It has been nearly thirteen years since my admission to a private, for-profit mental institution. My parents
placed me on the adolescent girls ward of Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital at the tender age of fifteen. I
had been suffering from severe depression, anxiety disorder and suicidal tendencies for many years even at
that young age. But that was not why they put me there.
I was a nuisance to them, as were many of the other girls on the unit to their own parents. I was
in two short-term psych wards before my admission to Timberlawn, to 'hold me over', as they told me. While
I was in Brookhaven, my doctor came and spoke to me at rounds, and told me where I was headed. I
asked him, "Why are my parents sending me there? Don't you have a treatment program of your own?"
You see, I had discussed this program with the other teenaged patients of this ward, and had been told it
was a good program, taking about six months to complete. It had taken me some time to adjust to the
thought of being exiled from my home and family for such a long time.
But my doctor was about to blow that idea out of the water. "Because," he informed me, "that's
the only place that can keep you for a year to a year and a half."
I thought he was joking. You have no idea how wrong I was.
I was incarcerated there for two years, two months and three days. It was a death sentence, as
far as I was concerned. And unlike the other girls, I had done nothing wrong. They had all been involved
in various forms of juvinile delinquency, premature sexual activity, drugs, running away... you name it, they'd
done it. In fact, none of them was really mentally ill. It wasn't a hospital at all. It was a prison.
I had never done any of these things. I'd never even had sex. The worst of my sins seemed to
amount to not doing my homework or helping with the housework, and taking an overdose of Tetracycline
at the age of twelve. But that had only been a wild attempt to get my parents to wake up and smell the
coffee. I'll go back in time to shortly before that happened.
I was a scapegoat in my school. I was the one and only scapegoat. I was hated and despised
by all, and I couldn't figure out for the life of me why. It started in the first grade when my family moved to
Dallas, Texas, and just continued to worsen as time wore on. Old kids left, new kids came in. The old kids
remaning indoctrinated the new ones, informing them that I was untouchable, and that to associate with me
was to become me. So I was adrift, alone, in a sea of enemies I had not earned.
As if that was not bad enough, my parents were also very abusive toward me as a child. I am
perhaps unusual in this respect, but there was no sexual abuse in my past, and very little physical. The
abuse in my family was psychological, verbal, emotional, situational... But I can assure you, it was severe.
I remember wild rages, streams of profanity, accusations, threats, (idle, thank God), faces red with hysteria,
voices shrieking at the top of their capacity until they sounded not so much human as like hawks diving at
their prey. My only salvation was that they ignored me most of the time. But when it came to my problems
at school, this was a disaster.
I don't know how many times I told them that I was having problems that went far beyond the
norm, problems I had tried to solve but found totally out of my control. I was unable to influence the
behavior of my peers no matter what I did. I was a social leper. I was viewed with disgust and abhorrence.
This treatment was unbearably painful to me, which was the only reason I bothered confiding about it in
Mom and Dad. They prompty ignored me.
They made up every excuse in the book. I asked for a transfer to another local school. They
never even looked into the possibility. I continued on my collision course with insanity.
My father started forcing me to see psychiatrists at the age of nine. But you've got to understand
my father. He didn't give a damn about my feelings. He wasn't trying to help me with the depressions or
the panic attacks. His only concern was knocking me into line. He was obsessed with education;
thought it was the cure-all to the universe, because it had rescued him from his childhood in poverty.
He couldn't stand having a child that never did her homework, and waited until the last minute to do
class projects and papers. "That little ----. Goddammit, I'm not gonna put up with that kind of behavior.
She'd better well shape up..."
He saw psychiatrists as a sort of police of the mind. It was kind of like sending me to the
principal's office. And I knew it. I tried to refuse, and he got belligerant in true fashion. So I went.
Three years later, they looked into putting me in a private dummy school for kids with learning
disabilities. The resident psychiatrist misdiagnosed me with "mild depression". I didn't know what I had,
but I knew damn well it wasn't "mild". My mother asked why that diagnosis; the good doctor said that it
was because "severe depression usually involves a suicide attempt."
I thought that was the key. If I tried to kill myself, and failed, my parents would have no choice
but to admit that I was severely depressed, and get me some real help. Wrong again.
I woke them at one in the morning, after they came home from being out to eat, leaving me to
babysit my younger brother and sister, and mispronounced the name of the antibiotic I had taken fifty-two
of. "That's stupid! Why would you do a thing like that?" As if I had conjured the whole thing out of thin
The next evening, they left me alone with the kids again, as if nothing had happened. What I
thought they couldn't possibly do, they did. It would turn out to be a pattern with them. It never even
occured to them that they had driven me to it.
