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?

He wound up at CSP instead. By now his keepers' appraisal of his mental state had become so convoluted -- schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress, plus a shopping list of untreatable personality disorders -- that a clear course of action was impossible. James Waters, an outside psychologist retained by the court for extensive neuro-psychological testing, had a different view. Waters concluded that Anderson probably had ADHD, among other issues. "While he does not seem to qualify for bipolar disorder, it is still possible that he has a disorder that might respond to mood-stabilizing medication," Waters reported.

The prison docs put him on Elavil and Neurontin -- an anti-depressant and an anti-convulsant, respectively. Anderson complained that the drugs made him feel manic. At a 2000 hearing, he burst into a rage and attacked the hearing officer. He was then sent to San Carlos and taken off the meds. A few weeks later, he was shipped back to the supermax.

He's been off drugs -- and locked down -- ever since.


Mark Jason Seibel sits and fidgets in a corner of a Denver Starbucks on a Friday afternoon. He's pale and thin, with short-cropped hair, and his eyes dart nervously around the room, looking everywhere but at the person he's talking to. He spent his last four dollars on the untouched iced drink, with extra shots of espresso, at his elbow.

His T-shirt reads: I USED TO HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS TILL MY THERAPIST AND THE MEDICATION TOOK THEM AWAY.

At 31, Seibel has seventeen years of experience with the criminal-justice system -- and the tattoos to match. He also has a lengthy history of untreated mental illness. Talking about it is difficult. He squirms and speaks softly, but with intense deliberation.

"I feel more comfortable in a life-threatening situation than I do in a job interview or something like this," he says. "Like a couple weeks ago, there was a problem, and this guy came at me with a tire iron. Fortunately, I ended up with the tire iron. But this is harder than that."

Seibel is a parolee from the Colorado prison system, but he hasn't reported to his parole officer in months. Instead, he's launched a MySpace page airing his frustrations with his situation ("Parole Sucks") and gone back to what he knows best -- living by his wits, getting by on whatever money he can scrounge up. He knows it's only a matter of time until the law catches him and sends him back to prison for failing drug tests. All the same, he wonders if his life had to turn out this way.

"I take responsibility for my own actions, but I can see that a lot of what happened over the last twelve years has to do with the lack of treatment," he says. "If someone had taken the time to ask me how I was feeling or give me the treatment they suggested, perhaps I wouldn't be facing habitual criminal status and my life in shambles."

Seibel has lived on the streets since he was eleven years old. Records list him as a runaway; he says his parents threw him out after years of severe abuse. He had several run-ins with juvenile authorities before entering the adult prison system in 1994, at the age of nineteen, on burglary cases in Denver and Lakewood. By his own account, at the time he was a "blackout drunk and a gang member" and using amphetamines heavily.

A psychometric report prepared at the DOC's diagnostic center found symptoms of more deep-rooted mental-health issues: "The test findings imply a strong likelihood of 'crazy,' irrational behavior. Prompt referral to medical and counseling programs is recommended....Mr. Seibel shows evidence of substantial, generalized psychotic illness, which tends to make his behavior bizarre and inappropriate. Anti-psychotic medication may enhance well-being and performance."

The recommendation was never pursued. Seibel didn't even find out about it until more than a decade later, when he stumbled across the report in his court file -- which by now had grown quite thick. His initial eighteen-month sentence had mushroomed into a decade-long journey through the prison system, compounded by parole failures and additional theft and drug charges. Last year a sympathetic counselor finally arranged for his first thorough mental-health evaluation, which found, beneath his substance-abuse problems, a severe case of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and ADHD. Some of the drugs prescribed to treat ADHD, such as Adderall and Desoxyn, are amphetamine cocktails, regularly abused as pick-me-ups by college students pulling all-nighters; chemically, they're not much different from the drugs Seibel had been using on the street.

The self-professed amphetamine gobbler now had a doctor's prescription for Adderall. He also had a spot in a group therapy session for Offenders with Serious Mental Illness (OSMI). But the therapy turned out to be "a lot of bitching and reading aloud from lame handouts," he says, and it took four months to get a single appointment with a psychiatrist at Denver Health Medical Center, under the indigent-care program that was supposed to help him obtain his medication. Although the drugs helped him "focus and feel normal," he couldn't get the required monthly appointments for refills and soon went back to using the version he could buy on Colfax -- and testing positive for street drugs, a violation of his parole.

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