the donor's name to a thank you section of our website. You can pay using PayPal on our website, or send a check. How to donate. If you let us know right away that you plan to contribute, we can get started on contacting the prisoner to prepare his thank you note to the person of your choice. Some prisoners have offered to help with fundraising in this way, since they have no money to contribute, and can't have a job at Tamms. (These notes will be sent to us first--all addresses will be confidential.) 
Our frugal volunteer-only organization expects to be overwhelmed with expenses again in January, and we promise to make great use of your money. Your donation will be spent on funding events, helping our spokespeople travel all over town, postage for mailings to Tamms, the magazines-to-supermax-prisoners project, and printing endless amounts of materials to spread the word. Most importantly, your contribution will allow us to work on the campaign itself instead of dealing with the burden of fundraising. 
If we complete a certain threshold of work in 2009, then passing this bill is an achievable goal (assuming that the Illinois General Assembly finds its way back to the task of making laws). With this legislation, the IDOC would have to provide (and justify) their reason for sending someone to the supermax, there would be clear criteria for transferring people in and out, and the housing of mentally ill prisoners there would be prohibited. In such a world, many prisoners would be eligible to return to regular prisons where they could participate in communal activity, receive contact visits and make phone calls to their families. We can have a huge impact next year by planning both a legislative and a cultural campaign. Expect a more detailed update on our activities soon--about the infamous group visit to Tamms, the second roundtable discussion, the John Howard report, recent press about Tamms, some sad news, and plans for January. 
Again, many thanks from all of us, and on behalf of the prisoners at Tamms who have written us to thank everyone who has gotten involved and shown their support.

New John Howard Association Report Calls for Legislative Action to Stop Abuses at Controversial Supermax (

Psychiatric Oversight and Medical Review Needed at Downstate Tamms Prison

SPRINGFIELD, IL.  11/20— A new report released today by the John Howard Association of Illinois, which monitors conditions at the prison, finds that Illinois Department of Corrections has failed to fix problems that have led to severe abuse at Tamms Supermax Prison. The report calls for legislation to require timely and comprehensive treatment for mentally ill prisoners who are routinely denied effective care, and the impact of the supermax’s 24-hour solitary confinement regime may worsen their condition.

State legislators, and reform advocates met today to discuss the report's findings and other concerns about the supermax at a roundtable meeting.

The report reiterates concerns and suggestions that John Howard has expressed repeatedly over the past decade including hearing and transfer procedures that will ensure that prisoners are not left to languish in solitary confinement, and concerns for the mentally ill. Besides legislative action, new recommendations include:
-An independent evaluation of medical services at the prison
-Careful reviews of mental health treatment
-Ways to mitigate the effects of solitary confinement such as earned phone calls, GED testing and less onerous visitation policies.

 “Total solitary confinement for years at a time, with no end in sight, is a form of psychological torture and often leads to mental illness,” said Jean Maclean Snyder, an attorney who has represented mentally ill prisoners at Tamms, and who attended today’s meeting and reviewed the John Howard report. “It’s clear we need legislative action to fix it, Representative Hamos’ Supermax Reform Bill is the first step.”

The new John Howard report draws from a planned tour of the supermax facility taken in October by Representative Washington, Chair of the House Prison Reform Committee, and John Howard Association Director Malcolm C. Young. Access for representatives of the Tamms Year Ten coalition, who have advocated for legislative oversight, was terminated on-site, without specific explanation, despite pre-approval from IDOC.

During the visit to Tamms, Washington remarked, “I’m somewhat ashamed that the practices at Tamms could be allowed to exist; we can do better and as chairman of the Prison Reform Committee under my leadership, we will do better.”

Supermax prisons like Tamms have been criticized nationally and internationally for the prolonged isolation of prisoners and the range of mental and physical problems that often result when people are placed in permanent solitary confinement for years with little to no human contact. At Tamms, prisoners are confined to their cells 23-24 hours per day, food is served in the cell, there are no programs or activities, phone calls are prohibited, and prisoners often hear nothing but constant screaming or banging.

The prison was intended for short-term incarceration (1-2 years) during which time prisoners are in permanent solitary confinement. However, 88 men have been at Tamms since the prison opened 10 years ago and are being held indefinitely.