And, as I've said, three years later I found myself locked up against my will. I've spent many a
sleepless night wondering why, oh, why did I sign those papers willingly? Why didn't I fight back? And the
only answer I can come up with was that I thought it would have been useless. I believed that, since I was
a minor, the lack of my signature on those documents would make no difference whatsoever. And I had
already been put away for seven weeks. Seven weeks to chip at my stubbornness, and wear away my
The next two years were so horrible I can't really descibe them. All I can do is make a long story
short. The unit was filthy, tiny, and roach-infested. The carpet was dingy, fifteen years old, and smashed
down, and you could tell that it used to be purple with green and yellow and orange stripes. The wall was
plastered with orange burlap.
It was an environment of terrorism. Punishment was the norm. Relief from it was a rare
exception. The doctors spent perhaps a total of five hours a week on the unit, each, on a good week.
You never saw them. You only saw the angry, vicious, vindictive yet totally untrained "mental health
workers" who were assigned as jailkeepers of sorts. Upon entering the hospital, the patient is deprived of
everything human; here are only a few examples.
The first thing they told me when I entered the unit was that I was not permitted to leave the "Big
Lounge". But that was really only half of the room. There was an imaginary line drawn down the middle,
dividing a 20' by 30' space into two parts, the "Big" being the portion closer to the nurses' station, and the
"Small" being the farthest away. It seemed ludicrous, shocking, unnatural. But I had no choice but to
obey. I had a bad feeling about what would happen to me if I didn't.
The next thing they did was to put me on "Suicide Precaution" (SP), and lock everything I
owned in my closet. I had to be accompanied by staff everywhere I went. They even made me leave the
door open a crack as I went to the bathroom, or took a shower, or changed my clothes. In all honesty, it is
the most degrading thing I had ever experienced, especially since it was totally unneccessary and uncalled
for. I felt violated, as if I were being raped.
The hospital was merely a continuation of the abuse that I had experienced at the hands of my
parents, and in that way these "mental health workers" were rubbing salt in my wounds. I was in a
constant state of pain and terror. If I made the slightest mistake, even if it was totally innocent and well
meaning, I was punished. Every moment of our time was regimented. It didn't just stop at being forbidden
to cross a line. I was forbidden to look at the television, even though it was in full view, or to ask someone
to change the station on the stereo, even if it was bothering me, or to sleep, lie down, close my eyes, read,
write, eat, drink anything but water, except at meals, and then you could only eat the disgusting, greasy
food that came into the unit on a metal cart. I was given so little time to do my necessary things;
showering, shaving, putting on makeup, doing my homework, eating, cleaning up my room; that I had to
hurry like the world was ending to get them done. Then I had to go out and sit on "privilege". That was
part of the abuse. They wouldn't even let you call it a punishment. I had to sit there for hours and hours
with no diversion, dying of boredom and anxiety, unable to think of anything but the fact that I was being
watched every second, and that any moment now, I would make a trivial mistake, and receive cruel and
unusual punishment in return.
The hospital controlled the girls so well because of their free and lavish use of restraints.
Five-point leather restraints. I spent a grand total of two days in restraints, and by the time it was over, I
was dying to get out of them, because they tied me down so tightly, I couldn't sleep. This, even though I
had never shown one single violent tendency in the entire time I had been there.
Why was I put in restraints, you ask? For getting up off my chair and walking peacably back to
my room and lying on the bed.
I knew in advance of doing that that they would restrain me for it. I had been hoping they would
put me in my room where I could be alone, unwatched, unharrassed, in peace and darkness so that I could
finally rest. But I didn't know what I was getting myself into.
It was that knowledge, that we could be put in restraints for unlimited periods of time simply for
open, deliberate defiance of the rules, that made us follow them so religiously. The rulebook looked more
like a telephone book, and the rules were ridiculously strict. But we followed them. The staff pitted us
against one another. We turned each other in for going one minute over a ten minute snack break, an
offense for which the punishment was twenty-four hours on chair. Chair is precisely that. You sit on it,
back to the table. You don't move. Don't talk. Don't look at anyone. Don't divert yourself in any way.
Keep one foot on the floor at all times. And you could sit there for hours.
