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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 worked in the barber shop; they showed me how to use the 'lectric clippers. I was going around the colleges cutting hair, shaving patients' faces -- those who couldn't shave themself. I had a apron and a shirt and a pocket where you put the comb and scissors. They would have the razors on the ward. I had to hold people, lower function ones who couldn't keep still. Not all, but some of them just couldn't keep their hair combed; we cut their hair down to we call it crew cuts.


I remember I was going around the colleges, the wards, cutting hair and shaving, and it came on a special news bulletin on the TV that Dr. Martin Luther King got shot in Memphis. People was sad out there; they was very very upset that he got shot; they was crying, the patients was crying. I was crying too, 'cause he was trying to help people -- poor people, black and white -- out: to be equal. He fought for civil rights. They didn't let a colored lady sit up front and I guess that's how it came about.


And I moved from the barbershop over to the storeroom; we used to get supplies ready to go on colleges -- chewing tobacco, smokin' tobacco, shoes. Trucks would come in with big boxes of cereals, frozen vegetables, and we would shoot them down into the kitchen, would put them in the freezer, and the dry stuff, like sugar, we would store them in the storage area.


I had bosses there; they was 'tendants. I liked to work with anybody that worked; I didn't have a special choice who I wanted to work with.


I was answering the phones and taking messages; picking up little kids from the hospital and bringing them to school. I assisted the gym teacher in the summer time, taking kids to summer school and day camp and activities. They had a printing press, a greenhouse; I didn't used to work there, but on the farm. They had a farm. Shorty McVeigh took us down there. We used to pick string beans, red beets, carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, greens, and put 'em in the basket. We used to bring baskets full of tomatoes to the kitchen. A farmer guy used to drive the tractor. They had nine, ten acres. They used to grow their own vegetables. And they used to have ponies -- just to pet them. I used to work in the patients' dining room; I used to run the dishwasher and clean things off the tables. After people would leave the dining room, we would collect the dishes and spoons and silverwares, and put them in that dish room, and we would wash the dishes.


I was doing other things up there. I used to work in the laundry. We get to go on the truck around the colleges and pick up the dirty soiled linen and take 'em to the laundry. And then I used to work the back of the washing machine, where they washed dirty linen -- the sheets and towels and night pajamas -- and put them in the big washing machines. We used to put things in the dryer and take them out and sort them and put them in a hamper bag, and take the sheets and put them there on the other side, so they can be run through the big machines, starched, and then folded up. That give me some things to do; keep me busy; to get me ready for being on the rehabilitation.


And then from the laundry they transferred me to the staff cafeteria. They had a woman there that takes care of job placement. She figured where I was going to work. That was just getting me ready to go out on the outside, preparing you for the outside. She transferred me into the staff cafeteria. I used to run the dishwasher over there. That felt good, because I was getting good food in there. The patients would get horrible food: had eyes in the potatoes, half-cooked, steamed. And attendants would get very good food than the patients. In the attendants' cafeteria their food would get fried -- well cooked; their food was cooked thoroughly.


We would eat first and then we would open up twenty-five after eleven and go through until two. And that's how I used to learn how to do all this getting the salad and making food. I used to get up at five o'clock in the morning to get ready to go to work. I would start to work in the in the attendants' cafeteria around about quarter of seven. And I had to have the cafeteria clean by 'leven o'clock to get ready for lunch. And that was a big 'sponsibility. We used to put all the chairs up on the tables so we can mop the floor and buff the floor; then we would cover all the tables with tablecloths.


I would have to be at work at a certain time and work the whole day through til at night. And when I get finish, I used to walk around on the grounds, just walk around, up and down, back and forth, where the superintendent lived. Up the hill, halfway up the girls' county -colony -- K.W.-, and down the hill, down the boys' side. We used to just walk up and down the road, back and forth, up and down there.


I even worked as a messenger at Pennhurst, taking messages back and forth. I liked running errands the best; it was really fun to do that.


I got to know the switchboard operator; I used to take the time sheets down to the administration building -- the teachers' payroll. That was where the superintendent's office is. And this is where they did the hearing tests and psychological evaleration. Nobody lived there. All the offices would be closed Saturdays and Sundays. I learned by looking at the letters; they had the letters outside the building: they would tell me that, "Hey, this is the A Building." That's where all different envelopes would go: the records, once-a-month report about the school, and the census, annual report. So I used to take the messenger's envelopes to different places. And answer phones.

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