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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 56:


All day long the victim of the attendant's unmanly passion lay in his cell in what seemed to be a semi-conscious condition. I took particular pains to observe his condition, for I felt that the assault of the morning might result in death. That night, after the doctor's regular tour of inspection, the patient in question was transferred to a room next my own. The mode of transfer impressed itself upon my memory. Two attendants -- one of them was he who had so brutally beaten the patient -- placed the man in a sheet and, each taking an end, carried the hammock-like contrivance, with its inert contents, to what proved to be its last resting-place above ground. Though I cannot say that the patient's body slid or struck against the floor as the attendants proceeded, the chances are that men who could assault the helpless would not be likely to guard against that possibility. At least I noted this: the attendants seemed as much concerned about their burden as one might about a dog in a sack, weighted and ready for the river.


That night the patient died. Whether he was murdered none can ever know. But it is my honest opinion that he was. Though he might never have recovered, it is plain that he would have lived days, perhaps months. And, had he been humanely, nay, scientifically, treated, who can say that he might not have been restored to health and home, and to-day be enjoying life as is the man who had perhaps murdered him.


According to the hospital records this death was not other than a natural death. No autopsy was performed, which fact, in itself, shows that the doctors did not suspect that the patient had been maltreated; for it is customary to perform autopsies when incriminating evidence of abuse is discovered. But, had there been an autopsy, revealing guilt, -- what then? In all probability, no arrests would have been made, as hospital officials know how difficult it is to secure evidence sufficient to convict. Conceding that it is difficult to secure such evidence, I will not admit that rigorous and intelligent action on the part of those in authority would never result in the conviction of attendants guilty of assault or murder; much less will I admit that the neglect of such action, even if uncertain of success, is ever excusable. Hospital officials, public prosecutors, and jurors, should bear in mind that, at trials for such crimes, the word of a patient, sane enough to testify at all, should have greater weight than the word of an attendant whose self-interest or cowardice will so often cause him to perjure himself. Further, those whose duty it is to apprehend and punish criminals should remember that there are to be found in every institution attendants possessed of a high sense of honor. These will not hesitate, under right conditions, to testify against a guilty co-worker.


It is to an attendant of this type that I shall look for convincing corroboration. His is the same story as mine, though told of a different institution. I resort to it here at the cost of digression; for, though I believe my statements alone will convince the average reader, surely the corroborating words of a man always sane will put my story beyond suspicion, and at the same time show that attendants placed under similar brutalizing conditions, the country over, will behave similarly.


While this book was still in draft, I came, by mere chance, upon a report which appeared in the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, of the date, September 18th, 1906. It was written by a young lawyer, a resident of Lexington. This man, during the early summer of 1906, had worked as an attendant in the Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane, at Lexington. He was impelled to enter the hospital as an attendant by the belief that a knowledge of insanity might prove of value when he should engage in the practice of law. He did not enter the employ of the State with the thought of effecting reform, for the simple reason, as he told me afterwards, that he was totally ignorant of the necessity for reform. The evil conditions he discovered shocked him quite as much as his revelations later shocked an ignorant public.


There was a homicide connected with this Kentucky affair. The victim was a man thirty-seven years of age. Prior to his collapse he had held a responsible position in a large rolling-mill. Working by day in the exhausting heat of a blast-furnace, and at night nursing a sick wife, he finally lost his reason. He was at once committed to the State Hospital. Had he received the treatment he deserved, probably he would have recovered, for his form of insanity was curable. But punishment, not treatment, was to be his cruel portion. It was administered with such severity that he died. This fact was proved at the trial of the guiltiest attendant, who, together with another attendant, was convicted of manslaughter and sent to State's Prison. Had they killed a sane person, I believe they would now be serving life-sentences, if, indeed, they had not been justly condemned to death.

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