Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital part two


The past two weeks I have taken a break from the seven-part series I uncovered in the Star Newspaper called Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital to devote my blog to Rico Rodriguez. Now I return to that series with part two, which is titled, I Join the Working Party by Christopher W. Rowe. This article ran on Thursday, April 20, 1961. Of particular note in this article, I think, is the identification of the medication injection problem at Bellevue (I discussed in the first part of this series why this is definitely Bellevue that Rowe writes of, although it is never named) since I believe this is the cause of Don Drummond’s death, medication administered improperly or with an incomprehension of the effects. Also of note is that the D ward is where murderers were kept. This is where Don Drummond was, as I’ve written in my book, Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist. Many officials who were related to the situation told me this, and here is a discussion of that ward. A final note, the revelation Rowe makes about the overflowing sewers and unsanitary conditions.

Here is part two of Experiences of an Inmate in a Mental Hospital by Chrisopher W. Rowe:

I join the working party
I was made to join a working party for more advanced convalescent patients. I was sent to the tailor shop. This consisted of a different routine. We left the ward at about 6:25 AM for the dining hall where we were served early coffee and bread, the same six ounces. After that we left for our working places, some to field parties, some to sanitary gangs, some as messengers, some to the carpenter’s shop, some blacksmiths, some tinsmiths, some to the doctor’s quarters and the matron’s also. My party went to the tailor’s shop. A few would be claimed for the kitchen from about five in the morning and some for the dining hall to wash tables and dishes. In the tailor’s shop I started to make buttonholes on shirts pants and nightgowns made by other patients until I was given a trial at the machines, one foot machine and a few hand ones. I was not new to tailoring so was able to make everything made there, from a shirt, nightgown, trousers, sheets and pillowcases.


At 11 o’clock we working patients were made to be in the dining hall; there we were served a pint of porridge, cornmeal, and half of bread and a bit of cheese, then after that returning to our repetitive working places to carry on until one o’clock at which time we joined with those from the ward that eat in the dining hall. At five o’clock we finished the day with the same route, after that to bed. On Sundays at ten in the mornings a party from the four main wards O, G, B, and N, go to church which is situated near the female division which also sends a party of female patients to attend. The party of male patients would be under the charge of the head nurse or chief charge from N Ward, which ward even though one is the smallest is always the boss in such things, the reasons being that their patients are much better behaved and likewise it carries a lesser amount of attendants so at times the entire ward is made to turn out. (Since they would be short of attendants none would be available to remain with patients in the ward, so all patients about 50 would join the various parties).

At about two o’clock or just after the mid-day meal they have what is called a walking party where the patients go and sit down out on the lawn nearby the church for about two hours. This party partly comprises the same church goers with no exceptions. This walking party is carried on every evening from day to day except if rain or if they are badly short of attendants. I was a member of all the parties. On Tuesday mornings there would be another party known as sea-bathing party who would be called about nine in the morning from the four main wards to go down to the sea and bathe and return at about half past ten.

This took place on three days per week, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, at the same hour every morning. There is a dental party on Tuesdays for those patients with bad teeth. They would be warned on the Monday to be taken to the dentist Tuesday evening about two o’clock whose office would be at the female division.

He would first treat a party of female patients for attending to the males. The system is for him to start there on the females a long while before so by the time the males reach he would be on the tail end. On public holidays most working patients are given a treat together with some well-behaved ones picked from the various wards, of bun and lemonade or at times cream and cake also candy. I was there on the first of August 1934 on which day we were served bun and lemonade.

A patient that is open to be visited receives the caution wherever he happens to be whether in the ward or out in a party whether working party or otherwise. The visitor attends to the waiting room whose officer has a book with the muster of the various wards. The visitor gives the name of the patient he or she wants to see. The waiting attendant looks it up until he finds it then writes out a bit of paper with the patient’s name as follows – John Brown to be seen – he hands this to a patient orderly or runner who takes it to the ward indicated and there he knocks at the door until it is opened by an attendant who forwards the note to the chief in charge or chief charge of the ward who calls out for the patient.

If he is in the ward he is easily found; if not the books are searched to see what party he is in unless he is not connected to that ward. If he is in a party they tend for him right away, a visit being termed a dispatch or emergency. All parties are guided by books from the sea bathing, church, walking, dental and also another party called dressing party, (patients with small sores but not serious enough for them to be sent to hospital and detained wards).

These are taken to hospital where the sores are bathed in warm water and dressed and made to return to their respective wards. There is a ward known as the Detention Ward or Limbo where are placed murderers, men who are arrested and tried in the courts but deemed insane. There is a tuberculosis ward, another wards known as sea ward where patients suffering from dysentery or fever are made to stay. There is also a private patients ward were 21 shillings per week is paid for the patients to stay by his relatives.

