Anthony Gay: From Inmate to Prison Reform Activist

When we think of mental health, we never think about those in penitentiary systems behind bars. Have you ever wondered how those on the inside deal with mental health and receive the overall health attention they need? Anthony Gay, an inmate at the Illinois Department of Corrections has a heartbreaking yet inspiring story on his mental health behind bars and how he dealt with it.


In 1994 as a young black teenager, Gay was convicted of robbing another teen of his hat and a single dollar bill. Yes, a single dollar bill. He was sent to the Illinois Department of Corrections where he was to serve three and a half years. During his three years in, Gay got into an altercation with another inmate which pushed his three years to 22 years behind bars.


It gets worse. During his time, he was identified as one of a couple inmates whose mental illness required full in-patient care because of its severity. Instead of receiving the actual mental care he needed, he was yelled questions through a door from an Illinois Department of Corrections psychiatrist. Because of his lack of mental health care attention and isolation in solitary confinement, Gay began to self-harm himself with contraband. Some of his incidents were very intense including; cutting open his neck, legs, genitals and inserting objects into them. When he committed these acts of self-harm, he knew that he would finally be in contact with other human beings. The fact that this man desired the presence of other so bad that he would result to severely injuring himself says a lot. It wasn’t until 2016 that the American Correctional Association released a statement saying prisoners with mental illness should not be placed in solitary confinement for a long time.

Gladly in August of 2018, Gay 44, was released.  As soon as he was released, Gay “filed a suit in the U.S District Court claiming his treatment amounted to torture and that he was denied proper mental health care”. Gay has now become a prison reform activist and is using his story to help other inmates dealing with mental illness and overall health care issues.


Since his release, a federal judge ordered the Illinois Department of Corrections to improve their mental health services. It is also said that Gay could potentially be a significant voice in the prison reform movement because of his intelligence and ability to convey his mental state and situation.