Prison Life

Ex-Sheriff David Clarke, Defender of Harsh Prisons, Whines about Manafort's Jail Treatment

Meanwhile, meet a psychologically scarred man who disfigured himself while serving 22 years in solitary in Illinois.


David Clarke
Ron Sachs/SIPA/Newscom

Chicago Tribune's reporting this week on the psychological devastation of Anthony Gay's 22 years of solitary confinement should make you feel pity, horror, and rage over how our incarceration systems run.

Gay, now 44, was convicted in 1994, when he was 18, of robbery after a street fight with another teen where he stole a hat and a single dollar. He was sentenced to probation, which was revoked when he was caught driving without a license. Then, what should have been a short prison stint ended up becoming years and years in solitary, as the frequently suicidal young man would keep getting into fights with guards.

Trapped alone in his cell with very little psychological support or assistance, Gay turned to self-harm, mutilating his arm (there's photo evidence in the story), other parts of his body, and even his testicles. His confrontations with guards resulted in repeated new indictments, often stacked separately to extend his jail time for the purpose of making an example out of him. He eventually had 97 years tacked onto his sentence.

He finally turned to legal help (he represented himself during all these indictments while he was incarcerated). Eventually lawyers got his sentence reduced and now he's free. He's also suing the state of Illinois over the use of solitary confinement and the visible, terrible impact it had on his mental health.

It would take a special kind of awful person to downplay the real horror of Gay's story in order to attempt (and fail miserably) to score some sort of political points on Twitter. So let's see what former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. is up to these days:

Oh. I see. We probably shouldn't expect Clarke to actually care about what happened to Gay in prison. Recall that under Clarke's leadership in Milwaukee County, a man died of dehydration in the county jail after being denied water for a week. He has also made it abundantly clear that he opposes criminal justice reform and is generally supporter of a cruel prison system. He actually titled a chapter of his book, "Guess What? Prison Is Supposed to Be Unpleasant."

So one might think Clarke would actually be repulsed by the special treatment Paul Manafort actually received while was in federal jail (and a reminder here: He was only incarcerated in the first place because he violated the terms of his pretrial release and contacted witnesses in his case to allegedly attempt to influence their testimony). Unlike most people who are in "solitary" confinement, Manafort was not actually stuck in his cell, had access to computer equipment and a phone, and met with his legal team regularly.

People who aren't wealthy and connected to the president don't have such kind experiences in jail, thanks exactly to terrible people like Clarke. His sudden but very, very limited concern about the effects of solitary confinement is reminiscent of the Republican members of Congress who cared about misuse of federal surveillance tools against people connected to President Donald Trump, yet nevertheless voted in favor of renewing and expanding the authority of the government to use these surveillance tools against other American citizens.

But hey, in the end, Clarke's horrible tweet is probably drawing attention to a horror story that might have slipped under many people's radars. So there's that, anyway.

The headline has been updated to correct a name.