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A walk down history lane

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Root_(Pennsylvania)

The above link,  is to a page in Wikipedia about a man named Joe Root who spent some time living off the land in Erie, PA on Presque Isle.  By now you may be wondering why I’m including this here since it seems like it wouldn’t apply to the general topic of this blog.  Well, it kind of does apply.  Joe Root, from what little I’ve read about him, apparently was an entertainer, and kids loved his ventrilloqy.  Aside from entertaining children, it seems that Joe Root was a bit of a dreamer and came up with ideas like starting a feather factory among other ideas that others would listen to but seemed to find them o be more amusing then anything.  I don’t know what kind of violence occurred, but some say that Joe Root was actually the victim of it some speculate it was to prevent him from collecting squater’s rights on Presque Isle.  The details of the incident that I’ve found have been more like implied statements then anything, but they do indicate that because of this vaguely described violance, Joe Root was sent to Warren State Hospital in Warren, PA.  He spent the rest of his life there from the sounds of things but was said to have repeatedly asked to return to his home on Presque Isle.

So when did this occurr?  well based on Wikipedia, He lived on Presque Isle in the early 1900’s and was comitted to Warren State Hospital then known as “The State Hospital for the Insane at Warren, PA”  the name was later changed to Warren Stae Hospital sometime around 1920 if memory serves me right.  Anyway, Joe Root was committed there and died in 1912.

I guess my reason for sharingthis, is to give folks an idea of how in many ways there has been some if not a lot of progress in how folks with mental illnesses are treated today compared to then in the early days of Warren State.  at that time people could be sent to a state hospital for just about any reason that anyone else thought made the person being comitted seem to not conform to society and while Joe Root seems like the kind of guy we might refer to as eccentric today, at the time, something occurred and someone didn’t agree with what happened probably claimed he was insane (using terminology for the time period) and under the authority of one person like a doctor, law enforcement or anyone that had any kind of authority he was sent to Warren State where I’m guessing he died since he died in 1912 just 2 years after he arrived at Warren State.  Today it takes a team of people to have someone admitted to a state hospital, and in the current goal is to have the person ready for discharge in roughly 6 months to a year.  Today, Joe Root would have needed to have been evaluated by a physician, and met certain criteria before he could have been admitted to Warren State.   There is a lot more to the process, but there are more steps and criteria that need to be taken and met then there once was.

For folks who are in the mental health system receiving treatment, yes, there are many changes occurring and  yes at this pointstate hospitals still exist, but to be sent to one isn’t as easy as it once was, and length of stay is much shorter on average then it was at the time that Joe Root was comitted.

I will close by saying that yes, treatment is better for folks with mental illnesses then it once was, but at the same time as with anything, I feel there is always room for improvement.

Disclaimer:  While I am currently researching the History of Warren State Hospital, I have many questions left unanswered and Joe Root is just one piece of the puzzle.  I do not intend this blog entry to be a precise or complete history, but rather a summary of things I’ve been reading about and some of my own thoughts based on experiences I have had in my own life.  In short this is an opinion post based on many pieces of information.  The information about Joe Root mostly came from Wikipedia, but some of what I said in regards to what the process of him ending up at Warren state is purely speculation based on my limited knowledge of how the system functioned at that time.  I welcome any information anyone wants to send my way, and to be honest am really kind of intrigued with Joe Root’s story so he is someone I’m looking further into. 

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A visit to the past …..

A little while back, July 5th of this year to be precise, my Mom and I did something a little out of the ordinary, while most folks were visiting family, having picnics, camping or any number of other typical summer activities, my Mom and I decided to go visit the cemetary at Warren State Hospital.  I took my camera, but as I walked around I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, I can’t explain why I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, I just couldn’t.  It was a very sobering experience, in that as I walked around, reading names of people buried there, and seeing the dates tht were on some of the headstones, I felt like the research I was doing about Warren State Hospital was about more then just events on a timeline, but that for the first time it became real to me that the place I was researching was about more then buildings and supervisors, it was about the patients who lived and in some cases died there.  Learning about how things have changed in how folks who are placed at Warren State Hospital are or have been treated.  I was choked up at times because having been a patient at Warren State myself years ago, I felt oddly connected to the people buried in the cemetary, like I somehow knew at least a little bit of what their life was like there, though at the same time I knew that my time there was spent very differently from how their time was probably spent.

Warren State Hospital like many state hospitals built around the same time was a self-suficient farming community.  They grew crops, tended to livestock, had a prize winning herd of dairy cattle at one time even.  Early on it was more unusual for a patient not to have some kind of job to help with the day to day functioning of the hospital then it was for a patient to be working.  Things change though and people saw that patients had become a source of cheap labor in some cases and the farming ended and by the time I was there, things were very different we pretty much sat around most of the day staring at the tv, a few had jobs in the sheltered workshop, but they were a minority.  I think that the thing I had in common with those who were there in the 1900’s was that I knew the feeling of being segregated from the rest of the community, I knew what it was like to hear the heavy doors close behind me and know that this was for real I was in a place I didn’t want to be, didn’t know what to expect, and to be honest at times could be very frightening.  I also experienced the loss of a friend while I was there, so I knew what it was like to have made a friend there only to have them die in a place that was suppose to protect people.  Things were probably somewhat quieter on the wards when I was there then they were in the 1900’s considerin medications have advanced and helped to treat the symptoms that would have previously caused the wards to be more chaotic then they were when I was there.  In all though, I felt like photgraphing the cemetary seemed like something that I couldn’t do not because I was afraid of consequences of taking photos, but rather because of a deep sense of respect for those buried there and knowing some of what they may have experienced.  I plan on going back to the cemetary again to once again pay respect to those who are buried there because in many ways when they were sent to Warren State, society turned their back on them and tried to deny they existed.  I feel like going and paying respects to them is the one decent thing I can do for them now so they aren’t forgotten.

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