State Hospital Memories: More of My Story

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For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter…” —Deuteronomy 32:32

At the age of sixteen I was committed to the Pontiac State Hospital in Pontiac, Michigan. It was the most traumatic experience of my life. I experienced horrific forced shock treatments in a freezing cold, ancient building that was falling apart around me. It’s no wonder the hospital eventually lost accreditation and had to close—of course, that was decades after what they did to me there.

Eastern Michigan Asylum (later known as Pontiac State Hospital and Clinton Valley Center), c. 1876. From wikipedia.org

I have a lot more to say about my experiences at Pontiac. But you might wonder, “More about Pontiac? Why? You were there over 60 years ago. Why not just forget about it?”

It all goes back to when I first got out of the state hospital. I had terrifying thoughts and dreams, and I was trying to cope with them and my memory, learning, and speech and other problems by myself. I desperately wanted someone to help me and do something about Pontiac, but no one would even listen to what I had to say. It felt as if they were telling me I didn’t count. I was angry, very angry, and I never got over the hurt. Not a day of my life has gone by since without my thinking about Pontiac and the way I was treated. If nobody else was going to do anything about it, I was! Inspired by Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who wrote about the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, I decided to write about Pontiac.

I sat on the idea for a long time before I tried to write anything. My first attempt didn’t turn out very well. A friend suggested the online UCLA writer’s program. I began in 2007 and obtained my Certificate of Completion in 2010. I’d retired the year before, and now I had time to write about Pontiac. Several years on I attended a lecture at the local Hilton hotel given by Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America and founder of the website by the same name. I posted my first publication on my state hospital experiences there, Committed at 16: Memories of a State Hospital, in 2020.

Those responding to my article were very supportive, yet I didn’t know how many were willing to believe what I said without knowing more. I also wondered myself how much of what I remembered about Pontiac was true after so many years. As best I could, I tried to verify what I wrote by means of The Detroit Free Press archive and other reputable sources.

The Dangerous Conditions inside the Building

Pontiac was built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and many of its problems stemmed from its age and poor condition. It was first opened as the Eastern Michigan Asylum in 1878. The name was changed to the Pontiac State Hospital in 1911, and it became the Clinton Valley Center in 1973. At the time I was there in 1960, the original building was still being used and held around 3,000 patients.

This is how I described what it was like inside in my first article: “It was January when I came in, and the bedrooms had little heat and smelled awful… Most of the day, I had to sit on a hard wooden chair [doing nothing] in a large room with maybe twenty or more others. The chairs were lined up beneath windows on three sides of the room. [There was] more heat than the bedrooms, but it was cold next to the windows… I had to have permission to use the bathroom, half [or more of] the toilets were clogged up, and the doors on the stalls were missing.”

Sounds almost unbelievable, right? Conditions so brutal they were practically torture? I sometimes wondered if I was misremembering. Certainly, plenty of people didn’t believe how bad it was.

But now I have corroborating evidence. It truly was that bad. Maybe it was even worse.

Here’s how Boyce Rensberger described the conditions in The Detroit Free Press (“A Look Inside the Hospital: The Heart Rendering Things We Found,” Feb. 2, 1969): “At Pontiac State Hospital men, women, and children live in a 90-year-old building with no electric light in bedrooms. What little heat there is comes from hallways and floats near the ceiling of rooms that are taller than they are wide… At Pontiac, the dingy walls have not been painted in years… In many patient rooms, plaster is cracked and in several… whole square yards have crashed to the floor. Such deplorable conditions would be bad enough for healthy people but in a state institution these deplorable conditions are home and hospital to sick persons who already feel rejected by society… [I]f the state fire marshal was to enforce the law… [Pontiac would] need at least $20 million immediately for new construction.”

Malnutrition

In 2020 I wrote, “The food [at Pontiac] ranged from unappetizing to plain unhealthy. There was too much pulp in the orange juice for me, and a lot of times the fruit looked just plain rotten. For dinner they might have a fatty piece of meat in a gooey sauce. Maybe there’d be a part I could eat, but the rest had too much fat for me to chew. By the time I went home, I’d lost considerable weight and had big holes [i.e., recession] in my gums. My dentist told me it was due to vitamin C deficiency, and I would lose my teeth if it went on. I also was buying a lot of candy and ice cream [at the hospital] canteen with money my mother sent, which led to no end of cavities. A lot of times, it was eat that or go hungry.”

