When I first saw the video, ‘She Never Knew She Never Knew,’ I sat in my chair stunned. The visual, the words, the powerful message with it’s underlying outrage touched me somewhere deep down in my heart. Institutional hallways have resounded with the echos of my steps. I’ve seen the ‘land of the long corridor’, I’ve seen what it does to people with disabilities who live there, I’ve seen what it does to the staff who work there and I've seen what it does to family who visit there. The video was stunning, but it was the words of the song which captured me. The incredible sense of loss … the mammoth theft of life which occurred in plain view. “Who pays the time for the crime against an innocent child?” is the question the song asks. The answer is stark …
So I approached my interview with Dana Mase, the songs singer and co-writer, with a bit of trepidation. I’m not an interviewer, I’m also someone who reacts to talent with awe and I was afraid of simply making a fool out of myself. I called Dana at the specified time and she answered with a warm voice and was very open to speaking with me. She told me that the song came to be because, Myles Wren, a friend who worked with people with disabilities was thinking of doing a documentary and wanted her to write a song for it.
During the course of their conversation Arlene’s story came to the fore. A lovely, kind and gentle woman had lived much of her life locked away for the crime of difference. Dana said, “If I was going to write a song about her experience, I had to get to know her, meet her, spend time with her. I found a woman who was warm and lovely. As I talked with her, I began to understand what had been taken from her. She was a little child, she had no say.”
I told Dana that her approach to Arlene's story was what captured my heart and mind. I have spent so much of my life working in the area of abuse and victimization that when I think about the captivity of the institutions, I think about what was done to people there. The outrageous stories of abuse which continue to shock us, continue to hold us accountable. However, Dana's song opened a different part of my mind to a different part of the story. I understood what what done to people with disabilities but I did not consider, as I should have, what was taken from them. Perhaps the greatest abuse was the theft of the life that could have been lived.
Later on, in visiting the institution where Arlene had lived to film the video, Dana reflected, “The contrast between this warm, beautiful person and this cold cruel institution was hard. It seemed just so unjust. Until I walked in there I had no awareness that this had occurred. This blew me away. It seemed just so wrong. For people to blossom, there must be warmth and love, this seemed to be the opposite of that.”
Dana also spoke about how, as she came at this from ‘outside’ from ‘not knowing’ she had to go deep within herself to write the song. In doing this she realized what pain had been experienced and that “you can’t fix it, it’s done, lives have been stolen, basic things that are taken for granted, she missed them, they were taken away from her.’ It was this understanding that has led Dana to establish a therapeutic riding programme for people with disabilities. "I want people to have all sorts of experiences open to them. I want them to be able to experience as much as they can in this world. I love horses, I thought this was a way I could share that love."
Myles Wren, was also kind enough to speak to me. He works with a lot of older people with intellectual disabilities. Many of whom lived in large institutions. Many of whom had stories to tell, stories that are unlikely to be heard. Arlene’s story touched him deeply because, over time, he’d formed a bond with her, ‘when my father passed away, Arlene put her arm around my shoulder and told me that she would be there for me.’ Here a woman who had no family, knew, instinctively, how to be family.
Both Dana and Myles, who is a co-writer of the song, hope that the song and the video will be used to raise awareness and to focus on the injustice of lost lives, unlived loves, unexperienced dreams. I believe that the song does that. I believe it is making a difference. Both Dana and Miles speak of how the song affects others with a bit of awe, Myles said, "Everyone who sees it, understands it, almost everyone cries," and Dana said, "The song touches people for a reason, what they are seeing is a tragedy beyond understanding."
She Never Knew She Never Knew … but we know what was done. And because we know we have a responsibility to make ‘never again’ more than a slogan, it must simply be our pledge.
For those who missed the video last time, here it is again: