Cruel and Usual

Tamms Correctional Center is one of the toughest, most expensive and least crowded prisons in the nation. But does it accomplish anything - besides driving inmates insane?

Despite the screenings, 20 Tamms inmates have been transferred to psychiatric units, according to prison records. Still, there remain at least eight inmates who receive Thorazine and other anti-psychotic drugs, 11 others who get psychotropic drugs to treat less serious mental disorders and another six who have been placed on suicide watch after serious suicide attempts, according to court papers filed last September by attorneys for inmates.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Fairchild says transfers of mentally ill inmates to psychiatric facilities show prison officials realize that Tamms isn't a place for inmates with severe mental illness. "We're cognizant of the issue that there are some individuals whose psychosis is so great that there's very little chance of reaching them with a place like Tamms," he says.

Prison officials have said fewer than 10 percent of Tamms inmates are on psychotropic drugs. They also insist they're not driving anyone crazy. In court papers, officials say plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment are feigning mental illness.

Jennifer Silverberg

Ten days before attempting to hang himself, plaintiff Faygie Fields told guards that co-plaintiffs Ashoor Rasho and Robert Boyd, both of whom had documented mental disorders before their arrival at Tamms, had cut their wrists as part of a scheme to show supermax is driving them insane, according to prison records. Fields also told guards he would try to hang himself to further the lawsuit. When he later fashioned a noose and had to be forcibly extracted from his cell, he told a guard, "You know, the only reason I did this shit was for that lawsuit."

"It looks like a bad issue for us," admits Jean MacLean Snyder, lead attorney in the lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment at Tamms. Fields' statement prompted her to consult a psychoanalyst, who told her that such a statement doesn't mean Fields isn't mentally ill. Rather, she says, Fields is trying to draw attention to himself because he wants people to care about him "Doesn't it strike you as a little bit strange that a person would try to kill himself so that the co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit would benefit?" Snyder says. "Faygie Fields is delusional. Part of the delusion is that this will make them care, because it won't. Faygie Fields is not faking."

The suicide attempt a year ago wasn't the first time Fields tried to kill himself at Tamms. Before the lawsuit was filed, he had been ordered to pay restitution after tearing up a sheet and putting it around his neck, his lawyers say. His lawyers also say he was punished for destroying state property after twice swallowing pieces of a mirror. Boyd and Rasho have been stripped naked and restrained in bare cells after suicide attempts, lawyers say, and both men have been given Thorazine at Tamms. Rasho has repeatedly slashed himself, then torn out his stitches. After slashing his arm, he once ate pieces of his own flesh in front of a guard, according to court papers.

Shortly after being named as plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, Boyd, Rasho and Fields were charged with battery on guards. Rasho, who tied plastic forks to his hands and swung at guards who were removing him from his cell, pleaded guilty and received an additional seven years in prison. Boyd pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges that he threw urine and water at guards, then elbowed a guard and stomped on another's foot after being shackled and manacled. He got a two-year sentence. Fields, who tried to snatch keys from a guard, stood trial and was found guilty. He is awaiting sentencing.

Aside from a guard who took Tylenol for a shoulder that remained sore for three days after his encounter with Fields, no one was injured in the three cases. Boyd was transferred to a psychiatric facility last year and is now in a different prison. Fields and Rasho remain at Tamms.Cruel & UsualTamms Correctional Center is one of the toughest, most expensive and least crowded prisons in the nation. But does it accomplish anything -- besides driving inmates insane?

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