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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 closed my letter as follows: "No doubt you will consider certain parts of this letter rather 'fresh.' I apologize for any such passages now, but, as I have an Insane License, I do not hesitate to say what I think. What's the use when one is caged like a criminal?"


"P.S. This letter is a confidential one -- and is to be returned to the writer upon demand."


The letter was eventually forwarded to my conservator and is now in my possession.


As a result of my protest the Governor immediately interrogated the superintendent of the institution where "Jekyll-Hyde" had tortured me. Until he laid before the superintendent my charges against his assistant, the doctor in authority had not even suspected that I had been tortured. This superintendent took pride in his institution. He was sensitive to criticism and it was natural that he should strive to palliate the offense of his subordinate. He said that I was a most troublesome patient, which was, indeed, the truth; for I had always a way of my own for doing the things that worried those in charge of me. In a word, I brought to bear upon the situation what I have previously referred to as "an uncanny admixture of sanity."


The Governor did not meet the assistant physician who had maltreated me. The reprimand, if there was to be any, was left to the superintendent to administer.


In my letter to the Governor I had laid more stress upon the abuses to which I had been subjected at this private institution than I had upon conditions at the State Hospital. This may have had some effect on the action he took, or rather failed to take. At any rate, as to the State Hospital, no action was taken. Not even a word of warning was sent to the officials, as I know, for before leaving the institution I asked the doctors. It seems to me that the Governor was derelict in his duty. If my letter was convincing enough to induce him to inquire into a private institution, surely he should have been equally willing to investigate charges affecting the institution of which he was the nominal head. The least that he could have done would have been to convince himself that my charges were untrue.


Governors, for selfish or political reasons, are only too willing to avoid the inevitable political scandal which follows nine out of ten investigations of institutions politically organized. Instead of humanely considering the just claims of the State's unfortunates, men in such positions of power too often turn a deaf ear to the cries of the helpless. It is trite to observe that the average politician (and most governors are such) mistakenly thinks he must have one deaf ear which he may interpose between himself and the call of duty, while his supposedly "good" ear is reserved for the bad advice of better politicians than himself.


I am far from saying that the Governor in question deliberately suppressed an investigation which his conscience dictated. I have good reason to believe that he thought an investigation would produce no results of value. He knew that, on the whole, the State Hospital was fairly well managed -- or at least better managed than similar institutions in many other States. Further, he knew that the doctors in charge were reputable men, and that, if they could not correct abuses, a new medical staff would not be likely to do so either. Considering the deplorable yet excusable ignorance that prevails in reference to the treatment of insanity and the proper management of institutions for the insane, the action of the Governor was logical and, without doubt, honest. In fact, I question whether one Governor in ten in this country to-day has ever heard the word "Non-Restraint," -- much less understands that a thorough enforcement of its principles will eliminate a majority of existing abuses.


Though my letter did not bring about an investigation it was not altogether without fruit. Naturally, it was with considerable satisfaction that I informed the doctors that I had outwitted them in their endeavor to keep me in exile; and it was with even greater satisfaction that I now saw those in authority make a determined, if temporary, effort to protect helpless patients against the cruelty of attendants. The moment the doctors were convinced that I had gone over their heads and had sent a characteristic letter of protest to the Governor of the State, that moment they began to protect themselves with an energy born of a realization of their former shortcomings. Whether or not the management in question will admit that their unwonted activity was due to my coup, the fact remains that the summary discharge of several attendants accused and proved guilty of brutality immediately followed, and, for a while, put a stop to wanton assaults against which, for a period of four months, I had protested in vain. This I know, for certain inmates of the violent ward told me that comparative peace reigned about this time. That attendants can be scared into humanity, is proved by a remark made to me by one the very day he had been discharged for choking a patient into an insensibility so profound that it had been necessary to call a physician to restore him. Said this brute: "It seems to me they're getting pretty damned strict these days, discharging an attendant for simply choking a patient." This discharged and guilty attendant immediately secured a position in another hospital of the same character in a city not twenty miles distant.

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