Representative Julie Hamos, sponsor of legislation to reform Tamms has called for “greater accountability from the Department of Corrections, clear criteria for transferring prisoners to Tamms, and limits to their time there.” Her legislation, Supermax Reform Bill (HB 6651) specifies that only prisoners who harm others or are seriously disruptive would be sent to the supermax, and then for no longer than a year, with a few exceptions. It calls for prisoners to be informed why they are sent to Tamms and be given a fair hearing. In would also ensure that seriously mentally ill prisoners are not sent there, and that those who develop serious mental illnesses be transferred out.

Nationally, supermaxes are on the decline with some closing or converting to regular maximum security prisons due to questions about the impacts and effectiveness of permanent solitary confinement, as well problems justifying the cost of supermax prisons.  According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, the average annual cost of housing a prisoner at Tamms is two to three times as much as any other adult prison in Illinois.


Dear Rep. Tom Holbrook,

My name is Debra Johnson, I reside in Belleville, Il.  I am writing this letter on behalf of my son who is incarcerated at Tamms Prison(C-Max), other prisoners there, and Tamms Year Ten Committee.  This group has been fighting for the past ten years for justice for our men at Tamms.  They have been treated like animals ever since their arrival there.  My son has been there a year and a half longer than his original stay.  They told him that he would be there for 18 months.  He has been there for three and a half years.  They're being treated like animals there. They have no phone calls home ever, no physical contact. Visits are behind a glass. We’re seeking to end the cruel and inhuman conditions at Tamms and other Illinois prisons.  They’re alone to eat, sleep and wonder how long They’re going to stay sane.  They’re in 8ft. by 12ft concrete cells 23 hours a day, the 24th is spent alone for isolation exercises in a small mesh ceiling and no equipment-worth it to only catch a glimpse of the sun. There is no human contact except the knock of guards hand connecting shackles. There is no reading materials, visitation is recorded.

The Tamms Ten Campaign is a series of educational, artistic and Prisoner Support to create awareness of the horrifying conditions at Tamms. The initial purpose of Tamms was to serve as a short-term, extra punishment for prisoners who behave badly or act as jailhouse lawyers. The IDOC assured the public that men sent to Tamms would remain for one to two years and then return to population, but most of them have been there for several years-many a decade. On May 22nd a bill was introduced to the House of Representatives. Julie Hamos is the sponsor, the Chief Co-Sponsors are Reps. Karen A Yarbrough, Eddie Washington, Elga Jeffries, and Arthur L. Turner.  I am asking you as my Representative to join us.  I truly need your voice in this matter.

Thank You In Advance         

Debra Johnson

Big update here, there is a lot going on and we need your help now more than ever!




None of us know exactly how to summarize this meeting. If you want more details, please come to one of the upcoming meetings.

First and foremost, we truly appreciate the fact that so many legislators and IDOC officials were there. No one can learn about this issue if they aren't there--and the significant number of people who took the time to attend is heartening. Those at the roundtable included:

