Caldwell County Jail, Lockhart, Texas
Chris was arrested in 2012 while on his own family's land and charged with criminal trespass, based on a phone call by a suspicious neighbor. In jail, he was denied his medications for HIV, bipolar disorder and other illnesses while he was held for three months pretrial. His family could not visit, as he was in solitary detention. After he was released, Chris died within a year. Stricken with grief, his girlfriend committed suicide. The details of this story are shared by his mother, Brenda.
Chris Bollman lived a life marked by the challenges of mental illness. Since he was a child, his ability to have good relationships had been aided by medications. When Chris did have difficulties, he had short stays in a state hospital to receive treatment and mental health care. Things were made more challenging when Chris found he had contracted HIV, but he successfully managed the illness and stayed healthy, living with it for over 10 years. By his mid-30s, Chris had a steady girlfriend, did construction work, and with his mother Brenda’s help, he was raising his daughter.
In February 2012, all of that changed. Chris was spending time on property his family owned in Caldwell County. Neighbors stated that they were unsure who he was and reported he’d been walking in the street near the property. Police arrived to find that Chris had been drinking, so he was arrested on charges of public intoxication and criminal trespass even though he was on family land. Once taken into custody, Chris’ bond was set for a total of $3000 – a sum neither he nor his family could afford.
Left to wait in custody for his case to be settled, Chris was not provided with any of his medications and his physical and mental health quickly deteriorated. Soon Brenda found she could not visit him because her son had been placed in solitary confinement, which precludes any visitation by family. (Mental health advocates point out how jailers often “punish” mentally ill inmates for acting out by placing them in isolation cells, when their behavioral problems are actually a result of not receiving their prescribed medications.)
For more than two months, Chris waited for his case to be settled while his physical and mental problems grew worse. Finally in late April 2012, he was found guilty, sentenced to time served, and released.
Upon release Chris went to Austin, while his mother worried about how fragile his condition might be. By that summer, he was hospitalized. Chris’ dad planned to visit him while he was there, but he suffered a heart attack and passed away before making it to Austin. Despite the huge emotional loss, Chris managed to recover enough to be released from the hospital and spent the following months drifting with no true home. EMS responded various times when health scares arose. By the following spring, he was again hospitalized in Austin.
After complications from AIDS coupled with cardiac arrest, Chris passed away April 16, 2013.
His early death was a tragic event for many of the people who loved him. His daughter, 18 at the time, was left facing a future without her father. His girlfriend, overcome with grief, committed suicide – leaving behind two sons of her own from a previous marriage. Brenda faced the overwhelming pain of becoming a parent having to bury her only son.
Nobody can be sure how long of a life Chris may have had had he not been arrested in 2012. But the repercussions of high bail and lack of medical care or support during nearly three months of pretrial detention had to have contributed to his premature death. Brenda believes that her son deserved better care than he received—that all our sons and daughters deserve the best care possible, when they are held in custody.
Jailers need to be aware of how the person they see in front of them in the cell is somebody else on the outside—somebody important and beloved.
“Chris loved to help people,” she said. “He was not a bad person.”