Friday, March 22, 2013

Creativity and spirituality

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and other acclaimed works, speaks about the relationship of creativity and spirituality in the current issue of Spirituality & Health magazine. Highly recommended.

I found this passage particularly enlightening:

"I think creativity is entirely a spiritual practice. It has defined my entire life to think of it that way. When I hear the way some people speak about their work, people who are in creative fields who either attack themselves, or attack their work, or treat it as a burden rather than a blessing, or treat it as something that needs to be fought and defeated and beaten. . . . There is a war that people go to with their creative path that is very unfamiliar to me. To me, it feels like a holy calling and one that I am grateful for."

Read the full interview. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, courtesy Spirituality & Health.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gina, Carlos, Don and Gil

Carlos Ferreira and Gina Russo, Station site, 4 p.m., March 15, 2013.

I met Brazilian journalist Carlos Ferreira at the Providence train station, where he had arrived on Amtrak Regional 172 from New York. We stopped at the newsroom of The Providence Journal, where he met editors Karen Bordeleau and Sue Areson, and reporters Tom Mooney and Tracy Breton. Like me, they have long been involved in coverage of the Station nightclub fire.

Carlos, from the newspaper Zero Hora, published in Porto Alegre, a city of almost 2 million, is among the many journalists who have been covering the January tragedy at Santa Maria nightclub club Kiss, where 242 died in a fire eerily like the Station. He was here in America to write stories about our people touched by our fire. He had reached out to me after I wrote an op-ed piece for his Brazilian newspaper group, where I had connected with editor Deni Zolin of Diário de Santa Maria.

 I had arranged for him to meet Gina Russo at the West Warwick club site. She got there about the same time that we did on Friday afternoon. It was cold, but sunny.

Gina, one of the truly great people of Rhode Island -- we are so lucky to have her -- talked with Carlos about her experiences and the experiences of the families and friends of what she calls these “one hundred angels,” whose memory she has vowed to keep alive even as she continues to help survivors heal. She gave him an autographed copy of her book. At one point, I thought I saw a shadowy figure in the woods behind the crosses. Next look, the figure was gone. I exchanged a puzzled look with Gina. She seemed to suggest that the unexplained was not uncommon here, on this sacred ground.

And then the figure reappeared: a bespectacled middle-age man with a backpack and an old camera. When he stopped near the shrine to Derek Johnson, whose father, Bob, I have written about, I went over and asked if he was a friend of Derek. No, he said, but he had met “Mr. J.” during the tenth-anniversary week and become a friend of Derek’s dad. 

His name was Don Haddock, from near Boulder, Colorado. Shoots only in black-and-white, only with real film, and only on his ancient Ricoh camera. Not a professional photographer, though passionate about his work, which is quite good, as I found visiting his website. He told me that when he is inspired by an event, he will sometimes hop on a plane and go shoot it -- the 2010 BP oil spill, for example. When he heard about the tenth anniversary of the Station fire, he decided to come. And when he got home after being here February 20, he didn’t have all the shots he wanted. So he got back on a plane, and here he was.

When I introduced myself, his eyes grew wide. Well, maybe not literally, but hearing my name took him back. A few years ago, he said, he had found a short video whose images and sound -- the sound of wind chimes on a cold winter day -- had moved him deeply. He had the video on his iPhone. Said he watched it frequently, both haunted and soothed by the music and scenes. Said it was one of the reasons he was so strongly compelled to fly in from Colorado, to pay personal witness to this place with 100 crosses.

It was a video I shot on the sixth anniversary of the fire. It has not been posted on The Journal web site for some time. I don’t even have a copy.

Don thanked me profusely for creating it. I didn’t know what to say. Four years, 2,000 miles, Brazilian visitor Carlos, survivor Gina, a Friday afternoon in March, a stranger who hopped on a plane -- could this be only coincidence? I have felt many powerful emotions in my many visits to the site: among them, sadness, anger, admiration for people like Gina. This was a different kind of power, something at once remarkable and strange.

So I introduced Don to Carlos and Gina. Four of us, from such different worlds, literally and figuratively, brought together for one moment.

And as we four stood there talking, cars began to pull in. One had two men who knew no one directly involved in the fire, but who had always wanted to visit, and this was the day they chose. Another car had two women I did not speak with; another, a man with a boy. And still another, with New Hampshire plates, was driven by Gil Talbot, a professional photographer. He was here to shoot the University of New Hampshire hockey team, which was playing in Providence that evening. He, too, knew no one from the fire, but had wanted to visit the site since reading John Barylick’s book, Killer Show.

So I introduced him to Gina -- and to Carlos and Don.

An hour or so had passed. The sun was weakening; it was time for new friends to part. I suppose it was like that many nights when music played and people talked and laughed and swapped stories at The Station... many nights, that is, until the last.

Gina and Gil left. Carlos wanted to see some more of West Warwick, as did Don, who had gotten to the site by bus, so I drove them around the town, past abandoned mills. Then we drove to Warwick, where I dropped Carlos at his hotel and Don at the airport. 

I headed home, pondering the meaning of chance.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A visit with Hardy, Eleanor and Charlotte Hendren

Hardy Hendren, at home.

Had a fine visit last Saturday to the Duxbury, Mass., home of longtime friends Hardy and Eleanor Hendren, and their granddaughter Charlotte, a student at Dartmouth, her grandfather's alma mater. And I mean longtime friends -- we were reminiscing about our first meeting, almost 25 years ago, as I began work on my first non-fiction book, The Work of Human Hands, about master surgeon and pioneer Hardy, who is now 87 and emeritus Chief of Surgery at Boston Children's Hospital. Wow, almost a quarter of a century.

The dining room set for dinner, fire burning, ancestor Jeremiah Hendren overseeing...

As usual, Eleanor served a great dinner, including rice, cauliflower, candied pineapple and a perfectly roasted lamb. Sweets and good strong coffee for dessert.

Eleanor checking the lamb, coat over head to reduce glare off oven gauges.

When it was time to eat, Hardy carved -- making his customary remarks about how to carve meat -- "like a skin graft," he said, as if we all had experience. As in surgery, a sharp knife and a steady hand are key. Put a set of Loupes on him, and you can imagine him in the OR.

Josh watches Hardy carve.

We had a tour of the basement, where the offices of the W. Hardy Hendren Educational Foundation for Pediatric Surgery and Urology are located. The Foundation has a Facebook page, in addition to a website. Eventually, all of Hardy's vast body of work will be available there. Hardy told many stories as he brought us around -- and we shared many laughs (sorry, inside jokes!).

Hardy with Katy in foundation office. Note the before- and after- photos of conjoined twins (right of clock), two of several he separated over his long surgical career.

We spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Eleanor and Hardy for the first time saw The Work of Human Hands on a Kindle reader. They were also interested in the audio version from Audible/Amazon, which has recently come out.

Kindle in the kitchen, with Eleanor and Hardy!

Hardy launched my non-fiction book career, and I remain deeply grateful to him. I did not expect for him and Eleanor to become such good friends, or Hardy to become godfather of my son, Calvin, but  developments like that keep life's journey one great unfolding story...

Hardy and me, almost 25 years in...

Soon, the sun was setting on beautiful Duxbury Bay. I stepped out to take fresh air from the Hendrens' yard, peaceful as always... 'til next time, dear friends!