My dentist told me I had scurvy, the only case he’d ever seen in his years of practice. It’s best known as a disease of sailors centuries ago who went on lengthy voyages without access to fresh fruit. But after I started taking mega-doses of Vitamin C, my gums grew back. I also had to make weekly trips to the dentist to fill all the cavities I had.

Shock Treatments

I was at Pontiac for only a short time when they made me have shock treatments (AKA: electroconvulsive therapy, ECT, electroshock, or, simply, shock). The treatments always began with a heavy male nurse giving me a shot of scopolamine in the butt to prevent me choking on my saliva or vomiting during the procedure. Then, he had me put on a loose-fitting hospital gown, had me wait in an unheated bedroom (it was winter!) where others were waiting, and locked the door. I couldn’t help shaking from the cold and thinking about what horrible thing was going to happen next!

It wasn’t long before the door opened again, and the male nurse started calling us out into the hall, one-by-one.  Each time, I started to panic, thinking it would be me. Sometimes I heard loud screaming in the hall, and suddenly it would stop. I wondered just what was going on. Once or twice, somebody refused to go, and two big men came in and carried them out screaming. Finally, it was my turn, and I went out in the hallway. There was a stretcher with a white sheet and pillow, and people were standing around it.

As I described in 2020:

“I had to lie down on a stretcher, and then the doctor would wrap a tourniquet around my arm and have me make a fist. Then he injected me with something and released the tourniquet. In seconds, I couldn’t breathe. It was so terrifying and painful it goes beyond words to describe! … Later, I found out the doctor must have injected me with a muscle relaxant (e.g., succinylcholine chloride, known as Quelicin or Anectine) without putting me to sleep first. A muscle relaxant is used to paralyze muscles, including those that pump the lungs. Putting a strong electrical current through someone’s head causes a convulsion of the entire body, and without the muscle relaxant could break bones.”

Nobody I talked to afterwards would believe somebody would do this to me! Years later, I came across it in Peter Breggin, M.D.’s book, Electroshock: Its Brain-Disabling Effects (1979, Pp. 167-8): “…A particularly terrifying ECT technique is the administration of modified ECT without prior sedation to render the patient unconscious. If the patient is not unconscious at the time of the injection of the neuromuscular blocking agent, he remains awake while unable to move a muscle or to breathe immediately before being knocked out by the electric current… I have come across two cases in which patients… were given ECT without first rendering them unconscious. One of my patients died… The other patient…vividly recalled a horrible sensation of suffocating or drowning just before losing consciousness during ECT.”

Brain Damage

I complained about shock treatments and brain damage so much to my therapist, he sent away for my records from Pontiac to see what they said. They didn’t say anything about shock treatments being given to me in any unusual ways, but they did say I had between 20-30 bilateral ECTs—a high number of the most damaging kind!

Here is how I described what happened afterwards in my first article: “[For a long time I] had to struggle to find the words to say simple things. What came out wasn’t always what I wanted, but something that rhymed or was similar in some way. Likewise, I had a hard time finding words when I was working on school papers, and a lot of trouble with spelling, punctuation, and grammar… With some effort I’d been an “A” and “B” student at my high school before I was placed in the state hospital, but after I eventually returned I had to struggle to get “B’s” and “C’s.” A big chunk of my past learning was lost, and it was much harder to learn new things.”

Many years later, I learned that there is a word for this: aphasia.

The Grip of Terror!

When I returned to my high school after being at Pontiac, I couldn’t stop the painful thoughts about Pontiac and shock treatments that kept coming into my head. I had trouble concentrating on what was going on in class and doing my homework. At times it was so intense I’d walk into a busy street without paying attention to what was going on. Sometimes people walking by saved me just in the nick of time, or else drivers stopped just before they hit me. I also had trouble going to sleep and terrifying dreams at night. Things were so bad for a time, I thought I’d end up committing suicide. Even now—over sixty years on—I still have daily thoughts about Pontiac and nightmares about being lost and someone making me feel like dirt that remind me of how I felt back there.