There is also a canteen attached to the institution where if money is lodged in the office for you, it can be utilised by drawing things. They are such as biscuits, aerated water, bathing soap, cigarettes etc. The process of drawing things is to lead the head nurse sign a chit or voucher for whatever you require within the amount lodged your account which he in turn hands to the canteen officer, fulfills the written request, which is handed to the patient.

After being there for about two months I was examined by Dr. Myers who was second in command at the time. He in turn sent me to the medical superintendent, discharged me to my father, who had come for me. That was 23 August 1934 and I was made a free person once more. It was more a prison than a hospital.

On a patients being considered fit to be recommended to be discharged to return home he is first examined by the ward doctor who reports it and after that a more senior doctor who considers him fit to see the medical superintendent on examining the patient directs that he be made to go or not if he thinks fit.

The institution has the main office which is occupied by more doctors, a medical officer, and two others. Attached to it is the pay clerk’s office which comprises a cashier or chief storekeeper, chief clerk or assistant storekeeper, his senior assistant and paymaster. Nearby are the provision stores and clothing stores in which are things sent down by the tender board such as cloths to make clothing for patients, foodstuffs to be used in the kitchen, attendant uniform and all other things in such places.

The general muster of all the wards at the time was about 700 with a female division of about 200 making a total of about 900. This was in 1934. Now it has gone up to about two thousand.

It also has a dispensary attended by a dispenser whole time in charge. His duties are to take the blood, test the patients, their saliva and using for the purpose of being tested. He is also in charge of the distribution of medicine to the various wards in the female division as well. A clinic is attached to the institution where revisiting psychiatric social worker gives injection in the lower arm. I was given one turned a sore that lasted me about a month. I had to get it bathe and dress. On the last Wednesdays of each month a check is made of all condemned thing such as patients clothing, bedding comprising of seats pillowcases old pillows, nightgown and old mattress case at times also brooms, old used hands, benches, tables, attendance clothings also chair, canvas cot that are destroyed whether by patient or worn out, are heaped up and placed before a man from the Kingston Public Works of not less than the grade of an assistant superintendent of works who sorts things to see if they are to be used furthermore to be condemned.

If marked off it is stamped condemned and replacements recommended to the management no matter what amounts condemned. It is called a board of… Condemned stock… A dosier from the office attendance to it and likewise represents the institution and … Who is also the assistant…

This institution carries the tailor shop, a carpenter shop, a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a plumber, a mason, a painter and a field party. All the working places are staffed with patients under the supervision of tradesmen attendants who are able to instruct the patients at the various trades.

At the field they weed grass with machete sharpened on grindstones. They also use hoe and pick axes at their carry-ons out the field where they plant garden pepper and the likes. The attendants clothing are made downtown but those of the patients are made in the tailor’s shop except in extreme cases then clothes would be sent out to a tailor in Kingston for him to make some. Mostly shirts and pants.

The carpenter shop produces benches, chairs, tables, do small repairs to doors of buildings like wards and storerooms etc. It is a more serious job the public works sends up the carpenters to do it.
The painter does small paintings such as on canvas cots and canvas chairs. The Mason re-smooths any disrupted surface from time to time.

The plumber and the blacksmith are to see to it that all the pipes of the institution are in order both he and the blacksmith. The institution has a sewerage system which easily goes bad at times causing great inconveniences both at the male and female divisions. It is the duty of the tinsmith to both make and repair cans and pans also large tin pots used in the kitchen for cooking, or ordinary containers. It is not unusual to see sewers choked and running over for days until the plumbing party reaches that section and places it in order.

In the hospital or admission ward there is compulsory bathing on Saturdays which is also clothes changing day. In the main wards it is just the same compulsory bathing on Saturdays and change of clothing. They are the patient is given his hands filled with soft soap which he uses to lather his skin under the shower then washes it off. There are about three taps in a bathroom which is occupied the entire Saturday morning the process of serving diets in B Ward is that the cooked things are brought from the kitchen by patients under the supervision of an attendant which in turn is transferred to pans placed in a large tray with handles and carried by two patients one in front and the other in the rear, and attendant keeps up with it and hands it out on both sides to patients who are made to sit along both sides of the lane.

The patient would at times sneak up and grab a diet but would be chased and captured and the diet taken away by an attendant and he, the patient, would be locked in a cell for the period. There he would be served his meal with a caution.
There are patients who grab from other patients and are generally caught and locked away. If there action become very habitual they are locked away during meal hours. There is another class of patients who are in the habit of either having away their diets or exchanging it for tobacco. These are locked away and fed in cells likewise, in order to stop their habits
A patient that is visited by relatives is taken out to the waiting room as soon as he is announced where he receives whatever is brought for him. If it be things to be eaten he eats it there, he is also allowed to receive small coins up to 2/– which he can used to buy things at the canteen.

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