Excerpts from Driftwood Chapter 8: A Mental Hosptial
Context: I was told I’d only be leaving the children’s shelter if I went to jail, a mental hospital, or a group home if I was lucky. My second stop: A mental hospital. Reason: hours into a shelter “lock out” I got terrified as night fell in the dangerous neighborhood where the shelter was housed and banged on the door for them to let me in. When they wouldn’t. I threw a rock at the window of the shelter.
Standard intake. After the processing in, I was put in a van and driven to the teen unit. We pulled up next to a fenced-in basketball goal on a 10×10 blacktop (I don’t know If it was 10×10, but it was smaller than the isolation outdoor areas that you see in prison movies). The teen unit intake consisted of me being given the Bob Barker special (minus the sandpaper sheets) and walked to my room. I don’t really remember being forced to squat and cough, so I am assuming it didn’t happen. Did have the burning lice shampoo again, this time I had all of 20 pubes to put it on. Awe, little Zeda was growing up.
It was late. No time for a tour. We walked to the living area where, across from a staff member filling out charts, there was a boy sitting on a bed in the hallway next to the door to his room. A 13-year-old Jewish boy with jet black hair, oddly pale yet olive skin, sunken eyes with huge dark circles, and red pouty lips. He had a bandage on one of his forearms. His name was Ben. Ben Levin. When he saw me enter the area, Ben yelled out “Welcome to Georgia Regional, AKA, the Nuthouse!” I didn’t know it then, but that dude was gonna end up changing my world so many times, I eventually lost count.
I don’t know how to describe the place. It looked like a mental hospital. Imagine a giant square space split down the middle. One side for girls, one side for boys and offices. Half the rooms on the girl’s side were dedicated bedrooms, about 4 ish each housing 4 girls. Same as on the boy’s side. The beds were rubber mats on wooden bed frames that had cubbies underneath for you to put your clothing if you had any. They had these distinct sheets. I don’t know if they were mental hospital standards or group home standards, but I saw them everywhere I went in the foster system except shelters. They were this weird burgundy brown red and blue semi camo quasi striped hideous pattern. They were super kind of comfy though. Not really, but I got used to them.
We were usually separated by gender only at night, one of the rare facility placements where girls and guys got to interact. If they were short-staffed or if there weren’t enough kids to fill the beds on both units, they would bring us all to one side or the other to sleep. We’d have to roll up our bed/mats and grab our sheets and move. This was annoying as hell. You would think that we would be eager to sleep in the same area as the males but all it meant was the staff were hypervigilant. We’d have to leave our doors open at night and staff would constantly do walkthroughs to check and make sure we weren’t sneaking in each other’s rooms. Just kidding. They didn’t care. They were asleep half the time.
Not all, but some of the kids would end up fucking right under their noses, doors wide open. That’s what made it annoying. Having to try and sleep with sex sounds from the bed next to you and the light from the day area making it so the rooms never actually got dark. At least when we were split on our own sides we could shut the doors. I am a girl. It was the mid-90s and just about every teenage white girl decided they were bisexual—like it was a badge of honor or something—so.. yea… girls were always fucking each other so you couldn’t really get away from the sex sounds.
Now just to be clear. I am not saying there is anything wrong with bisexuality or that there is something wrong with white girls. It’s just…the black girls… you know for all the Lil Kim music, black girls were still super sexually repressed and in general pretty homophobic. You’d have to be a very “butch” lesbian to even have the courage to come out of the closet if you ever even did back then. Black girls would eventually catch up on the fluid, hypersexuality of the white girls but… yea… The 90s were a weird time.
Anyway, down a wall that connected each wing to the outside were these things called “Seclusion Rooms” I think that was the name there. In different places, they had different names, but essentially, they were like the padded rooms you see on shows about mental wards…only without the padding and a lot smaller. Like the size of a small closet in a garden apartment. The seclusion rooms here didn’t have windows on their giant heavy doors, I think they were metal. At least I don’t remember windows on the doors. Other places had plexiglass windows on the doors.
The only reason I am confused about this is because I remember when the lights were on in there, they were blinding. The lights would refract from the white walls and make the room so bright it was desensitizing. When they turned the lights off and just left you in there for hours (and they would leave you in there for hours and hours and hours) it was pitch black sans the little bit of light that came from underneath the doors.
It was like sensory warfare in there. No bed to sit on, no chair, no bench, just an empty room with white-painted cedar block walls and filthy white tile floors. Both the walls and the floors of those rooms were covered in etched graffiti (from snuck in staples and pencils), blood, and buggers. Lotta snot and buggers. And bloodstains from restraints gone bad. I’ll explain restraints in a bit.
