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Slaves Or Patients?
Rosewood and Enforced Labor
The Rosewood State Training School for mentally deficient children is located about 12 miles outside of Baltimore. The institution houses about 1,200 patients, almost equally divided as to sex and ranging from the idiot class to high level moron and borderline cases. The latter group were placed there principally because of delinquent trends that led to their rejection by society. Policies of the institution lie in the hands of an administrative staff including five doctors and psychiatrists, a business administrator, the principal of the Rosewood School, etc. Actual care of the children is the responsibility of the attendant staff -- whose members are sadly underpaid and required to work 12-hour shifts. A Board of Visitors, consisting of prominent professional people, meets monthly to theoretically approve and supervise all matters concerning the patients' care. Final authority over the general affairs of the institution lies with the Maryland Board of Mental Hygiene.
With so much professional talent devoted to the patients' care -- and considering, in addition, the spacious grounds and substantial buildings of Rosewood -- one might assume that the people of Maryland deserve high credit for providing so well for the unfortunately handicapped children of their State. Only by knowing through actual experience what goes on behind this splendid scenery can one realize what a subtle viciousness Rosewood actually represents.
Patients Are Trapped
Twelve hundred patients, many of whom should be capable of ultimate return to society as useful citizens, are trapped there -- subject to the absolute authority of an administration characterized by a tone of official stagnation and torn by personal feuds and bitter frustrations, an administration held together principally by the common realization that in the preservation of the "status quo" lies the continuance of a steady and relatively easy livelihood. The children are often denied true friendly care from the attendants because the salary is so low and the workday so long and trying that the job is unattractive to individuals of the moral, social and emotional caliber that should be required for such work. And their final hope, the only group of outsiders with the potential power to force reform -- the Board of Visitors -- fails utterly in its responsibility; usually only 3 or 4 of the membership of 10 attend the monthly meeting.
Is it any wonder, then, that under such a set-up, the patients are unjustly exploited? In our last issue we covered some aspects of the lack of recreational and athletic facilities for the children. Now let us look at the extremely well-developed work program that does exist.
Work Program Well Developed
Virtually all of the actual work involved in the operation of the institution is done by the children. The more capable boys are assigned to the farm, the dairy, the powerhouse; the girls to the laundry, the kitchen, the dining rooms. Specialized employees such as the painter, plumber, mason, etc., are assigned patients as assistants. In the cottages, patients do all of the cleaning as well as the feeding, bathing and changing of incontinent or helpless patients under the supervision and direction of the attendant.
Within the limits of justice such an arrangement could be commended. A just work program could be used as a factor in developing a sense of self-assurance and habits of self-reliance. By training the "patient-student" in the various trades and manual arts, a just work program could equip him with the basis for earning his livelihood in the event of ultimate parole. Such a program planned for the patients' welfare and training would be a credit to Rosewood. Too often, however, we encounter the proposition that these children owe their labor to the State to repay it for the cost of their care. Rather, it should ever be borne in mind that Society took these children into its custody, usually against their will; it is, therefore, Society's obligation to provide for them. Unfortunately, however, from the distorted principle that places the obligation upon the patient has come the practice of punishing children who do not work by depriving them of of -sic- the few limited pleasures Rosewood does offer.
Rosewood's program of "work therapy", if it can seriously be so named, goes beyond the limits of justice and is instead an outright exploitation of patients' labor. There are children there who work every day of the year without respite! Since most of these jobs (on the dairy, in the powerhouse, in the cafeteria and kitchen, etc.) entail early work hours or heavy labor or both there can be no excuse for not arranging the work schedule so as to provide at least one day of rest each week for every worker patient. On more than one occasion this was suggested to the Rosewood authorities -- with no satisfactory result.
The exploitation is evidenced again in the fact that patients who do valuable work are sometimes neglected in parole considerations. For example, one girl who proved herself reliable and efficient as a nurse's aide was kept in such work until she reached a point near indispensability. When her grandmother suddenly took an interest in her and moved toward obtaining a parole for her, the entire hospital staff began trying to persuade the girl to accept a limited parole-employment arrangement under which she would continue doing her work at a regular salary! It is to be noted that not until faced with the threat of losing her by parole did they consider her worthy of employee status. It is reasonable to assume that if the grandmother has since lost interest in parole efforts, the girl will continue doing that work as a patient -- and without pay!