As Warren Lilly tells it, the bomb that destroyed a church in his boyhood home of Birmingham, Ala., was so close it caused his house to shake. Afterward he took part in a protest-march response led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lilly recalled this blast from his past earlier this year, while strapped in a restraint chair being subjected to what a judge has likened to torture, administered by the state of Wisconsin.
"I marched with King," he shouted, one hour and 47 minutes into a force-feeding session that lasted more than two hours. "I have been protesting ever since I've been old enough to do it."
The Feb. 27 session was one of three that day, each lasting upwards of two hours. A videotape of it was reviewed and transcribed (PDF) by Dodge County Judge Andrew Bissonnette, along with Lilly's two-hour-and-38-minute "breakfast" feeding from the following day. Those videos have subsequently been obtained by Isthmus.
Both sessions are horrific, as Lilly begs, pleads and vomits. "THIS IS BARBARITY AT ITS UTMOST!" he screams. "STOP THIS!" He is strapped to a chair, naked, shaking and shivering, complaining that he's cold. "GOD DAMN EVERYONE WHO IS STANDING AROUND PARTICIPATING IN THIS!"
At one point, after vomiting up what's been pumped down, Lilly manages to pull the feeding tube from his nose. The tube is reinserted and taped into place. His shouts continue: "STOP THIS!... STOP THIS!... STOP IT!"
Twenty-eight minutes into his Feb. 28 feeding (PDF), Lilly introduces a touch of levity, singing: "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I'd really like to be, because if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, I could STOP THIS!!"
After an hour and 28 minutes, he's lost his sense of humor: "STOP THIS! STOP IT NOW! STOP THIS STUPIDITY! STOP THE TORTURE! STOP THE BARBARISM! STOP IT NOW!"
And that's just what Judge Bissonnette has set out to do - with the state of Wisconsin fighting him every step of the way.
Warren Lilly, 58, has a B.S. degree with a double major in physics and computer science from Lawrence University in Appleton. He has credits sufficient for a master's from the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee, but did not complete his thesis. He ran his own computer consulting business for about 20 years.
In 2002, Lilly was arrested for severely beating his estranged wife. In July 2003 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison followed by five years of extended supervision. He should be released from prison into community supervision in late 2013 or early 2014.
Beginning in May 2004, Lilly went on a hunger strike - to protest, he said, the high rates of incarceration of blacks, nonviolent offenders and the mentally ill. The state Department of Corrections began force-feeding him through a tube. When an appellate court set standards for this practice, the DOC asked Judge Bissonnette to allow it to continue. He did, beginning in January 2008.
Last month, in a 64-page ruling (PDF), Bissonnette barred the DOC from continuing to forcibly pump liquid formula through Lilly's nostrils. It may be one of the most stunning trial-court decisions in the history of American jurisprudence.
Bissonnette argues that the public-policy justification for forced feeding needs a "compelling circumstances exemption" for cases like Lilly's. He's persisted for five years and acquired what one doctor dubbed the "highly developed and relatively rare skill" of making himself vomit without using his fingers, thus undercutting the justification of the feeding.
The judge notes that Lilly has never been diagnosed with any form of mental illness. Indeed, he calls him "one of the most intelligent and most competent inmates" he's seen in 20 years on the bench in Dodge County, home to four prisons. He adds that it's "certainly difficult to argue with" Lilly's criticism that state prisons house too many minorities and nonviolent offenders.
Further, the judge affirms as credible Lilly's repeatedly stated assurances that he has no wish to die. He just wants to use his refusal to eat as a form of protest. Though he possibly could die, from malnutrition or heart failure, this is "outside the scope of Mr. Lilly's intent."
Lilly has said he also wants to "create expenses for [the DOC] which exacerbate its present financial situation." Here, he has clearly succeeded. Bissonnette calculates the cost of sending in six-person SWAT teams to force-feed Lilly three times a day likely tops $400,000 a year. (Elsewhere, he calls this "the taxpayer's cost of violating his constitutional right to be free of unwanted medical care.")
Most significantly, Judge Bissonnette argues that the DOC cannot continue what it's doing to Lilly because of how cruel it's become.
While forced feeding is always "painful and dangerous," the judge notes that for the first couple of years Lilly's feedings took only about 10 minutes each and prompted no resistance. In February 2007, this grew to 20-30 minutes, and eventually to two hours or more. On occasion, Lilly has also been Maced and Tasered.
Bissonnette speculates that "DOC staff have intentionally tried to ratchet up the intrusiveness and the difficulty and the discomfort experienced by Mr. Lilly in carrying out his self-imposed hunger strike."
The judge, as part of his review, had himself handcuffed into the same restraint chair used on Lilly. After just 10 minutes, he was unable to get up without assistance, and was left with red marks that remained into the following day.
Bissonnette's decision ties the DOC's treatment to the larger issue of torture. He evokes the national debate over waterboarding and suggests the DOC decided to use the restraint chair on Lilly for long periods after seeing news accounts of this being done to hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo, in violation of medical ethics and the Geneva Convention. Certainly, he concludes, there's "no evidence [it's done] anything positive for Mr. Lilly's health."
The judge goes on to list "other assaults by DOC staff upon Mr. Lilly's physical and mental health," like asking a neighboring inmate to beat on their shared cell wall to keep him from sleeping. He describes how, in the video he watched, a guard grabbed Lilly's lap belt with both hands and "yanked" it as tight as possible. And how Lilly's buttocks showed signs of severe bruising.
Bissonnette says DOC staff have engaged in "a pattern of conduct...which seems to reflect a goal of something more like punishment or retaliation" than maintaining Lilly's health. He even questions "whether the DOC is following the court's admonishment not to torture or mistreat Mr. Lilly."
DOC spokesman John Dipko gives this response: "We do not agree with the speculative comments of the judge. We have provided Mr. Lilly with appropriate care and treatment as required by law, and consistent with medical protocol and medical standards."
Warren Lilly voluntarily suspended his hunger strike in early March, pending the resolution of his court case, and his health has rebounded. He now weighs about 165 pounds, up from a low of 127. But everyone, including Judge Bissonnette, expects Lilly will resume refusing food at some point.
On Monday, a hearing was held in Bissonnette's court. The DOC urged him to stay his decision pending appellate court review. The judge refused, saying the DOC would need a fresh order to force-feed Lilly should he again stop eating, and even then could not feed him for more than 15 minutes or use the restraint chair for more than 25. In a written decision (PDF) issued Tuesday, the judge cited the DOC's "apparent indifference" to Lilly's pain.
The DOC, in its filings (PDF), frets about being sued by Lilly's estate should he die, which Bissonnette deems outlandish. And it claims the judge's ruling, should it be allowed to stand, could cause "irreparable harm" to the state's interests.
An affidavit by Warden Timothy Lundquist at Dodge Correctional, where Lilly now resides, expresses no concern for Lilly's well-being, only for how the prison might be affected.
"The failure of correctional staff to take life-saving actions and allowing an inmate to die will destabilize the correctional population," he wrote. Inmates will feel staff did not act in their best interest and rumors will arise that "staff mistreated the inmate." (Other inmates, the transcripts show, already think Lilly is being abused.)
Lundquist cites a 1983 inmate riot precipitated by a Waupun inmate's suicide, which some inmates, he said, felt "staff could or should have taken more steps to prevent."
Bissonnette fired off an apparently angry reply (PDF) last week noting the actual circumstances of the Waupun riot. The judge says that prisoners believed staff had subjected the inmate to brutal beatings before his death, and may have caused it. He deems the DOC's concern about inmate reaction "unreasonable," especially since Lilly doesn't want to die: "The DOC finds this irrelevant. I don't."
Frank Van den Bosch, a Boscobel resident who runs the pro-inmate Wisconsin Prison Watch, thinks Lilly's ordeal ought to be getting statewide and national attention. But except for Gil Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio and a short item by the Associated Press, there's been no interest.
That baffles him, because torture is a hot-button issue when done to prisoners at Guantanamo, and, says Van den Bosch, "we have it going on right here." It's even on videotape.