Was this a new mental disorder or more of the same? When I was having so many terrifying thoughts and dreams, there wasn’t a specific psychiatric diagnosis for it.  Then, whatever problems I had the state hospital would say were “schizophrenia.” Now, it probably would be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is defined in the DSM-5 as happening after “exposure to actual or threatened death.” It is described as involving recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive recollections of the event … intrusive, vivid, sensory, and emotional components, that are distressing… [and] distressing dreams that replay the event itself or that are representative or thematically related to the major threats involved in the traumatic event.”

Pontiac Loses Accreditation; Forced to Close!

I thought there was so much wrong with Pontiac, it should be closed immediately. But at the time I was there that was like banging your head against the wall.  It wasn’t until 19 years later that it lost its accreditation and 18 years after that it finally closed. How did it survive so long and what brought it down?

According to Gerald H. Smith, D.P.A. (“The Rise and Decline of Mental Health Hospitals in the State of Michigan,” doctoral dissertation, Western Michigan University, 1992): Limited financial resources, a defensive administrative approach to problem solving, accusations of insensitivity, and the like, have been major drawbacks… [T]he mental health bureaucracy deserved much of the blame for problems.”

Boyce Rensberger, writing for The Detroit Free Press (“Penny Pinching Hamper Mental Health Programs,” Feb. 4, 1969), wrote that “few citizens and legislators really care whether the mentally afflicted get decent care and treatment. Even fewer understand the nature of the problem… [T]he popular conception of mental illness is still one of incurability. Legislators tend to reflect this attitude in their appropriations for the state hospitals.”

So, what did a committee of state legislators find out when they suddenly showed up at Pontiac after so many years of their hands-off?

“A group of state legislators Friday made a surprise inspection of the large state mental hospital in Pontiac and found encrusted dirt in the wards, a lack of proper treatment programs, staff shortages, and what appeared to be excessive use of sedatives…Dr. Robert Braun, representing the hospital administration, did not dispute most of the legislator’s findings.” (Kirk Cheyfitz, “Legislators Find Filth at Hospital,” The Detroit Free Press, Feb. 7, 1976).

The legislators were followed a few years later by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH). “The state-run Clinton Valley Center [Pontiac was renamed The Clinton Valley Center in 1973] has lost accreditation… Clinton Valley director Anthony Drabki said the institution will not appeal the Commission’s Actions. [He] said the state legislature will have to provide money to make the extensive improvements called for… The Commission found the center had too few pharmacists, trained nurses, and vocational rehabilitation programs… Patients in wards found doing nothing or pacing the wards… In addition, the Commission found the center did not meet fire and electrical safety standards.” (Staff Writers, “Clinton Valley Adult Center Loses its Accreditation,” The Detroit Free Press, Aug. 31, 1979).

“[Michigan] Governor Milliken has recommended increasing next year’s mental health budget by $9 million to prevent the closing of the Clinton Valley Center and two other state care centers…[Patrick] Babcock [Director of the Department of Mental Health], said state hospitals and other care center are now operating ‘far below acceptable care levels…’ Babcock said he recommended closing the…facilities to prevent care levels from dropping even further…”  (Patricia Chargot and Martin F. Kohn, “Aid Sought for Mental Care Centers,” The Detroit Free Press, Aug. 18, 1982).

Clinton Valley never received the funding from the state it needed to upgrade its facility and programs to meet Joint Commission standards. In addition, it lost its eligibility for Medicaid, Medicare, federal grants, and private insurance when it lost its accreditation. After a protracted battle to stay open, it was forced to close in 1997 and was demolished in 2000.

Too Little Justice, Too Late

After seeing what The Detroit Free Press and the other sources had to say, I am encouraged that my recollections of Pontiac were substantially correct. Its loss of accreditation made clear that the care provided by Pontiac/Clinton Valley was substandard. I would certainly agree with this from my own experiences. The newspaper articles I quoted don’t confirm many of the details of my story, but I think they show that Pontiac was a place where these kinds of things could happen. There are those who would try to deny, minimize, or justify the unjustifiable, but I feel stronger in what I believe about Pontiac than ever.

