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Troy Anderson: Mentally ill inmate sues state over decade in the hole

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Troy Anderson knows he's never going to get out of prison alive. He's spent 23 of his forty years on the inside, and though he's never killed anyone, he's currently serving a 75-year sentence on multiple counts for two shootouts with police in the late 1990s.

Yet Anderson, who's been diagnosed with mental illnesses ranging from manic depression to "intermittent explosive disorder," figures he shouldn't have to spend all those years in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary -- deprived of sunlight, books (he's allowed two a year), and the medications that might actually help him control his behavior and reduce his sentence. With the aid of student lawyers from the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, he's filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging as unconstitutional the state prison policies that keep him locked down 23 hours a day and and denied mental health treatment.

Anderson, whose prison nickname is "Evil," has a long history of erratic behavior, suicide attempts and violence going back to an early age, a voluminous and much-misdiagnosed psychiatric record explored in my 2006 feature "Head Games." As he put it himself at that time, in his abrupt, staccato writing style:

"It may be too late to help me. But if I can help anyone else get better treatment. At least I did something. There's no hope here, man. I don't think it's right that I stay here, possibly for the rest of my life. All over a problem that medication could solve. Or at least help. But I can't get it. That's crazy!"

Since that article was published, Anderson's suit alleges, his treatment has only gotten worse. CSP staff have ignored their own doctors' recommendations, denying him prescribed medications or punishing him for a "bad attitude" by taking meds away; he's been refused entry to programs that might allow him to progress out of solitary because of negative observations recorded by staff, called "chrons," that he's never had a chance to read or challenge; and, despite a lack of disciplinary writeups, his isolation remains complete.

The Colorado Department of Corrections has a prison designed specifically for the mentally ill, but it's full. Mentally ill inmates who are considered to be "uncooperative" or "acting out" tend to end up at CSP, where their condition often deteriorates. Almost 40 percent of the state's "administrative segregation" (solitary confinement) inmates are classified as mentally ill.

The CDOC's solution to an increasing shortage of ad-seg beds has been to push for the opening of a second supermax prison known as CSP II.

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