A federal jury returned guilty verdicts Wednesday against Anthony Tony Gay, of Rock Island, for possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon.

Earlier Gay, who previously was released from prison in 2018, was a speaker who advocated against the use of solitary confinement.

The 2020 charges

Over three days of testimony, the government presented evidence to establish that on May 31, 2020, a vehicle in which Gay was a passenger was stopped by Rock Island police officers for a traffic violation, a news release says. Gay ran from the traffic stop, but fell down as he was being chased by police and was arrested a short distance away.

When officers retraced Gay’s flight path, they found a loaded Glock pistol in the location where he fell. The Glock had been reported stolen in March 2020. 

About two weeks later, on June 14, 2020, Rock Island police were called to a Rock Island motel where Gay had been renting a room when he was arrested for the gun charge. As motel personnel cleaned Gay’s room and removed his belongings, one of them located a bag of .45 ammunition containing the same type of rounds that had been loaded in the Glock pistol.  

The government also established that Gay had multiple prior felony convictions, including robbery, aggravated battery, and possession of a weapon in prison, the release says.  

Gay was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. At sentencing, Gay faces statutory penalties on each count of up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and up to a three-year term of supervised release.

The investigation was conducted by the Rock Island Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Mehochko, Alyssa Raya, and Jennifer Mathew represented the United States in the prosecution.

Sentencing for Gay has been scheduled for Sept. 16 at the federal courthouse in Peoria, Illinois.

Solitary confinement: “A dark hole”

“A dark hole” is how Gay, who earlier was incarcerated for nearly 25 years, described his time in solitary confinement when he spoke in 2019 with students at Augustana College, Rock Island, at the Augustana Winter Symposium with the hope  of bringing about change.

Gay was a young man when he was sent to prison after a probation violation for a petty crime. His original sentence was seven years but that extended by decades after incidents with guards, he said, because of his time in solitary that worsened his mental illness.

He was 44 when he was released in August 2018.

In 2019, he told Local 4 News the cells he was in were no bigger than the size of a parking space. It’s a space that grows smaller when a bed and toilet is added. 

That is where Gay said he spent all but an hour or two each day.

What made the small space worse was he was all alone, he told Local 4 News. 

“The only way that I was able to receive social stimulation and human contact was if I acted out, engaged in self-harm,” he said.

Gay said of his 24 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections’ prisons, 22 were in a cell with an average measurement of six by nine feet.

“I was in Tamms, Pontiac, Menard, Dixon, Shawnee.” Gay said, “Pretty much five prisons transferred back and forth to one solitary cell to the next.”

“I just keep it in my head not to keep me down and keep moving cause there’s a bigger picture than myself,” he said.

In 2019, he said his mission was to help overhaul the prison system.

“I want to see solitary confinement dismantled. I want to see more educational programs,” he said. “Better mental health treatment, more out-of- cell time and basically provide an opportunity for people to become productive citizens.”

Part of his reason for speaking out, he said, was to provide a voice to those who cannot discuss what is happening.

“Many people are still in those conditions of confinement, and unless someone throws them a rope of hope, they’ll be left there to die,” he said.

He said he hoped by sharing his story of what he called an “axis of evil he could shine a light on what happens in those cells and engage others in his cause.