At the worst things got for me, I was spending as much as twelve hours a day on chair. I was
deprived of all activities, even on-unit, which meant that I sat with my face in the corner (like a dunce) while
they watched movies and played table games. They told me their reason for doing this to me was because
I was "stuck in my treatment". I didn't understand what that meant, and they wouldn't explain it to me. I
was supposed to figure it out on my own. They were angry, condemning and critical all the time. They
harped on me for "isolating", as they called it. I had tried for months to comply with their demands. I sat
around the small round table trying to "shoot the bull" with the juvinile delinquents, but I could never get
myself to do it. The very thought of joking around in this horrible dungeon, and fraternizing with people
who would subject me to twenty-four hours on chair for leaving a fork out of arms' reach was repugnant to
me. Instinct always won.
They put me back on SP. They took away my reading break and my two ten minute snack
breaks. Then they started withholding my mail and the gifts my mother had been sending me. I never saw
any of them. They made up some lie about sending them to the dry cleaners, and left it at that. When I
asked, no one knew anything about any dry cleaners.
Then they started forcing me to take psychotropic drugs. I was terrified. I had heard of long-term
negative effects of said drugs. Loss of motor control, trembling, flashbacks, zombism. I started to have a
nervous breakdown. I had never had one before entering the hospital, so I had no idea what was
happening to me.
My whole body went rigid. I had terrible difficulty eating, sleeping, moving, walking, talking,
writing. My body was alive with pain. When I sat in a chair, I felt as if I were going to fall out of it. My eyes
started rolling back into my head. I couldn't keep them on a page well enough to read it, but I was still
expected to go to school as if nothing were wrong. I tried to make it go away. It was like having rigor
mortis. But I couldn't will it away.
I don't remember half of the drugs they gave me. He'd put me on one, and when it didn't have
the desired results, he'd switch me to another, and another, and another, and so on, as if I were some sort
of guinea pig. I only remember the three that were most important to me. The first was Mellarill (pardon me
if I have misspelled it.)
I took it with my nine o'clock meds. The next morning I awoke nauseated and lightheaded.
When I got out of bed, everything went black, and I thought I was going to faint. I complained to the head
nurse. She got my doctor. When he came, she ordered me to stand up and took my blood pressure. The
muttered something about it being dangerously low. "I can't understand it," said Dr. Grover Lawliss. "I
gave her a very small dose."
The next drug was Navane. That was what drove me over the edge.
I had seen other people who had been put on Navane. I have one word for them. Zombies.
I lost it. I was wild with fear. There was no way I could not take the drug. Those who resisted
ended up in restraints for six months or with a year and a half added to their "treatment". I had to take it.
I lost sixteen pounds in two weeks. That's the only physically concrete thing that happened that
proves that what I was going through was legitimate. And to anyone who may be thinking I was anorexic; I
was not. I had always been a compulsive overeater. When my nervous breakdown started, I was 5' 2"
and 128lbs. I now weigh fifteen pounds more than that. This was very unlike me.
Things started getting better when he took me off the Navane and put me on Valium.
That was my salvation. I thought, "Whew!" What a stroke of luck. I knew valium. Valium was
harmless. Valium was the koolaid of drugs. Not only that, but it would help me to get some rest at night,
and feel less anxious during the day. I knew this was it. I had to make damn sure he kept me on that one.
I knew his style. As long as I was thriving on valium, I knew he wouldn't put me on anything else.
But that didn't change the fact that I went through a very serious medical phenomenon which
went ignored. I was never given a medical exam. I was never given any help, aside from the valium. I
wasn't even permitted to go back to my room and rest, which was what prompted the restraints thing. The
worse things got for me, the more they punished me, and the more they told me to just knock it off. As if I
were just doing it deliberately to manipulate staff.
The same thing all over again.
I was totally brainwashed. I bought into their story. I really believed that they were helping me,
and that I deserved all that I got. It wasn't until six months after I had left that I started realizing how badly I
had been abused, and feeling angry about it. Then I had nowhere to turn. The kids I ran into who had
been there either didn't agree with me or didn't care. They seemed to want to run from the subject. Or they
looked back fondly on the experience. I couldn't understand it. Was I crazy?
I'm not really sure, even today. I wish I could find other people who have been through what I
have been through. People who will bond with me to put these places out of business. I want to lobby for
the rights of children not to be put in places like that unless they have been convicted of a real, honest to
goodness crime. This is medeivalism. This is like the days when you could get someone locked up just
because they owed you money or, God forbid, because you didn't like them and had the money and clout
to make it stick. Anyone moved by my story can E-mail me at JCL...@airmail.net