Hendrens' yard, 6:35 p.m., March 16, 2013.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Recommended book on racism's impact on whites

   The impact of racism on African-Americans is an issue that has been publicly examined for some time now –– but the impact of that same racism on whites has rarely been explored, and never, to my knowledge, at book length. Now comes COMBINED DESTINIES: Whites Sharing Grief About Racism.
“By beginning a conversation that encourages self-examination and compassion,” writes publisher Potomac Books, “Combined Destinies invites its readers to look at how white Americans have been hurt by the very ideology that their ancestors created.”
Edited by psychotherapists Ann Todd Jealous, an African-American, and Caroline T. Haskell, who is white, the book is built on the personal stories of a diverse group of contributors. The issues of guilt, silence, shame, resistance and freedom, among others, are broken into chapters. The stories are compelling, intimate and persuasive.
Among them is one of the landmark civil rights cases, the 1960 court-ordered integration of New Orleans public schools. Two elementary schools were selected to be the first mixed-race schools. White parents angrily boycotted the schools, and blacks were afraid to send their children. On the first day of integration, only one black girl, Ruby Bridges, attended. Only two white children, escorted by police past shouting mobs, joined Ruby at the Wiilliam J. Frantz Schoo.
My fiancé Yolanda was one of those two white girls, and in an interview in Combined Destinies, she explains its impact on her –– and the courageous decision by her mother, Daisy, a Costa Rican by birth, to challenge the vitriol and racism.
A review of the book, which I recommend, is here:


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Registration open for Story launch, Facebook page up

Registration is now open for the April 12 launch of Story in the Public Square, a partnership of Salve Regina University's Pell Center and The Providence Journal.

The day-long event in Newport, R.I., will feature accomplished storytellers, including journalists, a novelist and filmmakers; a screening of the Providence Journal's acclaimed documentary "Coming Home," about veterans returning to southeastern New England after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan; keynote remarks from former Sen. Gary Hart; and the presentation of the first Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square.

Pre-registration is required, as space is limited. The event is free for Salve students, faculty and staff, and others will be charged $20, which includes the entire day's programming and lunch. Details and registration through the Story Day link.

The Story in the Public Square Facebook site is now open. We invite you to like us.

And please follow us on Twitter: @pubstory

For some examples of public storytelling, read an earlier posting.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The basic equation: Public Story = Policy Change

[For more on Story in the Public Square, a partnership of The Providence Journal and the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, visit the Story website. Registration is now open for the April 12 Story Day!]

At the heart of Story in the Public Square lies a basic equation:
Public Story = Policy Change
Which means: Storytelling can powerfully influence how people collectively think and act.
              We see this commonly in the broader public arena -- the story that moves a city council, a state assembly or the U.S. Congress to enact or revise a law, for example. But the equation applies to a more micro level, too: the story of a neighborhood break-in, for example, that prompts residents to organize a crime watch.  
A single story can have broad and singular impact. 
Two examples from fiction are Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, which fueled the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement, and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, which contributed to a wave of reform and regulation in early-1900s U.S.
From non-fiction comes the example of the three-day Washington Post series by writers Dana Priest and Anne Hull and photographer Michel duCille exposing deplorable conditions inside the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for outpatient Iraq War veterans. The story, published in February 2007, prompted the resignation of Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, led to improved treatment for veterans, and won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.

One of Michel duCille's Pulitzer photos. Courtesy Washington Post.
                Many stories can also cumulatively influence policy, over time.  
The “Public Story = Policy Change” equation has no timeline. 
From Rhode Island comes the example of Providence Journal stories over many years that contributed to the closing of institutions for the mentally ill and the mentally challenged that had become notorious for their inhumane treatment. Read one of my Journal stories about the former Institute of Mental Health. And read two of my Journal stories about the former Ladd Center for the mentally disabled.
A story, of course, does not have to be just words. Images and sound -- as in song -- can also tell stories. Two pivotal stories in the national movement to close abusive institutions for the mentally ill and mentally challenged were the great documentarian Frederick Wiseman's film Titicut Follies and educator Burton Blatt and photographer Fred Kaplan's book Christmas in Purgatory.
               Some other equations apply to story. For example:
               Length alone does not determine the power of story.
               Books tend to be longer; newspaper and magazine pieces, blog postings, and fictional short stories tend to be shorter. A single picture worth the proverbial 1,000 words is also a "short" form that can have tremendous story power. Consider the iconic image of the Vietnam War, which in one single frame told the story of the horror of that war, and was one of the images that, combined with written stories and other still and moving images, turned Americans and American policy against that conflict:

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Nick Ut

               Or consider film. Watch this one-minute, 48-second short film and see if how  the story it tells changed policy (of passersby).
Of course, not every public story aspires to prompt policy change! Many stories entertain, educate, inform, enrich and change perspectives and lives on an individual level, with no goal of influencing public policy. Since the days of prehistoric cave art (and probably much earlier), story has been an integral part of the human experience.

Magura Cave, Bulgaria

               For more on Story in the Public Square, a partnership of The Providence Journal and the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, visit the Story website.

Story and Public Policy II

Ladd Center bathroom, 1960s.

 Note: Two decades ago, when these stories were written, the term "retarded" was widely used. "Developmentally disabled" or "mentally challenged" are the terms that are accepted today.

[For more on Story in the Public Square, a partnership of The Providence Journal and the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, visit the Story website. Registration is now open for the April 12 Story Day!]

FINAL DAY: Ladd Center shuts down quietly
Publication Date: March 26, 1994  Page: A-01  Section: NEWS  Edition: ALL 

AT 12:35 P.M. yesterday, the last of five men was helped into a van outside a building at the Ladd Center, Rhode Island's institution for the retarded. It drove off, its passengers never to make Ladd home again.

After 86 years, Ladd was closed.

"The beast is dead," said Robert L. Carl Jr., the state official responsible as much as anyone for slaying it.

It was the end of an era that began in 1908 with hope for society's most vulnerable people - hope that had given way, by the 1960s and '70s, to scandal and shame. More than 4,500 people lived at Ladd over the course of its existence. No one will ever know how many suffered.

There was no ceremony for Ladd's last hours - no speeches, no champagne, only a quiet, emotional gathering of some two dozen people who battled for decades to build a better life for those who could not do it themselves.

Together, Ladd's final five residents spent 206 years in the institution. Now, like hundreds who left before them, they will shop on Saturdays, not lie naked in their own feces, as many did during the years of worst abuse. They will have their own rooms in their own homes, not be packed 50 to a back ward. They will bathe, not be hosed down.

"Nazi Germany killed these people," said Carl, who heads the Division of Developmental Disabilities, a branch of the state Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which ran Ladd. "Rhode Island made a commitment to treat them with dignity and respect."

"How do you find a word for this?" said James V. Healey, executive director of the Rhode Island Arc, which four decades ago began the battle to find alternatives to Ladd. Like Carl, Healey had tears in his eyes at 12:35 p.m. yesterday.

"I never lost faith," said Ladd's superintendent, George W. Gunther Jr., who left a lucrative career as an insurance executive 24 years ago to work for change from within, and who had vowed, on his promotion to the top job, to one day close the place. Gunther's daughter, Nancy, was at Ladd for many years.

Rhode Island joins New Hampshire and Vermont, which recently shut institutions, as the only states to serve people with developmental disabilities entirely in the community.

But Rhode Island declared its intention first: In July 1986, when former Gov. Edward D. DiPrete announced Ladd would be out of business within five years. Construction of group homes and centers for Ladd's remaining residents, more disabled than those who'd already left, took longer than expected.

