Tamms Year Ten

Year Ten Mission
<b> This site will no longer be updated, please check <a href=”http://www.YearTen.org”>YearTen.org</a&gt; for updates from the Tamms Year Ten Campaign.</b>
Excerpts From Letters to the Tamms Poetry Committee

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. I read, and re-read, and read again each of your letters to me, they lift my spirit. (Like lifting me up off the floor and holding me up.) Please keep me in mind for any future writings, etc. It was a much needed release for me. —David Ayala #N30314

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

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. 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 #B05049

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

Tamms C-MAX

Tamms is located at the southern tip of Illinois, 360 miles from Chicago. Modeled after the “supermax” at Pelican Bay, California, the partially underground facility was designed to hold prisoners in permanent solitary confinement. Men are kept in concrete cells twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with no sounds from the outside world and a very limited field of view. There is no physical contact. No phone calls are permitted. Food is served through a chuckhole called an “attached service delivery box” in the cell door. There are no communal activities, no classes, no jobs, no education, and no rehabilitation programs. Incoming and outgoing mail is heavily censored—even Time magazine and Field and Stream have been refused. Most prisoners get to leave the cell for one hour a day to exercise in an empty enclosure, hardly bigger than their regular cell, with a wire-mesh roof. Less than half the men have a TV or radio. They are permitted only a few books or magazines. These conditions of isolation and sensory deprivation constitute torture, according to both the Geneva Convention and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Supermax prisons like Tamms have been a model for jailers at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, where isolation has been used to weaken prisoners prior to interrogation, leading to mental breakdowns. At Guantanamo Bay, solitary confinement exceeding four weeks requires special clearance; at Tamms, prisoners are kept in isolation for years on end. Not surprisingly, many men have developed mental illnesses while there. They routinely cut or otherwise mutilate themselves, attempt suicide, scream uncontrollably for hours on end, and cover their cells with their own excrement—all predictable consequences of the torture of sensory deprivation. Mental health treatment at Tamms often consists of nothing more than stripping the men of their possessions (including their clothes), putting them in four-point restraints, subjecting them to twenty-four hour lighting, and controlling them with pepper spray and psychotropic drugs.

No one is sent to Tamms because of their crime—they are transferred from other Illinois prisons to Tamms. The initial proposal was that the men would be kept there for one year and then sent back to the general population. Instead, it has become a place where men are kept indefinitely with no opportunity to appeal. Some men are sent there for their gang affiliation, some for their behavior, and some because they are active litigators, jailhouse lawyers—or because their political organizing caused problems for prison administrators. In fact, some men have never had a disciplinary ticket or hadn’t had one for years before being sent to Tamms. Tamms was built with the rationale that extra punishment would help control gangs and deter violence in Illinois prisons. Yet, there is no evidence to support this theory. And these problems have declined steadily since before Tamms was constructed.

Despite their circumstances, the men at Tamms are trying to survive and persevere. To quote Louis Perez #K75465: “Locked down in a cell 24/7, year after year, no TV, no radio, no letters. It’s a hard life to endure. It’s like I’m on duty all day every day—just to keep a right frame of mind.”

The Year Ten Campaign

On March 8, 1998, the new Closed Maximum Security Facility (CMAX) at Tamms, Illinois received its first prisoners. Today, approximately 270 prisoners are warehoused at Tamms—some who have been there since the day it opened—in permanent, solitary confinement.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the prison operation, the “Year Ten” campaign has initiated a program of artistic, cultural, educational and political events to bring public attention to the conditions at Tamms. The Year Ten coalition—of individuals, organizations, prisoners and their families—ask the people of Illinois to join us in protesting the IDOC’s misguided and inhumane policies, and in calling for legislation to end the torture of prisoners in Illinois.

These efforts are part of a long-term political strategy to shut Tamms down. We expect to have legislative hearings about Tamms in March. But our legislators can only act in response to significant public outcry. We invite you to participate in our upcoming Year Ten events, and take part in our ongoing efforts to achieve humane treatment for the men at Tamms. We need your voice, and we need your action! Join the Year Ten campaign! Contact YearTen@riseup.net.

The Tamms Poetry Committee

The Tamms Poetry Committee came together in order to do one of the few things that can be done to help someone in permanent solitary confinement: write them letters. It makes a surprisingly big difference for men who have been warehoused and forgotten to see that someone on the outside cares 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 trying to find writers.
5. Planning and coordinating events of the Year Ten campaign to publicize and protest the conditions at Tamms.

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


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