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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.
GEORGE REED ran away from the Hospital, and was captured and brought back by one of the neighbors; was showered to allay his excitement, or, in other words, to punish him for trying to make his escape from that prison.
I will invite the reader's attention to the following article, that they may see and judge what the difference is between the shower bath as a medical application at the Hospital, and an acknowledged use of it as a torture in the Sing Sing Prison.
STATE PRISON DISCIPLINE. By an account in the New York Tribune, it appears that the officers of the Sing Sing Prison have been dealing rigorously with Niles, the Attorney, recently sent there for conspiracy. It appears that the officers of the Prison received an intimation that Niles, and two other convicts, Ashley and Benjamin, had been carrying on a clandestine correspondence by the assistance of a colored waiter, whom they bribed to aid them. An application of the shower bath being resorted to, the colored man, together with Ashley and Benjamin, confessed the whole affair, and gave up a quantity of letters written by Niles and Ashley to Benjamin. Niles denied all knowledge of it, and on being threatened with the showerbath, pleaded ill health. The physicians examined him and reported him well. Still persisting in his denial, the officers undertook to force a confession from him. His head was accordingly shaved, an iron collar placed around his neck, his legs, arms, and head firmly fastened with iron clasps , and thus prepared he was thrust under the shower bath, three severe applications of which were made before an acknowledgement of his offence could be drawn from him.
If the above statements are correct, the officers of the prison transcended their powers, and are liable to the charge of inflicting unnecessary cruel punishment upon Niles. The fact of his guilt was clear to their minds, and their resorting to the torture to merely force a confession from the culprit, was entirely unnecessary. The matter should be investigated by the proper authorities, whose duty it is to protect the prisoner from cruel and severe punishment, as well as to see that discipline administered which the law prescribes for his reformation.
If this will not satisfy the public that the shower both is used as a punishment, it will be of no use for me to attempt to convince them ; and I wish the citizens of Maine to remember that after all the charges of abuse in relation to the shower bath, three witnesses testified that the night the hospital was burnt they were up between one and two o'clock, administering the shower bath to Duroc Boardman, a perfectly unaccountable being, and yet he is held responsible for his acts, by showering him, to punish him for making a noise. Will you recollect this when you are sending your friends to the Hospital?
ABUSES UNDER DR. RAY.
I will now ask the reader to cast his eye over another schedule of abuses. Some of these cases were not brought up before the committee, but these cases took place under the dynasty of the renowned Dr. Ray.
An imbecile patient was thrust into an unfinished room, or, properly speaking, the entry; when he fell upon the floor and was left there for the night, and was found a corpse in the morning.
MRS. THOMPSON, of Camden, was sent to the hospital, believing that she could be better treated, and supposing, that having friends at Augusta, they could attend on her occasionally, and see that she was well cared for. But Dr. Ray refused admission to these friends, asserting it was improper for them to see her. It was finally ascertained that the woman was dying - the friends insisted on seeing her -- and when they did so, being permitted for fifteen minutes, they found Mrs. Thompson a frightful object. Her nails had grown like bird's claws, and her feet were rough and coarse, like the hide of a rhinoceros! She died in about two weeks afterwards.
Another imbecile patient was allowed to suffer the most intense agony for water. He could be heard many rods from the building, shouting for water.
SILAS ALDEN, of East Readfield, was kept in a state of starvation, until released; and on getting home he ate with the voracity of a starved shark. No quantities of food seemed sufficient to appease his overwrought appetite.
JOB SPRINER, of Augusta, was carried to the hospital, sick and deranged. When his brother went there after him, he found him strapped down to a bed, and so famished that he called for some gruel for him, and he clutched the bowl and swallowed it with the eager fierceness of a ravenous wolf. Mr. Springer lived but a few days after he reached home, and in all the lucid intervals of his misery he sighed and moaned most bitterly over the cruel treatment of that hospital.
ELIJAH GILBERT, of Chesterville, was found dead one morning in the "Lodge," in 1843, under the care of Dr. Ray. Gilbert, when found, was naked and rigid, -- horrible to look upon; and strong efforts were made through heating sand, or some other substance, to relax the nerves, &c. in order to close the victims eyes, inasmuch as his frightful appearance indicated shameful neglect. They said the evening previous he had eat his supper as usual, and no particular reason could be given for his sudden death.