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After 22 Years Of 'Psychological Torture' In Solitary Confinement, Anthony Gay Fights For State Law Restricting Its Use

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An Illinois man is fighting against so-called psychological torture – after a minor probation violation first sent him to prison for seven years, and then a fight behind bars led to a 22-year nightmare in solitary confinement.

Now out, Anthony Gay told CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov why he is fighting for a law to keep others from enduring the same fate.

Gay read part of a letter he wrote: "Dear Reverend Mariah: I came to prison with a seven-year sentence. The conditions of confinement caused my mind to sink like the Titanic."

Such letters helped Gay from losing hope – and his mind.

"When I wrote these letters, and she wrote me back – her and a few other people – it made me feel alive," Gay said.

Gay wrote the letters in prison. It was one of the only things he was eventually allowed to do while locked up in solitary confinement for most of 22 years.

"It's psychological torture," he said.

The Rock Island native said his two decades of torture began when he was sent to prison in 1994 – at age 20 – after violating his probation for a minor robbery conviction. A prison fight landed him in that dark, small cell – and Gay said he began acting out.

That in turn increased his time in solitary, and he began cutting and harming himself. The scars are still visible.

"It wasn't something that I wanted to do, but it became a survival mechanism for me," Gay said, "because psychologically, I couldn't stand it – so the physical pain would alleviate the psychological pain."

It became a vicious cycle – until 2018, when Gay got out and began fighting for a law pending in Springfield that would limit a prisoner's time in solitary to 10 days every six months.

"We need a different approach when it comes to how we treat people – particularly when they're incarcerated," said Illinois state Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago).

Peters is one of the sponsors of the bill, HB 3564, which would create the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act – also called the Anthony Gay Law. The bill has already passed the Illinois House of Representatives.

Like Gay, Peters calls solitary confinement inhumane, and believes this is a solution – if he can get the 30 state Senate votes needed to pass it.

"I believe, because we're a state that's been leading, that we have a real opportunity to get this done," Peters said.

It's the 47-year-old Gay's life-s goal.

"It needs to stop. It's despicable. It's horrible. It's wrong," Gay said. "No one should be placed in solitary confinement, period."

Sen. Peters believes HB 3564 will be a true step toward rehabilitating prisoners and criminal justice reform. It will be a win, he says, for everyone.

Peters hopes the bill will get more traction in the Senate, so he can bring it up in November.

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