TESTIMONY FROM MEN AT TAMMS

My name is Mustafa Afrika. I am a prisoner at Tamms Supermax prison. I write to you on behalf of the men at Tamms to not only express a gesture of thankfulness...but also to inform your organization of a simultaneous event that will be occurring at the Tamms prison on April 28, the day hearings are scheduled with the Illinois House Prison Reform committee concerning Tamms.

As a symbol of unity and protracted support from us on the inside, it has been agreed that on the date of April 28 the prisoners of Tamms will embark on a course of non-activity--meaning none of us will take showers, yard or any other forms of non-essential activity. We also will observe a day of total silence as well as personal atonement in addition to many of us fasting. This is not so much an act of outward focus as it is one of inward introspection. We feel that with so many freedom fighters and progressive individuals making a significant effort on our behalf, the least we can do is raise a clenched fist salute of solidarity from within the belly of the beast so you all know that we are still alive and fighting, more invigorated than ever!...

For a long time it seemed as if the monotony of oppression and psychological warfare by the administration of the Tamms Supermax had begun to dull and enervate the spirits of many. Through the collective efforts of the people we are witnessing a revivication of encouragement and hope amongst ourselves...

Let the entire collective know that "we" are standing fully behind the people struggling for us. May the creator continue to sustain you in your efforts and may justice and righteousness light up the darkened abyss of oppression and denigration. All power to the people. Uhuru sasa! ("Freedom now" in Swahili.)  Comrade, Mustafa Afrika      —Mustafa Afrika (in Tamms since 2005)

I was the 40th person to be housed at Tamms. This place steal a man will to continue living. The isolation itself make a man do desperate act to get some kind of physical attention, the conditions is inhumane and causing a person to develop psychological problems (mental suffering.) ...Being at Tamms, I have developed a psychological problem and is now living in a psychiatric unit in Tamms that’s making it even worse...We are not being protected by security abuses such as harass, fouling, encouraging inmates to retaliation. Mental health staff are doing the same. I need some supporting help in stopping these acts.   —RD (in Tamms since 1998)

These people at Tamms have me on so much medication it's not funny. 900 mg Lithium a day. and 0.5mg Risperadale a day. The Lithium I get 300mg 3 times a day for 900, and the Risperdale only once, that's at night. Since I been at Tamms I cut on myself, hung myself and bit on myself, but these people say there's nothing wrong with me. They sent me to Dixon psych. in Nov. 05, but they kept my property at Tamms and I came back to Tamms in Dec 05 even though I caught an assault in Dixon psych, they said there was nothing wrong with me. I would like to know would you know anyone I could write to, to get some help that I need?....I owe the state over $400 and don't have nobody to write to...God bless you all.   —Robert (in Tamms since 2004)

I have been here in Tamms for 10 years myself, it feel like I been a slave, being in Tamms.... This place is not trying to rehabilitate you, it tries to break you, the punishment practiced at Tamms is something called acute sensory deprivation, many prisoners like myself spend 23 hours a day alone in seven-by-12-foot cell. When it's times for your hour of solitary "recreation" two guards cuff your hands behind your back before they open the celldoor. Then they escort you to a small cage to walk in circles and the wall is all concrete, we do everything else in are cell, not shower but eat everything else, we never have direct physical contact with the guards or other inmate as I will ask you, "Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 19 years and tell me how it will affect your mind."  —CF (in Tamms since 1998)

Well I'm in J-POD the mental health pod. So I do have a serious mental health problem. Since I've been in Tamms I've tried to kill my self twice by slicing my arms wide open. But I've been doing good. No tickits in 3 1⁄2 years now. I really miss my family and sometimes I feel as if I cant go on another day. I've only had one visit from my family because it cost too much to come all this way.   —RB (in Tamms since 2003)

The C-Max unit was said to have been designed to house the IDOC’s ‘worst of the worst’ in an effort to help state authorities re-gain control of their prison system. This couldn’t be further from the truth because most of us have been sent here based merely on the fact that we have mental illnesses or in retaliation for filing lawsuits, grievances, or past disciplinary histories…
 
This facility functions more as a mental institution than a prison of rehabilitation and it serves no penalogical purpose other than to warehouse prisoners. As the duration of our isolation drags on and the degree of our conditions of confinement deteriorate you begin to see the psychological effect that this place has on us. We know that we will spend all day in these cells with absolutely nothing constructive to do with our time and we do not know if we will ever leave here. This knowledge overwhelms many of us and it leads many of us to insanity, causing attempted suicide, suicide, body mutilation, hanging, eating and throwing feces, and other extreme acts.    —Joe Louis Young (in Tamms since 2002)

 
Physically out of balance, no weights to exercise with, no gym or yard to engage in sport activities. More headaches, from stress and high blood pressure. I've been almost completely cut off from my family, and the strain from miscommunication in little mail I do get is destroying the family bond. I'm not able to be effectively influence my children lives. The weight of stress, anger (from being treated as an animal), and anxiety on my mental faculties is staggering. Not being able to touch (sensory deprivation) another human, plus this perpetual cage, has the effect of depersonalizing me. Don't know if one could be rehabilitated by locking one up in a cage, isolated from human interaction, 24-7. There's no education here. Only thoughts or plans for the future: to survive Tamms by not going insane.    —PD (in Tamms since 2004)

