Colton Wilson doesn't like to talk about the time he spent in prison. Too much of it was spent in "the hole," as inmates call it, alone in a cell for 22-hour stretches. Even among the general prison population, he says, "it was like a war zone."
Wilson, 23, alleges in a lawsuit served to the Montana Department of Corrections this week that he should never have been sent to prison at all. In 2005, doctors diagnosed Wilson with bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Between 2005 and 2007, court records indicate that erratic and fearful behavior prompted Wilson's family to hospitalize him repeatedly.
In 2007, Wilson, then 16, stabbed a man in the neck. In exchange for pleading guilty to the crime, Wilson received a deferred sentence, contingent upon his completion of a 90-day DOC boot camp.
Prior to Wilson's arrival at the Treasure State Correctional Training Center boot camp, he says doctors finally found a pharmaceutical combination that helped control his irrational behavior. The problem, as the lawsuit alleges, is guards did not provide Wilson with any of his medications for days after his arrival.
"(It was) nothing short of a mental catastrophe disaster within my head," he says.
Wilson's worsening behavior prompted the boot camp to terminate him. He was then sent to prison to serve out a five-year term. According to the lawsuit, given Wilson's "longstanding mental disorders," Treasure State's actions "constituted gross medical dereliction (and) reckless disregard for the well-being of the Plaintiff ..."
Wilson seeks damages and says he wants the DOC to change how it treats mentally ill inmates. "You can't get away with doing this to people," he says.
Wilson's story is strikingly similar to that of several others collected by Disability Rights Montana during a year-long investigation into the state's prison system. According to the investigatory findings released last month, DOC engages in "a pattern of deliberately withholding medication from prisoners with mental illness," and refuses to diagnose prisoners as suffering from mental illness "despite clear evidence."
If jailers don't remedy what Disability Rights alleges are widespread constitutional violations, it is threatening to file suit to compel the DOC to fulfill legal mandates against employing cruel and unusual punishment.
As for Wilson, he was discharged from prison in June. He's relieved to be out of jail, back on his medications and looking for work. "I made it," he says.