The Committed

The state pours millions of dollars--and controversial social theory--into a prison for mentally ill felons.

"They have a gymnasium and workout rooms," adds his wife, Marge, a touch of bitterness evident in her voice.

That the McQueens, like other Colorado taxpayers, are forced to bear the cost of San Carlos is galling to the couple for a very personal reason: One of the inmates residing at the prison is Philip Galimanis, who beat, stabbed and beheaded their daughter, Cynthia, in front of her two young children. While the McQueens struggle to raise their motherless grandchildren and pay a private therapist to help the children deal with their memories of the slaying, Galimanis is being tended to by a small squadron of mental-health workers. "We could put these girls through college ten times with what they're spending on [Galimanis]," Chuck McQueen says. "And there's no question of his guilt."

The McQueens also believe there's no question as to Galimanis's mental condition. "We feel he's not insane, but streetwise," Chuck McQueen says. "He's nothing but a spoiled kid."

San Carlos sits on the sprawling grounds of the state mental hospital, distinguishable from the other buildings only by its newness and the razor wire atop its walls. During its construction, Parmenter says, corrections officials debated whether the facility's primary purpose was to serve as a prison or a hospital. The answer is evident in the walled courtyards and guard stations that dot the four-story structure. In the words of Denver forensic psychiatrist Jeffrey Metzner, San Carlos is no country-club clinic for the "worried well."

"We are a prison, first and foremost," Parmenter says--albeit, she acknowledges, "a prison that offers a great deal of mental-health services." The routine is tightly structured; prisoners attend scheduled classes and therapy sessions that take up most of their day, leaving little time for watching television and playing cards, the favored pastimes in other DOC facilities. Because of that, Parmenter is not overly concerned about state prisoners faking illness to get into San Carlos. "It's not a pleasant place," she says.

Still, says Mark Diamond, chief psychiatrist for San Carlos and the DOC, "it's about as close as you can come to a hospital in an institutional setting. It's revolutionary in terms of corrections."

As with most things revolutionary, San Carlos didn't arrive without a struggle. It was established not out of any beneficence on the state's part, but as the result of a lawsuit. Ramos v. Lamm, which was filed in 1977 but settled just two years ago, was an omnibus legal action filed under the auspices of the American Civil Liberties Union that complained of oppressive conditions for prisoners, including the mentally ill.

As part of a negotiated settlement, the state consented to provide better psychological services for inmates. The legal standard today in Colorado, agreed to by the state in the settlement, is that prisons must provide criminals with medical and mental-health services comparable to what is available to ordinary citizens outside the walls.

The youngest of the San Carlos inmates is not yet eighteen. The oldest is seventy. And at last count, 24 of the 250 inmates were women. The inmates' crimes run the gamut from burglary to sexual assault to murder. Some of the prisoners, like Birdie, are both retarded and psychotic. Others suffer from manic depression coupled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Many have been diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia; some of them hear voices in their heads that order them to commit gruesome acts. A number of prisoners suffer from severe clinical depression, operating in a mental fog that makes it difficult for them to function.

Then there are the special cases. A few of the inmates are afflicted with an organic brain syndrome that stems from head injuries or repeated substance abuse. Some of the older inmates suffer from disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. One prisoner, Ray Stuart, was convicted in the 1992 shooting deaths of his estranged wife and fifteen-year-old stepson. He landed in San Carlos because, when he tried to kill himself after putting at least four bullets into his wife and stepson, he succeeded instead at blowing away part of his brain. The self-inflicted wound left him mentally unstable, partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

San Carlos was designed as a multi-custody facility, where inmates ranging from minimum- to maximum-security classifications could be safely housed. The upper two floors house inmates with suicidal tendencies and those who literally cannot leave their cells without being assaulted or assaulting someone else. The headbangers and those bent on cutting themselves or carrying out some other form of self-mutilation also find their way to the upper tiers, where they spend most of their time in their cells, even taking their meals in seclusion.

There are several types of special cells at the facility, including "time-out rooms," stripped-down cells that are used for inmates who have become disoriented or are behaving strangely, and "four-point rooms" for inmates who are shackled to beds during psychotic episodes that may lead them to bite or cut themselves.

The vast majority of the cells are for one person only. "They don't do well together," Parmenter says of her charges.

The prison wraps around a landscaped courtyard where the more stable inmates can play games of pick-up basketball or volleyball. Inmate William Poor, who has bounced in and out of prison five times and is now in on an assault rap (a result, he says, of suffering from bipolar disorder and drug addiction), helps tend the garden, where he and others grow vegetables and flowers.

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