Legislators and staff: Rep. Hamos, Rep. Washington, Rep. Colvin, Rep. Jeffries, Sen. Hunter, Rep. Sacia, Rep. Reboletti, House Republican staff attorney Kyle Kirts, staff from Rep. Flowers, staff from Rep. Yarbrough, Democratic staffers
IDOC officials: Sergio Molina, Tim McLean, Ed Huntley, Steve Karr
Tamms Year Ten: Larry Gambrell, Akkeem Berry, Rory Guerra, Steve Martinez, Stephen Eisenman, Laurie Jo Reynolds, and attorneys Jean Snyder and Locke Bowman
The tables were arranged in a square with 3 rows of observers including press, family, and many concerned citizens. It was especially meaningful for us to have as observers Darrell Cannon who spent 9 years in Tamms, and Darby Tillis, the first exonerated Death Row prisoner in Illinois. 
Hamos started the meeting by emphasizing that we would not be there if it hadn't been TEN YEARS, and that there are almost 100 guys who have been there that long. It was a good conversation, with many questions from Rep. Hamos, Rep. Colvin, Rep. Washington, and others trying to figure out WHO decides who goes to Tamms, what the criteria and process for deciding are, and what steps have been taken to step people down or reduce the length of stay.  Hamos and others developed several good themes as they went through the bill:  (1) we wouldn't need to solve this with a bill if it hadn't been ten years, (2) you need due process for a place as punitive and damaging as this, (3) the conditions at Tamms are inappropriate for the mentally ill, and (4) the process afforded prisoners being transferred to Tamms is LESS than they receive when they get a disciplinary ticket in another prison. 
We appreciate the fact that Sergio Molina from IDOC acknowledged that there are problems with the length of imprisonment at Tamms. Many legislators were interested in hearing what they were doing about it. Molina stated right from the beginning that they were against any bill that would restrict who they put in Tamms. And the IDOC said that they were unable to answer any questions about current procedures because of the lawsuit pending against them about due process. They said that they do have a process, but they decide on a "case-by-case" basis who goes to Tamms.
A lot of legislators had interesting questions and suggestions about the bill, and Rep. Hamos plans to make amendments to suit their concerns. Akkeem and Larry contributed a lot of personal experience that advanced the meeting and clarified the problems. Akkeem spoke about the process for getting a disciplinary ticket. Larry said that the conditions in Tamms are worse than other supermaxes. And both of them, and Stephen Eisenman, emphasized that you need due process.
Hamos proposed that we make some changes and then meet again in 2 weeks. But some folks said that their elections were in 21 days and they couldn't meet before then. Rep. Reboletti suggested that we meet during the veto session, and people agreed to meet that week (Nov 12). Since they don't know if there will be a veto session, the decision about whether to meet in Springfield or Chicago will be determined later, based on where the legislators will be.
Rep. Washington also announced that he has organized a legislative visit to Tamms for Thursday, Oct. 23. We asked if prisoners at Tamms would be able to testify in the courtroom, and he said he would get back to us but that he couldn't force the prisoners to do that if they didn't want to. If you want to come on this visit, there will be some spots for Tamms Year Ten people. You should let me--Laurie Jo Reynolds--know as soon as possible at this email. You would need to get down there the night before. We won't know who can come until Monday.



Our next step: trying to pass this bill in the veto session which will definitely require some more co-sponsors. You know what you can do to make this happen--and it involves your Senator and your Representative. C'mon, make an appointment, invite us, and let's get another co-sponsor. They can't co-sponsor if they don't know about the bill.

Since the last update we have one more real sponsor (Rep. Davis) and one more promise (Rep. Ford). Why? See above.
Rep. Julie Hamos - Karen A. Yarbrough - Eddie Washington - Elga L. Jefferies - Arthur L. Turner, Naomi D. Jakobsson, Annazette Collins, Greg Harris, Constance A. Howard, Kathleen A. Ryg, Maria Antonia Berrios, Esther Golar, Barbara Flynn Currie, Elaine Nekritz, Daniel J. Burke, Kenneth Dunkin, Deborah L. Graham, Marlow H. Colvin and  William Davis

Help Tamms Year Ten Stay in Contact With the Prisoners at Tamms Supermax!

Members of Tamms Year Ten and Tamms Poetry Committee are meeting at the Mess Hall on Oct 18th @ 7pm to mail the men at Tamms an update from the campaign, signed by all of us. We will also update you! Come out and show your concern to Tamms prisoners--sign letters, stuff envelopes, eat, drink and learn about recent Year Ten news.
If you have always wanted to get involved, and now you want a crash course, come get an orientation at 4:30pm and then stay for the mailing! You do not have to RSVP to but it would help. If you have a laptop, please bring it.
What: Tamms Year Ten Update & Mailing
When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 7pm (with a special Tamms Year Ten orientation at 4:30pm sharp)
Where: Mess Hall, 6932 North Glenwood Avenue Chicago, IL 60626  (@ the 'Morse' stop on the Redline in Rogers Park)
What to bring: Your most beautiful pen, snacks, stamps or drinks




Massive updates and Q+A about the roundtable, the bill, the legislative visit to Tamms, and important decision-making about upcoming strategy.
What: Tamms Year Ten Meeting
When: Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 am
Where: Saints of Humboldt Park, 2638 W. Division, Chicago IL 60622
(On Division east of California)
(The building is a coffee shop--go to the door to the right of the coffee shop and up the stairs). 




If a son is currently, or ever has been, in the prison system, this is for that mother.

M.I.S.S. - Mothers of Incarerated Sons Speak
Thursdays, October 16, 2008 - April 16, 2009
Howard Area Community Center
7648 N. Paulina ~ Room 2


For more information please see flyer here:  or email

The Tamms Poetry Committee Needs You To Help Us Stay in Contact With the Prisoners at Tamms Supermax

The Tamms Year Ten campaign has been working tirelessly to coordinate hearings on the dire conditions at Tamms Supermax Prison in Southern Illinois, to pass House Bill 6651 (which would change the criteris for how people are sent to Tamms, and limit the time there) and to educate the public and the legislature about the torture of permanent solitary confinement.

Members of the Tamms Poetry Committee, are meeting at the Mess Hall on Oct 18th @ 7pm to coordinate a mailing to the men at Tamms to let them know what's been going on & where things stand with the campaign. We'll also, of course, send a new poem.  Come out and show your support to Tamms prisoners-- sign letters, lick envelopes, eat, drink and learn about recent Year Ten news.
What: Tamms Poetry Committee Meeting & Mailing
When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 7pm
Where: Mess Hall, 6932 North Glenwood Avenue Chicago, IL 60626  (@ the 'Morse' stop on the Redline in Roger’s Park)
What to bring: your most beautiful pen, snacks or drinks

10/11: Chicago CR10 Report Back--Imagining a World without Prisons - Healing our Communities

Critical Resistance's 10th Anniversary conference is over, but we're not finished!

Chicago's Citywide Report Back on CR10 (Critical Resistance 10th Anniversary Event on Prison Abolition)
Called by the Chicago chapter of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) and sponsored by local organizations.

When: Saturday, Oct. 11th, 2008 2:00-4:00pm
Where: St. Martin's Episcopal Church - 5710 W. Midway Park

The tenth-anniversary Critical Resistance conference (CR10) this September marked a major anniversary in the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC). From across the country, many gathered in Oakland to envision a world with truly safe, healthy and whole communities.

Join us to hear reports from an array of Chicago-area activists who attended CR10. Come out to share and learn about ways you can get involved and continue to support this work.

Some members of TY10 are preparing to go to the Critical Resistance 10 conference in Oakland.  It should be a great experience and opportunity for us to connect our struggles in Illinois to the national movement toward restorative justice and against mass incarceration.  Expect a report back!

Our friends at the Prison Poster Project will be in town on Friday to show and discuss their work.  Find details in the events section.

There will be a legislative visit to Tamms in the coming days, organized by Rep. Eddie Washington, Chair of the Prison Reform Committee. We'll keep you posted as we receive the details.  Although the visit will be on IDOC's terms, it is an opportunity for our elected officials to speak with current prisoners at Tamms.

The Hearings on HB4154, the Elderly Sentencing Adjustment Act, were held at the Thompson Center.  Here is coverage from Chicago Public Radio.

The audio from Throwing Away the Key is posted here.  Also, see the recap Illinois Prison Talk.

Last night's forum, Throwing Away the Key, had about 120 people in attendance. A long list of speakers including former prisoners, legislators, lawyers and activists addressed the standing room only crowd. See our Flickr pool for photos.

Look at Miscellaneous Projects. Daniel Tucker posted this report back from the hearings for HB 6651. Also, see AREA Chicago's issue on criminal justice and the prison industrial complex in Chicago.

So much to do, so little time. 

7/26 –Saturday– 12 - 8 PM.  Southside Peace Fest
115th and Halsted, Chicago

8/1 —Friday—6:30 PM. Tamms Letter Writing at Insight Arts
1545 W Morse, Chicago

8/6 –Wednesday– 7:00 PM. Throwing Away the Key
600 S. Michigan, Chicago

8/20 Wednesday10 AM. Prison Reform Committee Hearing on Elderly Sentence Adjustment Act
James R. Thompson Center, 16th floor, Room 503
100 W. Randolph, Chicago


Reps. Eddie Washington, Karen A. Yarbrough, and Julie Hamos came out on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend to speak to the press about their concerns about Tamms. They mentioned the adminstrative black hole that has left 100 men there for a decade, the human rights concerns about prolonged isolation, and the lack of criteria or standards for transferring men to Tamms. They especially emphasized how inappropriate it is to house mentally ill people in Tamms, and they feel that prolonged isolation is a form of punishment so extreme that it requires careful oversight. Ex-prisoners told about their experiences and attorney Jean Snyder gave an overview of Tamms and why this prison is such poor public policy. Stephen F. Eisenman spoke about the huge coalition that has formed in response to the crisis at Tamms.

