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Saturday, November 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 37.0° F  Fog
The Daily
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Modifying behavior

Nathan Gillis arrived at Supermax in 2002, about a month after the settlement of a lawsuit accusing the prison of cruel and inhuman punishment. Within a week he was disobeying a rule that required inmates to sleep with their heads toward the toilet. Though Gillis contends that the rule was not uniformly enforced, he was nonetheless placed in Supermax's Behavior Modification Program.

Gillis, according to court documents, was stripped of all property, and his three daily meals were ground into a loaf and baked. He paced naked in his cell to keep warm. His feet blistered. His shoulders and genitals became raw from rubbing against the concrete when he slept. He was denied showers, and even soap. He was rationed just four squares of toilet paper on five occasions during his 12-day ordeal. He began cutting himself, at one point writing ‘Help me' on the wall in his blood.

"He became paranoid, and his anxiety symptoms continue to this day," says attorney Pam McGillivray, who represented Gillis in a civil suit against the state. "When mental health staff saw him in the prison, they said, ‘Continue these punishment conditions,' instead of giving him care."

Gillis, convicted in 1993 of kidnapping and sexual assault, spent five years at Supermax. He was released from prison in September 2005, but returned six days later when his probation was revoked. His case against Supermax was dismissed initially, but revived by a federal appellate court in November, which likened conditions at Supermax to "a Soviet Gulag in the 1930s." Gillis has since received a $335,000 settlement from the state.

The Behavior Modification Program has officially been scrapped, though the Department of Corrections has reserved the right to bring it back anytime it chooses.

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