ANYTHING BUT A WASTED LIFE: THE MENTAL INSTITUTION

They stuck me in Unit Two. Unit One was for people who were less insane or less likely to hurt themselves. I was with the psychotic and endangered teens. It was surreal, to say the least. The endangered and bored messed with the loony. They were endless entertainment. Some of them had been locked up for well over ten years. We were angry, and they didn’t know better. Most of the kids were around my age, but some were much younger. There was a sweet twelve-year-old who had tried to hang herself—she still had the mark around her neck. I got the distinct feeling that some of the really young people were locked up due to the fact that their parents couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with them. I suppose the same could have been said for me, but I was living on my own, and was therefore a burden to no one.  

 

Inside this cement circus in the hood, we were forced to attend a billion meetings and therapy sessions. They were trying to fix us (or heal us...tomato, tomahto). We had to earn points in order to move to Unit One, which was more relaxed and where we weren’t on twenty-four seven watch. Earning points meant you had to have a good attitude and follow the rules. I had a shitty attitude and was anti-establishment. I stayed in Unit Two for a while.

 

None of the shared bedrooms had locks, which meant that the nutroll’s had free reign to go through your shit. One of the female lifers would leave messages for me on my nightstand that said things like, “God called for you.” She was a schizophrenic kleptomaniac. I think her name was Judy. Looking back, maybe she wasn’t as crazy as it seemed because her notes usually made me smile which was a rarity.

One monotonous day I was walking down the hall and saw her wearing one of my T-shirts. I got one of the guards. She had on five or six T-shirts, all safety pinned to her bra straps. We went to her room and found all kinds of items in her drawers, none of it belonging to her. Who knows how long she’d been working at that collection? That’s institutional living for you. The lithium shuffle. Kids on Ritalin. Cancer in the small enclosed smoking area with the only television. Peach walls. No hope. And the sound of gunfire outside the barred windows. I wasn’t getting better, just more morbid. I wrote down the lyrics to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight” and sent it to Marty, my mom’s old drug dealer friend, anonymously. Classic teen move.

 

Coupled with losing my freedom, I was in extreme pain for the first week. Apparently I’d had a serious urinary tract infection that I had ignored. I wondered why it was difficult and painful to pee, but I just assumed it was the mushrooms or acid. I was put on antibiotics, a mild painkiller, and cranberry juice. They’d call me up to the nurses’ station and watch me take the pills and drink my juice. It was very One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

 

The only thing I liked about Gladman was bingo night. Every Saturday night we played bingo in the dining hall. Playing bingo with the mentally unstable is comical, but also frustrating. Someone yells, “Bingo!” every five minutes. You don’t have bingo, freakshow, so stop yelling it. I won a pair of striped tube socks. I kept those socks for years. 

 

 

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