So, I recently spent ten days at Butler. For those of you outside Rhode Island, Butler is a mental hospital. Going to Butler is local slang for crazy. Yes, I was locked up in the nuthouse…again. The third time was not the charm for me. I attempted to kill myself for the third time. Who knew it was so frickin’ hard to do?
That event earned me a no expenses paid, ten day incarceration in the loony bin. I’ve written before about how we treat the mentally ill in our society. Sadly, I am becoming something of an expert on “secure mental health facilities.” Maybe I should sell t-shirts…Darren’s Nuthouse World Tour! I will say Butler was the best of my experiences with nuthouses. I’ll follow by saying it is atrocious and appalling. Imagine what that suggests about the other two facilities I’ve visited.
I made the mistake of failing to kill myself on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. As the substitute shrink informed me on Saturday, he didn’t really do anything except monitor. Yes, he really earned a doctorate to tell customers he didn’t do anything. So, I was locked up for four days before the real shrink even came to work. Here’s an essential problem with mental health care: I used the word “customer.” The industry doesn’t. They operate with a sense of self important entitlement. It is actually a pretty effective business model. They can force their customers to utilize their services. I recently received the bill for my forced stay. I didn’t get a discount for the reduced services of their holiday weekend.
All nuthouses are carefully designed to remove anything with which the inmates might harm themselves. All the doors are locked. That is half of the “treatment.” They then load the inmates up with drugs. That is the treatment: chemicals and a cage. Everything else is distraction and lowest common denominator, one size fits all “therapy.” In my experience, the lowest common denominator is a double digit IQ crack whore. While she certainly needs and deserves help, I’m not going to get the same therapeutic benefit from finger painting that she is.
Yes, finger painting is what passes for therapy in such places. My “therapy” in Butler included making an “emotion collage,” making bowls with hodge podge, coloring, baking cookies, and foot soaks. My favorite was making a picture with shaving cream and food coloring. This was facilitated by the occupational therapist. She seemed taken aback when I didn’t want to make a second one. She was downright offended when I threw away the first. One day we had animal therapy. They brought in a wheezy, runny eyed Pug that did nothing except try to hump the inmate’s legs. They take attendance at these “therapy” sessions. When asked why, one of the jailors had the audacity to say they want to see how much the inmates are contributing to their own treatment. They provide chemicals, a cage, and finger painting and imply the patients don’t do enough to help themselves.
I used the word “inmate.” They frown upon that. I was admonished more than once for using the term. Each time I was corrected I asked if they’d open the front door for me. I found it pretty funny. The staff…not so much. In fairness, except for the psychiatrists, the staff at Butler were all earnest and seemed sincere in wanting to help the inmates. I wondered how much kool aid a highly educated person needed to drink to actually believe that coloring pictures would help even the toothless, tweaking meth head.
Occasionally we would have rudimentary but actual therapy sessions. I enjoyed when three people got pissed off and stormed out of the Anger Management class. A couple times we had group therapy. It was more like group misery with each inmate attempting to one up the last in how shitty their lives were. One inmate mentioned sadness about her mother dying. That began a series of people lamenting the loss of loved ones. It culminated with a fifty something guy saying, “Well, my college girlfriend died!” Perhaps that was a traumatic event that had haunted him his whole life. Since it was his third trip to Butler, I would offer him as exhibit A in the failure of their methods.
My daily meeting with my shrink generally consisted of this conversation:
“How are you today, Darren?”
“Do I get to leave today?
“Then, I’m shitty.”
