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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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It was about the second week that my investigating and reformatory turn of mind became acute. The ward in which I was confined was well furnished and as home-like as such a place could be, though in justice to my own home I must observe that the resemblance was not great. About the so-called "violent" ward I had far less favorable ideas. Though I had not been subjected to physical abuse during the first fourteen months of my stay in this institution, I had seen unnecessary and oftentimes brutal force used by the attendants in the restraint of several so-called "violent" patients, who, upon their arrival, had been placed in the ward where I was. I had also heard convincing rumors of rough treatment of irresponsible patients in the violent ward. Of course the rules of the institution forbade such treatment (as the rules of all such institutions invariably do) except on those rare occasions when attendants are obliged to act in self-defense.


Having a world of energy to dispense I determined to conduct a thorough investigation of the institution. In order that I might have proof that my intended action was deliberate, my first move was to tell one or two fellow-patients that I should soon transgress some rule in such a way as to necessitate my removal to the violent ward. At first I thought of breaking a few panes of glass; but my purpose was accomplished in another way -- and, indeed, sooner than I had anticipated. My conservator, in my presence, had told the assistant physician that the doctors could permit me to telephone to him whenever they should see fit. It was rather with the wish to test the unfriendly physician, than to satisfy any desire to speak with my conservator, that one morning I asked permission to call the latter up on the telephone. That very morning I had received a letter from him. This the doctor knew, for I showed him the letter -- but not its contents. It was on the letter that I based my pretext, though it did not even intimate that my brother wished to speak to me. The doctor, however, had no way of knowing that my statement was not true. To deny my request was simply one of his ill-advised whims, and his refusal was given with customary curtness and contempt. I met his refusal in kind, and presented him with a critique of his character couched in my tersest English.


Said he, "Unless you stop talking in that way I shall have you transferred to the Fourth Ward." (The Fourth was the "violent" ward.)


"Put me where you please," was my reply. "I'll put you in the gutter before I get through with you."


With that the doctor made good his threat, and the attendant escorted me to the violent ward -- a willing, in fact, eager prisoner.


The ward in which I was now placed (Saturday, September 13th, 1902) was furnished in the plainest manner. The floors were of hard wood and the walls were bare. Except when at meals or out of doors taking their accustomed exercise, the patients usually sat together in one large room. In this, only heavy benches were used to sit upon. Such tempting weapons as chairs were deemed inexpedient. It was thought that in the hands of violent patients they might become a menace to the attendants and to other patients. In the dining-room, however, wooden chairs of a substantial type were allowed, for patients seldom run amuck at meal time. Nevertheless, one of the chairs in that room soon acquired a history, part of which must be related.


As my banishment had come about on short notice I had failed to provide myself with many things I could have desired. My first request was that I be supplied with stationery. The attendants, acting no doubt on the doctor's orders, refused to grant my request; nor would they give me a lead pencil -- which, luckily, I did not need, for I happened to be already possessed of one. Despite their refusal I managed to get some scraps of paper, on which I was soon busily engaged in writing notes to those in authority. Some of these (as I learned later) were delivered, but no attention was paid to them. No doctor came near me until evening, when the one who had banished me made his regular round of inspection. When he appeared the interrupted conversation of the morning was resumed -- that is, by me, -- and in a similar strain. I again asked leave to telephone my conservator. I knew that on Sunday I could not make connections, so I asked for permission to telephone on Monday. The doctor again refused, and I, of course, told him what I thought of him.


My imprisonment pleased me. I was where I most wished to be, and I busied myself investigating conditions and recording mental notes. As the assistant physician could grant favors to the attendants, and had authority either to retain or discharge them, they did his bidding and continued to refuse most of my requests. In spite of their unfriendly attitude, however, I did manage to persuade the supervisor to deliver a note to the steward. In it I asked him to come at once, as I wished to talk with him. The steward, whom I looked upon as a friend, returned no answer and made no visit. I supposed he, too, had purposely ignored me. As I learned afterwards, both he and the superintendent were absent, else perhaps I should have been treated in a less high-handed manner by the assistant physician.

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