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Lost In A Desert World

Creator: Roland Johnson (author)
Date: 1994
Source: Available at selected libraries

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In order to get your town pass it had to be two people. Two people would go together. My name came up and they just gave it to me. I had a friend with me that showed me how to do that. He was walking with me and I was following. We would walk outside and down the road and wait there and the bus would come. You would show your town pass. The bus driver would know us, because people from Pennhurst would go up there every Saturday.


I did run away from Pennhurst couple times. I don't think it was called runaway; I was just going to the store -- a bunch of us used to sneak off the grounds. I remember I snuck away on the railroad track to Royersford; it was real cold -- real low to freezing mark. We walked down to Spring City -- me and some other friend of mine -- bought ice cream, and snuck back before before eleven o'clock, before the other shift came on.


I was lonely at Pennhurst, all the time. I was always wanting someone to come and see me to talk to. I was very, very, very, very lonely. I wonder why I went to Pennhurst, but things came to me while I went to Pennhurst. I never understand it until I was around eighteen. I understand it, when I was at Pennhurst. That's why: because I did some things that I should not have done. It make me sorrowful and grief. It helped me in some areas but it didn't help me in other areas.


Pennhurst didn't meant nothing to me. Pennhurst was me with sorrows and grief. I didn't like it at all.


. . .


That's when I got my life back together. I was confused in a lot of areas, running from one boarding home to another boarding home to another boarding home to another boarding home. I got myself straightened out through North Central: they put me in a CLA -Community Living Arrangement -- K.W.- and Mrs. Willie May Samuels thought that I should be in a day program since I didn't work then. It was a partial hospital day program, a mental health program, like a psychiatric day program to get people to get theirself better and go back out in the community. Well, it helped me to better myself.


The patients they ran it themselves; they set up the program. It was a day program that you had to go every day start from 8:30 to 3:30; you could not sit at home. It was right across on Lehigh Avenue; there was a restaurant downstairs. At the end of the morning meetings we had broke up with small groups and we'd go from ten o'clock to quarter to twelve and we would talk about our problems, emotional problems, or whatever problems that you had on your mind. We would all come back together and eat lunch together. It would be ten people in different groups. The patients would run the morning meetings; they would have questions of whatever they had on their minds. And we would talk out our problems.


I was shy within myself. I was scared when all these people come around. I remember that, being shy. I just forced myself. I talked in the groups and they listened.


Some people would get up and talk about their life story, how they got into the program and how they got in trouble. These were people that had been on drugs, people had emotional problems, alcoholic problems, problems with the family. These are people that could not deal with their life. And that kind of helped me; that kind of put things back to the place.


Agencies was moving around a lot; North Central phrased out and Comprehensive took to over for a while. That's when I heard about Speaking for Ourselves. It was when my life started to change around.




The organization already started when I first heard about Speaking For Ourselves. I was working at Germantown and Lycoming workshop. I was a janitor at that time, outside the workshop. It was a man named Russell Donohue; he had said that there was a conference going on at Valley Forge at the Holiday Inn. He probably got it from a literature that they had. He was telling everybody, so he axed everybody who wanted to go to raise their hands and I raised my hand that I wanted to go. So we made a list and went to the conference on their big van.


The conference was a whole bunch of people that I didn't know. And I heard all these people talking about their life and I remember Domenic Rossi standing up there saying, "We need to get things together; we need people's life changed. It's time to do and not talk about it -- let's do it." And Luann Carter was running the conference; she was the founder of Speaking For Ourselves. They started out real small. They had a small little group -- it was just Mark -Mark Friedman has been advisor to the board of Speaking For Ourselves since its inception. -- K.W.- and some other people -- and it grew and grew -- started in Montgomery County, then Bucks, Delaware, and Philadelphia, and Chester.


That very first conference I was wearing jeans. I was working and I had these dirty old jeans on; they wasn't dirty, but they had spots; I was scrubbing the floor and I was stripping the wax off the floor, the old wax, and putting down fresh wax. I had my work shoes on. And Mark says, "Who's that guy back there? Who's that guy back there, standing up?" I just stood up in the back and said, "We have to make some changes!" in front of a whole lot of people. I was always talking about it, 'bout getting things changed, mak-ing things more better for the clients. Wasn't for me. Was for all the people that have disabilities. I was just thinking about it. And nobody told me to say. I just was thinking about it -- the system needs to be changed. So I just stood up in the back and said, "It should be changed. We're tired of the old system. We're tired of the system that we have now. We need to make things change, to make things happen." And that's when I first met Mark Friedman.

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