IN 1907, when the fate of the retarded was prison and the poorhouse, a Massachusetts physician came south to try something more humane. Softspoken and generous, Dr. Joseph H. Ladd opened the Rhode Island School for the Feeble-Minded on a farm - where, he believed, his charges could lead satisfying lives in safety. In January 1908, eight retarded men moved in with him and his wife into an old farmhouse.

By 1913, more than 100 men and women lived at the institution. Men who were capable worked the farm, while women sewed and did housework, and children did what they could. In his annual report that year, Ladd outlined his plan to build a laundry, power plant, hospital and more dorms.

In 1925, the population of the institution, by then known euphemistically as the Exeter School, passed 500. Not all were retarded: Many were epileptic, sexually promiscuous or unemployed, sent away by doctors or judges seeking solutions to people they considered nuisances. Ladd believed that with the right treatment, some of Exeter's "high-grades" could be discharged, and a small number, less than 10 percent a year, were. For the rest, passage through life was marked only by the change of seasons.

Overcrowding, understaffing and insufficient funds contributed to worsening conditions in the 1950s and '60s, when the institution's population peaked at slightly more than 1,000. The parents who founded RIARC demanded that their retarded children be served in their communities, mostly in Greater Providence, not behind bars in the middle of 550 acres miles from where they lived. By the '70s, many believed Ladd had to close.

None had more conviction than Healey.

One day in 1976 while touring a back ward, he saw a woman naked on the floor with what he thought was a red ball against her naked bottom. It wasn't a ball, but her rectum - protruding out.

"That's just a prolapse," the supervisor said. "It falls out and we just push it back."

Healey's eyes met the woman's. She couldn't speak, but Healey imagined what she would have said if she could: "If you're an advocate, why do you let them do this to me?"

"It's a snakepit there," Healey said at a news conference he called a short while later.

But little happened for a year, until September 1977, when the Journal-Bulletin began a series of investigative pieces documenting neglect and abuse at Ladd. The paper found that fire protection was inadequate, residents routinely had teeth extracted without proper anesthetic, and doctors failed to diagnose broken arms, infections and diabetes. Because of bad care, the paper reported, some had died.

A state was shocked. Ladd had many dedicated employees, but their quiet contributions were lost in the ensuing controversy, which led to a federal suit by RIARC and the firing of the superintendent, Dr. John G. Smith, who had succeeded Dr. Ladd in 1956. In a short time, Gunther was promoted and Carl hired from Ohio, where he was known as an administrator who meant business, and who believed the future was in the community, not behind brick walls.

Even before the scandals of the '70s, Rhode Island had been moving away from Ladd. Voters in 1967 approved a $1.5 million bond for community centers, and in years to come would approve tens of millions more for group homes and other programs. As Gunther and Carl improved conditions for Ladd's remaining residents, they accelerated community development.

Last year, for the first time since 1913, the institution's population dropped below 100.

Yesterday, it hit zero.

JIMMY LASSITER was up early on his last day at Ladd, which came a half-century after his first. Staff washed him, combed his hair, brushed his teeth, dressed him in black trousers, Notre Dame T-shirt and basketball shoes, and gave him his medications. Breakfast was Tang and oatmeal with sliced bananas. He ate with a spoon, and a Ladd pillowcase for a bib.

Lassiter was 9 years old when he was sent to Exeter, in January 1940. His mother had died in childbirth the summer before, leaving six children 8 and under. Jimmy was profoundly retarded and had a temper. He spoke only when angry, and only a word or two then. His father couldn't handle him.

A working farm had little use for a "low-grade," and so Jimmy spent much of his life on back wards. In recent years, as Ladd improved, he was prepared for life in a group home. After breakfast yesterday, he went to his classroom. His clothes were packed and an attendant mopped his old room. He ate lunch with his four friends and they were gone. Their new home is a group home in Hope Valley.

Many uses have been proposed for Ladd, including as the site of a corporate park, but no decision has been made for disposition of its more than 300 acres and 42 buildings, some beyond rehabilitation. (Ladd's farmhouse has been demolished, but the site where it stood is being preserved as a memorial, to be dedicated later this spring.)

All officials would promise yesterday is that Ladd will not be forgotten, nor will it ever come back.

As they reminisced about how long it took to get there, Gunther, Healey, Carl and others praised Ladd's employees, who rather than fight the closing, as colleagues in other states have, agreed to transfer to community homes run by the state. They also praised former Ladd residents, who proved to an initially skeptical public that they could live in neighborhoods, just like anyone else.

"Nobody," said Carl, "will ever be able to throw away a human being again."

Lorraine Bessette

LORRAINE'S WORLD: As Ladd Center prepares to close, a new day dawns for the profoundly disabled
Publication Date: July 29, 1990  Page: A-01  Section: NEWS  Edition: ALL 

SHE WAS given ID No. 2774. She was labeled an "idiot," one step below "imbecile" on the mental scale. She had blue eyes, perfect features, beautiful hair and skin, curvature of the spine. She was 18 months old.

"The child is a great burden on the mother," read the paperwork. "There are four older children, the oldest of whom is only eight. Mother is expecting a sixth child in another month. The baby, Lorraine, is very heavy, is unresponsive and takes a great deal of mother's time. She is exhausted. Lorraine is also a feeding problem."

Four days after Christmas, 1948, Lorraine Jean Bessette, born with severe cerebral palsy, was committed to the Ladd Center.

She's still there.

But only for a little longer.

Lorraine's headed for a home in the community.

And Ladd is going out of business, probably next year. Closing Rhode Island's only institution for the retarded will bring down the curtain on an era whose first act was compassion, whose long-running second act was degradation and despair, and whose finale is resplendent with a chorus of new dignity for some of society's most vulnerable - and needy - people, people like Lorraine.

SHE LOVES babies, hugs, thumbing through women's magazines. She hates vegetables, particularly squash. She favors pink fingernail polish, ribbons in her hair, dresses she orders herself from the Sears catalogue, coffee with cream and sugar, chocolate cake, barbecued chicken - provided it is ground to a consistency she can swallow. Her best friend is Diane, who spent years at Ladd and is in a group home now. Diane telephones about once a week. Her picture's on Lorraine's dresser. When she can, she has Lorraine over for dinner.

On this summer Sunday, Lorraine is in her wheelchair, custom-built at a cost of almost $4,000 to accommodate her 88-pound body, which is permanently twisted in ways unique to her. On her tray is one of her sign boards. Lorraine cannot utter a word, but she is a masterful - and, sometimes, sly - communicator. With no more than facial expressions and her signature giggle, Lorraine can tease, flirt, plead and display anger or disgust or great joy.

Her sign boards expand the possibilities. This one, the small everyday one, has pictures of her doll, her bed, a TV, a toilet, orange juice and a three-layer chocolate cake. All day, she's been pointing to the cake with her left hand, the only one with any use in it. A huge smile has been overspreading her face. Those big blue eyes have been twinkling.

"What've you been wanting?" says Linda Hussey, principal attendant on Lorraine's ward, Rehab 1. On her supper break, Linda slipped off grounds on a secret errand. Now she's back.

"Tell me. What've you been wanting?"

Lorraine points to her sign-board cake.

"Ta-da]" Linda places a hunk of fudge cake on Lorraine's tray.

"See it? Just like the picture."

Lorraine shakes her head, the very image of disappointment.

"What do you mean, no?"

Lorraine's face brightens.

She laughs.

