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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 had a friend, long time ago, but he got killed. He got killed on a second floor landing.


He was a good friend of mine and we used to talk about the good old days. Back way, way back before -- he would tell me about things happening way back ago, before I came. He used to talk about Mr. William P., the superintendent. He was the bad guy. He would send people to the punishment wards and they got hit over the head with clubs, with bats, and broom handles; he didn't care. He was long gone when I heard about it. It used to be rough up there. Yeah, he was a friend of mine. Me and him used to go up to Pottstown together. And something happened and he got killed. This friend of mine got hanged, he was tied up and hanged. They found the rope around his neck. They used him, he was abused, sexual abused. They tied him up, with his hands down, back of his arms, his feet all tied up, a mouth gag. He tried to holler for help. Nobody really came to his rescue. And next day he was dead -- the rope was so tight, they couldn't revive him. I don't know from the day how it happened.


It was not an attendant; it was probably one of the patients up there.


They found him the next evening, found him dead. Twenty-four hours the man was dead, deceased. And nobody knew about it until a nurse made her rounds down on each floor and came up on that deceased, dead man.


Mrs. B. came above us and she said, "I smell something strange." She went down on the back fire escapes. And so they found that body.


And that's when they did the investigating of Pennhurst. That's when they took a very serious look at that. That's when first came open up the case about Pennhurst. And I think that is a very helpful thing that they did to try to move, to look into that direction, and to try to fill that gap to look to see what can be done.


They had the State Police in up there. They talked with other residents. I didn't see it, but I heard it. They didn't talk to me, 'cause I was working in the 'tendants' cafeteria.


Then Dr. Potkonski came along, Leopold Potkonski. He kind of changed things. He knew what was going on, because he worked down at Norristown State Hospital. He was the Superintendent down there. He kind of tried to phase out people that was doing these things. But it still kept going on. It still happened. It was no change. He was just probably one person to do, to handle the whole loads of these places. But it's kind of silly to come with these places, to be institutionalized. I believe that I don't feel like no one should be even in an institution.


I remember the first ward that I worked on. I was about seventeen or eighteen. It was snowing; they had a few staff persons on M-1, but they didn't have enough staff persons to cover that ward. When it was cold and snow they didn't have staff -- one of the staff had to work overtime; they couldn't get another staff to change shift. And we had to sleep there when there was no staff.


I remember he said that, "Roland is my workboy this week." There'd be eight or seven people worked on a ward, but we never got paid for it. The staff person just watched, just watched, the head staff person. Patients used to do all the work.


They helped to change the babies. So we had to bathe them and wash them and brush their teeth and stuff like that. Now these are people that could not able to take care of themselves. These people who had low grades used to wet the floors and I had to clean them up; I had to get in the showers with them and give them baths. Somebody had to do it. I would get in the shower; they might even be messing on themselves. I felt sorry for them; they couldn't help themselves. That's the first job that I had at Pennhurst.


And then they placed me somewhere else. From M-1 I used to work at the U-2, helping feed patients up there. The trucks would come around, the food trucks, to every ward except the bright boys, to all the low grade wards. The patients that used to work in the dining room, they used to take the food trucks out; filled them up with soup and mashed potatoes -- whatever they had.


There was people I used to take care of, lot of people; I don't know their names, but I had my hands full. It was a nice thing to do. That felt like you're helping somebody else that they can't not be helped. I was pleased to do that. People could not feed themselves.


Whatever they need me to do: when they was short, I helped. I used to feed the babies. I used to work up on the hospital ward. They had little babies with big heads; one child, one guy, one fellow had a big head; he couldn't move; we had to turn his head over, turn him sideways -- so he wouldn't get sores on his back -- and change diapers, change the sheets, and feed them with a spoon. It was pretty hard to feed 'em. But we fed 'em. They was laying down; some of 'em could sit up, and some of 'em couldn't.


I saw a patient got burnt in the hot water in the tub during the day all over his body. The water was hot and they didn't do the temperature. They had the doctors look at him and they sent him over to the dispenser. And they put some salve on him and bandages. It was terrible. And somebody died. I remember they rolled the person out in the hallway and the doctor pronounced them dead.

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