The Detroit Free Press did an excellent job in bringing to light the conditions at Pontiac, its loss of accreditation, and closing. I thought it made a big mistake, though, by not investigating the violence at the hospital. I’m sure it was there! I experienced it myself, and I saw others being beaten and humiliated. (Detroit’s other major newspaper, The Detroit News, didn’t have an online archive for the years I was interested in.)

As things now stand, it looks like so many got away with so much, and patients and families were left to cope on their own with the harm Pontiac did. Those working there clearly reneged on their professional responsibilities and ethical obligations. In cases involving assault on patients, they also broke the law.

Can Pontiac ever be held accountable? The statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges or a lawsuit to seek damages would have expired for many or most who were there. But it is still not too late to contact former patients and find out what they have to say about the hospital and the care they received. I’d also include anyone who’d been a patient at Michigan’s other publicly funded mental hospitals.  Hopefully, it would help bring closure on the harm done to patients and their families, provide more information about the history of Michigan’s publicly funded mental hospitals, and give warning to those seeking to solve today’s problems by the large-scale re-institutionalization of the mentally ill. Other states doubtlessly had similar problems in their public mental health system, and they would be interested as well.

Perhaps President John F. Kennedy said it best at the signing of the Community Mental Health Act in 1963: “I believe that the abandonment of the mentally ill and the mentally retarded to the grim mercy of custodial institutions too often inflicts on them and on their families a needless cruelty which this Nation should not endure.”

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Micheal.

    And I agree, “Perhaps President John F. Kennedy said it best at the signing of the Community Mental Health Act in 1963: ‘I believe that the abandonment of the mentally ill and the mentally retarded to the grim mercy of custodial institutions too often inflicts on them and on their families a needless cruelty which this Nation should not endure.'”

    Especially since JFK’s own family did this to women in their own family. Destroying the paternalistic “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” is a difficult thing to do.

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    • My mother was a patient at Pontiac Psychiatric hospital in the 1950’s . I was was two years old when she came home in 1959 She was in a terrible mental state. She suffered from severe mental amd physical abuse that she experienced while at Pontiac. She told of the electric shock treatments which were done on her many times over the course of the seven years she was a patient there. She also told of severe physical and mental abuse that she suffered at the hands of the the attendants and nurses. She went through hell during her time there.

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  2. I served a thirty days to life sentence at Weston State Hospital in West Virginia. It was an excruciating time with absolutely nothing to do. It closed in the early 1990s. It was turned into a tourist attraction and given its original name The Trans Allegheny Lunitic Asylum.

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  3. Michael,

    Thank goodness you made it out of psychiatry’s hellhole alive.

    Although most of psychiatry’s so-called “asylums” were emptied, its power to harm with impunity remains as it’s still a safe place for people to practice cruelty with impunity — malicious or not — it just adopted more socially acceptable methods and guises.

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  4. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC), a nonpartisan citizen’s watchdog agency, has the same grim picture of Pontiac on an article on their website as I do in my article and paint the same grim picture of public mental hospitals in the past in Michigan. According to Karly Abramson and Meredith Eis, “While there were many good reasons to close-down the inhumane ‘insane asylums’ of yesteryear, doing so without providing the necessary infrastructure and funding to build and maintain alternative, community-based sources of treatment has left Michigan with a broken system that too often fails those in need of help.” Michigan Falls Short on Mental Health Services – Citizens Research Council of Michigan (crcmich.org)

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  5. “…you were there over 60 years ago. Why not just forget about it?”

    First of all, this was a powerful way to discuss the beginnings of your experiences. Unfortunately it is still the attitude of most people who do not want to wake up & smell the proverbial roses.
    I appreciate that you shared your experiences. While it’s possible to allow time to heal, there’s nothing forgettable about what you shared.

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    • Yes, you are so right.
      Only the beginning of the experience, that sentenced people to a life walk, in hell.
      The closest a person can ever come to healing …. is for the Truth to be recognized.
      I believe the day will come. “This” is only a glimpse, that the day is surely coming, and the Truth can no longer be ignored.

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  6. September 14, 2023
    Karley Abramson, Citizens Research Council of Michigan [email protected]
    Dear Ms. Abramson,
    In researching my own story as a patient at the Pontiac State Hospital/Clinton Valley Center for “Mad in America,” (https://www.madinamerica.com/2023/06/state-hospital-memories-more-story/), I ran across the article you wrote, “Michigan Falls Short on Mental Health,” for the Citizens Research Council, Aug.13 2020. (https://crcmich.org/michigan-falls-short-on-mental-health-services). You wrote in your article: “… there were many good reasons to close-down the inhumane ‘insane asylums’ of yesteryear.”
    Pontiac (renamed Clinton Valley Center in 1973) lost its accreditation in 1979. When the legislature failed to come up with the money needed to bring the hospital up to where it would meet standards for accreditation, it was finally forced closed in 1997. Because of its long list of problem, it left not only myself but countless other victims who suffered irreparable harm.
    Just yesterday, Donna (no last name given) commented on my MIA article: “Mr. Sturman,I have testimony I think you will be interested in. I’m retired, and don’t have internet. I was in there and have my testimony in writing. Can I send it to you?” Lacking any way of doing anything with her evidence myself, I suggested she contact the Citizens Research Council, an independent research organization to bring about changes in governmental policy in Michigan.
    Similar situations no doubt exist elsewhere in this country and abroad. Recently, a mental health consultant to the State of Victoria in Australia recommended that victims of abuse in public mental health hospitals there be given an apology and compensation for the damages they suffered. (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-06-13/mental-health-mistreatment-calls-for-redress-apology/102468454). The report also acknowledged the depth of pain experiences by patients and called for the establishment of a restorative justice process where those who suffered would be offered a public forum to present their grievances.
    I was wondering if anyone has thought of something like this for former Michigan State Hospital patients? It is the height of injustice to let so many to get absolutely nothing from the Department of Mental Health! Could you help bring this about?
    Michael E. Sturman, M.A.

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  7. Mr. Sturman,
    It has been 30 years, for me.
    I was 37, with an 11 year career, in Ophthalmology and living a wonderful life.. I didn’t have any psychotic break,
    and I was not on drugs. The truth is,
    I was assaulted by my neighbor while
    his wife watched. The following day, I was strapped down to a gurney and taken to Clinton Valley by way of, a malicious concoction of lies, written by the woman.
    I still have the original court documents
    that put me in there. There is not a person on this planet, that ever saw or knew me, as the woman depicted in the court documents. If I were truly the woman depicted, I would be doing the “thorazine shuffle”, with the “tardive dysconsia jerk”, suffering with dystonia, laying in the streets somewhere, in jail …. or most likely dead …. a way long time ago.

    I, am the fortunate one …. my parents and my brother got me out of there, the very day that I was scheduled to be strapped down and injected with psychotic drugs. Just, in the nick of time.
    It is the treatments and drugs, that have fogged the minds of patients and their testimonials. It is the treatments and drugs, that makes the world question and doubt.
    I was not on drugs when I was taken there …. and they didn’t get the chance to inject me.
    To know me, is to know a very modest
    woman, who prides herself in cleanliness, and tastefully dressed, in fine clothing. Self conscious to the point, that I am satisfied by what I see in my mirror, before going out into public.
    I was “paraded” around the dining room at mealtime, where though in separate wards, the men and women “dined” all together …. with blood soaked light grey yoga shorts, with blood gushing down my legs to my ankles and feet …
    You are right, Mr. Sturman ….. we were not allowed to relieve ourselves or take care of our personal hygiene. My “doctor” told me, “I know, how about I take a bunch of toilet paper and stuff it up you?” Word verbatim.
    Believe me, if there was even toilet paper to use, I’d have done it myself!
    I’m not on drugs and my mind is very well intact. I remember it, as if it happened not yesterday, today …..
    Mr. Sturman … I’ve been 30 years, on a journey that can only be described as “Hell and high waters” ….
    30 years, of deaf ears ….
    and I’m sure you understand, not knowing who, to trust.
    To come across your testimonial,
    Dear sir …. it is an honor, to know you
    exist. From Clinton Valley, to Dr. of
    Psychology? ….. a child of 16?
    I don’t cry for me; I cry for you.
    The deplorable conditions that you were in, with peeling paint and all, were the very same deplorable conditions I was in, 30 years later. Dare I say, if anything, they were worse?
    Helpless people laying in urine and feces, incapable of bringing themselves up off the floor, to even ask to use the restroom …. so drugged, no one could even have any control of any bodily function, and even if you did …. and finally did get permission….even if you could stand …. by the time you were allowed, you had most likely been given no choice but, to wet yourself.
    There was no toilet paper, there was no soap, there was nothing for me to clean myself up. My mother smuggled me tampons, because she believed me, when I was finally allowed my phone call ….
    after she left, from my first visit ….
    I was allowed to use the restroom, where I took off my shorts, rinsed them
    in the water from the sink, using them as my washcloth, washing the blood off my body, and rinsing my blood stained shorts the best I could …. put them back on, and went quietly back in to the “dayroom”.
    Eventually they dried …. but the stains clearly still there.
    My mother …. my hero … didn’t waste a second, on getting my father and brother to do whatever it took, to get me out of there. I was in there from a Friday morning, to Monday.
    Being strapped down on a gurney for
    injections of psychotic drugs, and
    treatments …. were scheduled;
    Not, on weekends when visitors were visiting, in the pleasantly painted, whimsical, quiet, “sanctuary” with the humongous fishtank that the visitors visited their loved ones in …. unbeknownst to them …. the torture, the torment, the crimes against humanity ….
    the humiliation, the HORROR …. of which they could not see, or hear …..just on the other side of the giant steel door, of the visiting room.
    Besides, most doctors of any kind,
    like to enjoy their weekends….
    Pretty much all “treatments” are scheduled during the week ….. weekends are for emergencies. Just sayin’..
    The “head” Dr. committed me on a Friday morning….. he scheduled me to be strapped down to a gurney and injected with psychotics, on Monday.
    I don’t know how, my father and brother got me out of there ….. that’s practically impossible, once one has been committed ….. you’re looking at months of court proceedings…. and by then, who knows what shape, one’s mind could possibly be in?
    The doctor laughed at me, when he told me what he was going to do to me.
    I stayed my quiet self, I assure you,
    I was strickened, in fear.
    I don’t know, how my father and brother, got me out of there, but they got me out of there …. just in the nick ot time.
    Dr. Sturman is it?
    I would welcome, an evaluation from the highest respected Psychologists in this country…… as long as it isn’t, behind closed doors. I would welcome, a lie detector test …….. Whatever it takes …
    I pray, you are the one I can trust ….
    to open the door to giving my voice to the voiceless; because so far ….. no one seems to be listening.
    If you are, the one for me trust,
    You can call me ….
    Eternally Grateful.

    “This” is only, a summary, done by phone.
    There is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

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  8. Donna, I regret I have only my sympathy to give you! If things were working right, our testimony should go before the legislature and the courts, and we should receive an apology and compensation for our damages. And Pontiac/Clinton Valley should have been closed long before it was– if the state were acting in good conscience. The old 19th century building could never meet any kind of decent standards. But things are not working right. Not yet, anyways. I belong to http://ectjustice.com/, and am a friend of Deborah Schwartzkopff. She not too long ago won a settlement in a lawsuit against the manufacturer of ECT devices for failing to disclose the risk of their devices. She may have suggestions for you. You can contact her through the website. You could also write up your story for MIA. They are looking for personal account such as ours. Or you can contact, Felicia Brabec, Chairman of the Behavioral Health Committee at the Michigan Legislature. [email protected]. I am going to do so myself. I think we should have a chance to present our grievances to them as a means of moving forward, and not falling into the old mistakes of re-institutionalizing the mentally ill as some would have it.