 
Since being at Tamms, I suffer symptoms of depression, frustration, paranoia, mental anguish, sleep disorder, deterioration of my physical health, general mental torture... These symptoms are made worse when the administration uses mentally ill prisoners as tools, or as torture device to either drive otherwise normal prisoners over the edge…the mentally ill prisoners drive the normal prisoners crazy by screaming, crying, yelling into the pod at all hours of the day and night for days non-stop, by banging on toilets, doors, walls, and/or by shaking or kicking the doors so hard that it sounds like rumbling thunder,, flooding the wing with toilet water, and by throwing feces at other prisoners or inserting feces into the air vents so that the whole wing receives a dose of the smell for months. The actions of the mentally ill prisoners gives the guards an excuse to enter the pods and use tear gas….The constant bombardment of unrelenting stress takes its toll like flurry of well-placed punches on a tired boxer's head... How long can I be expected to maintain my own mental health, when I am forced to live in an insane environment, surrounded by unbalanced people, in inhumane conditions?   —Anibal Santiago (in Tamms since 1998)
 

The continuous stress and harsh conditions of this place has affected my physical health. I have experience hair loss, the shingles, and came down with a chronic illness [ulcerative colitis]. My relationship with my family is also not as strong as it use to be. Tamms is not only affecting me but my family too......As far as my rehabilitation? Well as any person gets older, they get wiser and get to see things more clearer. I've been incarcerated since the age of 16. I was tried as an adult. So I had to grow fast being in an adult prison. I matured a lot and self educated myself by reading a variety of books. I was doing this before I came to Tamms and I continue doing it today. However, Tamms offers no programs that could be beneficial to me when I go home. There's no vocational classes offered here nor could we earn a G.E.D. certificate here. I only have 5 more years remaining in my sentence. So I don't know what I'm going to do when I get out. It's scary thinking about it.   —Alejandro Villazana Jr. (in Tamms since 1998)

 
As human beings we are social people not animals to be locked in a cage. What do these people think they are doing? What happens when you lock up a dog in a cage for years at a time and constantly harass the dog and treat it bad while its in the cage. Do you actually think the dog will act right once you let it out. This place builds hatred.  —Paul Beauchamp (in Tamms since 2005)

 
Tamms is nothing less than hell, everything we know as human beings have been taken away. No contact with each other, and in our cell 23 hours a day. It's like we don't matter to anyone anymore. Our country is trying to stand on other country. But is mistreating their own. What happen to second chances? They place us in the living hell and tell us to better ourselves as human beings. And those who do change and better themselves like me is still being judge on the past. I can't understand how society can set back and allowed the system to treat us less than animal. They make it seem like prisoner is out of control. But the reality is they create most of the problems. Because they feel they can mentally, verbally and physical abuse you and you shouldn't have response. We have feeling and is still human being. I strongly believe Tamms should be closed down.   —JG

I've been in Tamms for 8 years, 10 months and have not been able to embrace, hug or hold my loved ones (or any other person. I have not felt a simple handshake in all those years.)...

We live in physical isolation at Tamms. I would love to play sports with others, or to be able to sit at a table with others and eat a meal together. I recently read a newspaper article of a man who would travel the country with a sign that offered free hugs to anyone and people would approach him and ask why. Some people were skeptical, others were curious. This man knew the warm, loving power of a simple hug. To have any physical interaction with others is a longful thought beyond reach at Tamms. We live with many longful thoughts beyond reach. That is our reality here.

Please know how much I appreciate knowing that what I was trying to express and convey through my writing was acknowledged, understood and accepted with such kindness and compassion by each of you    —David Ayala  (in Tamms in 1998)

I am maintaining, and you are right, one cannot take that for granted.  I hope that is not possible, because in order to "maintain," one must remain in a perpetual state of resistance—forever wary.  The conditions here are meant to dehumanize, everyday the victims are pressed down, held without respite; like coils tightening around our humanity. So therefore—for me—it's impossible not to maintain, because the day that I don't will be the day that my mother loses her son.   —name withheld (in Tamms since 2004)

 
To be perfectly honest, I’m so used to return responses I never really expected to see something so personal and handwritten, a letter from a Poetry Committee member pertaining to my request to be sent a list of 20 Christian pen pal organizations that could be pulled off the Internet in response. And my heart right now has been simply bursting with so much happiness and joy since receiving your missive that the tremors seriously caused from the excitement in being alone for so long as well as the thought of knowing that people such as yourself and the rest of your Poetry Committee members have been purposed in your hearts to pursue and commit yourselves to bringing such happiness and joy to such a downcast unworthy being as myself have just now subsided.  Thank you all for all your cards, letters, poems, campaigning—and most of all, your unique touch and profoundly felt presence in my life.   —DM
 

ABOUT TAMMS POETRY COMMITTEE

The Tamms Poetry Committee came together in order to do one of the few things that can be done to help people in permanent solitary confinement: write them letters. It makes a surprisingly big difference for the men to know that people on the outside care about their lives. We are working with the prisoners as much as possible to communicate their words, their experiences, and their testimony to the public.

Our activities include:
1. Organizing mailings to send letters and poems to each man in Tamms.
2. Compiling testimony concerning solitary confinement and sensory deprivation.
3. Filling requests for books and poetry.
4. Collecting the names of people who need pen pals and finding writers.

The Tamms Poetry Committee regularly holds meetings and social events to accomplish these tasks. We welcome your participation. Contact TammsPoetryCommittee@gmail.com