They endured.
March 8, 2014 1:11 PM   Subscribe

The Men of Atalissa
PBS's POV collaborates with the New York Times on a 35-minute documentary about the intellectually disabled men exploited for thirty-five years by Henry's Turkey Service in Atalissa, Iowa. (The documentary at the NYT or embedded in a Q&A with the journalists at PBS's POV.) posted by Ivan Fyodorovich (11 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
That doc is really well done.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:17 PM on March 8, 2014

nice work.
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:12 PM on March 8, 2014

Fucking ripoff, 50K to each of them? Some special BS law to limit liability of small business?!? Seemed like pretty big business, shipping slaves all over the country.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:21 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meatbomb: "Fucking ripoff, 50K to each of them?"

And they have yet to receive anything. Someone needs to go to jail over this.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:14 PM on March 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think the most important stuff in the story are the obvious things — exploitation and abuse of the disabled by commercial entities. But what I found myself thinking a lot about is the central tension that underlies the entire documentary — how those townspeople could be so oblivious about what was going on.

My impression is that most of them are very much well-intended people. That mayor guy is the one who made the call to get the ball rolling. But, still, there's a lot that they either must have been in denial about, because they didn't want to know it, or (more likely in most cases) were simply blind within a bubble of privilege and lack of curiosity about the lives of the men who they were, yes, fond of, but also saw more as town mascots than as people. I kept asking myself why no one became friends with any of these men.

I think that some people did think of themselves as friends, in a way, in a very limited relationship at work or at church. But no one was interested enough in these men as individual human beings to take a look at the lives they actually lived.

To my mind, that's extremely common and a primary social ill. The townfolk didn't know that these men were being treated like work animals because as much as they liked the men, they didn't much think of them as people like themselves, either. And that description fits so many things that aren't specific to intellectually disabled men in a workhouse. Things in our own backyards. Things that we're not seeing, either.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:30 PM on March 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

The documentary was really well done. That no one has gone to jail for this is heartbreaking (let alone that it happened in the first place.)
posted by gen at 12:22 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that some people did think of themselves as friends, in a way, in a very limited relationship at work or at church. But no one was interested enough in these men as individual human beings to take a look at the lives they actually lived.

When was the last time you asked your church friend how much he gets paid, or whether his boss punished him for not working hard? Add in that these were mentally challenged men, and I can easily see that through some sense of privacy or embarrassment, these were questions that were never asked.
posted by Gungho at 7:38 AM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sure. My objection is that no one apparently ever went beyond "church friend".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:31 AM on March 9, 2014

I just finished reading the NYT article. I really don't know if I could handle a documentary right now I'm so pissed off, upset and heartbroken for these men.

By any measure the US, which holds itself up as some sort of amazing christian nation that god itself blesses, is suffering from an incredible deficit of empathy.
posted by nevercalm at 12:46 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah. I'm not quite sure how limitations on liability like that are even remotely legal. A "Small Business Murder Exemption" wouldn't be OK, so why is this?

You could very strongly make the case that these men were held in conditions that were not unlike slavery.
posted by schmod at 8:53 AM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

"A 'Small Business Murder Exemption' wouldn't be OK, so why is this?"

Well, that's criminal law and the damages limit is civil law. Criminal charges have never been filed in this case, but it's not that they couldn't be if the local prosecutor chose to (or even a federal prosecutor if the treatment somehow violated federal criminal law).

With regard to a prosecutor filing charges, this is one of the many examples where a prosecutor declines to prosecute anything probably because they feel that the case wouldn't be winnable. The obvious targets would be the couple that was hired in the years before the workhouse closed, but even in their case you're looking at events years past and testimony that would, sadly, be easy to question. In the case of the two partners of Henry's Turkey Service, one of them has died and the other one was in another state and there'd be a whole bunch of ways a defense attorney could defend him.

Clearly, this was a horrendous thing that argues that one or more people were criminally responsible; but actually winning such a case is another matter.

They easily won the civil case, obviously, but then there's that damages limitation. I don't even want to wade into the murk of whether that cap is defensible; I'm inclined to dislike all such caps but people of good faith can argue that small businesses shouldn't be exposed to unlimited judgments such that a single lost lawsuit will eliminate it. I disagree, strongly, but there you go. Possibly even in this case, conservatives and others who dislike such civil suits against businesses might agree that the cap resulted in an injustice.

Ultimately, what's most important is that those men were removed from the workhouse and given the help and resources to live much, much better lives. It's little and late, but this sort of thing could easily have continued for another ten years. One wonders how many similar situations exist out there we don't know about.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:05 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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