When the boss says, "I have a favour to ask you," it's best to clear your schedule. A couple days ago Manuela called and told me that she needed me to write an article about someone who had moved home from the institution to the community. I asked when she needed it by. There was a pause and I said, 'now'. She agreed that 'now' was good. I asked her who she'd like me to feature but before she could answer she was called away back to her meeting.
It wasn't that I needed to know who was doing well, um, they all are. I just wanted to know who would make a good story. I settled on a guy who had come from a behaviour ward with reputationitis and a file that would outweigh ...well, me. He moved amid fear, amid predictions of failure, amid determination to succeed. Talk about out of the backwards and onto the streets. He's done spectacularly well, rising to every challenge, raising eyebrows and expectations at the same time. He's a great story.
He's the reason I got really pissed off today.
I've had a bajillion people writing to tell me about the travesty in Texas wherein institution staff have been staging Fight Club fights amongst residents with significant disabilities. Forced to fight, forced to brutalize each other, forced to perform for their keepers, people with disabilities existed for the purpose of employement, entertainment and exploitation. I read all the email urging me to write. I had nothing to say. You can't editorialize a story that editorializes itself. Everyone, it seems, got it. The news media got it. The law makers got it. The politicians got it. Nothing to say.
We didn't get it.
What the hell happened to us?
Today I read that advocates for people with disabilities say that there should be suspended admissions to the state facilities until they go 30 days without a complaint of abuse. Really? That's what they want? What kind of advocate is that?
Let's get something straight. What happened was horrific, abusive, inhuman. The people that did this should be punished. But this is not grounds for 'cleaning up' insititutions, it is not grounds for closer state supervision, nor is it grounds for fresh paint, new floors and clean windows.
This is grounds for something more radical. It is grounds for asking the question again. Why are there any institutions left? Why are there citizens locked away from society? Why do people still live at the margins? Why aren't people home?
Every day that a person lives in an instititution their civil liberties are stripped from them. Every day that a person lives in an institution their rights to access and opportunity are destroyed. Every day that a person lives in an institution the concepts of 'freedom,' 'justice,' and 'liberty' are in jeopardy. When one citizen can be convicted of the crime of difference all citizens are at risk. When one citizen is deemed worthy of life 'outside' those 'inside' live in insecurity. When one citizen is considered worth less, those worth more measure their value daily. It is impossible to go 30 days without abuse when every day kept apart, even kindly treated, is abuse.
I have seen the captive, freed.
I have seen the jailed, liberated.
I have seen the outcast, included.
This has given me a taste of heaven. This has given me eyes - that see, really see, all. This has given me an understanding of the length, and depth, and width, and texture, and colour, and taste, and smell of diversity. I have seen what genes do to the human body, I have seen the soul live in different eyes.
We do not demand 30 days of quality care. We do not even demand hallways full of kind staff personally chosen by a loving God. We do not demand better food, pretty wallpaper, fabric softened sheets.
We demand simply this ...
SEND THEM HOME.
Build capacity in the community.
SEND THEM HOME.
Construct places of welcome.
SEND THEM HOME.
Not 30 days from now.