Stealing Blankets from the Hospital: 
How Life Really Works on a Psych Ward


I realize that most of our readers haven’t actually lived in a psych hospital for several months at a time — on more than one occasion. So here’s a story for you about what it’s really like when you actually live there long enough to start to feel like it’s home. 

Every time that I have been confined in a psych hospital, I have collected as many trophies as possible. If this means that I collect the art that other psych patients are doing, that’s what it means. Some of this work is absolute genius, and I have an entire wall decorated with it.

psych ward art

Sometimes I go out of my way to steal the silverware, or the sheets, or the blankets from the beds, or even the signs off the fucking walls. Believe me, there’s nothing like having a sign off the wall of a psych ward on the wall of your apartment. It’s better than stealing a street sign.

I have even sat down and written descriptions and done drawings of every single thing in New Hampshire Hospital. Describing how the railing in the bathroom has a piece of sheet metal welded onto it so that you can’t actually get a grip on it, which is important if they come in and try to extract you in the usual football team sized groups that they use, or how there are no chairs in the bedrooms and no doors on the closets, because those could also be used as shields or as weapons. As I have told a hundred people in psych hospitals: nothing is here by mistake. They have had hundreds of years to figure this out, and there is basically nothing you can do to change how it works. That’s the reality of a psych ward.

However, as I said, I like to collect trophies. For instance, the first time I was confined against my will, there were all the blankets you could want — soft and kind of fuzzy and made out of this really wonderful, soft cotton. There were also bedcovers, which are heavier and dense and not so warm, but they’re meant to trap the heat that your blankets are holding in. The second time I was held in New Hampshire Hospital, a couple years later, most of the blankets were gone. The cold, dense bedcovers were still there, but the blankets were scarce. It took me a while to get two of them for my bed. Obviously, either patients or staff were walking out with them when they left. Last time I was there, I made sure I took one too. And I can tell you, since I sleep with it on my bed every night, that it is soft and warm and comfy. I love it.

I also have a complete collection of New Hampshire Hospital bed linen, including a couple of pillow covers with the words “New Hampshire Hospital” printed on them in very fancy type. When I took them, I imagined myself getting my bed ready for someone and putting those on the pillows. What kind of conversation would that start?

But it’s the really forbidden stuff that attracts me.

The last time I was confined, I ripped a sign off the wall of a bathroom that said, “This Is Not An Exit.” This might seem meaningless, but in the room where I was then sleeping, there were obvious signs that someone, or multiple someones, had tried to kick their way out of the place into the bathroom next door. There were large plates of sheet wood screwed to the walls to cover where they had kicked their way through. So what I did was steal the sign that said “This Is Not An Exit” and fix it to the wall above the holes that someone had kicked through it. This was a trophy that I was unfortunately unable to take home, because they came in all of a sudden and moved what room I was in. This is another aspect of psych ward life: you are moved around constantly, seemingly with no purpose, maybe because you got too chummy with your roommate, or maybe because someone even more psychotic than you just came in and they want to move them into the room you’re in, where they can then drive their roommate even crazier than you already were.

For a while I tried to get the sign for the “Seclusion Room” off the wall, but they seem to have learned that they need to use a more powerful glue. I would pry at it and pry at it, but I couldn’t get it off the wall. Imagine having the sign for the Seclusion Room on the door to your bedroom.

So this is psych ward humor. I realize that very few people have this sort of presence of mind when in a psych ward, but there are a few of us who do have it. This is what real life is like in a psych hospital, in all of its finer and more glorious details.

Here’s a story about the last time I was in a psych hospital. Contrary to what people might tell you about crazy people being more violent or less violent than other people, when some people are seriously psychotic they are, in fact, quite violent; and this is not because there are more of them who are violent, but because the violent ones tend to end up in a psych ward. If youre crazy and violent, its not because youre crazy. Its because youre a violent asshole anyway, regardless of any mental issues involved. In fact, on my last psych admission of two months, I was assaulted four times, and always by someone much, much bigger than I was.

There was this one guy who kept throwing packets of ketchup at me, which is supposedly some sort of gang sign for saying that I’m going to kill you (the ketchup is supposed to be blood). There was another guy who was a professional fighter who at one point didn’t like what I was talking about and who shoved me into a corner of the dayroom, while the staff watched and did nothing. There was the guy who obviously had some sort of weird developmental problem who liked to brag that he was allowed to smoke (obviously, he wasn’t) and who came at me simply because I was walking down his hallway. After he grabbed me by the shirt and starting beating me on the head, I threw my glasses across the hallway so they wouldn’t get broken, because if there’s one thing it’s virtually impossible to get in a psych ward, it’s a new set of glasses; or, as a close second, dental care. It took about a dozen people and a cop who tasered him twice to get the guy to stop fighting and to be shackled and taken away.