Each day she told me I needed to get better before I could leave. I asked her to define “better.” She said more of a will to live. I asked how she would measure that. She said it would take a breakthrough that would come with a lot of hard work. I’ve never understood what shrinks mean by “hard work.” I wasn’t allowed to go outside and/or have power tools so I couldn’t go dig a ditch or lay a brick wall. She said I would know it, and she would certainly know it, when I reached my “breakthrough.” My fate was in the hands of a psychic armed with crayons. About five days in she asked me if I was getting any benefit from being there. I said no. Armed with that information, she kept me another five days. It would seem the extended stay was merely punitive or revenue driven. Once she said she was concerned about me harming myself if I left. In the absence of an observable “breakthrough” what we had to go on was my assurance that I would not and my family’s assurance that I wouldn’t even be given the opportunity and that I would be brought right back if there was any hint of risk. The shrink didn’t find that adequate. Breakthrough or nothing! I pointed out that the recidivism rate was about 80% which would indicate the “treatment” wasn’t really helping anyone. She denied it was that high, and I offered to survey the inmates. My offer was not appreciated.
In actuality, their treatment is highly effective at its intended purpose. That purpose is to remove the nut jobs from society’s view and keep them from killing themselves until their insurance runs out. In fairness to my shrink, it was my third attempt at suicide. My own recidivism rate is high. However, short of locking me up forever, did the extra five days really help me? I would argue that I left Butler in worse mental health than when I arrived. Further, the ten day length of stay was entirely arbitrary. I did not have a breakthrough. I did not exhibit any change in demeanor or mood that led to my release.
I don’t like being contained. I don’t like being indoors. I don’t like being around a lot of people. I especially don’t like being around crazy people. Incidentally, I have used the terms “nut jobs” and “crazy” freely. This is not meant to be disparaging. I know I am one of the nut jobs. The term helps me confront my mental illness. Anyway, locking me away there was arguably the worst possible thing that could have been done for me, but I don’t have a doctorate in head shrinking and a revenue budget to make.
Inmates came and went, but this is a representative sample of whom I was locked away with. There was Anger Management guy. He never went more than an hour without bursting into rage and yelling and threatening people. There were the Crack Whores. There were always a few of them. They were drug addicts with serious chips on their shoulders who would threaten to kill you for almost any perceived sleight…or for changing the channel away from Jerry Springer. There was Jabba the Hut; an immensely obese schizophrenic, diabetic, religious nut job. There were the Walking Dead. These were the patients so doped up on meds that they walked around with glazed eyes and drooling out of their open mouths. There were the Desperate Housewives. They checked themselves in because life in Barrington had become just soooo overwhelming. There was the Deranged Smurf. He made laps around and around the unit talking into an AM radio as if it were a cell phone and occasionally cackling like a muppet on meth. There were the Suicide Jockeys of which I was one. We were sullen, morose, and tried to avoid everyone.
My most favorite was my roommate, Captain Crazy. Remember the old cartoon Captain Caveman? He kind of looked like him. Captain Crazy collected things. One morning he had every horizontal surface in our room covered with cups of juice. He always had several books from the bookshelf. He didn’t read them. He just stacked them then every few hours exchanged them for different ones. Captain Crazy stayed up all night, with the lights on, listening to heavy metal music while staring at the wall and mumbling. He went ape shit if I turned off the light. I think the staff were just resigned to him so I listened to Motley Crue all night long. The only way I could sleep is if I asked to be drugged up.
One morning, around 4:00 a.m. Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” came on Captain Crazy’s radio. I watched as he swayed back and forth and sang along in his mumble….Ma moin moff ma mails on mah mazy main. Witnessing that was almost worth being locked up. I laughed so hard the staff came to investigate.
Other than perhaps the Desperate Housewives, all of those people have serious illness. How many are being helped by shaving cream art? Some should probably be locked up for their own and society’s wellbeing. For most, the incarceration is just avoiding addressing their issues. At some arbitrary point, all of them will be released. Are they any better when they depart? Are they any better equipped to deal with their illness, their grief, and the pressures of life? Will they cling to their emotion collage as a map to success in the real world? Did the wheezing Pug that humped their leg provide enough calm to overcome the next offer to get high? Is the accomplishment of making a bowl out of glue and paper enough to propel them into employment? Since most will end up back in Butler, it would seem the answers are obvious.
Butler’s Delmonico 4 (that’s the nuthouse) did not help me. I doubt it helps anyone except whomever deposits the two grand per day they charge the inmates.