Her head is going up and down now, yes] yes] yes]

"You're teasing again, woman," Linda says. "As much as you nagged me about that cake, you're going to eat it]"

Lorraine, never one to pass on a prank, is convulsed. When she's calmed down some, she struggles to get her fingers around the cake, but the slice is too big. Linda breaks it into bits.

"There," she says. "All bite-size pieces so you can pick it up. Looks like we're going to have to wash our hands after that. Goo city."

Later, Linda will muse. "I wonder sometimes what they dream. I wonder what they'd say if they woke up one morning and could talk."

LIVING WITH LORRAINE are 26 men and women ranging in age from 23 to 68. All are profoundly retarded. All have some sort of physical disability. Most are what the physicians call medically fragile: prone to epileptic fits, digestive difficulties, heart problems, limb contractures, muscular atrophy.

Some can trace their disabilities to early-childhood accidents, but most came into the world with something wrong, a reminder of just how delicate human procreation is.

All but a handful have been at Ladd for years. Because of their multiple handicaps, which make placement in group homes more of a challenge than those less dependent, they are the last to go. They are the Final 200, members of a class that in Ladd's heyday, the mid-1960s, numbered more than 1,000.

Lorraine's world is a cinder block and brick building. It has three stories. Two have bedrooms, day rooms, bathrooms and dining areas. The basement has treatment centers for exercising and learning skills - putting pegs in boards, for example, or introducing new symbols onto Lorraine's most sophisticated board, which is up to 48 pictures now. On steamy summer days, there are enough air conditioners and fans on Rehab 1 to make things tolerable.

Aesthetics, a concept once alien to institutions, count.

Walls are painted pleasant shades of green and blue. Curtains and prints have been hung, fake potted plants put about, color TVs and VCRs and tape decks brought in. Every resident has a chest of drawers, a closet, his own shampoo, deodorant and soap. Beds have pillows and spreads and are made every morning.

It's a far cry from the days of Ladd's infamous back wards - days, not much more than a decade ago, when Lorraine slept in a crib, always wore a hospital johnny and spent her waking hours alone in a "vegetable cart," a wheelbarrowlike contraption inspired by what old-time peanut vendors pushed around. These were the days of isolation chambers and personal hygiene that consisted of herding excrement-covered people into cavernous tiled rooms and hosing them down.

Today, everyone has his or her own wardrobe, purchased with Social Security money. One man sports a Playboy T-shirt. Another wears one that proclaims: Professional Beach Bum. Red Sox, Patriots and Special Olympics motifs are standard. Lorraine likes dresses and skirts, typically in bright colors. But her most beloved dress is checkered gray.

"Her preppie look," Linda says.

AS CONDITIONS at Ladd have slowly improved, the work load inevitably has increased.

From 7 a.m. until the day's over, frequently at 10 p.m. or later, the attendants - who often must work shorthanded - barely have time for the cigarettes most of them seem to smoke. They spoon-feed those residents, a majority, who cannot lift a fork. They change diapers. They do the laundry. They groom, shave, dish out ice cream treats, comfort, amuse, brush teeth, hold hands, dress, undress, tuck into bed. They keep incessant records: positioning charts, defecation charts, med and hygiene charts.

"All my life, I've found someone to take care of," says Chris Eidam, another attendant on Rehab 1. If Lorraine could speak, Chris believes, "she'd probably say, 'Thank you.' She's such a grateful person."

Today, Chris has dinner duty in one of Rehab 1's small dining rooms. Four residents are here. Only Lorraine can feed herself. Chris dishes her dinner - ground steak, mashed potatoes, pureed butternut squash - onto her plate. Lorraine starts to eat with a Teflon-coated spoon, which is easy on the teeth. Lorraine has a special handle and cup for drinking, but she doesn't like them. She prefers sandwiching a regular cup between lips and the back of her hand, even if the spill rate is significantly higher.

Chris's little sister was 4 when she collapsed, the victim of a rare blood disease. "I remember holding her in my lap, my mother trying to call an ambulance," Chris says. "She kept saying, 'My head] My head]' They tried surgery. She didn't make it. She was buried on my 13th birthday.

"Had she made it, she probably would have been here."

Lorraine is crying. She's gotten a taste of squash.

"Squash isn't anything to cry about," Chris says, but her reasoning doesn't impress Lorraine.

"What about those roses in your cheeks?" That's Chris's little ploy, telling Lorraine vegetables bring out good color.

Lorraine won't be persuaded.

"Okay." Chris scrapes the squash away.

"There. Now there isn't any."

Lorraine grins and gets back to work - more quickly, now that dessert, some sort of pudding, is that much nearer.

"She likes to read beauty magazines," Chris says. "I tell her those girls are so pretty because they eat their vegetables. She laughs. But only sometimes does it work."

THE EXETER SCHOOL FOR THE FEEBLE-MINDED opened in January 1908, when Dr. Joseph H. Ladd (for whom the institution would later be renamed) and eight "boys" moved into an old farmhouse on property that was about as far away from it all as one could get in turn-of-the-century Rhode Island.

The motivation was compassion - and, purportedly, protection. Exeter gave all its residents asylum and, for the "high grades," employment on a farm. The School for the Feeble-Minded gave greater Rhode Island a dumping ground.

Within 20 years, 430 people were "enrolled." Many were retarded. Many were not. Prostitutes, paupers, immigrants, thieves, "undesirables" of all stripes wound up in Exeter. Typically, their ticket was a form requiring only the signature of two doctors. More often than not, the ticket was one-way.

As early as the 1920s, accounts of abuse began circulating about Exeter, which the automobile was bringing closer to populated Rhode Island. Buildings were fire hazards. Wards were overcrowded. Health care was primitive. Sanitation was lacking. Residents were being beaten, some to death. Decades passed. The stories, many verified in Journal-Bulletin investigations, only got worse.

"You'd see people in feces and urine, lying in it," says Ed Brown, who began work at Ladd in 1962 and is still there, on Lorraine's ward.

"I remember a client who would bite. He was in a detention room 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. He'd been there for years. He had no wearing apparel, only a mattress and two sheets. One day, they let him out. They had a rope around his waist. He was out maybe half an hour and they brought him back."

Says Walter Kirk, 77, who was shipped off to Ladd in 1925 and is still there: "Danforth beat me with a rubber hose. I don't know why, myself. He was the boss. He's dead now."

IN 1948, there was no help for a family such as the Bessettes. If a family couldn't make a go of it with their disabled newborn, Exeter was the only option.

"Due to present high cost of living, family having a difficult time to get along, although the father is employed steadily," one of Lorraine's pre-admission records states. "They are attached to the child but realize that it is for the best to have her institutionalized."

On Dec. 29, 1948, she was.

Lorraine's siblings, who lived in northern Rhode Island, were told by their father that their baby sister had died, according to Ladd officials. Lacking anyone to pay any attention to her, Lorraine would pass the next four decades in her crib and vegetable cart, with little but the walls to amuse her.

There is no test to tell how much of Lorraine's situation results from birth defects, how much is the inevitable product of so much numbness. One can only speculate where she might be if, like today's handicapped babies, she'd had intensive help - and been able to stay home.

"If she'd been given the benefit of early intervention," says Chris Eidam, "she would have gone so far. How far? I don't doubt that she could read."

(Two years ago, Lorraine's social worker managed to track down a sister, who was stunned to learn Lorraine was alive. There has been limited contact since, despite several overtures from Ladd.)

WHILE LORRAINE and hundreds like her were almost literally rotting, someone was beginning to pay attention, at least to the larger picture.

