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.
That's something I need to do more often.
Much, much more often.