We were so pleased that bill co-sponsor Rep. Connie Howard spoke to lend her support. Finally, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis spoke on behalf of this bill and his fellow lawmakers. It would have been an incredible event without any press, but there were at least 7 press outlets--and we were covered by the Tribune, SunTimes, WGN, Ch 44, CLTV, and an AP report that appeared in a number of places, including WBEZ. We will update the press list soon!


HB 6651 was introduced on Thursday, May 22 to the Illinois House of Representatives. Rep. Julie Hamos is the sponsor, and the chief co-sponsors are: Reps. Karen A. Yarbrough - Eddie Washington - Elga L. Jefferies - Arthur L. Turner. These are fantastic legislators and we are very honored to be working with them. They are truly concerned about human rights violations at Tamms C-MAX.

Read about the bill, or read the bill itself, or track the bill, straight from the Illinois General Assembly.

HB6651 seeks to end indefinite sentences of solitary confinement and establish clear criteria for deciding who should be transferred to Tamms supermax prison. The bill will establish the following:

1. Prisoners can only be sent to Tamms if they assault (or attempt to assault) guards or other prisoners, escape from custody, or otherwise seriously disrupt prison operations.
2. Prisoners must be told why they are being sent to Tamms and be given a fair hearing.
3. Prisoners will not remain at Tamms for more than one year, unless transferring them back would endanger the safety of staff or other prisoners.
4. Prisoners with a serious mental illness will not be sent to Tamms.

If you are in town, it is your moral obligation to come. Our numbers are low because of the holiday weekend.


Tuesday in Springfield was totally out of hand! We drove down to Springfield, we met with our legislators, we were introduced in both the House and the Senate, we came close to seeing the bill introduced, the bill sponsors organized a press conference and then it was trumped by the governor! We were unfazed. We regrouped and decided to have a press conference in Chicago that Sunday.

Tons of thanks to Jim Chapman for making this happen and chartering this really comfortable bus and, along with Johnny Outlaw, getting people on it. And for providing croissants (yes croissants) and lots of bottled water. Thanks to Bill Ryan for detailed advice about which legislators to see and what to say. Thank you so much to those who could not be there and made generous donations to help us out--like Luther and Kristen and Sara!

Here's the long version:

We hit Springfield with 26 people dressed in red. Some of us were wearing the Tamms t-shirts that say "isolation is NOT a solution."  (These are the sweatshop-free shirts made for us by the work coop that employs homeless folks and ex-offenders in Salinas, CA.)  We also had these smart square buttons that Jerome designed. A couple of legislators actually asked for these buttons!

We stood outside the House floor while it was in session and called our legislators out to meet us one at a time. We talked to dozens of representatives about Tamms and about the bill, and later met more legislators in their offices. A surprising number of legislators were enthusiastic.

Then, we went to the Senate gallery where our group was introduced to the Senate by Sen. Rickey Hendon (we were asked to stand up and be recognized) and then we went over to the House gallery and Tamms Year Ten was recognized by Rep. Art Turner. Turner read the Tamms Year Ten mission statement and many of the legislators looked up from the House floor and waved at us in the gallery.

Our legislative sponsors (Hamos, Yarbrough, Washington, Jeffries, Turner) decided to HOLD A PRESS CONFERENCE AT 4PM since Tamms Year Ten was there. Jean made final edits in the LRB and we prepared for a press conference! But, our use of the press room was trumped by Governor Blagojevich. He is the only one who can bump legislators from their press conferences!

We met with our reps as a large group and talked about Tamms. We decided to try to do the same press conference in Chicago on Sunday instead even though the Sunday-day-before-Memorial Day isn't a great day for press. But Springfield is only reporting on the budget so she figured it was just as good ultimately.


Former Tamms prisoner Daniel James tells of his experience after release.



The excess of cruelty at Tamms, which no one knew anything about just a couple months ago has actually become a buzz in the legislature. AND THIS HAPPENED WITHOUT ANY MAJOR PRESS. It happened because individuals called their legislators, attended the hearings, and got the word out in a thousand different ways. This is the combined effort from family, ex-prisoners, attorneys, artists, activists, organizations and hundreds of other good people. Thanks to everyone--we knew the facts about Tamms and we spread the word. When people find out about Tamms, they want to act.