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  9. Kind sir,
    The key word, is “yet”.
    I cannot express, my pleasure to
    to meet you.
    I feel it, truly my honor.
    I am, the Grandmother of 8,
    4 of whom, are my Great,
    with who knows how many more
    yet to come, but GOD?
    Along, with my own precious daughter,
    they are, the reason, I still breathe.
    I cannot imagine, what it has been
    to be you for the past 60 years …. just
    the “glimpse”, is too much for me ….
    It weakens me ….. inside of me, I am
    on my knees, weeping.
    My laptop, will be back online by Wed;
    corresponding this way, is rather
    frustrating …… over 12 hours for
    my reply to reach you, and the same.
    for you to reach me?. ….. I don’t know
    why, I’m finding it kind of funny!
    My father, is 94 fragile years old …..
    My siblings are arriving this evening,
    from all over the country …
    for a week long family reunion…
    introducing him, to grandchildren
    he will be meeting, for the very first time.
    Children meeting “playmates” they
    never knew, existed;
    I can hear their laughter already.
    I know, the burden you have carried,
    I know, the frustration.
    My 30 years cannot even come close
    to the weight of yours.
    This week is full to the brim, for me …
    I must put my phone down, and get ready.
    I will be back online,
    able to correspond efficiently
    with every lead you have given.
    Michael, what is the prognosis of a
    person, diagnosed as “schizoaffective
    disorder bipolar” …. after 30 years,
    without one pill or therapy?
    Deemed nothing less, than a woman
    frothing at the mouth, with some kind of
    “rabid” brain
    with the court documents to prove it.
    I sit, a retired woman ….. having earned myself a large enough monthly
    check, to meet all of my
    . . immediate needs.
    IMPOSSIBLE, unless of course, the court
    documents are clearly lies.
    How many schizoaffective people do
    you know, are mostly happy, not sad?
    Truly, I only thought, I was the
    happiest woman, that I could ever be ….
    before the lies were told about me.
    I didn’t know what it was, to be angry …
    Now, I am nothing less, than a human . volcano.
    I’m a 5’2″ small framed woman,
    I pass out at the sight of blood,
    most people have always been
    larger, than me.
    Violence, petrifies me.
    All that I have ever had, to defend
    myself ….
    throughout my entire life
    has been nothing, but words.
    I use my words; I use my intelligence
    I use my experience, and I use my knowledge……
    and when that doesn’t work,
    I speak in anger.
    Has this not been, to say the least …
    A mental war?
    You have been, in Father God’s HANDS
    all along, Michael….. just as surely
    as HE, has had me.
    I won’t disappoint you, I promise.
    Luke 12:2-5
    “Whatever is covered up, will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. So then, whatever you have said in the dark, will be heard in broad daylight,
    and whatever you have whispered in private , in a closed room; will be shouted from the house tops. ”
    GOD PROMISED ….
    and I do too.
    2 heads, are a whole lot stronger
    than one.
    I called it the “American Holocaust ”
    umpteen years ago …..
    that’s because it is.
    I have grandchildren, I have great.
    grandchildren;
    It’s not about me, it’s about them.
    Anybody behind the walls of that beast, could have been mine. My grandmother, my mother, my sister, my baby, my grandchildren, my father, my
    brother, my son, my friend.
    It’s not, about me …. it’s about saving,
    the babies.
    It is over my dead body, my babies
    will ever be fed, to the beast. I look forward, to further correspondence.

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  10. September 19, 2023
    TO: BEHAVIORAL HEALTH COMMITTEE, MICHIGAN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    Rep. Felicia Brabec, Chairman Behavioral Health Committee, Michigan House of Representatives (Felicia [email protected]), Rep. Noah Arbit, Majority Vice Chairman ([email protected]), Rep. Kathy Schmaltz, Minority Vice Chairman ([email protected]).

    CC: Laurie Pohutsky, member ([email protected]), Carol Glanville ([email protected]), Kimberly Edwards, member ([email protected]), Sharon MacDonald ([email protected]), Carrie Reingans, member ([email protected]), Mike Hoadly, member) ([email protected]), Alicia St. Germaine, member ([email protected]), Jamie Thompson, member ([email protected]).

