Tamms Year Ten

Testimony and Art from Tamms

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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 K-50733




Like most things the worst part is not know the answers and from the first moment when you first climb out of the transfer van your asking what happens now? First thing you notice is that there aren’t any inmates around. When someone is sent to prison and the misbehave and are sent to seg you are given a certain amount of time and in the back of your mind you know if you stay out of trouble you will get out on such and such and there’s hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, but here in Tamms there is no hope and the only light is the count light they turn on about 20 times a night. They tell you to behave and they entice you with more “privileges” (TV, radio, showers, or commissary) but they offer no way to earn these so called privileges. You are forced to be dependent on someone elses kindness and if there is no “someone” your just left asking what happens now. Your not able to do anything for yourself and can you imagine some guys have been here going on 10 years now? What will they be like when they go home? They’ve been dependent on someone else for so long they wont know how to care for themselves, let alone a family. So what happens now?

Tamms is set up so that you are trapped in a small space and, good or bad, this is your world. Couple of weeks ago I went on a medical writ to an outside hospital and I’m surrounded by real people, nurses and doctors, but for the life of me I’m not able to hold a normal conversation. I’ve been trapped in my own world for so long that I’ve forgotten how to talk and be social, and it scares the hell out of me…

But the worst thing about Tamms is not being able to make memories and participate in your families lives. Any prison is hard on a family and sure they have visiting cells and there is always mail but who likes to write? Who has the time? It’s hard enough getting you adults to write—try getting one of your high tech [kids] with their cell phones and Ipods or whatever too. Forget about it.





If you don’t have any love one’s out in society that love you enough to stand by your side through this place you just be a lost soul in this mind and physically destroying madhouse, where you hear the crys and screams of grown men, that echo off the walls in your cell from sicknesses that are not being attended to or the person is just mentally out of it, sitting behind a perforated door not washing their self for month on ends wiping their own feces all over them and the walls and left in the cell where every inmate can smell it for months, and not one officer or anyone else will come an clean nothing in my unit (G2) is so filthy you can walk and see dust come up from the floor like you when your walking a dry field of dirt…


–Anthony Fowler K-79928



I’m right now sitting in a special locked isolation cell, with the lock welded shut, and there is no one to talk to – just the sound of screaming voices. And because there is no human contact, you depend on a television and radio, something that will be forever out of my reach because of me having absolutely no help from the outside. So I must depend on books, which have become an impossible task because in order to get any meaningful reading material, once again, you must have somebody on the outside to send it to you, or else you are left with bedtime stories for children. Special lock welded on the door. Nobody around. I’m strictly by myself. The only friend I have is the friend I have created in my imagination. Sometimes I talk with him out loud. I’d sort of wake myself up and I hear myself talking to him. I guess it is like some kind of wish fulfillment. Even when I’, asleep at night, I still find myself talking to this guy. I’m at the point of exhaustion but I’m laboring hard to maintain my sanity!!!


I once read this book in which it gave the exact description in which I’m feeling, so since the book capture the mood, allow me to quote from it: “Try to remember how you felt at the most depressing moment of your life, the moment of your deepest dejection. That is how I feel all the time. No matter what level my consciousness may be, asleep, awake, inbetween. The thing is there and it keeps me moving, pins my eye to the ball, uptight, twenty-four hours a day.”


–Shabazz Muhammad B-05049




I’m in a cell 23 to 24 hours a day by myself, no phone calls, no school. Law library have outdated books, Tamms has made it hard for family and friends to visit, the state spend more money on us then they do other inmates that’s not in a supermax. But still the state don’t have money for schools, health care and other poor working peoples. In mates that’s not in a supermax, the state pay $23,000 a year for each inmate, in Tamms they spend $60,000 for each inmates.