By the 1970s, newspapers were turning up the heat on Ladd. A federal lawsuit was filed by an advocacy group, the Rhode Island Association for Retarded Citizens. Aggressive young bureaucrats took over at the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, which runs Ladd. Governors and the General Assembly agreed on a new mission. So did voters, who supported development of a community system by approving tens of millions in bonds.

As group homes sprouted all over Rhode Island, the population of Ladd slowly shrank from its mid-1960s peak of more than 1,000. By 1986, fewer than 300 were left.

The monster was dying. And Rhode Island, which had risen from a vegetable-cart mentality to become a national leader in the dignified treatment of the disabled, was on its way to becoming the first state not to have an institution for the retarded.

Four years ago, Governor DiPrete made it official. DiPrete, whose commitment to handicapped people has been unwavering despite his political ups and downs, announced that Ladd would close in 1991 - a target date that remains feasible, although it could be into 1992 before the last light goes off forever. Closing Ladd, DiPrete said, would be accomplished by accelerating the development of group homes, including specialized facilities for people with multiple physical, medical and mental handicaps.

"What have we learned?" says James V. Healey, head of the Rhode Island Association for Retarded Citizens. "We've learned we can't segregate ever again."

The phone on Rehab 1 rings. Debbie Sheldon, an attendant, answers. It's Diane. She's calling from her group home, in Johnston.

Lorraine has visited Diane enough to know that's just the kind of place she wants to live in. For one thing, with a lower resident-to-staff ratio than Ladd and better transportation possibilities, the home's five residents get out a lot. They go shopping, to the movies, to Rocky Point Park, to the beach, to restaurants, to sheltered workshops and jobs.

For another thing, there's chocolate cake and barbecued chicken and a whole bunch of good stuff like that. At the group home, residents help prepare their meals. They have a say in the menu. They can smell dinner in the oven. Except for swallowing, residents of Ladd hardly ever get involved in these most basic - and delightful - of human pursuits.

"The homes are beautiful," says Linda Hussey, the attendant. "No matter how many pictures you hang on a wall or how many plants, it will always look like an institution at Ladd."

Lorraine's wildest dream is to live with Diane. What she doesn't know yet is that, within a few days, arrangements will be completed to make her dream come true.

Debbie Sheldon wheels Lorraine to the phone.

"It's for you," she says.

Lorraine lights up. Debbie holds the phone to her ear. Lorraine giggles. On the other end, Diane is saying hello.

"Ask when she's coming to a cookout," Debbie says, loud enough so that her voice carries over the line.

Lorraine giggles.

On the other end, Diane can be heard.

"I think she's saying, 'I love you,' " Debbie says. "Ask her when she's coming over. For a cookout and a sleepover."


"Is she telling you a dirty joke?"


"Tell her you love her."

More giggles.

On the other end, a group home worker's voice is heard. "Lorraine, do you want to come over and see Diane? Would you like to come for dinner?"

Lorraine's head is going up and down, yes] yes] yes]

"Yeah? You might be interested? How about Sunday?"

Lorraine is laughing so hard she's crying.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Story and Public Policy I

"The Inertia of Despair": early Providence Journal story

Note: The Institute of Mental Health, or IMH, was the name of Rhode Island's principal institution for the mentally ill. It became synonymous with the poor treatment of warehousing of mentally ill people. Beginning in the 1950s, The Providence Journal published many stories and photographs that cumulatively help build wide public support for reducing the population to zero and opening community facilities. One of these stories was about Hope Lincoln...

[For more on Story in the Public Square, a partnership of The Providence Journal and the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University, visit the Story website.]

[And to read more about the indignities and suffering of life at the old IMH, read my April 2016 post, Potter's Fields and the Forgotten Mentally Ill.]

CLINGING TO SANITY IN IMH BEDLAM: Agile-minded woman, 97, was 'put away' in 1931
Publication Date: March 22, 1987  Page: A-01  Section: NEWS  Edition: ALL 

THE MORNING of April 14, 1931, Hope K. Lincoln answered the door at her East Side home.

Could he come in? Chief Inspector John J. McGuire asked.

Please do, Hope said apprehensively.

Who is it? croaked Hope's 69-year-old ailing mother.

It's the police, Mumsie, Hope answered.

And what do they want?

Something about our debts. All those bad checks.

A tall, underweight woman of 41, Hope was unusually pale. Her dark hair, highlighted with henna, was uncombed and peppered with nits. Her clothes didn't fit. Her normally high-pitched voice was pitched even higher. Her hands fidgeted. She had a pronounced facial tic. She was wearing her dead grandfather's glasses, the wrong prescription and much too big. Her own had broken months ago and she couldn't afford new ones.

McGuire looked around. Most of the furniture had been repossessed. The mortgage was being foreclosed. The utilities were threatening to shut off service.

The inspector asked Hope to come with him. At his Westminster Street office, Dr. Clifford H. Griffin signed the necessary papers temporarily committing her to City Hospital.

An examination disclosed heart disease, malnutrition, and pyorrhea, a gum disease caused by poor dental hygiene.

Psychological tests revealed above-average intelligence, an exceptional memory, and an enviable knowledge of current events.

Over the next six weeks, Hope cried often. "On admission," a doctor wrote, "she was oriented, relevant, coherent, but was easily upset by questioning showing emotional instability. She presented no delusions or hallucinations."

The conclusion: "undiagnosed psychosis."

"I want to get a steady salary and make a go of things," she told the doctors.

Griffin promised she'd be home soon.

"One morning," she remembers, "they said to me, 'You're leaving here.'"

She wasn't going home.

She was going to Sixth District Court, where Judge Howard B. Gorham would commit her indefinitely to the State Hospital for Mental Diseases, later called the Institute of Mental Health.

Thus did Hope Kirby Lincoln become a victim of a system that has gone the way of the horse and buggy. She is one of the last living links to a shameful chapter in the history of Rhode Island and much of the nation.

HOPE IS 97 now.

Cataracts and glaucoma have claimed her sight. Dentures replaced her teeth half a century ago. Because of osteoarthritis, she cannot walk or handle a dinner knife. Her hearing is just about gone. She needs help in dressing, bathing, getting in and out of bed. Her only possessions are a radio, three hearing aids, a few dresses and a couple of sweaters.

"Every day we live, we deteriorate," she laughs. "The old machine wears out. And you can't get spare parts, you know."

She's wearing her special dress this Valentine's Day, the blue one with the yellow embroidered edge. She is sitting in a community room at the state-run General Hospital, where long-time IMH residents go when they're old and infirm. Red cardboard hearts and posters of cupids with bows and arrows decorate the walls.

For most of the three dozen women on Hope's ward - those whose minds have been decimated by stroke, accident, Alzheimer's disease, mental illness - this might as well be Mars. Some doze, their limbs curled into the fetal position. Others holler, or babble, or stare bug-eyed at the ceiling.

Not Hope.

"I don't care what they do with me," she says. "I make an awful spectacle when I eat. You see, I was a fussy eater. Now I'm so blind I spill things. I'm getting half dependent to lift and I know I'm a burden. I'm blind and no good."

It is uncommon to find her so gloomy. Usually, she likes to chat about the day's events - events from what she always calls "the outside world." Most mornings, a volunteer recites stories from the newspaper. Evenings, she listens to the television, trying never to miss her two favorite shows, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Sometimes she attends movies the hospital shows, chuckling if the soundtrack is funny. Every Sunday, she attends Mass.

