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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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Page 52:


On the night of November 25th, 1902, the head attendant and one of his assistants passed my door. They were returning from one of the dances which, at intervals during the winter, the management provides for the attaches. While they were within hearing I asked for a drink of water. It was a carefully worded request. But they were in a hurry to get to bed, and refused me with curses. Then I replied in kind.


"If I come there I'll kill you," said one of the attendants.


"Well, you won't get in if I can help it," said I, as I braced my iron bedstead against the door.


My defiance and defences gave the attendants the pretext for which they had been waiting; and my success in keeping them out for two or three minutes only served to enrage them. By the time they had gained entrance they had become furies. One of the attendants was a young man of twenty-seven. Physically he was a perfect specimen of manhood; morally he was deficient, -- thanks to the dehumanizing effect of several years in the employ of different States of the Union which countenance improper methods in the care of their insane wards. It was he who attacked me in the dark of my prison room. The head attendant stood by, holding a lantern which shed a dim light.


The door once open, I offered no further resistance. First I was knocked down. Then for several minutes I was kicked around the room -- struck, kneed and choked. My assailant even attempted to grind his heel into my cheek. In this he failed, for I was there protected by a heavy beard. But my shins, elbows, and back were cut by his heavy shoes; and had I not instinctively drawn up my knees to my elbows for the protection of my body I should have been seriously, perhaps fatally, injured. As it was, I was severely cut and bruised. When my strength was nearly gone I feigned unconsciousness. This ruse alone saved me from further punishment, for no premeditated assault is ever ended until the patient is mute and helpless. When they had accomplished their purpose, they left me huddled in a corner to wear out the night as best I might -- to live or die for all they cared.


Strange as it may seem I slept well. But not at once. Within five minutes I was busily engaged writing an account of the assault. A trained war-correspondent could not have pulled himself together in less time. As usual I had recourse to my bit of contraband lead pencil -- this time a pencil which had been smuggled to me the very first day of my confinement in the Bull Pen by a sympathetic fellow patient. When he had pushed under my cell door that little implement of war it had loomed as large in my mind as a battering-ram. Paper I had none; but I had previously found walls to be a fair substitute. I therefore now selected and wrote upon a rectangular spot -- about three feet by two -- which marked the reflection of a light in the corridor just without my transom. Among my collection of genuine human documents I still have a verbatim copy of my midnight inscription.


The next morning when the assistant physician appeared he was accompanied as usual by the guilty head-attendant who, on the previous night, had held the lantern during his vicious partner's assault.


"Doctor," said I, "I have something to tell you," -- and I glanced significantly at the attendant. "Last night I had a most unusual experience. I have had many imaginary experiences during the past two years and a half, and it may be that last night's was not real. Perhaps the whole thing was phantasmagoric -- like what I used to see during the first months of my illness. Whether it was so or not I shall leave you to judge. It just happens to be my impression that I was brutally assaulted last night. If it was a dream it is the first thing of the kind that ever left visible evidence on my body."


With that I uncovered to the doctor a score of bruises an lacerations. I knew these would be more impressive than any words of mine. The doctor looked wise, but said nothing and soon left the room. The guilty attendant tried to appear unconcerned, and I really believe he thought me not absolutely sure of the events of the previous night, or least unaware of his share in them.


Though the doctor in his own mind knew that I had be abused, he was unable to secure incriminating evidence from the attendants. They of course lied for their mutual protection. They were too wise to deny that they had entered my room, but the reasons they gave for entering an their account of what followed were cut from the black clo1 with which cowards habitually cloak their shame. Of a the liars in the world, brute attendants are, to my mini the meanest. They first assault an imprisoned insane me when there are no sane eyes or ears to bear witness. Then, taking advantage of the suspicion with which the statements of the insane are too often regarded, they lie and lie, and corroborate their lies according to the code of dishonor which obtains among them. A fair idea of this code may be gained from one of its rules; namely, that an attendant shall deliberately turn his back when another attendant is assaulting a patient. By so doing the attendant is of course able tell the doctor -- should he by some rare chance ask -- that he saw no patient struck by the accused. By telling the half-truths, attendants are able to retain their positions for months, sometimes years, -- but only in institutions where "Restraint" is countenanced.

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