Then there was another guy who was threatening me all the time. He was bigger than me, and far more muscular, and he kept trying to come at me every day, making threats. He wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally, as he came at me early one morning, I decided to retaliate and teach him a lesson, and I kick-boxed him in the stomach. This finally got a reaction from the staff. Normally they ignore all the threats that people make toward one each other. But when you actually attack someone, they do finally pay attention. So they put me in the Seclusion Room. And you know what I did? I stole the fucking Seclusion Room blanket itself, which is the ultimate trophy of them all.

In an isolation room, there are usually only two things, both of them considered harmless: a mattress made of plastic and foam to lie down on, and an extremely heavy blanket — not a real blanket, just sort of a super-heavy, super-strong piece of cloth that is built to be so heavy that you can’t tear it apart. It doesn’t even keep you warm, really, because it is so heavy that it takes an hour for your body heat to warm it up. It is much heavier than a piece of canvas, and it doesn’t hold much heat, and you can’t destroy it because it is designed to be indestructible by any violent asshole who is put in that room. And so what I did, after they shot me in the ass with a needle and then I woke up again, was to ask the nurse (God bless her heart!) if I could take the blanket out of the isolation room to my own room (and I always get a room by myself, because I’m so much older than most people and need my privacy and I’m so obviously schizophrenic that it’s best to put me by myself), and she actually said yes! I told her I wanted it as a cover for my bed, and she actually bought it. It was better than talking a traffic cop out of a ticket.

This, my friends, was the ultimate score. I put that thing in my bag when I left (I always make sure I have a huge bag when I leave so I can take all the stuff that I’ve collected!) and I now have, in my home, the huge, heavy fucking blanket that they keep in a seclusion room. It is my ultimate trophy. No one else that I know has ever gotten one — or even dared to make the attempt.

And on the day before I left I even told the coolest mental health worker in the place what I was doing, and she grinned and laughed and walked away. No problems there!

Fuck yeah! Thank you, New Hampshire Hospital!


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Eric Coates
Eric Coates is a voicehearer who has resisted psychiatry, psychiatric drugs, and psychiatric definitions of what the psychiatrically afflicted and psychotically afflicted experience in many dimensions, which he explores through personal, mostly nonfiction stories and blog posts informed by his experiences both in and out of psychiatric institutions, including confinement, forced treatment and drugging, and personal and psychological supervision. He rejects the broad and indiscriminate use of state and local power over the psychiatrically diagnosed and voicehearing populations.


  1. Wow. Just wow. I feel honored to have “first comment”. I actually know Eric. It’s been 30 years since I’ve been in the New Hampshire State “mental hospital”, and it does seem to have gotten more violent there. In the 6 months I was there, I don’t recall ANY violence at all. But I’ll take Eric’s word for it. The situation HAS gotten somewhat worse. The staff of the local “community mental health center” will actually *LIE* about you, just to excuse shipping you to “Concord”, as the State hospital is commonly known. (It’s in Concord, N.H., and is a major employer.
    I can really relate to Eric’s “trophy hunting”! When the local hospital fired their “child psychiatrist”, and shut down the 6-bed adolescent psych ward, boy, wasn’t Dr. Marcia Pabo surprised! They fired ~30 employees a couple months later, and shut down the 12 adult beds in the adult unit. The result is that there’s NO “inpatient treatment” in one of the largest cities in N.H.! That’s “Dartmouth-Hitchcock” for you! They also finagled the N.H. State contract for psych services, then promptly failed to fulfill their contract! Seems there’s a “shortage” of psychiatrists. Even at $80+ an hour! (That works out to well over $150K/year, btw…)
    Eric and I do have some common friends, and I can attest that the whole “mental health system” is just as incompetent, crooked, corrupt, and hurtful as Eric suggests that it is. It’s *BROKEN*, but you’ll never hear the right people admit that.
    Psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a drug racket, and a means of social control. It’s 21st Century Phrenology, with potent neuro-toxins. And hey, blankets and wall-art signs are probably about the only GOOD things to come out of a stay in “Concord” “hospital”! Thanks, Eric!