She likes to reminisce. She fancies herself an armchair historian, and she recalls with great clarity and accuracy the people, places and events of 40, 50, even 75 years ago. Her memory amazes even the professionals.

No relatives survive, and her only relationships now are with volunteers, staff and other people from the outside world. "Out here, they're not enough really in contact to be friendly," she says of her fellow patients. "Sometimes you can talk to them, but usually they're way out on a limb."

Hope isn't. She wasn't in 1931, either.

"I wasn't crazy," she explains, still embarrassed and ashamed at what befell her. "I had a nervous breakdown. But that's the way they did things in the old days, see?"

ope Lincoln, who spent decades in an institution.

FOR HOPE, the route to the IMH really began the morning of Dec. 6, 1928.

She went to wake her 75-year-old father and found him dead, a victim of the anemia that had dogged him for years. In the obituary that ran in the Providence Journal, where he had worked, Charles E. Lincoln would be hailed as the dean of Rhode Island newspapermen.

"He'd been very sick for a long time," Hope remembers. "I went in one morning, after making a cup of coffee, you know. I put my hand on him and he was cold . . . ice cold."

Since graduating from Hope Street High School, Hope had tutored schoolchildren in French and German. She'd taught ballroom dancing, but she'd never had a full-time job, never left home. Once she had dreamed of college, but family sickness destroyed that dream. Hope's maternal grandparents lived with the Lincolns, and when their health went, the burden of care fell to Hope.

It was Daddy, as she calls him to this day, who relieved some of the drudgery. It was his magazine that she helped lay out, his errands that she ran, his research she was assigned, his articles she proofread, his family about which she bragged.

In turn, Daddy idolized his only daughter, showering her with gifts, welcoming her into his circle of older writers and professors. But his attention and that of his wife, Ada M. Lincoln, Hope's mother, went beyond idolization - far beyond, to smothering. Even as she approached middle age, Hope was required to be home early, dress "ladylike," associate only with people who measured up to her family's impossible standards.

When, in 1925, they demanded she break off her engagement to the only man she'd ever been seriously involved with, she did.

"I loved him, and told him I would marry him if things were all right," she later confided to an IMH doctor. "That is, if Mother were willing. But Mother did not approve, nor Grandma, nor Daddy. My grandmother would cry when he called. Father said he would trounce him. So I broke off. What was the use of getting everybody upset? He is married now and doing well."

HOPE'S FATHER was the youngest son of a family that had made a fortune manufacturing soap and paper boxes.

They were prominent in Providence society, the Lincolns, a family of churchgoing Episcopalians and practicing Masons. The patriarch was a direct descendant of one Samuel Lincoln, who arrived in America with his young bride in 1637, 17 years after the Mayflower; another of Samuel's descendants was Abraham Lincoln; and two were governors. The matriarch of the Providence Lincolns was related to Calvin Coolidge.

Charles was a bit of a rebel. Shunning the family businesses, he skipped college and went to work as a night telegraph operator. That led to another profession, newspapering, a line of work some relatives considered unworthy of a Lincoln.

Through a succession of papers, including the Morning Star, Evening Press and Providence Journal, Charles covered it all - shipwrecks, murders, elections. In the last years of his life he was associate editor of The Providence Magazine, monthly publication of the Chamber of Commerce.

CHARLES married a Massachusetts woman, Julia Ross, in 1875. The next summer, the summer America celebrated its centennial, twin boys were born. A third son followed five years later.

Julia was the first to die. Tuberculosis claimed her in July, 1885. Within nine months, diptheria had taken two of the boys as well.

Meanwhile, Charles had met Ada M. McLaughlin, 24, an overbearing, opinionated woman with blue eyes, golden hair, and a flair for fancy clothes. Ada had been born in Montreal, where her father, a blacksmith from Scotland, worked on bridges. They married on July 11, 1886.

The Lincolns were appalled. Ada was a foreigner, but that wasn't the full extent of it. They thought she had airs. Had tastes that exceeded Charles' budget. Worst of all, she was a Roman Catholic.

HOPE WAS their only child.

She was delivered, at the East Side home they rented, by Dr. Gustav Radeke - husband of Eliza G. Metcalf, oldest child of a family that held stock in the Providence Journal. It was a forceps delivery, otherwise uneventful.

Hope was a shy child, polite to a fault, given to occasional tantrums and pouting. Having few friends, she tended to spend her hours alone, reading, playing the piano, fussing with her dolls, Victoria, Phyllis and Chloe. As a treat, her parents would take her on picnics, or to the theater, or to the moving pictures, or on the train to Newport for the day.

Charles kept his second family in grand style. He managed to retain a cook and a maid. He kept his wife and daughter dressed in the best fashions of the day, filled their home with fine furniture and art, bought a piano, a Victrola and a large record collection. He sent Hope to Miss Bronson's School, an exclusive academy on the East Side, for all but the last of her school years.

Young Hope had bouts of whooping cough and measles. At 5, she fell down a flight of stairs - an accident that partially paralyzed her left side, leaving her with a permanent trace of limp and a "weak hand." The deformity kept her out of athletics, but did not affect her academic performance. Hope was a gifted student. After completing grammar and middle school grades at Miss Bronson's, she transferred to Hope Street High, where she graduated with the Class of 1909 - after completing two years in one.

"She has proved to be a very good student," the yearbook says, "and we have very much enjoyed having her as a member of the class. She will either continue her studies at college next year or spend the winter abroad.

"We wish her all success and pleasure, whichever she chooses."

ONLY A HANDFUL of IMH buildings are used any more.

Those yet to meet the wrecker's ball dot the Howard campus like brick ghosts from a past that refuses to rest. Inside, paint peels, rainwater drips, pigeons mess the floors. On stormy days, the wind whispers and moans through broken windows. Rusted wheelchairs and junk stretchers are piled in heaps.

During its heyday, the State Hospital for Mental Diseases had almost 3,500 patients. Another 2,500 or so over-filled an infirmary, reformatory, almshouse, prison. Howard was a dumping ground for paupers, prostitutes, immigrants, the mentally ill, "undesirables" and "nuisances" of all stripes - all but the retarded, who were sent even further away, to the Ladd School in Exeter.

Howard was its own village. Behind the infamous Green Fence were a post office, train station, dairy, cannery, chapel, cemeteries, smithy, acres of fields and orchards, dozens of dorms, barns and silos.

Inside, Howard was an atrocity.

As with most institutions of the era, staffing was inadequate, wards overcrowded. Few doctors were licensed to practice medicine in Rhode Island. Food was poor. There was no privacy, no dignity. Urine soaked into the wood floors, and no amount of soap or scrubbing could eliminate the stench. It lingers to this day.

That was the passive abuse. The more active variety took the form of lobotomies, isolation cells for months or years at a stretch, shock treatments using insulin to send patients into supposedly beneficial convulsions. There was also the notorious hydrotherapy, which consisted of strapping patients into bathtubs and burying them to their necks in ice until body temperatures dropped enough to send them into hypothermal shock.

The Institute of Mental Health, years ago.
 AT 2:30 P.M. on Tuesday, May 26, 1931, Hope stepped out of the car that had brought her from Providence and was escorted into A Building.

She was taken to an admittance ward, where she was given a physical examination and assigned number 16701. An attendant wrote it in large script on a ribbon, which was pinned to her uniform when she posed for her official photograph.

One of her first sights was a female patient wearing only a cap and one shoe, dancing on a table.

