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Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House
In 1851, a former patient at the Maine Insane Hospital published a scathing attack on his treatment by the institutionís attendants and doctors. Isaac Hunt describes all sorts of abuses and mistreatment. His account makes people wonder whether or not the asylum offered conditions better than those uncovered in local almshouses and jails by the investigative reports of Dorothea Dix. Out of Huntís complaints came an investigation by the Maine Legislature into conditions at the asylum. The testimony of three witnesses is included here. As Hunt was writing his exposť, a fire, partially described here, destroyed the institution in Augusta, Maine, with the deaths of 27 patients, many confined and unable to escape, as well as one attendant. This is an autobiographical voice apparently impaired by his disability, but it is valuable evidence on what life could be like in one the institutions favored by Dix.
Once a month the Trustees visited the Institution. I took occasion upon their first visit, while I was there, to speak to one of them, with whom I was acquainted. I requested him, with tears in my eyes, which I really could not suppress, to allow me to go home. I felt sensible that the treatment there, was destined to destroy my mental and physical faculties. He replied that he would consult Dr. Ray and see if he thought it expedient or proper for me to leave the institution. All I obtained for that appeal, was a continuation of the same horrid draughts, in larger quantities. The interim I filled up by drudgery. Babcock would order me to assist in cleaning floors, scouring knives &c. This of course was done to humiliate me, but I objected strongly to such palpable cruelty. He would say : "you had better do it; you'll be sorry if you don't; you shall not sleep at night if you don't, so do it at once." Babcock, in these essays, introduced some strange philosophy or reasoning. For instance, he would say that they did not compel any one to work, but if I refused I should not sleep at night! I frequently appealed to Dr. Ray to allow me to go home. I was aware that I could not pay my expenses in such an institution, being idle and earning nothing. He always replied, that if I was not able to pay my expenses, the town would pay it. But I told him that I did not wish the town to pay my bills. I did not consider my case one for public charity, for I was both able and willing, if allowed my liberty, to provide for myself and family, and avoid the un-called for stigma of being a charge to community. Again I was plied with medicine, such as few mortals dream of. At one time, I found the vile compounds had the effect to paralyze my jaws; at another to effect the drums of my ears, apparently to make me deaf. The bones of the jaws would snap and crack, which caused much distress and pain when I attempted to eat or talk. These sensations were horrid beyond recital. Then again, I took from Dr. Ray medicine that caused me to weep like a child -- tears of anguish that I could not restrain. Then the reverse would occur; I could not weep -- not a tear would flow -- I felt as stoic and indifferent as a pirate, believing that I could stand unmoved by any sympathy, though every, friend cherished or loved were slaughtered before my eyes. Some nights I could not sleep; tortures and dreams of the most horrid kind agitated me; fiery thoughts and wild fancies hovered over my brain; thus in this horrible mood would I pray for the return of day. The next night, medicine would put me in the most deadly stupor -- a sleep of unconscious heaviness. Nothing could wake me. In the morning I again would be subjected to the maniac's draught and the mad man's walk! At length I appealed to Dr. Ray, as a matter of human sympathy, to administer some deadly draught to end my woe, or send me home. -- He replied: "Nothing is given you but what is for your good; you shall go home when you get well."
One Sunday morning I met him, and again appealed to the old subject, liberty or death, and insisted stronger than ever for a conclusion, stating that the practices there were atrocious and inhuman. He then replied: "If you are abused here, when you get well and go home, the law will give you redress." I then distinctly remembered, that upon a former occasion, Dr. Ray had informed me that no secret transactions of that Institution were ever revealed out of its portals. This enforced me to say: "Dr. Ray, if you should murder me here, no one would reveal it." Thereupon, Dr. Ray called out in a loud and commanding tone: "Bring in the Saws and Axes!" -- I was alarmed. It was Sunday, and no visitors were allowed in the Hospital. I was in the power of a man whose heart was adamant, whose occupation was bloody, and whose intention, I then believed, was my annihilation. I shuddered, was horrified and powerless. I gave myself up as a lost man, supposing that I should become a subject for the anatomical butchers; employment for these miscreants, these fiends, these ghouls. This state of mental convulsion was not long, to be sure, for Dr. Ray did retire without butchering my body, being contented, doubtless, with the scathing and deep torture he had given me. It would be almost a matter of supererogation in me to ask the reader if he can, under any conclusions, impressions or inferences draw the slightest idea of the good that would come of such treatment, upon a man whose faculties were really suffering with nervous affections, body reduced and mind unsettled? Is it unreasonable to ask if this very act, which I have so faintly drawn, is not sufficient to set a sound man on a wire edge, and start any one mad, furiously mad? This whole statement, I most solemnly declare to be true. If, under such a horrid regime, men are to suffer in order to regain reason's tottering throne, it is a system, a course of philosophy not yet written in the books of wise men; far from any generally diffused information that humane and disinterested individuals have ever had access to.