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Lost In A Desert World

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

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There was a baseball league from the different wards. Dave Miller would make up schedules; he was head of the recreation department. We won some championships. Trophies would sit over in the administration building. We had no access to it. They'd just sit in there. I hit a home run.


They used to show movies every Friday on a big projector in the auditorium. When you come down over the hill on the boys side, there would be a big gym room and the auditorium. That's where the Catholics had their church in the morning and the Protestants had their church in the afternoon. And that's where during the weekdays we had gym. It was a big auditorium; they had a great big, wide, electric movie screen and a real movie projector. We would get the movies, 'cause I used to work in the storeroom area. They would bring the movie reels in on a truck from Philadelphia. There was no popcorn -- there was nowhere they could make popcorn there.


Everybody had a joke for each other. We was just laughing about jokes and making jokes. It was always funny. There was just things that people laugh about. It was just a joke that would say, "Oh, there's that so-and-so person. Look at that person walking silly!" They wasn't really acting silly. It was just cracking jokes. I mean that the higher function was making jokes. It was always funny. But it didn't help me to get out of there. All I remember, that there was a lot of people that I knew, up there, way back ago. Many many years ago.


We used to play checkers and we used to play records and have a dance at the gym and every Christmas a party. The lower functions would go first and then the higher functions would go last. They would have Halloween parties -- I dressed up as a nurse for Halloween. A big Thanksgiving dinner for everybody.


They had swings down on the playground and every time it would snow we used to go sledding. They would put a rope on the truck and pull us up the hill. Yeah, I had a lot of fun.


They had ice-skating. I never ice skate -- I'm not going to break my legs. They used to teach us to roller skate in gym; you used to get a chair and roller around the auditorium. I fell down sometimes, but they'd put a chair in front of me, and I used to push the chair going on around the floor and I learned that way how to skate. Once a month we would go up on a yellow bus to Pottstown to Ringing Rocks, skating. That was fun; that was very fun, skating.


And then I had a penpal buddy. He used to write me a letter every other month. I found somebody to read it to me -- my school-teacher. I never know the person's name; it had their address on it, but I didn't know where they lived. In the letter it said, "Dear Roland, I hope that you are feeling fine today. I am writing to see how you are doing. I know that life is not too cool for you, but I hope that you will get out some day. And I'm sending you. . ." They would be sending me cards -- birthday cards and stuff. They used to send me a Christmas package. I didn't know where it came from. It didn't come from my mother; it didn't come from my father. And I would get an Easter card and they would send Easter eggs.


We used to have Easter egg hunts. We had picnics in different months -- a Memorial Day picnic and a Fourth of July picnic and a Labor Day picnic on the grounds. Some families came, I remember. We got on the Spring City fire truck, the one that squirts water and people would get wet. It was very nice. They drove us around on hayrides. We had an open house every May.


At Christmas someone would get dressed up as Santa Claus and go to the low grades wards and give out candy and sing Christmas carols. I know, I was punish on one of the wards.


I was punished on the ward and I seen what other patients had to go through. And they had to lie about it. That when their parents would come to see them staff would say, "Well, we didn't do that."


Staff would tell you, "And if you go and tell your parents that we did it, we will find out and we will write a little note and put you on another ward." And they'll put you in a hole, a sweat box. And they would beat you up there, if you told your parents that this was happening. I was so frightened.


And not only just me. There was other clients being abused, getting hit over with the mop. And this is not patients doing this. This is staff. I saw it with my own very eyes.


But I didn't get hit with a broomstick, a broom handle. It was other people got hit. Patients would get hit. These was patients that could not take care of themselves, they couldn't talk for themselves, they was like low function -- they would get hit. I don't know why. Don't ax me -- I don't know what in the world they would hit them up for, the reason. So, I was pretty nervous, being on a punishment ward. That's when I thought that things wasn't right for me. I was very scared, very frightened, very like -- suicidal. Why I was there at Pennhurst? I was going suicidal of myself; take my life. But something said, "You don't want to do that; you got a lot to offer." And I didn't. So I had a lot of frightened, scary moments.

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