FRONTLINE first met Jerry Tharp as he was nearing his November 2004 prison release. He had served nine years for robbing a pharmacy. Four months after being paroled, Tharp committed the same type of crime in Middletown, Ohio. He told the arresting officers that he robbed a pharmacy because he wanted to go back to prison. In October 2005, he did.
While in prison, Tharp, 34, is often transferred to the psychiatric hospital unit. He suffers from religious preoccupations and has a long history of mutilating his body. He has said he cuts and burns himself "to let the demon out" and that the acts relieve his pain. Tharp has also eaten inanimate objects, including pencils, nail clippers, toothbrushes, a radio antenna, razor blades and an entire Sony Walkman. Tharp admits that, at times, his behaviors are an effort to get attention, but he has made at least one serious attempt at suicide by swallowing packets of hair removal gel, along with 10 pens and a paper clip.
UPDATE: Tharp is scheduled for release from prison in November 2009. He says that when he was released in 2004 he was unprepared to care for himself and had difficulty adjusting to the ways the world had changed while he was in prison.
When he's in a positive mood, Tharp talks of the community services that will be in place for him when he's released. He says that he plans to live with his stepmother and work at a factory with this brother. When he's feeling negative, Tharp says he just can't make it outside of prison and that when he's released, he will commit a crime that will ensure his imprisonment for life.
UPDATE (Dec. 6, 2010): Jerry Tharp was released on Nov. 12, 2009. He was out for less than two weeks before being charged with rape and sexual imposition. He is expected to be released again on Sept. 12, 2020.