A Boy's Own Broadmoor
September 27, 2012 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Growing up on the grounds of a notorious high security psychiatric hospital.
posted by Chrysostom (25 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
That was a great read, thanks for posting.
posted by arcticseal at 7:14 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wonderful article. Thanks, Chrystostom.
posted by catlet at 7:30 AM on September 27, 2012

Thanks for bringing that to our attention, it was really excellent.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:41 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very interesting article. It seems fitting in a way that the author grew up to be a writer.
posted by Harald74 at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2012

Fantastic read, thank you.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:45 AM on September 27, 2012

THE PATIENTS HAD a dramatic society, the Broadhumoorists

posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 7:45 AM on September 27, 2012

Great read. I had a professor whose father was a psychiatrist in Philadelphia and the family lived in the hospital for at least part of his childhood. He had the best stories.
posted by peacrow at 7:49 AM on September 27, 2012

A good article.

Does anybody know whom the other "evil" patient is? I don't know enough to work it out, but I guess that somebody older will know.
posted by Jehan at 7:52 AM on September 27, 2012

This is fascinating - thanks for posting
posted by Gilgongo at 7:54 AM on September 27, 2012

Jehan: Alan Reeve might fit.
posted by Leon at 7:59 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great read, thanks!
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:01 AM on September 27, 2012

Very enjoyable and well written.

But it wasn't a scream of demented fury that I heard that evening; it was a scream of the most wretched misery. I turned to my father. "Poor John," he murmured, and I understood that he understood what his patient was suffering; and the fact that he understood it robbed the scream of much of its terror for me.

This brought a tear to my eye, although it is somewhat comforting to know the author's father had such empathy for his patients.
posted by JujuB at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fantastic reading, thanks.

This line stood out to me as a particularly succinct (and sad) summary of post-Victorian life: [...] it used to be said that a gentleman could be educated at Wellington, become an officer at Sandhurst, and end his days in Broadmoor, without travelling more than a mile or two in any direction.
posted by fight or flight at 8:07 AM on September 27, 2012

Great article, thanks. I spent about 3 years working as an "attendent" at a private psych hospital, it was a fascinating experience. Walking through the door every day I stepped into the blended existence of people in different spheres of reality. Working the locked men's ward with 20 patients meant changing your world view and language with every new person you encountered.

Pedro, the 80 year old former symphony director, was constantly wandering the ward, his hat on, asking for directions to the train station in El Salvador. When he wasn't trying to catch the train, he was looking for his dog, he swore he could hear it barking in one of the rooms with a locked door. And, in fact, he could, because our frequent flier manic/depressive Tony, an attorney from Detroit who would end up with us after some outrageous manic episode (such as flying 20 of his friends to Vegas for a week, with no funds to pay the bills), would hide behind the locked door in his "seclusion room" and bark. It amused Tony to no end to watch Pedro insist that we unlock the door and let his dog out.

Rudy stood about 6 feet 5 inches, he was a train engineer based out of Detroit. A few months ago his daughter had run away and, when she couldn't be located, Rudy started combing the darker parts of the city looking for her. He always carried a handgun and, one night, following information he had heard on the street, he found his daughter in a sleazy hotel room in bed with two guys. In the dark, in the confusion, three shots were fired, and Rudy was the only survivor. He was with us for a psych eval prior to the trial, a quiet and very sad guy, I spent a lot of time talking to him.

One day I was the only staff on the ward, and, back in those days I weighed about 125 lbs., I was being hassled by a young guy that was new to the ward, and the confrontation became a bit hostile. Rudy had been watching all this from the other side of the lounge. He slowly walked over as the kid was starting to get in my face. "Do you know who I am?", asked Rudy? The kid just looked at him. "I'm Rudy, you've read about me, I killed three people." The kid backed away a foot or so. "Stop messing with Bob or you'll be dealing with me, and I've got nothing to lose at this point." The kid was never so much as rude to me from that point forward.

Duane was 26, blind, had lost one leg, a diabetic who was also schizophrenic. Typically a pretty decent guy, but would often start to hallucinate people and creatures. I was in the nurses station one day when Duane, who was in the "seclusion room", starting screaming. I walked down, looked in the window and found him standing on his one leg on the bed that was bolted to the middle of the floor, screaming about snakes. I opened the door to his room, told him I was there and asked what the problem was "Bob, snakes, hundreds of snakes!", he was in a panic, beating them off his body. I thought for a moment, "Duane, you're blind, how would you know if there were snakes in here?". He stopped, he thought about it for a minute, and then sat down on the bed and simply said, "Thanks, Bob."

Bill was a big guy, very disturbed, it was nearly impossible to connect with him in any manner. One day I was, again, alone on the ward when one of the patients yelled "Bob, look out!", I turned around to see Bill who was close to twice my size running down the hall towards me in some sort of rage. I told him to stop, he kept coming, Bill was about twice my size but, somehow, I managed to trip him, he went down, and his shoe came off. I picked up the size 14 shoe he lost looked at him on the ground and calmly said "If you move, I'm going to kill you with this shoe." I stood there with the shoe raised above my head for the ten minutes it took for another staff to make it back to the ward, Bill never moved.

