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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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I continued to object to the unsatisfactory portions of food served me, and perhaps my objections were intensified by an approaching Thanksgiving. My projected Thanksgiving trip to New Haven had vanished from my mind, and my actual experience on that day was in dismal contrast to what I had originally planned for myself. My attendant, in the unaccustomed guise of a ministering angel, brought me the usual turkey and cranberry dinner which, on two of the three hundred and sixty-five days of each year, is provided by an intermittently generous State. Turkey being the rara avis of the imprisoned, it was but natural that I should desire to gratify a palate long insulted. I wished not only to satisfy my appetite but to impress indelibly a memory which for months had not responded to so agreeable a stimulus. While lingering over the delights of this experience I forgot all about the ministering angel. But not for long. He soon returned. Observing that I had scarcely touched my feast he said, "If you don't eat that dinner in a hurry I'll take it from you."


"I don't see what difference it makes to you whether I eat it in a hurry or take my time about it," said I. "It's the best I've had in many a day, and I have a right to get as much pleasure out of it as I can."


"We'll see about that," said he, and, snatching it away, he stalked out of the room, leaving me to satisfy my hunger on the memory of vanished luxuries. Thus did a feast become a fast.


Under this treatment I soon learned to be more noisy than my neighbors. I was never without a certain humor in contemplating not only my surroundings, but myself; and the demonstrations in which I began to indulge were partly in fun and partly by way of protest. In these I was assisted, and, at times inspired, by a young man in the room next mine. He was about my own age and was enjoying the same phase of exuberance as myself. Not realizing that most of our ward-mates were less mad than we -- or than we were supposed to be -- we talked and sang at all hours of the night. At the time we believed that the other patients enjoyed the spice which we added to the restricted variety of their lives, but later I learned that a majority of them looked upon us as mere nuisances.


We gave the doctors and attendants no rest -- at least not intentionally. Whenever the assistant physician appeared we upbraided him for the neglect which was then our portion. At one time or another we got ourselves banished to the "Bull Pen" for these indiscretions. Had there been a viler place of confinement still, our performances in the "Bull Pen" undoubtedly would have brought us to it. But there was neither justice nor remedial effect in such procedure. At last the doctor hit upon the expedient of transferring me to a room more remote from my inspiring, and, I may say, conspiring companion. Talking to each other ceased to be the easy pastime it had been; so we gradually lapsed into a comparative silence which must have proved a boon to our ward-mates. The only annoyances to which a number of the patients were now subjected during the night were the disturbing noises which issued with irregularity, but unfortunate certainty, from the "Bull Pen."


On several occasions I perfected plans to escape, -- and not only that but also to liberate others. That I did not make the attempt was the fault -- or merit, perhaps -- of a certain night-watch, whose timidity, rather than sagacity, impelled him to refuse to unlock my door early one morning, although I gave him a plausible reason for the request. This night-watch, I learned later, admitted that he feared to encounter me single-handed. And on this particular occasion well might he, for, during the night, I had woven a spider-web net, in which I intended to enmesh him. Had I succeeded there would have been a lively hour for him in the violent ward -- had I failed there would have been a lively hour for me. There were several comparatively sane patients (especially my elated neighbor) whose willing assistance I could have secured. Then the regular attendants could have been held prisoners in their own room, if, indeed, we had not in turn overpowered them and transferred them to the "Bull Pen" where the several victims of their abuse might have given them a deserved dose of their own medicine. This scheme of mine was a prank rather than a plot. I had an inordinate desire to prove that one could escape if he had a mind to do so. Later I boasted to the assistant physician of my unsuccessful attempt to escape.


My punishment for harmless antics of this sort was prompt in coming. The attendants seemed to think their whole duty to their closely confined charges consisted in delivering three meals a day. Between meals he was a rash patient who interfered with their leisure. Now one of my greatest crosses was the attendants' continued refusal to give me a drink when I asked for it. Except at meals, or on those rare occasions when I was permitted to go to the wash-room, I had to get along as best I might with no water, and that too at a time when I was in a fever of excitement. My polite requests were ignored; impolite demands were answered with threats and curses. And this war of requests, demands, threats, and curses continued until the night of the fourth day of my banishment. Then the attendants made good their threats of assault. That they had been trying to goad me into a fighting mood I well knew, and often accused them of their mean purpose. They brazenly admitted that they were simply waiting for a chance to "slug" me, and promised to punish me well as soon as I should give them a slight excuse for doing so.

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