Library Collections: Document: Full Text

Slaves Or Patients?

Creator: Gordon C. Zahn (author)
Date: October 1946
Publication: The Catholic Worker
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Rosewood and Enforced Labor


The Rosewood State Training School for mentally deficient children is located about 12 miles outside of Baltimore. The institution houses about 1,200 patients, almost equally divided as to sex and ranging from the idiot class to high level moron and borderline cases. The latter group were placed there principally because of delinquent trends that led to their rejection by society. Policies of the institution lie in the hands of an administrative staff including five doctors and psychiatrists, a business administrator, the principal of the Rosewood School, etc. Actual care of the children is the responsibility of the attendant staff -- whose members are sadly underpaid and required to work 12-hour shifts. A Board of Visitors, consisting of prominent professional people, meets monthly to theoretically approve and supervise all matters concerning the patients' care. Final authority over the general affairs of the institution lies with the Maryland Board of Mental Hygiene.


With so much professional talent devoted to the patients' care -- and considering, in addition, the spacious grounds and substantial buildings of Rosewood -- one might assume that the people of Maryland deserve high credit for providing so well for the unfortunately handicapped children of their State. Only by knowing through actual experience what goes on behind this splendid scenery can one realize what a subtle viciousness Rosewood actually represents.


Patients Are Trapped


Twelve hundred patients, many of whom should be capable of ultimate return to society as useful citizens, are trapped there -- subject to the absolute authority of an administration characterized by a tone of official stagnation and torn by personal feuds and bitter frustrations, an administration held together principally by the common realization that in the preservation of the "status quo" lies the continuance of a steady and relatively easy livelihood. The children are often denied true friendly care from the attendants because the salary is so low and the workday so long and trying that the job is unattractive to individuals of the moral, social and emotional caliber that should be required for such work. And their final hope, the only group of outsiders with the potential power to force reform -- the Board of Visitors -- fails utterly in its responsibility; usually only 3 or 4 of the membership of 10 attend the monthly meeting.


Is it any wonder, then, that under such a set-up, the patients are unjustly exploited? In our last issue we covered some aspects of the lack of recreational and athletic facilities for the children. Now let us look at the extremely well-developed work program that does exist.


Work Program Well Developed


Virtually all of the actual work involved in the operation of the institution is done by the children. The more capable boys are assigned to the farm, the dairy, the powerhouse; the girls to the laundry, the kitchen, the dining rooms. Specialized employees such as the painter, plumber, mason, etc., are assigned patients as assistants. In the cottages, patients do all of the cleaning as well as the feeding, bathing and changing of incontinent or helpless patients under the supervision and direction of the attendant.


Within the limits of justice such an arrangement could be commended. A just work program could be used as a factor in developing a sense of self-assurance and habits of self-reliance. By training the "patient-student" in the various trades and manual arts, a just work program could equip him with the basis for earning his livelihood in the event of ultimate parole. Such a program planned for the patients' welfare and training would be a credit to Rosewood. Too often, however, we encounter the proposition that these children owe their labor to the State to repay it for the cost of their care. Rather, it should ever be borne in mind that Society took these children into its custody, usually against their will; it is, therefore, Society's obligation to provide for them. Unfortunately, however, from the distorted principle that places the obligation upon the patient has come the practice of punishing children who do not work by depriving them of of -sic- the few limited pleasures Rosewood does offer.


Rosewood's program of "work therapy", if it can seriously be so named, goes beyond the limits of justice and is instead an outright exploitation of patients' labor. There are children there who work every day of the year without respite! Since most of these jobs (on the dairy, in the powerhouse, in the cafeteria and kitchen, etc.) entail early work hours or heavy labor or both there can be no excuse for not arranging the work schedule so as to provide at least one day of rest each week for every worker patient. On more than one occasion this was suggested to the Rosewood authorities -- with no satisfactory result.


The exploitation is evidenced again in the fact that patients who do valuable work are sometimes neglected in parole considerations. For example, one girl who proved herself reliable and efficient as a nurse's aide was kept in such work until she reached a point near indispensability. When her grandmother suddenly took an interest in her and moved toward obtaining a parole for her, the entire hospital staff began trying to persuade the girl to accept a limited parole-employment arrangement under which she would continue doing her work at a regular salary! It is to be noted that not until faced with the threat of losing her by parole did they consider her worthy of employee status. It is reasonable to assume that if the grandmother has since lost interest in parole efforts, the girl will continue doing that work as a patient -- and without pay!

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In most cases patients assigned as "helpers" to the specialized employees are stooges for these employees -- doing the actual work while the others "supervise" and collect the pay. It is ridiculous to refer to this arrangement as ''occupational training". Once a specialized employee has trained a patient, to the point that his work is done for him in a satisfactory fashion, it is almost impossible to get that patient away from him for training in some other occupation, as would be done in a valid training program.




The more capable and willing a patient is, the more he or she is overworked. One patient does practically all of the heavy work in a cottage having a large proportion of helpless patients; his workday every day begins at 5:30 AM and continues to about 7 PM. A young girl works as a nurse's aide in the clinic. After the morning treatment period is over, she (and the other clinic assistants -- patients, of course) wash the entire basement floor, offices and all, and at frequent intervals wax and polish the floor as well. This should be enough to be considered a full day's work, extending as it does from 8:30 to 5; but, because she is such a capable worker, this girl is kept in a cottage housing children much younger than herself, so that she may help with the care of the little patients before and after her duties in the hospital. In addition, after a thoroughly exploited day, she frequently cleans the attendants' private living quarters to earn a little spending money. Most of her friends and two of her sisters are at a different cottage that houses girls of her age; however, she is so valuable at the small girls' cottage that, in spite of her many pleas and the consideration her other work should entitle her to, she is consistently refused a transfer to that cottage wherein she rightfully belongs.


It is to be admitted that many of these patients are overwilling and take great pride in extra responsibilities. Nevertheless, it should be expected that the people placed in charge over them will have enough sense to keep their work within reasonable limits.


Instead the opposite is often true. One boy assigned to night duty as a helper on the hospital ward was observed by one of the administrative officers in the act of watching some other boys install posts along a roadway. Twice the official ordered the boy to "get to work" installing posts; twice the boy objected explaining that he was on night duty and was then on his "free time." The final result of confusing justice with this particular official's orders was that the boy was punished by being ordered indoors for the rest of the day -- that is, until he was due to report for his night duty!


Maryland Readers Should Protest


Many other injustices could be described here to further illustrate the extent of Rosewood's labor exploitation -- child labor exploitation, at that -- by the State of Maryland. It should be to the shame of every person that such a situation can exist. We can only hope that our Maryland readers will somehow express their objection to this unforgiveable state of affairs by writing their newspapers, their governor, their legislators to force corrective measures. It is sad to think that similar situations probably exist throughout the nation; it is to be hoped that if sufficient interest can be stirred up in the state named for the most-loved Saint in the Christian world, the effects would be felt in every institution in the land. For those who suffer in neglect and exploitation in our nation's mental institutions are our brothers. Thus far we have failed them.

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