State Bans Mom From Visiting Son at Secure Psychiatric Unit For Birthday Balloon Photo

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Shelly Raza is pictured with her son, Corey Peterson.

Corey Peterson is pictured on his 24th birthday at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at state prison. It's the photo that prompted the Department of Corrections to threaten his mother with arrest for taking it.

Corey Peterson is pictured on his 24th birthday at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at state prison. The photo prompted the Department of Corrections to threaten his mother with arrest for taking it with her cell phone.

The mother who was threatened with arrest for bringing her cell phone to photograph her son with birthday balloons at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at state prison in Concord continues to be banned from visiting him.

Shelly Raza of Londonderry has not been allowed to see her son, Corey Peterson, 24, since the birthday photo incident almost three months ago. The Department of Corrections also continues to hold her phone after seizing it that day, Raza said.

“It feels awful. God, it’s heartbreaking,” Raza said.

Her son, who is mentally ill, is still allowed to call her almost every day, but she said she continues to be concerned about his wellbeing. He wants to see her, Raza said.

“Every time I talk to him, he says ‘maybe if you just apologize,’ they will let me come see him,” Raza said.

Raza said she doesn’t know for how long she will be banned. She also hasn’t been notified whether she will be arrested so she has been afraid to pick up her phone.

“I haven’t gotten my phone yet. They want to unlock it pull out all the stuff,” Raza said.

Associate Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks previously confirmed there would be no criminal charges against Raza. The department had said Raza could face felony charges after seizing her phone.

“We didn’t believe it would fit under the statute as cleanly as some other cases. We firmly believe the action was inappropriate, bringing balloons and a cell phone into the facility,” Hanks told InDepthNH.org.

Jeff Lyons, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said violating the rules can also be dealt with by limiting visits.

“Administratively, we will prohibit people from visiting for up to a year. It’s not uncommon,” Lyons said. Lyons said he was unaware of the department’s request to unlock Raza’s phone.

Peterson hasn’t committed any crime, but was transferred to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison because he was deemed a danger to himself or others while a patient at the New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital.

Raza misses visiting her son even though she had already been limited to non-contact visits for 10 months when the birthday incident occurred on Jan. 30. She believes he will be sent back to the New Hampshire Hospital as soon as a bed is available.

“My issues are with the officers. It’s not just physical, but emotional, saying things to him like ‘are you going to tell your mommy?’” Raza said.

When the medical staff goes home from the Secure Psychiatric Unit, corrections officers are in charge of the patients, Raza said.

Raza said her son has been through a lot in recent months. During one Electroconvulsive Therapy treatment, Peterson couldn’t be revived and had a reaction to the medicine that was intended to revive him, she said.

“They were panicking. They couldn’t wake him up,” Raza said. He was hospitalized for three days, she said. “Thank God he didn’t die,” Raza said.

The Secure Psychiatric Unit has come under fire for housing mentally ill people who haven’t committed a crime with convicted criminals who are mentally ill. The Secure Psychiatric Unit is run by the Department of Corrections. The Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of the New Hampshire Hospital.

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