    Dear Chairman Brabec and Committee Members:
    In 1960 I was a patient at the Pontiac State Hospital (renamed the Clinton Valley Center in 1973). Like many others who have been at the old public mental hospitals in Michigan, I’ve had to struggle with my own problems, the abuse I experienced, and the failure to receive adequate treatment over the years.
    On two previous occasions I’ve written about my experiences at Pontiac for “Mad in America.” (https://www.madinamerica.com/2020/01/committed-at-16-memories-state-hospital/and State Hospital Memories: More of My Story – Mad In America). For my second article, I also used the Detroit Free Press Archives to help verify my account.
    To give you a sense of the seriousness of what I’m talking about, these are some of the problems I had at Pontiac: a lack of heat in the bedrooms in winter, abuse in the administration of electroshock treatment, long-term memory and speech impairment, physical abuse by staff, lack of constructive use of my time, lack of age appropriate treatment (I was 16-17), severe loss of weight, multiple dental cavities, and Scurvy of the gums, and an overly heavy focus on somatic treatment, and failure to provide sufficient other treatment. (Please see the articles above for a more complete description of my difficulties).
    The Pontiac State Hospital/Clinton Valley lost its accreditation in 1979 for failing to meet minimum standards of care and was closed in 1997. But I found no indication in my research that the Department of Mental Health had ever apologized to its former patients who received substandard and/or abusive care over the years of its operation. Nor did I find that it has ever compensated anyone or had any plans to do so.
    Recently in Australia, recommendations were made to publicly apologize to former patients who experienced abuse and provide compensation. (Willingham, R., “Mistreated Victorian mental health patients should be given compensation and a public apology, report finds,” Australian Broadcasting Company, June 12, 2023, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-06-13/mental-health-mistreatment-calls-for-redress-apology/102468454). A mental health consultant with lived experience recommended that involuntary mental health patients in Victoria who suffered “gross human rights violations” should be offered financial compensation and a public apology. He also recommended setting up a restorative justice process, whereby former patients and caregivers would be given a chance to discuss publicly the trauma they suffered. The consultant also acknowledged, however, that if the Victoria government were to acknowledge the harm done it would be the first government in the world to do so.
    I hope that Michigan could also be a leader in restorative justice and reparations for the mentally ill. You might begin by sending out a questionnaire to former patients of public mental health hospitals (now closed) to determine their view of the treatment they received and the complaints they have. This would give you an idea of the magnitude of the problem and if further steps are necessary. The list might include Pontiac/Clinton Valley, Northville, Ypsilanti, Traverse City, Lafayette Clinic, Caro, Detroit Psychiatric Institute, and Eloise. I believe a sufficiently large number of surviving former patients could be found through newspapers notices or other means. After that, if you determine the problem is widespread and serious enough, you might want a subcommittee to interview some of them in detail. I would be willing to come myself if called upon.
    I know that Michigan is now experiencing a crisis in providing public mental health services to those in need. But I think a full accounting of the past would be important in understanding where you have come from, understanding past mistakes, and planning a better future for Michigan Mental Health. Taking account the viewpoints of former patients can always add something to any discussion of public mental health problems.
    Michael E Sturman, M.A., Psychology, Univ. Detroit, ’69. Eugene, OR.

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  11. Dear Mr Sturman,
    There was a book written on the institution just prior or just after it’s demolition. Meant to get a copy many years ago now. Probably didn’t due to trying to put the past in the past but found your writings and thoughts just now. It’s hard to put it behind one, isn’t it?
    I shall read over your articles thoroughly soon and comment on them.
    Please keep this email used with the comments private, but you can email me if you wish.

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  12. I am very interested in what you have to say about The Pontiac State Hospital/Clinton Valley. I would like some newspaper or other organization to do a study of the survivors of the old state priors who were patients there prior to the closures of 1979 or thereabouts and publish it. I think it would be quite revealing. I would also like to help bring about a restorative justice project where those surviving staff of Pontiac and the other old hospitals would make admissions of what really went on there and offer their apologies and surviving patients present their complaints, and the state legislature offer monetary damages to those who were hurt. You might also want to read a recent article in Mother Jones which also points to abusive and deficient care at public hospitals: https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2023/10/universal-health-services-reveal-podcast-foster-kids-uhs/

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