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Christopher Harper Locked Up In Solitary Confinement

10:25 PM, Apr 2, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9) -- Only on 9, we have disturbing allegations about a mentally ill Maryland man locked up in a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania.

His mother alleges he has the IQ of a child, and is being grossly mistreated behind bars.

A lawsuit recently filed on behalf of mentally ill inmates indicates he's not alone.

"Chris is a kid. He's a 40 year-old little kid. He still colors. He does puzzle books. He watches cartoons. He's a 40 year-old little child," said Kim Wallace, Christopher's aunt.

Christopher Harper is also a convicted felon, locked up in a maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania serving a 10-year sentence for burglary-a crime his mother insists he did not commit.

"They called Christopher a mastermind in the courtroom and Chris looks at the judge and says 'What's a mastermind?' It's killing me. It literally is killing me," said Cheryl Bair, Christopher's mother. She surrounds herself with his letters.

"Mommy, please come get me," she read. "Please Mommy, come get me. This is every letter and I've got hundreds of letters. It breaks my heart and I cry every time I get a letter."

It's especially gut-wrenching because Christopher has the mental capacity of an 11 year-old.

"It's not hi Mom, how ya doing, Mom? It's Mommy, please get me out of here," said Cheryl. "Mommy, when are you coming to get me? Mommy, can you just call up here and tell them you're taking me home?" 

Diagnosed with mental illness at the age of 5, Chris later suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. According to his mother, he battles severe depression, among other illnesses.

"Two of the guards, at separate times, told him you're nothing but white trailer trash," said Cheryl. "You're nothing but white trailer trash, you might as well go kill yourself because you're never going to get out of here. You're too stupid to get out of here. You don't tell a mentally ill person this!"

And she says, he's been in solitary confinement since he entered Greene three years ago. His inability to conform to prison rules led to harsher punishment: he's not allowed phone calls or visits, even from family.

"He's up there with the lifers. People that have committed rape, murder, murdering police officers," she said. "They all sit there and laugh about it. They think it's funny. They say you're here for what?! Why are you still here? And Chris is like, they won't let me go."

Christopher's case is not unique. The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania has filed this lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Christopher and 800 mentally ill inmates like him, all of whom are in solitary confinement. 

"Despite their loss of a great many of their civil rights, they do not lose the right to live without torture or under cruel and unusual punishment conditions," said Robert Meek, of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania.

The suit filed by Meek's group alleges the state's failure to provide adequate treatment to its mentally ill prisoners violates the Constitution. As does their ongoing punishment, allegedly done without consideration of an inmate's mental health.

"Inmates are written up for things like suicidal gestures, for making nooses out of bed sheets. Refusal to obey an order, refusal to stop banging their head against a window screen," said Meek.

In the meantime, a Maryland family waits for Christopher to come home and struggles with how the most powerful country in the world is treating him.

"It breaks my heart and it tears me up inside," said Cheryl.

"My husband served, our brothers, all three of them served, our Dad served, our step-Dad served and this is what they do to Christopher? I mean, c'mon," said Christopher's Aunt Kim.

"I just want my son home," said Cheryl. "I want to take care of my son the way I've taken care of him for 40 years."

Despite sending the prison 65 pages of medical records documenting her son's mental illness, Cheryl says the prison refuses to acknowledge it.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections couldn't talk about his case specifically, but did say all inmates and their families have use of a grievance system, including a hotline number, if they feel an inmate is being mistreated.

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