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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 63:


The mailing of it was not so easy. I knew that the only sure way of getting my thoughts before the Governor was to do my own mailing. Naturally no doctor could be trusted to send an indictment against himself and his colleagues to the one man in the State who had the power to institute such an investigation as might make it necessary for all to seek employment elsewhere. In my frame of mind, to wish to mail my letter was to know how to accomplish the wish. The letter was in reality a booklet. I had thoughtfully used waterproof India drawing ink in writing it, in order, perhaps, that a remote posterity might not be deprived of the document. The booklet consisted of thirty-two, eight-by-ten-inch pages of heavy white drawing paper. These I had bound together by sewing. In planning the form of my letter I had forgotten to consider the slot of a letter-box of average size. Therefore I had to hit upon some peculiar method of getting my letter into the custody of the government. My expedient was simple. There was in the town a certain bookstore where I traded. At my request the doctor gave me permission to go to that store for supplies. I was of course accompanied by an attendant, who little suspected what was under my vest. To conceal and carry my letter in that place had been easy; but to get rid of it after reaching the bookstore was another matter. Watching my opportunity, I slipped the missive between the leaves of a copy of the Saturday Evening Post. This I did, believing that some purchaser would soon discover the letter and mail it. In fact, so fearful was I of detection, that, to guard against its discovery before I should be safely away from the shop, I placed it nearer the bottom than the top of the pile.


That the letter which I thus successfully started on its errand finally reached the Governor was not surprising. On the back of the wrapper I had endorsed the following words:


"Mr. Postmaster: This package is unsealed. Nevertheless it is first-class matter. Everything I write is necessarily first class. I have affixed two two-cent stamps. If extra postage is needed you will do the Governor a favor if you will put the extra postage on. Or affix "due" stamps, and let the Governor pay his own bills, as he can well afford to. If you want to know who I am, just ask his Excellency, and oblige,


Yours truly,


Flanking this notice, I had arrayed other forceful sentiments, as follows -- taken from statutes which I had framed for the occasion:


"Any person finding letter or package -- duly stamped and addressed -- must mail same as said letter or package is really in hands of the Government the moment the stamp is affixed."


And again,


"Failure to comply with Federal Statute which forbids any one except addressee to open a letter -- renders one liable to imprisonment in State Prison."


One of the owners of the store in which I left this letter found and mailed it. From him, I afterwards learned that my unique instructions had piqued his curiosity, as well as compelled my wished-for action. Assuming that the reader's curiosity may likewise have been piqued, I shall quote certain passages from this four thousand word epistle of protest. The opening sentence read as follows: "If you have had the courage to read the above (referring to an unconventional heading) I hope you will read on to the end of this epistle -- thereby displaying real Christian fortitude and learning a few facts which I think should be brought to your attention."


I then introduced myself, touching upon my ancestry, and proceeded as follows: "I take pleasure in informing you that I am in the Crazy Business and am holding my job down with ease and a fair degree of grace. Being in the Crazy Business, I understand certain phases of the business about which you know nothing." (Apparently this was meant to imply that the Governor himself was not "crazy.") "You as Governor are at present 'head devil' in this 'hell,' though I know you are unconsciously acting as 'His Majesty's' 1st Lieutenant."


I then launched into my arraignment of the treatment of the insane. The method, I declared, was "wrong from start to finish. The abuses existing here exist in every other institution of the kind in the country. They are all alike -- though some of them are of course worse than others. Hell is hell the world over, and I might also add that hell is only a great big bunch of disagreeable details anyway. That's all an Insane Asylum is. If you don't believe it, just go crazy and take up your abode here. In writing this letter I am laboring under no mental excitement. I am no longer subjected to the abuses about which I complain. I am well and happy. In fact I never was so happy as I am now. Whether I am in perfect mental health or not, I shall leave for you to decide. If I am insane to-day I hope I may never recover my Reason."


My arraignment began with the private institution where I had been strait-jacketed. I referred to my oppressor as "Dr. -- - M.D. (Mentally Deranged)." Then followed an account of my strait-jacket experience; then an account of abuses at the State Hospital. I described in detail the most brutal assault that fell to my lot. In summing up I said, "The attendants claimed next day that I had called them certain names. Maybe I did -- though I don't believe I did at all. What of it? This is no young ladies' boarding school. Should a man be nearly killed because he swears at attendants who swear like pirates? I have seen at least fifteen men, many of them mental and physical wrecks, assaulted just as brutally as I was, and usually without a cause. I know that men's lives have been shortened by these brutal assaults. And that is only a polite way of saying that murder has been committed here." Turning next to the matter of the women's wards I said: "A patient in this ward, -- a man in his right mind, who leaves here on Tuesday next -- told me that a woman patient told him that she had seen many a helpless woman dragged along the floor by her hair, and had also seen them choked by attendants who used a wet towel as a sort of garrote. (12) I have been through the mill and believe every word of the abuse. You will perhaps doubt it, as it seems impossible. Bear in mind, though, that everything bad and disagreeable is possible in an Insane Asylum."

(12) According to the testimony given before the Congressional Committee which, in the early summer of 1906, investigated the Government Hospital for the Insane at Washington, D.C., untrained attendants seem prone to resort to the use of a wet towel as a sort of garrote.

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