James T. Wilson, a California man with bipolar disorder, was not allowed to talk in his cell

Op-Ed: Here in San Quentin, I see why solitary confinement must end

There is a reason why most people do not want to live in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – In the early morning hours of Feb. 6, 2017, after a night of drinking, James T. Wilson awoke to find himself alone in his room at the California Men’s Colony in the eastern San Joaquin Valley. By the time he had stumbled down the long stone corridors of the colony, the lights were coming on, and he was alone. He made it to a cell by himself, and he quickly fell into a deep sleep, only to awaken several hours later when a guard woke him up by opening Wilson’s cell to check on his clothes. Wilson thought his clothes had been taken from him. The guard led him back to his cell, where Wilson saw only empty beds. When he called out, he heard no response. The next time he woke up, he was placed on the ground floor against the wall and was pulled back until he was astride a table. Wilson, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a disorder in which moods shift from positive to negative, was returned to his cell after his cellmate told prison officials Wilson was depressed and had attempted suicide.

In prison, you would hear from your cellmate if you needed help, but James T. Wilson, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, was not allowed to talk. That was a problem. He needed help, not only because his depressive episodes had made him suicidal but also because he needed to hear that his struggles were not going unnoticed.

“The only way I could communicate with him was to write down what was going on because I could not speak for him in his cell.”

Wilson was in the San Quentin Men’s Facility on the night of Jan. 20, 2018, after his fifth depressive episode. He was so depressed, he walked around the yard for over 12 hours, not speaking to anyone, except for his cellmate, who let him know he was fine. Finally Wilson made his way down to the prison’s medical center in hopes that they could help him. But when they asked if he was on medication, he said no

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