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Lost In A Desert World

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

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I said, "Ah, c'mon. Don't tell me that;" I said, "C'mon, you're not frightening. . ."


He said, "Yep, that's what they'll do. If you don't listen, that's what they'll do."


I said, "No, it's not true."


He was right.


There was people on the punishment ward all the time. They would be writing conduct reports and they would be sent to the punishment ward.


I was on punishment wards M-l, U-2, K-l, V-2, K-2, 1-2. The numbers had to do with what floor the unit was on. . .physical handicaps -- they couldn't feed themself, they couldn't go to the bathroom themself, they couldn't bathe themself, they couldn't move anywhere. . .


That didn't happen right away. It took me til I got used to it -- Pennhurst. And that's when people would get me upset and call me names -- "You're stupid. You're crazy" and all that kind of stuff. Patients would say that. I don't know what they would say that to me for; I had no idea. It didn't make me feel good. That make me mad because they would call me like "Dummy. . .Dopey. . .Don't know nothing. . ." -- and so I got mad. I tried to tell somebody to make them stop, but they wouldn't make them stop. And I got upset and I cracked one of the windows out. They punished me on the ward for breaking the window. I was a person that had to be always breaking up windows when I would get upset. It was people bothering me, calling names. "You'll never learn; you're crazy; you're an idiot; you're stupid! You don't need to be on this ward; you need to be put on some other ward." So I would just bust out windows.


So they would write up conduct reports and put me on a punishment ward -- just lock me up in there and make me scrub down walls for a week; doing all kinds of things -- scrubbing soiled benches.


The reason why that it was locked, they had low grades, that they would not get out. They had one college for the low grade. . .They had different colleges -cottages -- K.W.-, different wards for different. . .They had wards for the bright ones and then they wards for the lower ones.


That's the words that they was mentioned at Pennhurst, so that's the word that I have to use. They don't say them any more because they're outside now, they're out in the community; they don't hear them words any more.


If you had spent your time up there, you wouldn't like it. You wouldn't like it. If you was in my shoe, you would cry.


The low grade ward: it was filthy and dirty -- holes in the walls, holes in the floor. Walls would be cracking open; clients would eat the paste, the chalk off the wall, the tile off the wall. They would just eat it. And the only way to keep them from eating it would be put them in restraints, tie them to the benches. And that's what I seen one day.


To tell you the truth, Pennhurst smelled like a doghouse. It just smell like feces. Rats crawling, roaches crawling all over; this was on the low grade wards. Holes in the wall, big holes in the floors. It was awful to see. You would cry to see people living in that kind of filth. Horrible. Feces and pee on the floor, flies coming in the windows. It was a lot of wards with lower function -- the C functions, they used to call 'em. I don't know what that is, but it's something to do their mobility; they can't address themselves. The real, real low.


I remember they'd call me "screwballs" and "retarded" and stuff like that: "What are you doing here, you retarded person. You look scary." And I got very, very, very angry and crashed out windows. I got beated with mop handles. I had to scrub beds for punishment.


It wasn't all bad. We went to church -- a yellow bus took us out, the choir, to sing at another church. They had a gymnasium; they would ax the choir to come and surrender a selection of church singing. I would go along with them. I didn't sing with the choir, but I used to help Reverend Yost lighting candles on the altar (they really call them altar boys) -- he put me on the list to go. I was proud about getting on the bus and going to church. He showed religion movies in the summer. And then I would light the candles for the Protestant church on Sunday afternoon. The Catholics would have church in the morning and we would have church in the afternoon. I used to set up the rooms at the school building. Sister Bernadette used to come, the Catholic sister, and have classes every Tuesday. We had -- the Protestants had -- a Bible School down on one of the wards.


I was in Boy Scouts. And then we used to play up there at Royersford and Spring City and Pottstown when I was a Boy Scout. We used to march. Our Boy Scout uniform would be Troop 91.


They had a band for Labor Day and May Day and they had a May Queen. This was fun: we would get dressed up on whatever day that May Day would fall on; somebody would be dressed as the May Queen -- one of the girls, with a crown -- and we would dance around the Maypole. And then we would have tumblers -- we would dress in white uniforms -- white pants, white shirts -- and we would tumble. That was fun to do. Mrs. Moyer, that's the principal, she would have a big box up in the attic and every year after May Day was over we would have to put all our clothes up in the big box in the attic.

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