LIVINGSTON COUNTY – For more than a year, Christopher Crippen’s case has constantly snagged and complicated the courtroom as the 40-year-old transgender inmate grappled with high-level felony bail-jumping and drug charges in the county jail. As his time in the jail draws to a close following his guilty plea and he prepares for state prison, Crippen spoke from the heart in an exclusive jailhouse interview with the Sun.
Crippen, who prefers “he” in reference to himself, strongly believes that his current criminal situation was the result of a completely unfair setup due to his sexuality, and that his charges are blown out of proportion. However, he admits that he could use a hand getting back on track in life, and has proactively sought help with his drug problem.
Crippen does have a long criminal history, but has never before faced drug charges. All of his previous incarcerations in the State Prison system have been for Forgery related crimes.
“Forgery was my crime of choice,” said Crippen. “I feel that I’m an adult and I want to do what I want to do. But this time it’s a little different.”
Though Crippen has been distant from his family members for years, they say they remember his outgoing nature and razor-sharp sense of humor. From talking to his family about his past, everything seemed to go wrong for Chris when a person who loved him was taken away from him.
“I’ve gotta tell you, he was always the funniest person,” said a family member of Crippen’s. “He could have me rolling on the floor in a minute. He has a great sense of humor. He was actually born with a different last name and was adopted by one of his mom’s partners, David Crippen, when he was 15. Dave was probably the first person to truly love Chris for who he was, and he died within a couple years of cancer. I think something snapped in Chris when that happened.”
Crippen discussed his life on the run after he fled from a drug sale charge in Dansville in February 2013. He said his short time in El Paso was a happy one. In fact, he says he intends to go back once his time in prison is finally over.
“I was an aide for the elderly,” said Crippen, almost surprised at his own story. “Yeah. I was doing well in life. I was taking care of old ladies in El Paso. I had a job, I had a car, I had a life. Then one day I got pulled over with a friend. I wasn’t even driving, but I said ‘Hi, I’m Chris Crippen, I’m wanted on felony charges in Livingston County, New York.’ I’m amazed that they even brought me back here. They could have just let me go, I was gone, far away. I’m told my job is waiting for me there when I get out.”
Crippen’s case has been held up since May as he fiercely deliberated taking his case to trial and risking a much more severe sentence than his plea offer. He even claimed to the judge that he had Seneca lineage, so that he could keep his long hair as a part of his heritage. He told me that I was the second person to visit him in more than a year of being at the jail, but that the other, a family member with whom he has maintained contact over the years, once stopped by the jail to discuss his case, and gave some advice that hit home.
“She told me we’re all not getting any younger,” said Crippen. “She said she might not have 10 years, or 20 years, to wait for me to get out of prison. I really took that one to heart, because it’s time for me to move past this, you know? It’s a huge risk to take this to trial and my gut says fight, fight, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. It may be time to just move on.”
On top of all this, Crippen’s sexual orientation brings a lot of complex and sensitive issues to the table. He says that he has been singled out from a young age because of his sexuality.
“People should know that I’m human and not the freak, monster or whatever else society may say I am,” said Crippen. “Everyone deserves to be treated and handled with respect, be they black, white, gay, or whatever. People should be who they want whenever. I’ve been through hell and back in the prison system. I’ve had to literally fight people my whole life to survive, physically, socially, mentally. I just survived by reading body language and learning where the danger is.”
Crippen says he is tired of being in and out of trouble, and finally just wants to reconnect with his family and get back their respect. He realizes that the best way to do that once he is out of prison is to enter a strong drug treatment program that works for him.
“Ok here I am, 40 years old,” said Crippen. “I’ve tried signing up for a few programs, but most cant provide a place to live and a job. Nobody wants to hire me, which makes things just a little difficult. But there is one program I started that I really liked, and I want to go back to it once I’m done in jail. I’m not proud of being here, I’m ashamed. I feel that my family is ashamed of me, and it hurts.”
As visitation hours came to a close and we prepared to hang up our phones in the visitation room, Chris gave a short message to his family.
“Tell my family I’m sorry and I love them,” said Crippen. “Thanks for taking an interest here.”
PHOTO CAPTION: TOP: Christopher Crippen, approximately age 15 compared to his most recent mugshot (middle) and another childhood photo (bottom). Photos courtesy of family members and LCSO.