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      • In general, across the U.S., there’s a “shortage” of psychiatrists, because fewer & fewer persons want to go into the field. Psychs tend towards larger urban areas, with much larger colleges & universities. And, psychiatry itself is increasingly seen as the corrupt drug racket which it is. Older psychs are retiring & dying faster than new, younger ones are entering the field. Why this “shortage” is so acute in N.H., I don’t know the details on that. “Dartmouth-Hitchcock” has a near-monopoly on “healthcare providers” here in N.H. plus, there’s a LOT of CORRUPTION in N.H. Yeah, I know, you don’t usually think of N.H. as corrupt. We’re just about the richest, whitest State, and also have the highest alcohol & opioid overdose death rate. The local hospital was looking for even “emergency fill-in” psychs, at ~$80./hour, and found no takers. But N.H. *IS* also a very well-educated State, so I assume the FRAUD of psychiatry is becoming too obvious. That’s what I *hope*, anyway.
        Thanks, “Feelin’! Have *courage*, my friend! *grin*

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  2. Great trophies. Well done.

    Meanwhile, psychiatry appropriates survivor stories in order to bolster fallacious theories of “mental illness” and the “chemical imbalance” hoax. The vast majority of victims of psychiatry are silenced because of their so-called “mental illness,” and even the voices of those who are brave enough, or well enough, to speak out against psychiatric slavery are only considered interesting or quaint among the pseudo-medical, pseudo-intellectual elite.

    We would do well to consider that even though millions of innocent people have been, are, and will be involuntarily incarcerated by psychiatric wardens and oppressors, the voices of these victims, many of whom are now martyrs, are rarely heard in any serious way. So-called mental health “experts” and psychiatrists use these stories as evidence for rampant “mental illness,” and they call for greater investment in “mental health care.” Even many MIA authors examine such stories with a lofty, detached, and ostensibly scientific air. To quote C.S. Lewis: “The new Nero will approach us with the silky manners of a doctor, and though all will be in fact as compulsory as the tunica molesta or Smithfield or Tyburn, all will go on within the unemotional therapeutic sphere where words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ are never heard.”

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  3. Thanks again for another ‘window’ into your world.

    I am a little perplexed about when you say this:
    ” If you’re crazy and violent, it’s not because you’re crazy. It’s because you’re a violent asshole anyway, regardless of any mental issues involved.”

    I don’t think this is always true. I believe that even gentle people can do things quite out of character in an extreme state (from fear or confusion or something like that I guess). This is what is so heartrending.

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    • in self defence, most of the time.

      Based on my limited first hand observations, most people diagnosed as schizophrenia are fiercely independent. Their world views are unashamedly original. I think it is a character trait that I admire the most from them, which is why psychiatry or any kind of confinement to their freedom is so unbearable to them. Psychiatry is the very antithesis of their existence. I think, on the other hand, actually psychiatry is very helpful to people suffering from eating disorders. A little bit of compassion to teen angst and nutritional education will set them on the right track for success. With psychosis, it is like tying up a bird to prevent it from flying for the sake of their own safety. Drugging them is akin to breaking their wings.

      I always appreciate Eric Coates’ writing.

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        • Gee, I dunno, “Sally”! I think “Tweedle’s” universe is not only NOT parallel, but it’s going off on it’s own radical tangent!
          But ya gotta admit, that saying psychs try to tie up bird wings from flying, for their own safety, IS a pretty accurate metaphor for the pseudoscience drug racket and means of social control known as “psychiatry”!
          (BTW, the most “violent” I ever was, was directly because of the psych drugs. After 20+ years off psych drugs & psychiatry, I’m happier and peacefuler than ever!)

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      • Absolutely not, this is a generalization about ED and totally untrue. Many older ED’s like myself were completely ignored by psych, that is, our ED’s went totally unnoticed, for decades, and meanwhile we collected other diagnoses (whether they had any grain of truth to them or not) like Eric collected blankets. Many ED’s of any age are missed totally, since ED doesn’t always look like a rail thin teenage girl.

        I have been helped by drugs but I could have picked them up on Amazon just as easily. I didn’t need a doc for that.

        Psychs are poorly trained in nutrition and many don’t know jack about ED, either. Yes you can usually tell.

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    • Sa, I did perhaps overstate my case about violence a little bit. There are indeed some people who are so far out there with their beliefs that they can’t help reacting with violence, whether out of perceived self-defense or some other reason, and I appreciate that perspective. However, most of the people I’ve known in psych wards who were violent were simply aggressive persons to begin with, and they would have been violent in any aspect of life, whether in a psych institute or some other aspect of life — normal life included. But thanks for speaking up, because it is important to do so.

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  4. I was admitted to the local hospital mental health unit in herein Australia in late 2017. One of the other patients asked if she could photocopy some of my art. I thought that was kind of cool. Mental health is located in a standalone building and the actual ward was on level 3.

    The funniest thing was the smoking policy. The ward inside and outside in the garden is completely smoke-free, but yet you will always find dozens of cigarette butts in the garden. The door to the garden is made of glass so you can see a nurse coming from a mile away. The smokers on the ward generally run a swat style operation where one smoker acts as the lookout while the others smoke while hiding behind one of the gardens. This is a fine achievement that should be applauded as these people have overcome the effects of the medication they have been given

    BTW I don’t smoke and I hate the smell of smoke as it makes me sneeze a lot.

