CHICAGO (CBS) -- A coalition of prison watchdogs, former inmates and inmates' families Wednesday called on Gov. Pat Quinn to stand by his decision to close the state's Tamms supermax prison -- and on the guards' union to give up its court battle to keep it open.
The advocates said the sensory deprivation built into Tamms' design meets the definition of torture and breeds mental illness.
They said inmates allowed out of cells only to shower and exercise individually, have no cafeteria, classrooms, traditional exercise areas, access to televisions and radios, communal activities or even a chapel.
"You lose every will there is," said Brian Nelson, a convicted murderer who served 12 years of his sentence at Tamms, and saw his weight drop from 170 pounds to 119. "You don't talk to nobody. You don't see nothing. You feel abandoned by society. ... You're in this little gray room the size of a bathroom with nothing."
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports
Nelson said he kept his sanity by copying passages from his bible and by pacing the cell as much at 15 hours a day. He said self-mutilation and suicide attempts are common at Tamms.
"You don't touch nobody. No one touches you. The food comes in (through a slot in the door)," he said. "My mother comes to see me -- she cries. Every bone in my body protruded, because I lost the will to live. I just didn't care no more."
Nelson said no attempt is made to prepare Tamms prisoners for release, and the world outside. He said the only preparation was a report that was done to determine "if he'd kill someone else."
He now works for a legal services clinic.
The advocates say they are urging Quinn to stick with his decision, even if legislators approve the $26 million needed to keep it open. It also is urging the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to drop its lawsuit that challenges the prison closings.
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