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THE AMERICAS

Conditions in notorious Mexican prison worsens Jon Hammar's PTSD, family fears

  • The first photo of Marine Veteran Jon Hammar inside the Matamoros state prison.

  • Jon Hammar has been held in the notorious CEDES Mexican prison since August.

  • Hammar is being held in a notorious prison just over the Mexican border.

Every day that former Marine Jon Hammar spends in a notorious Mexican prison can only worsen the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he suffers from after serving his country in multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to his family and mental health professionals.

Hammar has been in the notorious CEDES prison in Matamoros, Mexico since being arrested Aug. 13, on what his family says is a trumped up weapon charge. During the four-month ordeal, Hammar has faced death threats from the cartel gangsters that control the prison, been put in isolation and been chained to his metal bunk. 

Hammar was honorably discharged from the marines in 2007 and, according to his father, Jon Hammar Sr., was diagnosed with PTSD in 2008. Hammar Sr. said his son had never been able to relax since coming home from the wars.

"You never get cured of post traumatic stress. When someone runs into a dilemma like this it rekindles old issues."

- Fred Gusman, mental health professional

"He was at an alertness he never came down from," Hammar Sr. said. "Jon had gone to appointments with the VA in Miami but had a bad reaction to the medication they gave him. The treatment they were offering him was not effective."

Olivia Hammar, the imprisoned Marine's mother, researched treatment facilities for PTSD and came across the Pathway Home in Yountville, Calif., which offered a residential recovery program.

Hammar completed the nine-month program where his parents saw immediate results. 

"He went through exposure therapy," Olivia told Bill O'Reilly. "It's really an exhausting program because you are working through tough stuff."

But Fred Gusman, Pathway Home's executive director, said strain of being behind bars in a foreign land could unravel whatever progress Hammar had seen.

"When he came to us he was very withdrawn and that his world view was that nobody cares," Gusman said. "By the time he graduated, he had turned around."

But, Gusman said, "You never get cured of post traumatic stress. When someone runs into a dilemma like this it rekindles old issues."

Gusman said Hammar's issue would be a violation of the trust he put in U.S. border officials who Hammar and pal Ian McDonough say gave him a sense of security that he was following the rules for bringing the rifle into Mexico.

"That can break his faith, having him ask if anything has changed," Gusman said.

McDonough who was also arrested but later released, said his friend has been struggling with PTSD. They had planned the trip through Mexico and to Costa Rica to go surfing and hunting and forget the trauma of war.

"He was losing his mind in the city and had to get away," McDonough said.

Now there is increasing fear of his condition in confined and deplorable prison conditions. Hammar Sr. said the conditions his son are in are likely to set him back.

While Hammar Jr., is separated from the general population for his own safety, he is being housed in a converted storage closet in a busy administrative area of the prison. where he has been chained to his bed, where he is essentially on display, separated only by a chain link fence.

"It's like he is in a zoo," Hammar Sr. said. "His emotions go with the day to day activity of the prison, but I expect he is relapsing."

On a recent visit, Hammar Sr. sensed his son's decline.

"He told me, 'Dad, when I get out of here I'm going to have to be alone,'" Hammar Sr. said.

Despite his attempts to declare the .410 gauge antique Sears Roebuck shotgun at the border with Brownsville, Texas, Hammar was charged with possessing a gun used by the Mexican military, an aggravated felony punishable up to 15 years in prison.

Gusman is concerned if Hammar Jr. is not released.

"Jon is very resilient and if they can get him out quickly he can get his faith back in mankind," Gusman said. "If he is convicted, it can be terrible, I don't know if he can make it."