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  5. I read how William Wilberforce brought about prison reform and made the jailers separate the violent from non-violent criminals.

    In the case of madhouses they make no distinction between violent criminals and peaceful, law abiding citizens. Punishing people for crimes they MIGHT POSSIBLY commit in the future. Marvelous fortune tellers and mind reading psychics those shrinks!

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    • In the Ward I was in, it was split into High Dependency Unit(HDU) and Acute Care with the more violent people going to the HDU. It did follow Wilberforce’s model. I smashed a plate in the shower and they threatened me with a trip to HD and made out that HDU is the equivalent of walking head first into Armageddon. They forgot I lived in public housing, 20 steps away from a drug dealer so there is nothing much that scares me anymore.

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  6. Eric I love this. I, too, collected stuff, my best being a pool ball from a pool table on Wheeler 3, Emerson Hospital, in Concord, MA. This is where I met my boyfriend in 1986 whom I dated many years. Wheeler 3 isn’t the psych unit anymore. They moved to North 5. I had that pool ball many years.

    When I was in McLean a gal and her boyfriend (he was not inpatient with us) stole SO MUCH I was in utter shock. He would leave with these huge suitcases claiming he was “bringing her stuff home.” They believed it. When she started boasting about how much she had stolen, and whom she had stolen from, I started hiding my valuables. This was getting extreme. One weekend all the food was gone from the pantry! Well she got her money’s worth or some of it.

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    • Julie, love it!

      On my last psych admission I got really out of control. I basically stole a huge, plastic Scrabble board and the tiles to go with them (assembled from who knows how many different Scrabble games?). I had to get this monster out of the game room and into my own room and then sweet-talk the staff into letting me pay for it all with a replacement scrabble set, which I promptly handed to the biggest scrabble player in the place and encouraged her to steal.

      There was actually a sort of thievery ring at my last admission, who raided people’s rooms and sold stuff between the different units. I figured out who they were pretty quickly, and I would taunt them with my iPod Nano all the time. But I was smart: I kept the iPod in my pants pockets 24 hours a day, whether that was in my daytime shorts or my pajamas at night. No one was able to steal my iPod. I did the same thing with my money.

      One last thing I will say is that I always make sure to steal a book from the library. You can only have 1 book out at a time, and you pick the very best book you can and hold onto it until they let you out, and you take it home with you. I have two awesome books that I would never have otherwise had because of it. Thank God for the prison library! I have also acquired 4 Bibles in different versions (Bibles are a kind of addiction for me) and a magisterial version of the Koran — all books that were just out on the ward.

      Anyway, congratulations on that pool ball!

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  7. I naturally have no sense of ownership when psychotic. Everything is a gift from the universe. I had a really nice pair of my roommate’s green underwear in my drawer for awhile! I mostly get my own room ha! XD
    I am not a violent person at all but I would black out and swear my bloody head off apparently. I’m wondering now if most of my episodes were substance related though. I almost died it felt like from an antihistamine reaction. Gotta watch out for anything you get in a drug store.

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  8. I knew a fantastic psychiatrist named Lewis A. Opler. I met him at a conference on schizophrenia at Columbia University put on by NAMI. Our county mental health clinic was prescribing haldol (in the 80’s), but I wanted my family member to take Zyprexa (fewer side effects), but his doctor wasn’t familiar with it. Got appointments with Dr. Opler in NYC, and he prescribed it. I asked him his method of psychotherapy, he said, “phenomenology.” I told the people at the county clinic, “Dr. Opler made me feel better.” They said, “We are not here to make you feel better.” So, reading about your bad experiences makes me think that maybe it is not psychiatry itself that is bad, but the quality of the psychiatrists you have experienced. They ARE there to make you feel better, they just are not good at it.

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    • It is also possible that some are NOT there to make you feel better.

      On the other hand, the bartender and the heroin peddle are there to make you feel better, too.

      Making someone “feel better” is generally only effective as a short-term objective. People who set their long-term goals at “making myself feel better” generally don’t have very livable lives.

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  9. Was talking about Dr. Opler’s method of psychotherapy, not about long-term life goals. When talking to Dr. Opler, I felt understood. The therapy concentrates on seeing the person’s life through their lens, trying to get their point of view. It was encouraging and empowering, taking away the loneliness that a patient and their family are feeling. It reduces risk of suicide, abandonment, family conflict. It helps patients work to get well better because they are not being put down by an authoritarian Phenomenology is the basis of existentialism.

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