Paul Smith's Brother Michael Offers A Candid Portrait

11:42 PM, Mar 20, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- We have a follow-up to a story we first shared with you last week. It's about Paul Smith, the Maryland inmate serving a 20-year sentence for burglary. 

Paul's parents allege he is severely mentally ill and has been in solitary confinement for four years. The Maryland Department of Corrections calls it segregation, and says for inmates like Paul, it's for their own safety and that of other inmates. 

WUSA9 reporter Andrea McCarren spoke to Paul's brother who offers a shattering portrait of what it's like growing up with a sibling who's mentally ill.

"He would always say I'm going to go in the kitchen and get a knife. You don't know if he's going to stab himself or stab you," recalled Michael Smith, the brother of mentally ill inmate, Paul Smith. "It was kind of like a day by day like 'Am I gonna live today?'" 

Photographs depict a happy family, but look closely at one holiday picture and you'll see a teenage boy with an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.

"I would say about 80% of the violence was directed toward me. I was three years younger than him, I was weaker than him," said Michael. 

Even so, Michael looked up to Paul-at times, he was a sweet, protective big brother. But when the dark cloud of mental illness rolled in, he would inflict extraordinary pain.

"It made every day one of the hardest days of your life," he said. "Everything from punch, kick, bite, choke."

In this household, violence was the calling card.)

"The violence was so extreme. You think of everyday brothers fighting, you know just kind of push and shove and maybe a little hit and then, it's done. No, this was HOURS. Hours long worth of fighting. Bloodshed. Police coming to the house. It was a broken home when the mental illness really took over," said Michael.

Paul was diagnosed with autism and ADHD at a young age. Later treated for bipolar disease, paranoia, impulse control and explosive disorders, among others. 

Michael told us, "I remember my parents telling me he doesn't feel good, he's sick, he doesn't understand why he's doing these things."

Today, Paul sits behind bars at North Branch, Maryland's only maximum security prison. His inability to conform to prison rules has led to more punishment-all visitors and phone calls have been banned for the last two years, even from his parents.

"He was so unrecognizable. I didn't even recognize how thin he was, how long his hair was, how long his beard was, how just unclean he was," said Michael.

Only after we started asking questions about Paul's condition, was his family invited to visit him. They were stunned at how much he had deteriorated.

"Delusional. Talking about seeing things that don't even exist," said Michael. "Talking about how people are skin-covered robots and how this black blob takes over his body. He doesn't know why. Now he can't get a shower because of electrical impulses in his body. It was just rough. And then he would look at us and say don't you understand?"

Separated by glass, Paul's family was unable to hug him, unable to offer their mentally ill son a reassuring touch.

"It was very gut-wrenching. It was almost to the point where we no longer knew Paul. He was gone. He was still there... his body was still there, but his mind was just gone," he said.

Paul's parents say the morning after our initial report aired, the prison immediately began evaluating his mental health. The Department of Corrections says our reporting had nothing to do with that, that all inmates are evaluated when they enter a prison, and that mental health treatment is available-although it's often refused. 

The DOC adds that North Branch has two units dedicated to handling inmates struggling with mental illness. 

Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9

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