Monday, December 6

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

30 years ago as a teenager I visited a mental hospital with a group from our local Methodist church. In a secure wing we met a lady called Lillian who was there for the protection of herself and everyone around her. She was an amazing pianist and everyone in this locked ward loved her. I still have a recording made on the ward. A few years ago the hospital was finally closed and many people like Lillian were moved on.

I read in the Guardian today that 70% of people in prison have some sort of mental illness and that many of those who were looked after in those big mental hospitals are now “warehoused” in prison.

Around the same time as the decision was made to close many of those old Victorian hospitals, I was visiting inmates in Armley Prison in Leeds (also Victorian). Many of the young people I met there appeared to have mental difficulties. In contrast the level of hate and neglect they experienced was astonishing. Who can say whether they were aware enough to be held responsible for their actions?

I am left wondering for whose benefit many of our prisons exist. It may make us feel better to know that there is an inferior form of humanity to ourselves. But I suspect that many of these people have qualities that are in fact superior – certainly if Lillian is anything to go by.

Guardian article here


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