"What a fright I got there," she remembers. "They took us into the room. Took our clothes off and gave us a nasty old johnny and a pair of shoes. They took my class ring and my watch. It was from my dear Daddy, his last Christmas gift. I was heartbroken about my watch. I said, 'Please don't. . .' "

She never saw watch or ring again.

SO MUCH happened in that first, most critical year, from May 1931 to June 1932:

* Hope's mother, doddering and penniless, was sent to Dexter Asylum, a poorhouse located where Brown University's Aldritch-Dexter fields are now.

* Their house was sold at public auction to a speculator for $2,060.37.

* What little furniture that was left was trucked to Milkman & Frost, auctioneers. Hope got "two pairs of galoshes."

* Hope was given a part-time job at a community hospital, an experiment that might have led to her being able to leave Howard.

The experiment failed. "She apparently has more difficulty seeing than was realized," the record states. "She is unable to give patients their medicine; she has spilled it several times. . . The hospital is unable to keep her under these conditions." Hope was still wearing her dead grandfather's glasses.

* Her mother died. Hope attended the funeral. "She did not wish to show too much reaction for fear it would be reported to the doctor here."

* Several of Hope's relatives were contacted with the idea they might take her in.

"The relatives refused to be interested in Hope," the record discloses. "They did not like her mother and did not approve of Mr. Lincoln's second marriage. They do not, therefore, feel at all kindly disposed toward Hope." One cousin did donate $8 so she could have false teeth.


In the outside world, Hope's peers made their ways through life.

At Howard, life was simple, structured, stagnant. Like a record no one knew how to change, it droned on and on with numbing sameness.

Early on, the monotony wrapped Hope in its cocoon. The notion that authority was never to be challenged had been drilled into her as a child, and now, in this most stringently regulated place, it was easier to submit than fight. No good ever came to the fighters, Hope soon discovered. One need look no further than the hydrotherapy chambers for proof of that.

In her annual reports, Hope is described as making a "satisfactory hospital adjustment," a euphemism that meant she wasn't a trouble-maker, wasn't likely to leave.

Hope's defense - the reason she survived, say the professionals - was her unflinching refusal to accept that she was "one of them." One of the "poor things," as she still calls them, who were truly insane.

Hope always considered herself superior, possessing "a slightly grandiose attitude," in the words of one doctor. She always bragged about Dear Daddy. Like him, she made no secret of being related to two presidents.

And so what if no one believed any of it? She knew.

IRONICALLY, what Hope failed at outside, she excelled in at Howard.

She was an exemplary worker, efficient and fastidious in everything she did. She followed directions. Accepted responsibility. Was punctual. Perhaps her only shortcoming was that she considered certain chores beneath her. "I attended a ladies boarding school," she indignantly lectured a social worker in 1931, "and scrubbing floors wasn't on the curriculum."

Her first job was in the laundry, where she folded towels and sheets. After six years, she graduated to the sewing room. Another couple of years, and she had advanced to a position on the housekeeping staff. In 1945, when the war effort had depleted the institution staff, Hope was made an attendant and placed on the "small payroll," which paid a couple of dollars for a six-day week. Hope used the money for clothes, and began to build her burial account.

After 1931, virtually no mention is made in the records of the mental disease supposedly afflicting her.

EVEN during the battery of tests performed during the acclimation period in 1931, there was a clear ambiguity about Hope K. Lincoln. During one particularly long conference, six doctors almost came to blows trying to agree on a diagnosis. (They finally settled on "psychopathic personality.")

"She is emotionally unstable."

"She strikes me a little bit as schizophrenic. I have no substantial reason for that, but she just strikes me that way."

"At the present time, one could not say she is psychotic."

"Her emotional reactions (are) chiefly those resulting from embarrassment."

"I think she is in perfect contact."

"It is a situational thing, it appears to me, being left at a rather advanced age to take care of herself, having failed to emancipate earlier in life, and not having anything in the way of assets along economic lines."

"I don't believe she will get along outside of an institution. She is a little too old to start over again."

In 1955, Hope was asked how she had wound up in the IMH.

"She obviously covers the reason of her hospitalization," the doctor wrote, "and rationalizes this way: 'After my mother was ill for a long time and my father died in 1928, there was no money left. And if there is no money left, you have to go to the hospital.' "

"PEOPLE naturally turned to these institutions as a place to put 'a problem,' " says Danna Mauch, state mental health director.

"There were many people committed because of physical infirmity, old age, poverty, because of some troublesome behavior that some family didn't want to deal with.

"Once there, it was very difficult to leave. There was not the kind of due process in place that exists now for periodic reviews, for petitions before the court to reviw commitment orders, for automatic review of commitment orders at certain intervals.

"I think that Hope Lincoln stands as symbol for all of us who are committed to this business of creating the community mental health version of an open society, a place where people have access to resources, share those resources and are allowed to. . . have some determination about their lives.

"Hope is the kind of person to whom we should dedicate and redouble our efforts."

BY THE TIME FDR was president, Hope's "adjustment" was complete.

She had made a few friends inside the institution. They were mostly older, infirm women whom she befriended and cared for - much as she had her mother and grandparents. Evenings, they would play whist or read. The institution's censors allowed Hope a correspondence with a Hope High classmate, Dorothy Warner Dennis, who had wound up a distinguished professor of French at Wellesley College.

That correspondence and an occasional letter to her half-brother, Frank - who had left home when Hope was a toddler - were virtually the extent of her contact with the outside world. Early on, a neighbor or two had visited, but those visits were history by the mid-1930s.

No one from Daddy's family apparently ever visited, although Frank sent chocolates one Christmas.

"The Lincolns stayed by themselves a lot," Hope recalls, "because I was in the bughouse. That's what they called it, 'the bughouse.' I didn't care. They didn't bother with me and I lived without them. So that's that."

IF THERE was a blessing, it was that Hope wasn't subjected to any of the worst treatments, the lobotomies and insulin therapies. The records do not reflect what, if any, abuse she suffered from staff. But incident reports document numerous occasions when she was stabbed, slapped, kicked, shoved, had her glasses broken by fellow patients.

The most serious incident occurred on Sept. 4, 1961, when - at the age of almost 72 - she was kicked by a patient, fell and broke her hip. An operation was required, followed by nearly a year of painful rehabilitation.

Her work career was over.

In social welfare, meanwhile, the Dark Ages were coming to a close.

A new class of wonder drugs had appeared on the market in the 1950s. By the early '60s, most psychiatric patients were getting them, some involuntarily. Although the side effects were sometimes disastrous, the psychotropics were remarkably successful in controlling mental illness. "Hopeless cases" were suddenly quiet and orderly citizens, able to blend into the community on discharge.

From its peak in 1954, the population of the IMH had been steadily declining as admissions were curtailed, discharges accelerated. Group homes and other community programs were on the horizon. A succession of scandals galvanized public opinion in favor of the new policy, deinstitutionalization.

In 1965, when she was 76 and in failing health, Hope was transferred across Howard Avenue to General Hospital.

In the late '60s, as deinstitutionalization picked up steam, she was offered the chance to move to a private nursing home.

She declined. Thirty-five years had their price.

"I didn't want to go out in public," she recalls. "So many strangers. I thought I wouldn't get along so well. I'm one that likes to stay put. I don't like a lot of changing. Once you'd been in a place like this, I figured no one wanted you. There's a stigma you can't get over."

HOPE WAS sick for several weeks after Daddy's death.

By the summer of 1929, she was well enough to work. There really was no choice.

