Saturday, March 14, 2009


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 ...


Build capacity in the community.


Construct places of welcome.


Create freedom.


Not 30 days from now.



Reformed Anon. Girl in Pain said...

I once visited an institution, still remember it, I had flashback memories of it when I visited the concentration camps in Germany.
Send them home indeed.

SOli Deo Gloria
REformed Girl

Terri said...

Amen, amen, amen!

Your articles about the woman whose carer was hurting her and you noticed BECAUSE YOU WERE SHOPPING WHERE SHE SHOPPED is a pretty good testimony about the value of living in the community.

I could not get over the "lets have a few days of quality..."

Anonymous said...

Well said!!!!

Belinda said...

Okay, I WAS going to say "Amen!" but I see that I've been beaten to it! :) But Amen anyway!

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of this at all, guess it wasn't important enough for the UK news. I somehow thought this stuff was confined to the history books and to countries who were still to develop but America?

Yes Dave, they must be sent home.

Mark S. Partin, Esq. said...

Ditto Dave.

Last time I was in Corpus Christi State School for the Mentally Retarded (the name at the time), I had to enter through the loading dock, as it was the only ramp, and the first thing I came across, very nearly rolled across, was twenty or so people laid out on mats on the floor for "activity time." Near as I could tell, me wheeling through was the only activity going on. This was at least 20 years ago and we were trying to close that god damned place THEN.

Yes, close them now. Only two have closed in Texas and most of those folks were transferred, not freed. And, as horrifying as Corpus Christi is, it is not the worst one.....

Anonymous said...

I grew up in institutions, told I couldn't function. They were wrong. Not only do they need to send them home, but they need to remove the fear of being sent away again.

There shouldn't BE institutions, there should be other methods, loving methods. Caring methods.

Kat Fury

Ssejors said...

I honestly love you Dave! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave:

When I told my students about this post they immediately identified that these men were being treated like animals.

Yes send them home - but make sure it really is home and not institution in another guise.


Anonymous said...

These sentiments are all well and good - but what happens when someone who should be in a supportive institution cannot cope outside of this environment? What if there are no family who will take responsibility?
I am thinking of my own experience, living in an area of France where care in the community was popular, being attacked or followed down the street by one gentleman in particular who needed to be institutionalised. The threat to my safety was exremely high, and when I was raped by this man, the crime wasn't taken seriously by the police as he was 'ill'!
I do agree that there needs to be serious reforms to the way that institutions are run, hence my comment about supportive institutions. But this needs to come from the staff and patients within, not from outside pressure. Making changes in quick succession after a national media incident is placing people's futures in jeapordy. More time needs to be spent considering how to reform these on an individual basis