Head Games

At least one out of every five Colorado prisoners is mentally ill -- some violent, some undetected or untreated. How did the Big House become the Bug House?

"Basically, a chron sets me back half a year," he explains. "Since it costs an extra $20,000 a year to house me here, you, the taxpayer, pay $10,000 for every chron I get." And that's over the cost of an average prison cell.

After five years of being ad-segged, Vasquezdiaz hopes to be approved for transfer from CSP in February -- provided, of course, he can avoid further chrons.

Others, like Troy Anderson, are probably permanent residents of the place.

Troy, now 37, is serving a 75-year sentence for 
shootouts with police.
Troy, now 37, is serving a 75-year sentence for shootouts with police.

There was a time when Carol Anderson looked to the doctors for some explanation of her son Troy's condition, some magic pill that would make the nightmare stop. Not anymore.

"I've gotten to the point where I don't even listen to what they say," she says. "Whoever sees him comes up with their own diagnosis, and they don't follow through with it, anyway."

Carol and her husband, Darrel, adopted Troy as an infant. The Boulder couple still visit him at CSP several times a year. They've never quite given up on him, but they have lost faith in the mental-health system that was supposed to help him. The pattern, Carol says, has always been the same: a crisis, followed by confinement and short-term treatment, then release without adequate planning or medication, followed by another violent episode and longer confinement.

"He had to be locked down or he would be gone, from the time he was fourteen," she says. "Probably, in the long run, it's hurt him. But it seems to be the only way he can function without medication. And he's self-medicated for years."

Troy Anderson can't remember ever feeling like he fit in. "Never felt like I was anywhere I belonged," he writes. "Couldn't relate to other people. I knew my family loved me. But I always felt like I didn't deserve it, or that I'd just let them down. I've always screwed up right when things got to be good."

Carol discovered she was pregnant shortly after the adoption. She remembers angry family-therapy sessions in which her teenage son accused her of loving her biological daughter more. "I finally put a stop to that," she recalls. "I told him, ŒYep, every time I look at your sister, I see blood. But I must love you more than I love her, because it takes a whole hell of a lot more love to love you.'"

Carol says her son can be "a very charismatic guy." He's well-read, and other prisoners respect him. He even orchestrated a hunger strike last year to protest conditions at CSP that dozens of other inmates joined ("Starved for Attention," February 17, 2005). But from an early age, something was terribly wrong.

The suicidal thoughts Troy expressed when he was ten, along with firing his dad's gun into a waterbed, led to his first meeting with a psychologist. The evaluation found "aggressive or explosive urges," mood swings and "strong guilt feelings." Before long, he was running away from home, stealing and threatening others. Another therapist decided he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); he started taking Ritalin, and his concentration at school and general attitude seemed to improve.

Only for a little while, though. He dropped out of Niwot High School in the tenth grade. In 1984, at the age of fourteen, he was put on probation for burglary and criminal mischief. But he continued to break into homes and was sinking deeper into drugs. For his parents, the last straw was a fire he set in a vacant house, apparently while huffing something flammable. He was placed in a lockdown unit at the Boulder Psychiatric Institute for almost two years.

"All I did there was fight and try to escape," he recalls. "It was horrible. I cut a nurse's throat with a soup-can lid trying to escape. Their solution was to give me Thorazine and lock me in a room. I was tied down for days. I spent most of my time there locked in a room with nothing but my books. Made me hate the world."

One doctor at BPI believed Anderson was suffering from severe depression. Another thought he was probably psychotic. Another suspected he was bipolar and suggested lithium. They threw in a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder for good measure. The whole experience, Darrel Anderson agrees, did little to help his son.

"It increased his anger immensely," he says. "Toward us, because we were the ones who put him there, but generally, too. He stayed there until my insurance ran out, and then they cut him loose."

He wasn't out long. By 1987 Anderson considered himself a hard-core skinhead and superbad speed dealer. Someone broke into his apartment and ripped off a lot of dope and money, so he went looking for the thief with a gun, busting into other dealers' houses, and caught an aggravated-robbery charge. This was on top of an involuntary-manslaughter case, the result of a fight that left the other combatant with a subdural hematoma; he died the next day.

Anderson fled to California and got into even deeper trouble there. A car chase with the cops ended in a gun battle. Anderson was wounded; his best friend was killed. Although he was looking at six years in a California youth camp, a deal was worked out to bring him back to Colorado on the earlier charges.

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