Monday, January 01, 2007

From The Window

When Pine Ridge closed 300 men with disabilities were set free into the community. I was there during it's last days helping plan for those coming back home. Every time I went to the institution the halls echoed emptier. It got a little eerie. There was a sense that people had been there and then disappeared. As if they had turned around and poof they were gone. The ghost of their captivity remained feeding off smells and dust - but they, they were free.

One day when visiting a man about to be freed home, I stopped in an empty room. In the corner was a time out booth. It's door hung open like it's jaw had been broken. I'd never seen one before. The places I had worked in the past had had time out rooms, but this was like a phone booth. The door had a plexiglass eye that bubbled out. I stood for a second, glanced around, then stepped in. I closed the door and felt immediately confined, unwanted, coffined. Through the plexiglass bubble the world was yellowed, distorted and distant. After only seconds I got out, breathless.

The man we planned for that day had my full attention, I wanted him as far away from that place, that smell and that booth. He was to be welcomed home. I wanted to be sure of it.

Suddenly, it was done. All those we were to plan for in our home community were home. There was no more need to go to Pine Ridge.

But I did.

One more time.

It was all closed now. A few men were still waiting to go home and they had moved from the big building to the portable cottages on the grounds. I went into the big building and now the echo was complete. I went upstairs to the room where the time out booth had been but it was now packed and gone. No evidence that it had existed was left.

I looked out the window and onto the grounds. I wondered how many men had spent how many hours looking out that window at the world. I wondered if they even imagined a day that they would live and the building would die. That they would be free and capitivity would end. That the door really would close for only one last time.

I didn't really know why I had come back.

There was something I wanted to do.

But I couldn't think.

So I said, "Goodbye," and turned to leave.

It felt good. Saying 'goodbye' to the past.

I realized.

That's something I need to do more often.

Much, much more often.


Belinda said...

Back in 1984 when Pine Ridge closed, I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do. It seemed there was a community of sorts there.

But since that time,over 22 years, I've driven past Pine Ridge with people who used to live there probably near a hundred times and there has never been a wave of nostalgia or a hint that anyone would want to go back! It would be ludicrous to want to.

It's interesting talking to Paul, my husband, who helped to close the place and who would have worked along with you in the end. Before it got to that point, he fought many battles within the system there--for simple things like the right to sleep in on the weekends and have breakfast cooked where people lived instead of the kitchens, so that they could have it when they felt like it. That was revolutionary! He also fought for and won, the right for people who prefered a bath to showers, to use the only bath which was in health services; small things requiring huge effort.

I'm grateful for how far we've come. The view from the window is much better--but the work is far from finished.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave- Every time you pick up a pen[sit at a keyboard] I hear something.Sometimes, a faint " good-bye". Sometimes I hear " Oh. Hello, again." But I always hear you addressing the past somehow.If you weren't, we wouldn't have these incredible stories to read and make us say 'hmmmm.....'Frances

Anonymous said...

It's good to hear these stories and know that these institutions really CAN be closed down. But it's also important to bear in mind that there are still so many institutions left to go. Amanda Baggs, an autistic woman at has written insightful things about her own experiences at institutions. (See the categories on the left hand side and click "institutions" ... also "staff") And this is not ancient history: she left the institutions in 1999, and some of the places she was at are still operational today.