But bills DO NOT SURVIVE ON THEIR OWN--they need legislators and citizens fighting for them. (Or high-paid lobbyists which we don't have at the moment.) That is why we need a short sharp strike from this campaign right now.

This bill is up against incredible odds--this is a complex issue, in an election year, with infighting and stonewalling in the state legislature. But, the biggest problem of all is TIME.

More details on the bill doesn't have a number yet.


The hearings were an incredible success. Over 110 people came, and there were only 65 chairs! The testimony was disturbing to everyone present. Many of our legislators came--including some who were not on the committee. We thank each of them. And we thank Rep. Washington for holding the hearings.

There were so many people at the hearings, and so many legislators, that they are working on legislation for this term. Their goal is to bring transparency and standards to the process of sending people to Tamms, and to review all of the people who are there. This, alone, feels like we have achieved the impossible.



We expect legislators. We need you.

9:00 am: Public event in front of James R. Thompson Center. We will count off hatchmarks for each day Tamms C-MAX has been open.
10:00 am: Hearings on the second floor, Room 2-025.
WEAR RED. Let us know if you are coming!

Sewing Rebellion

On Sunday, Marianne, Diana and Carole hosted a Sewing Rebellion and sewed and screen hoods and helped and advised with everything. Matthias screened armbands and patches. Jerome designed a banner based on what we agreed upon at the Saturday meeting--and he and Nadya and Hylda and others made it come true. In fact, each person sewed on a letter in a sewing circle. Gretchen and Nick made posters.

Meeting at People's Church--April 19

With only 9 days until the hearings, this meeting was focused. We discussed Tamms and got information from ex-prisoners. We planned the public event, what the banner would say, what the signs would say, and what color we would wear. RED. We counted how many people we thought we could bring--and the total was 60 not including Rory and his group! We split up the phone calls into groups of 5 to call and remind people about the hearings. We also signed post cards to the prisoners, At the end of the meeting, Johnny read a letter from one of the prisoners.

AREA magazine and Sewing Rebellion allies

AREA magazine has a brand new blog called "ReportBack" and the very first entry was written by Laurie Palmer about a Tamms Poetry Commitee event. She wrote it on the day of the ten-year anniversary of the opening of Tamms C-MAX. In other exciting art news, we have just gotten the endorsement of the Sewing Rebellion. They are hosting a special Sewing Rebellion + Tamms Year Ten event for us to make the hoods for the press event before the hearings.

Call Your Legislator

If you are reading this, you should be calling your legislator! Go to ACT NOW for more details.

Uptown People's Law Petition

Please download, print and collect signatures for this petition circulated by the Uptown People's Law Center asking that the men at Tamms each be allowed to make a call home during the month of May for Mother’s Day. 

Hideout Video

Gretchen edited this video of the Tamms Year Ten benefit at the Hideout.  Mary L. Johnson speaks, followed by Elmore James Jr.



Conditions in Tamms made the front page of Alternet today.  Jessica Pupovac wrote a fantastic story "How Prisons Got To Be So Cruel" which focuses on Tamms C-MAX and features interviews with Reginald Akkeem Berry, Jean Maclean Snyder, and Alan Mills.

Pilgrims to Tamms

For the past six years women from churches in the Belleville area have pilgrimaged to Tamms, Illinois to join members of St. Francis Xavier in Carbondale for a prayer vigil outside the supermax prison. The 270 held in that prison are kept in their cells 23 hours a day in spaces about 8' by 10' with no group activities. The feeling of being "buried alive is real" for many encased there. The pilgrims want to show their solidarity with those inmates, many of whom have been there since the prison opened ten years ago this March. All those who feel this solidarity are invited to join us between 2 and 3 pm, Good Friday.  Carpooling will be available from the Newman Center at 1 pm.  Call Elsie Speck if interested. Contact

Reports Back from the Benefit

The experimental jazz trio Rupert (trumpeter Jaimie Branch, drummer Marc Riordan and guitarist Toby Summerfield) played a tonally complex and emotionally rich set of challenging and intensely rewarding music. Trumpeter Jaimie Branch introduced one of the tunes as being inspired by thinking about Tamms, and it was a devastating piece--the sound of rage and despair through cacophonous clattering and wailing, which eventually receded into a thin, ghostly, and deeply sorrowful trumpet melody. Elmore James Jr. and the Broomdusters followed with two sets of rousing, rollicking, old-fashioned blues, including their soulful take on the Calvin Leavy classic "Cummins Prison Farm." 

The incredible Mary L. Johnson spoke. As Jan said, "You could hear a pin drop" in that bar while she spoke about her son being in Tamms for ten years. We also had a special guest Johnny who just got out of Tamms C-MAX in September and spoke on behalf of the guys who are still there. He had written the Tamms Poetry Committee while he was inside.

Above, Mary L. Johnson. Below, Darby Tillis and James Elmore, Jr.

Many people who attended found out about Tamms for the first time and were moved to donate, take literature, and sign the phone call petition. CAFF made t-shirts and tank tops and some beautiful posters. No amount of Elmore James, Jr., sexy Jamie, and the Broomdusters Band felt like enough! Even the dance party patrons were demanding more.

Elmore James, Jr.--incredible bluesman and slide guitar player with rousing, soulful Broomdusters band.

Rupert--a trio of Chicago's finest experimental jazz musicians: trumpeter Jaimie Branch, drummer Marc Riordan, and guitarist Toby Summerfield.




From "Must-See Music" at Center Stage Chicago:

James, the son of slide-guitar hero, Elmore James, carries on the "Broomduster" legend. All at once a country proverb for starting a new life, the name of Elmore Sr.'s supporting band and a nod to the song that carries one of blues' most infamous licks ("Dust My Broom"), the Broomdusters mean serious business. Elmore Jr. is on torch-carrying duty, sliding electric Mississippi Delta blues as if Pops were reliving his glory days. Newbie jazz trio Rupert opens. The evening is a benefit for the improvement of prisoner conditions at downstate, permanent-solitary-confinement facility, Tamms C-Max. (Gavin Paul)

Link to Center Stage Chicago review.

Link to Time Out Chicago review.


THE TRADESHOW Live performance installation by RATIO and Chicago Arts District organized by Sheelah Murthy and Erica Mott
1915 S. Halsted St, Chicago IL 
FInd out about RATIO!

On Friday evening, RATIO held the first performance of The Tradeshow, a performance installation about unseen people and labor. It was strange and amazing, and featured Sheelah's 8 year old daughter who was overheard saying, "Tamms, Tamms, Tamms...that's all I ever hear about anymore."

Many Year Ten activists--Geneva, Linda, Olga, Laurie Jo, Nadya, Claire, Rebecca, Michael and Emily--all stood in the window of a Pilsen art gallery during the art walk and flagged down pedestrian traffic for the performance. Since we had so much visibility, we decided to make the Tamms C-MAX issue even more real. We took a marker, and wrote on our t-shirts: "Ask me about Tamms C-MAX" and "Help me shut down Tamms" and "Tamms is torture."

It seemed like we talked to hundreds of people that night. Check the calendar for more events at this Pilsen storefront galllery.

Guantanamo Bay prisoners will now be given phone calls:

Link to the Story


Tuesday, MARCH 11 at  9am and 8pm.
Listen to the show Eight Forty-Eight on WBEZ which is 91.5 FM.
The show airs at 9am, and then again at 8pm.

Link to the Story


Link to the Article


Thanks and blessings to everyone who attended the press conference. There were 56 people and even some press (5 individuals). Afterwards, a TY10 spokesperson Stephen Eisenman (who has written about torture) was on the Cliff Kelley show on WVON for 30 minutes!

People discussed all aspects of this atrocity.  Stephen Eisenman, author of The Abu-Ghrab Effect, detailed the facts about Tamms, and why prolonged isolation is condemned as torture. There were powerful accounts from Larry, Jerome and Akkeem, three men who spent years in Tamms---and were among the first to arrive. As always, they are the most persuasive reason to stop this prison from operating. They even gave us insights that we hadn't heard before--and Akkeen held up awesome placards (he is always reminding us to be visual). Jean Maclean Snyder gave us a legal reality check about this place--and who said an attorney can't give a rousing speech? Mary L. Johnson spoke about her son who has been in Tamms for ten years--and what it has done to his family. She said it is like visiting a tomb to see him behind the glass wall, but when someone dies, at least you can touch the body. She called for everyone to use the love and higher power God has given them to help the sons of other people. Audience members spoke, and poets performed.

  • Doris talked about her visit to Tamms with Rep. Lou Jones, and the scratch marks on the plexi-glass of a room where they keep mentally ill people when they first arrive
  • Denise talked about prisoners not being allowed to use the bathroom if they need to in the middle of a visit (many prisoners have urinated while shackled on the concrete stool rather than end a visit with a loved one)
  • A man spoke about the control-unit at Marion to put Tamms in a historical context nationally, and in Illinois
  • Sharon spoke about inhumane visitation policies--searching cars and denying non-contact visits
  • Jim Chapman said we give the IDOC too much credit. They are totally broke and don't know what they are doing
  • After the press conference, Richard Wallace blew us away with his spoken word poems, accompanied by an incredible singer.
  • Baba Griot got up to read, and first honored a man explaining that it is a Swahili practice to ask permission to read from an elder. He read in Swahili before he performed poetry about Tamms. It was a privilege to hear him!


We need volunteers for upcoming Year Ten  events, and for the ones in April. Let us know if you are coming and want to help! Actually, we need volunteers for everyhing you can think of!  And Sheelah of our sponsoring group RATIO needs volunteers right now--people who can help them install (hammer, drill, saw, hold items) the work. And people who are not shy about performing.


We need to encourage our elected officials in both houses of General Assembly to attend the House Prison Reform Committee Hearings on Tamms C-MAX.  This is what we want--for our representatives to come hear the facts about Tamms C-MAX.  We will be asking you to join us in calling your legislators, and if you have personal relations with them already, all the better. Teaching them about the issue long before we call for legislation is the way to gather support for this--no reason to take them by surprise. Plus, elected officials need "the protection" of knowing that there is public concern about it.  A little bit of your effort here will make a huge difference.

We are at the point in this campaign where we cannot grow without you. Please introduce this campaign to other individuals, groups and organizations--and help us figure out how we can work together on this. We need your solidarity and networking action


We are honored to have the endorsements of Men and Women in Prison Ministries, Illinois Prison Talk, and the Illinois Campaign for Telephone Justice--thank you. Please let us know of other groups who would like to endorse. 

Next Events

Due to unforeseen complications, Lobby Day will not be this Wednesday, March 4. We'll post asap with the new date. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your support!


Come lobby in Springfield for HB2366!
7:00am-9:00pm (Dress nice!)
2638 W Division St. (there's plenty of non-permit parking on side streets in the neighborhood)

more events...

TY10 Photos

photos in Tamms Year Ten More Tamms Year Ten


'Experiments in art and community'
Micah Maidenberg, Chicago Journal, News-Star, 2/11/09

'Saints for those in Jail and out'
Micah Maidenberg, Chicago Journal West Town Edition, 11/25/08

'Isolated from the Real World'
Silvana Tabares, Extra, 10/2/08

'Light from Inside: Prisoners Artwork on Display'
Erica Magda, ABC7 Chicago, 8/13/08

'StopMax: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons Heats Up'
Jessica Pupovac, Alternet, 8/11/08

'Move mentally ill from Supermax'
Malcolm Young, Chicago Daily Herald, 5/31/08

'Tamms reforms on the way?'
Mick Dumke, Clout City - Chicago Reader, 5/30/08

'Is this prison too tough?'
Frank Main, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/26/08

'Lawmakers, ex-inmates announce reform proposal for Tamms Correctional Center'
Vikki Ortiz, Chicago Tribune, 5/25/08

'Tamms' 10th Birthday No Cause for Celebration'
Rep. Karen Yarborough, Progress Illinois, 5/12/08

'Hell in a Cell'

Jeffery Felshman, Chicago Reader, 4/24/08

'Torture in Our Own Backyards: The Fight Against Supermax Prisons'
Jessica Pupovac, Alternet, 3/24/08

'Life at Tamms Supermax Prison',
Shannon Heffernan, Chicago Public Radio, 3/11/08

'Tamms Year Ten calls for end to torture',
Abby Lerner, The Daily Northwestern, 3/6/08

'The Supermax Solution',
Regan Good, The Nation, 2/13/03

'Nothing Left to Lose',
Bruce Rushton, St. Louis Riverfront Times, 5/10/00

'Cruel and Usual',
Bruce Rushton, St. Louis Riverfront Times, 2/16/00

'Blooper Max',
Bruce Rushton, Riverfront Times, 8/29/01


'No Exit'
By Jamie Fellner and Sasha Abramsky
Published in The American Prospect
January 8, 2004