A Decatur woman clung to a wooden cross set atop a backyard fence for hours in the summer heat to protest what she called the mistreatment of her son, who is being held in the city jail.

A poster placed on the fence in Maria Thornton's yard during Wednesday's protest declared she wouldn't eat, drink or come down from the cross until her son received help.

Decatur Fire and Rescue firefighters waited below the makeshift cross to make sure Thornton didn't fall. A police officer tried to coax her down and the 58-year-old woman eventually ended her protest some two hours and 40 minutes after it began Wednesday morning.

Thornton and her husband, James, said they believe jail staff are ignoring the mental health problems of their son, 28-year-old John Paul Thornton. The woman's husband said he suspects their son is bipolar and they want him to get assistance.

"We don't want him out of jail," Maria Thornton told The Decatur Daily. "We want to put him somewhere he can get help ... He needs help."

A police spokesman told the newspaper that John Paul Thornton, who is serving a 60-day sentence for driving under the influence, has been evaluated by a mental health professional and is receiving the same care as any inmate on suicide watch.

James Thornton informed Police Chief Ken Collier last week that he feared his son might hurt himself or be hurt by someone else because of his behavior. Collier said he responded by putting John Paul Thornton on a suicide watch and moving him into solitary confinement.

The jailed man's parents also said he had not had a shower between their visits July 13 and July 20. Police said he had refused to take a shower, but did take one Wednesday.

Municipal Judge Billy Cook initially allowed John Paul Thornton to serve his time on weekends until his ex-wife filed a harassing communications complaint. He is also accused of violating a protection order.