I've a million stories about spending eight or 16 hours (if I was working a double) on a locked psych ward for three years, but my favorite patient had to be Chester. Chester was about 85, the only man on the ward that was smaller than I was, had a head full of messy white hair and a gleam in his eye that said "don't trust me for a minute!". One afternoon, while the patients were supposed to be in their rooms napping, one of the nurses said to me, "Chester is in the hall, would you get him back to his room?".... sure, no problem. What she didn't tell me was that Chester was flat on his back, on a table in the hall, buck naked. I walked up to him, told him he needed to go back to his room. He got up, walked down the hall with me. When we got to his room I said, "And, Chester, put some clothes on.", and left the room. I was about 20 feet down the hall when one of the nurses yelled "Chester!", I turned to see him going full tilt down the hall, fury in his eyes, headed towards me. The instant I turned, he slid to a stop, glared at me and said "you black dog, you!", turned around and went to take a nap.

Chester was also the one that taught me one of life's great truths. He was in seclusion, I was doing a regular check, looked through the little rectangle window in the middle of the door to see Chester smearing feces on the yellow tile walls. "Chester! What are you doing?". Chester looked at me, smiled, and said, "When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.", and returned to his art.

No matter how disturbed our vistors were, no matter how tenuous their grasp on reality, spending hours with them each day allowed an occasional glimpse into their own world, and an understanding that, no matter how they behave or present themselves, there is always an element of humanity that needed to be respected and nurtured.
posted by HuronBob at 8:23 AM on September 27, 2012 [65 favorites]

Definitely Alan Reeve.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:07 AM on September 27, 2012

What a fantastic article. It strikes a great balance between looking straight at the horrible things patients did to themselves, and sometimes others, and compassion for their illnesses, and how necessary environments like Broadmoor sometimes are. I can't remember the last time I read something that dealt with mental illness so well.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Leon, elseitheeel, thanks. Though it's interesting that he's not half as well-known as Ian Brady. I wonder what made Dr McGrath so worried?
posted by Jehan at 11:42 AM on September 27, 2012

Yeah, that's a good article.

The photographs threw me for a moment; the captions refer to the previous photo, not the immediately adjacent photo below, so you'll see a caption that says Policemen gather at the Main Gate after the escape of "Mad Axeman" and then immediately next to it a picture of a family seated on a couch. Or you'll read A patient at Broadmoor and see a man in a white shirt, arms folded (or is that a straitjacket?), surrounded by police, as though it were typical for patients to be surrounded by police. The jarring juxtapositions work for me though, reinforcing the weirdness of that as a place to grow up.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2012

I opened the door to his room, told him I was there and asked what the problem was "Bob, snakes, hundreds of snakes!", he was in a panic, beating them off his body. I thought for a moment, "Duane, you're blind, how would you know if there were snakes in here?". He stopped, he thought about it for a minute, and then sat down on the bed and simply said, "Thanks, Bob."

HuronBob, you're a great guy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:35 PM on September 27, 2012

>From Savage Grace: The True Story of Fatal Relations in a Rich and Famous American Family:
According to a former superintendent at Broadmoor, "half the patients would be perfectly safe to release but the problem is to know which half." In fact, out of a population of approximately 750, Broadmoor releases 104 each year.
Under persistent pressure from a patient's well-connected friends in both the U.S. and the U.K., Broadmoor's consultant forensic psychiatrist was cajoled into releasing a patient who had been convicted of stabbing his mother to death in their London flat in 1972.

The patient in question -- Antony Baekeland (great-grandson of the man who invented Bakelite and was called "the father of plastics") -- spent seven years in Broadmoor after the matricide. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, it seems as though he might have been better off if he had not been released.

The well-meaning friends whose actions secured his release had assured Broadmoor officials that Tony Baekeland would be living in a New York City halfway house where his case would be supervised by a psychiatrist. In fact, Tony was released to the small Manhattan apartment of his frail grandmother, whom he tried to kill with a knife several days after his return to New York. He suffocated to death at Rikers Island eight months after the stabbing, while awaiting a judge's decision on whether to grant bail.
posted by virago at 4:07 PM on September 27, 2012

Wonderful read.

Related, Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum is a wonderful look at Broadmoor as it was when it first opened. As a bonus, it's free!
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 PM on September 27, 2012

I'm pretty surprised how much freedom they gave the patients—and how much access they probably had to potentially dangerous and concealable tools. You would think that at very least they'd have metal detectors outside the tin shop and/or theater workshop.
posted by limeonaire at 5:23 PM on September 27, 2012

This essay mentions the Victorian artist Richard Dadd, who is worth a Google images search..
posted by ovvl at 6:21 PM on September 27, 2012

I actually spent time in this old Psych hospital in the Uk, was the horrible time ever had in my life, I'ts abandoned now but memories are with me still.
posted by billbobagginz at 12:43 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

McGrath is a wonderful writer, and some cool films have been made of his work, including Cronenberg's Spider. Thanks for posting this, read him!
posted by thinkpiece at 5:44 AM on September 28, 2012

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