Splitting the middle of the boy’s and girl’s hall was the shower area, where kids would sneak off to fool around and a room called 5 points. 5 points was a restraint area where they tied you to a gurney-like-cross thing with your head, arms, (torso), and legs strapped down. When they did that, they would leave you tied down like that for hours and hours and hours in the dark. There was also a 4-points restraint chair. That’s where they tie you to a chair by your ankles, (torso) and wrists and left you there for hours and hours and hours. You know, the like the torture devices they use in Guantanamo Bay.
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, especially if you work in mental health. The kids there are mentally ill. If one gets out of control these areas were necessary. I don’t agree. First of all, the worst mental illness in our ward was maybe pseudo anorexia. Like girls who started purging or not eating AFTER massive weight gain from psych meds. I will get to that. Some kids were self-harming and cutting. But I don’t think slamming a child to the ground and injecting them with drugs then tying them to beds helped that. In fact, like my friend Ben, kids who were prone to self-harm would purposely get restrained to harm themselves. It’s like suicide by cop but without the media coverage.
You didn’t have to do much to get restrained, just refuse to enter/leave an area when staff instructed you to or call a staff member’s mom a bitch and suddenly you’d be swarmed by a half dozen staff members you didn’t even know where there. They’d violently throw you to the ground, put their knees into your back, shoulders, arms, or neck, and if they were in a particularly bad mood, punch you a few times telling you to be compliant or stop resisting. Then a nurse would come out of the nurse’s station and give you a shot in the ass. After that, the staff would hoist you up, carry (drag) you to seclusion, and throw you on the ground, holding you there till you agreed to be still so that they could leave and lock you in.
If you didn’t agree to chill out so they could peacefully leave, they’d drag you across the floor to the back of the wall and run out still hitting and pushing you back till they could lock you in. If the Thorazine didn’t knock you out fast enough or if you banged on the door or screamed too long to the point that you irritated them, they’d come back, restrain you again, and then take you to 4 points or 5 points.
That’s “Mental Health” care in the foster system. You don’t get bullshit like this in fancy “respite” treatment facilities for the rich. Nah, they get yoga, meditation, and group therapy and non-fat chai latte smoothies in those places. If these measures were so necessary to maintain “crazy” kids then why don’t rich kids have to deal with it in their fancy “recovery” places. No, this was the poor kid special. Control. Dominate. Break. Even in cases where a kid’s behavior necessitated being put in one of those rooms (ex-fights/attacking staff). The stabilization room made everything worse. You learned to be violent because even if you weren’t you still got the same shit. At least if you fought the staff, you could get a few punches and kicks in as they were throwing you around.
And like I said, it was sensory warfare in there. The glaring lights, the near pitch-black darkness. You could hear kids slamming themselves against the doors and walls. Some kids would try and bash their heads on the hard door to force the staff to let them out of that room. It was much better to just sit/lay in 4points/5points. A lot of the lashing out in those rooms were kids trying to fight off the effects of the Trazadone shots they would give you in the ass before throwing you in. Yea, you could get a little high off it, but it was more that no one wanted to fall asleep on those nasty floors and wake up with bugs, blood, or buggers in their hair.
As for the issue of 4 and 5 points. Is there really in any way justify restraining restrain children in the same way the military restrains and tortures terrorists? At least they didn’t put bags over our heads like the indigenous kids get in Australia…though, sometimes, if you did something stupid like spit at the staff while they strapped you in, they would put cloths over our faces in 5 points restraints and leave them there. It was annoying, laying there trying to blow a piece of cloth off your nose cause it was itchy.
The fact that staff would leave kids strapped in those chairs and gurney’s for hours is also super unethical. It wasn’t like the staff went “oh, the kid stopped screaming, sounds like the Trazadone kicked let’s take them to bed.” They’d leave you there for hours, usually till shift change. Sometimes you would fall asleep in there because of the Thorazine and wake up the next day still strapped down.
Then there is the issue of why we were put in those restraint areas. The staff were never wrestling children away from killing themselves or someone else. I mean there were maybe 2 fights on the male side when I was there. All the furniture was bolted down so it’s not like anyone was throwing tables or chairs thus posing a real threat if they had an anger outburst. Nope. It usually boiled down to not following directions or getting on the staff’s nerves. The entire time I was there, there was honestly just one kid (Ben) who ever actually banged his head or body against the door in seclusion enough to warrant being put in a 5 points restraint to protect him from himself. But just about all of us ended up in that restraint “bed” at some point.