This is a brief summary of what happened to Mr. Daniel Johnson, a prisoner at Tamms, during the last few weeks of April 2012 and into May 2012, compiled by Attorney Alan Mills after Mr. Mills was finally able to speak with Mr. Johnson on May 19, 2012.)

Danny says he sent a letter to the Uptown People’s Law Center on May 19, 2012, detailing exactly what he endured during the weeks prior. Someone, he says, who was a Security Specialist (no name available), met with Danny last Saturday and told him not to seal his legal mail; it was being opened because some guys in PC had been using their legal mail to smuggle in porn. He said that other guys were told the same thing, so he didn’t believe it was directed toward him individually.

He confirmed what we heard from other prisoners at Tamms: Danny carefully planned to take his own life. He practiced putting a bag over his head for a week; shredded all his documents, mail, court transcripts, etc.; and sent out a number of “goodbye” letters (but none as explicit as the ones he sent us – he figured that prison officials were reading his personal letters and didn’t want them to know of his plans). He left his living will and DNR order out on the desk. Then, about 1:30 in the morning of April 25, Danny went to bed with a plastic bag over his head. He intentionally did not use a sheet, etc., to avoid violating any prison rules (and in fact has not been issued any disciplinary reports).

He was told that he was discovered at about 7am. He woke up that afternoon, April 25, on a ventilator at Heartland Medical Center in Marion. He said he was extremely angry when he awoke, as he had fully expected to succeed in taking his life. He believes they must have violated the instructions in his living will and DNR; he has no idea why he wasn’t dead long before they discovered him.

He attempted to refuse food and water at Heartland. He tried to get them to fill out another DNR order, but the nurses refused his request. A Dr. Powers stopped by and took his pulse and listened to his chest, but Danny was never seen by a psychiatrist at Heartland. He tried to refuse to give a blood or urine sample, which the nurses at Heartland called and reported to Tamms and the shift commander, Lt. Potts, who said Danny didn’t have the right to refuse. They took urine by catheterizing him. Danny agreed to let them take blood when they told him they would restrain him in order to get it. He has no clue as to what authority anyone had to do that. They told him he had elevated levels of a pain killer, which he had taken earlier for his back pain, and anti-depressants, which he was not taking at all. He denied to me that he was taking any medications at that time, but that Tamms officials were trying to claim that he was hoarding the pain killers and “fishing” for anti-depressants, which he denies. He has not been charged in any case.

On April 27th he was moved back to Tamms – the health-care unit – where he was stripped of everything and given a smock. The health-care staff were extremely upset and wanted to know why he hadn’t talked with them prior to his suicide attempt, his answer to which was that there was nothing they could do for him; he was confined to his “gray box” 24/7 and they couldn’t change that.

Danny was put in one of the suicide-watch ells in the HCU. He continued to refuse all food and drink, and was told that he would be strapped down in four-point restraints and force-fed, so he agreed to start eating and drinking, which he continues to do.

During the whole time he was in the Tamms HCU he was on constant watch, meaning someone was at the window 24/7, which Danny said he hoped was as uncomfortable for them as it was for him. On Sunday, April 29, he was finally seen by a Tamms psychiatrist for the first time during this entire process. The psychiatrist told Danny that he saw no signs of mental illness, to which Danny absolutely agrees. He says that he just couldn’t stand the idea that he had another 25 years to do with no apparent hope of either having his sentence reduced or even of getting out of a lockdown maximum-security prison. As he put it, he was just tired; he used almost exactly the same words Brian Nelson used in “The Gray Box.”

Other than the one interview with the Tamms psychiatrist, his only mental health “treatment” at Tamms was when the nurses walked by his cell and asked questions such as “Are you all right?” and “Are you going to hurt yourself?” He answered in the negative, which he felt was true since he doesn’t consider killing himself as hurting himself.

Nonetheless, Danny remained on suicide watch until May 7, when he was moved to Pontiac, another maximum-security facility. After he arrived there, he was visited in his cell by Dr. Angus, who told him that he was at Pontiac for “political” reasons. After a week in the Pontiac Infirmary, he was given a mattress and moved to North 2, right below the ADRMP guys. When moved from the HCU to the gallery, it was the first time in 14 years that he had walked outside without ankle restraints, which he said felt incredibly liberating. He is in a single cell with a solid steel door (everyone else on North 2 gallery has bars), which he found ironic (if they think I’m suicidal, he noted, wouldn’t they want a good view of my cell?). And when he was moved to North 2, the guard brought his bedding in a plastic bag, which Danny handed back after removing the linens. The guard told him to keep it, the irony of which is not lost on Danny.

On May 8, Danny was seen for about 20-25 minutes by Dr. Hinton – again, no diagnosis. He was finally seen again by another doctor, at cell front, on May 12, who said that he, too, saw no sign of mental illness. He also said that in his (Danny’s) circumstances, he might have done the same thing. This is the sum total of the mental health treatment Danny has received – no therapy, no meds (which Danny does not want), no group sessions, nothing.

A day or so later, most of Danny’s possessions were returned including several plastic bags, one of which he says is large enough for him to crawl into. He has the bags in his cell today. He says he believes the guards on his unit haven’t been given any idea of what he did to attempt suicide.

He is now in Administrative Detention status, which means he gets more privileges than the ADRMP guys – three showers and three visits to yard (the “dog kennels”) per week, the latter which he does not do because the prisoners from seg defile the cages with feces and urine. He is awaiting the return of his money so he can buy a fan. He hasn’t had a disciplinary report for over 8 years.  He has been told (or, rather, it’s been hinted) that he will not go back to Tamms until the political uproar over the closing is over.

Danny says he has no current plans to kill himself, but he has the means and will probably try again. He still is tired and he still doesn’t see how anything is ever going to change. He says that even if Tamms is closed, he will still likely be at Menard, Stateville or Pontiac, perhaps moved from time to time, but essentially on lockdown 24/7.

In my opinion, he is severely depressed and desperately needs structured group activities beyond his cell, which is what the Cohen team said was the huge failing of the mental health treatment in all of the maximum-security prisons. Danny firmly believes that he is not mentally ill; he simply believes it is rational to kill himself rather than endure another 25 years of 24/7 lockdown.

He isn’t insane; the way we – society, IDOC, et al – are treating him, however, is.

Alan Mills

Uptown People’s Law Center