The wolves were at the door.

During the last years of his life, when his weekly salary was only $64, Charles had lavished on his family the finer things. Ada had always demanded them, and Charles had always agreed she and Hope were entitled to them - even if it meant he had to borrow, and borrow heavily.

The first debt was incurred in 1920, when Charles took out mortgages totalling $5,700 to buy an elegant three-story house at 166 Prospect Street. Within four years, he had to remortgage; four years after that, he remortgaged again. Charles even borrowed against his $3,000 life insurance policy to pay off debts. When he died, Hope and Ada got $731, sufficient only to bury him.

Hope resumed tutoring and dance lessons. Children loved her, affectionately called her Grandma Tippytoes, but it brought in only a few dollars a week, barely enough for food. Encouraged by a neighbor, Eliza Radeke - wealthy widow of the doctor who had delivered her - she tried her hand at real estate. It went nowhere.

"Because she was inexperienced," her mother lamented, "everyone took advantage of her."

In ordinary times, she might have squeaked by. But these were not ordinary times. Apples were being hawked on street corners and lines formed at dawn to soup kitchens. Like yesterday's sand castles, The Roaring '20s had been swept away by a wave of financial ruin known as the Great Depression.

AS BAD AS 1929 was, it was a milk run compared to 1930.

Businesses panicked. Debts that once would have been let slide were being vigorously collected. Creditors were howling for their due.

That fall, the Lincolns were summoned to civil court regarding outstanding balances at Filene's, the Outlet Co., Caesar Misch (a clothing store that advertised "Cheerful Credit to All"), Peirce and Son ("Distinctive Styles in Shoes and Hosiery").

In September, Hope's mother - who was showing the first signs of senility - broke her hip. Her hospital stay ended with $1,500 in new debts. One of the first things she did when she got home, in February, 1931, was order a new bedroom set. That check, like so many others, bounced.

Desperate, Hope approached Daddy's relatives. They wanted nothing to do with her and her "begging." A church and a welfare agency helped out with food and second-hand clothes, and Mrs. Radeke was more than generous - she wrote several checks to Hope, for a total of several hundred dollars.

It was too late.

On April 14 came Inspector McGuire's knock.

AS SHE SAT before Judge Howard B. Gorham in his Sixth District Courtroom - the same room in the old Benefit Street Statehouse where Rhode Island patriots declared their independence from the crown - Hope was afraid she might faint. Her hands shook and her mouth was dry.

Hope sat alone. She did not have a lawyer - had not been told she was entitled to one, could not have afforded one in any case.

Judge Gorham leaned across his bench and asked the City Hospital doctor to come forward.

It was May 25, 1931.

Hope remembers: "They said, 'We think that you're not able to care of yourself.' They said I was bankrupt. They said that I was out of funds, and that Mama was sick, and the mortgage wasn't paid up, and they'd foreclosed it.

"I cried. I said, 'Well, I'm doing the best I can, sir.' I was so surprised. They said, 'You're going. . . You're going to Howard.' "

Gorham wrote: "Adjudged insane." Later, a clerk would stamp COMMITTED in blue ink next to her name in the docket book.

THE POTTER'S FIELD, with its numbered but nameless concrete headstones, is no longer used, and Hope will have to leave Howard when she dies. After a Mass of Christian Burial, she will be laid to rest in plot 24, off Forest Avenue in Swan Point Cemetery. Daddy, who made those arrangements for his little girl almost a century ago, is buried there, between his two wives.

Until that day, Hope will spend her waking hours in the community room, dozing off from time to time. Mornings, a volunteer will read the headlines and a few of the stories from "Daddy's Paper." Janitors will come by, mopping floors, scenting the air with the sickly sweet smell of industrial-strength disinfectant. The demented patients will yell and scream. As she has for decades, Hope will continue to worry that she is fat. During Lent, she will fast. On Fridays, she will eat only fish.

She is philosophical.

"I think from the day you're born until the day you die," she explains without bitterness, " that your life is planned for you. It's your fate. It's your destiny. No matter what you do, you can't change it.

"Once you get to a place like this, the outside world is closed forever."

-- 30 --

'Romance, I fear, is gone forever,' Hope wrote of a womanhood smothered by doting parents

"I was born Oct. 17, 1889. I was a sickly child, not being able to walk until I was a year and a half old.

"My parents lived with my maternal grandparents, both of whom idolized me. Expensive dolls, housekeeping toys, and dainty clothes were showered upon me. I had a large playroom where, after school hours, I could read with my large family of dolls.

"Only one or two playmates were permitted me. Such a thing as playing out on the street or romping about in outdoor games was out of the question. There were no children in our immediate neighborhood with whom I was permitted to play.

"As I grew older, studies, music lessons and dancing school took the place of my dolls. Grandma was blind and I used to spend hours reading to her some of the children's books, like Alice in Wonderland, Grimms' Fairy Tales or any of the Mother Goose jingles. . . .

"Parties were a rare treat. Never shall I forget the bitter disappointment of being kept from a Halloween party which one of my classmates was having at her home in Pawtucket. It was in the evening and Grandma persuaded Mother that it was too far.

"The symphony concerts, club, operas, lectures and good plays were permitted as a matter of course. The girls in school thought I was stuck up. I was eagerly hoping to be included in their good times, but too shy to venture. The sex relations were never explained to me. . . .

"After school life was over I went about with my parents to evening parties. A group of my friends formed a bridge club. We met weekly at the different home. They did not care very much for boys. I had a desire for boy friends, but feared displeasing my parents. . . .

"I got discouraged and put romance out of my life. I know one or two charming bachelors with whom I am on friendly terms in a business way. Romance, I fear, is gone forever. . . .

"You claim that I am 10 years old mentally. I assure that I can 'be my age,' as the slang expression has it. Deep in my heart is the knowledge that I can make good.

"Will you give me a chance?"

- HOPE K. LINCOLN, May 27, 1931. Written at the request of staff, and entered as part of her official record at the State Hospital for Mental Diseases.

Reporter's Notebook.

I met Hope Lincoln early in 1986 during a tour of the state General Hospital.

Within minutes, we were discussing some of the major stories in the news. Hope was articulate, opinionated, gracious, intelligent. She laughed easily.

When I was told she was 96 - had been institutionalized for 55 of those years - I was floored.

As state mental health director Danna Mauch later said: "Surviving that experience is confirmation of . . . the power of the human spirit."

I wasn't able to get back to Hope until December. We talked for an hour or so, mostly about events in her life. Her recall of detail is staggering. Virtually everything she remembers - names, dates, what the weather was like certain days - is corroborated in the records I was able to find.

In all, I spent three months researching Hope's story. Some of that time was in libraries and dusty records vaults, but hours were spent with Hope. I quickly liked her and admired the courage that has kept her so intact so long.

Hope is not insane.

Even at the height of the worst crisis of her life, she was not insane.

Depressed, bankrupt, scared.

But not insane.

Today, it's doubtful she would have spent even a day in an institution.

Most likely, a community mental health center would have helped her through her depression - medication that didn't exist in 1931 probably would have been prescribed, along with counseling - and a program would have assisted her with income and a place to live. Once the crisis had moderated, she probably would have qualified for job training.

Among those assisting in research: The Rhode Island Historical Society; the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals; the Department of Health; the state Supreme Court Judicial Records Center; Recorder of Deeds, City of Providence; Providence Journal-Bulletin Library; Providence Public Library; the Watertown and Hingham (Mass.) public libraries.