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Lost In A Desert World

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

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We never got -- nobody I know of -- never got paid, not actually paid money. We got tokens that we would go to the canteen and buy things with the token. Unless you went to the canteen for them or store to get a cup of coffee or doughnuts or whatever -- they would write a piece of paper what they want; we would bring it back to the staff; they would give us a dime or a nickel or a quarter. Never got paid. Nobody got paid. They would work, work, work, work -- never see the check up there. Nothing.


I used to work in the P building. When the visitors used to come, we would wait for them to write out a slip and they would give me a slip to take to the wards and get their sons and dress them. You would have to dress them and bring them back to their family. They had like nightgowns on -- the low ones -- and they had like underwears. We would get them and take them to another ward to get their regular clothes on. I would take the note there and another staff would give them clothes. And we used to get tips. The visitors would give a tip; you could earn some money. That would be like your allowance and you save it up, get a radio or TV or something, if you want it.


When my father retired off his work, I used to get part of his disability money; they would send me a check every month; the Social Security would send it, 'cause I was eligible for part of his Social Security. I was the only person in the family could get it. My mother told me that was because I was the only retarded person in the family that could get it -- disability. He took a heart attack on the job and he couldn't work any more. The doctor told him he couldn't do that heavy work, getting underneath the cars, and breathing that stuff in. I would get a check. They stopped giving tokens and gave me real cash money. They would type my name on the paper and we would get paid every Thursday evening. Not from the job, from SSI; I would request how much I want.


They moved me around. I would work in the mornings: all day in the morning, all day in the evening. There was different jobs. I was too old enough to go to school at that time; I graduated, in other words; and I got older. They would try me on different jobs; get me ready for the outside. Some people had one job and they stayed with their job, I guess, til after they left. They was just trying to get me prepared for the outside. They switched me around to see what type of job I could be suited for. I did well.


Once I walked off the job -- I was so depressed. Oh, I had enough of Pennhurst! Oh, yes. I just walked up and down the corridor on the hospital ward. I had cut myself and they had to suture me. I was just scared, just frightened. That's true. I would be frightened, very very frightened -- what next I would do, what next would they do; what next, what next. I been on every ward that they trained me on; I been on everything -- I did from bathing, washing dishes -- dishwasher -- working in the barbershop, working in the laundry; and I did mostly all the things that they taught me, so there was no need to train me again. I walked off the job because I was just depressed.


They moved me down to Penn Hall 1 and I lived down there for nine months. That's more like getting ready to go on the outside, to live in the community. They teach you how to respect other people. And they told me how to save money and they gave me a town pass. There was no attendants. We was doing it all ourselves, taking care of the house and making sure the house is kept clean. There was attendants come over, used to take a rag and see any dust or any dirt on the dresser, on the window sill. Every time we would get a star for it, for excellent; and if it was dirty, we would get a red star, meaning it wasn't too cool. We had to make sure our clothes was washed. We used to get our food from the dining room; we would put an order in, send a list over to the dining room and we would pick up the food from the dining room.


It was very nice. Nice attendants. We got some hobbies; we made some stuff, turkeys and vases, out of clay and you put 'em in a kiln and we paint 'em and spray 'em. And we'd make ashtrays out of records, melt them like that.


And then I was moved to Rehab 1 up there; it used to be a white house. And they used to train us to cook and make our own beds and go out to work every day. It was teaching you how to be more independent. And it was very nice being on independent without somebody looking over you.


And I got myself better and better and better. Getting better means getting things more sharper like -- I got a sense of what's going on. It took me a long while to think why I was sent there, why I was put there at Pennhurst. I gave my mother so much problem. It took me a long time to understand it. And it dawned on me as to why I'm put there in the first place at Pennhurst: they had nowhere else to put me, so I had to go there. It taught me about my life.


I thought that the doors would be open one day, back open for me to go home again; it might be a day, as I got older, that you might be get out.

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