'They call it treatment, but it's not': NH man sent to prison for schizophrenia to be released

CONCORD, Mass. — A New Hampshire man who says he’s been held against his will in psych ward at the state prison will soon be free.

Family, friends and legislators have rallied around that man, who they say is victim to failures in laws about the mentally ill.

The only secure facility to treat mental illness in the state of New Hampshire is at Concord’s Men’s Prison, which is how Andrew Butler, a star athlete and honors student who’s never been convicted of a crime, ended up as an inmate.

“I was kind of frantic at first, because I didn’t know what to expect,” Andrew told Boston 25 News in an interview Thursday.

He still remembers the day six months ago when the gates closed, and he found himself locked up inside the secure psychiatric unit (SPU) -- a patient in the midst of prisoners.

“Some of them have committed crimes, murders, all sorts of heinous things,” he noted.

Last year, Andrew suffered a psychotic break and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His father committed him for treatment at the state hospital.

But he was deemed a danger to himself and was transferred to the SPU at the prison in January against his will.

He has been locked in a cell for 22 hours a day.

“Pepper sprayed and tased, I don’t know how many times I got tased, that was definitely my low, lowest of the low,” he said.

Last month, friends and family marched to the federal courthouse as his father filed a petition asking a judge to release him.

Andrew is focusing on getting better with the help of exercise and meditation, feeling the state system has failed him.

“They put us in a place for a long time and they call it treatment, but it’s not really treatment,” Andrew said.

But Andrew is grateful for the outpouring of public support, which serves as a reminder that he’s not alone.

And he’s hopeful that the future holds promise.

“I just kept the end goal in mind, that I’m going to get out of here and I’m going to be with my friends and family soon enough,” Andrew said.

He says his prison guardian told him he could be referred back to the state hospital within a few weeks, even as his case is pending in federal court.

MORE: Family fights to release man with mental illness from NH state prison