Now understand that it’s important to have family or friends to visit, it help us to stay sane. The State don’t respect the humanity here at Tamms, at Tamms, there are no educational programs if a man want to learn how to read, too bad, there are no jobs, if a man want to keep himself occupied doing something productive, too bad, there’s are no social service to really help you. If a man wan to kick his drug addictions, too bad. Theirs is not legal assistance, if a man was wrongfully convicted, too bad, there are no even religious services except of T.V. and if you don’t have no T.V., too bad. If a man what to search for God, he is on his own. Not all of us here are in the exact same situation, but not one of us is exempt from somehow experiencing those very same conditions. Every prisoner here at Tamms is in an uphill battle to maintain their mental, physical and spiritual stability, no matter if they choose to acknowledge it or not, living under these animalistic conditions has been proven to dehumanize an individual to the point where there is no value to life. That’s why we have guys mutilating their bodies and doing other unimaginable acts that only a severely disturbed mind could even conceive. Tamms is a modern day dungeon. Don’t get me wrong, inmates are incarcerated for laws they have broken, but not one of us deserves the treatment and isolation we get here at Tamms, even animal rights activists fight more for an abused dog than they do for an abused inmate. I seen same men go insane because they couldn’t take it no more. It’s sad, but I’m holding on with the help of God.


–E. A.



Since I’ve been here I’ve been getting harrassed & retaliated against by the racist white staff—not every single one but 98% of them. Because everyone here in some way, form or fashion is family-friends-or live next door-to someone who works in Menard and they have their little racist code that they go by. I’ve attempted suicide I tried to hang myself because of the harrassment and stuff being out in my food (like rocks & stuff like that) and also this isolation mentally affecting me also–I’ve complained to mental health but they is basically downplaying what I’m saying, telling me I need to work on my emotions. I was told by a mental health staff member that she wrote some stuff in my mental health file that she should not have wrote & that she is sorry she told me she lied on me now I get therapy (they is trying to say I need to work on my emotions its like they is trying to get me to do stuff to get me into trouble sort of push me to the brink you know).

–Leartheist Bowman B-03501




I received your letter and was very happy and surprise to see and have your concern for my well-being. It brought joy and tears to my eyes knowing there are people’s in this cruel world we live in that believe there are individual’s no matter where they are, need a better qualities of life and are willing to lend a hand in any possible way they can. Thank you! Your presence is as powerful as it is sweet. J What you’re doing is making me strong and have faith.


When you ask me to write about my experience of Tamms prison, I was a little frighten although I’ve been stumbling along my path for numerous of years now: 21½. I feel so out of touch that I wonder if I can be much of a help. Because of he magnitute of my hatred and violent ways makes me ashame. But I will do it, so if you can use any of it you certainly may. I would indeed feel honor in your project. also, a great change from the old me is slowly transforming with love and forgiveness due to people like yourselves had come into my life…


In 1986 I had been accused of a murder and has been incarcerated for 21 ½ years for something I have not commit. I was 19 years old at the time of the crime. I was given natural life and 15 yrs sentence for a first crime.


I enter into the prison system in 1989, after constantly being transfer from prison to prison, as I express my outrage for being treated like a person with no feelings and no right, my aggressive acting behaviors landed me a spot in Tamms when it had first open up. 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 way down here in a no man zone, away from civilizing and a prison visit system that is design to keep people, no phone system as if a person is unable to get a visit, he could stay contact through phone and the mail isn’t a proof way of contact, mail has ended up in dark place of the mail room. The man in Tamms being violated every with cruel acts and not being fed, living in dirt. 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. The psychologist is a control freak. Programs and privilege are not therapeutic. It’s to mislead peoples in thinking the programs are good. It’s a lot of pressure and is causing abnormal amount of stress. We are not being protected by security abuses such as harass, fouling, encouraging inmates to himselve retaliation. Mental health staff are doing the same. I need some supporting help in stopping these acts.


–Rodney Dees



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.


—Percell Dansberry #B34144

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 being. 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. I wish I could be there at your events in person cause I’ll be able to explain things much better. Thanks for your time and support.


—Jerome Golden B-07795


Art from Tamms Inmates


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