Trigger warning for graphic descriptions of child and adult abuse and disablism
A lot of my neurotypical friends don’t understand why I am so paranoid about going to an institution. They think, for one, that it could never happen to me, because I’m intelligent and express myself eloquently, and secondly, they don’t think it could be all that bad for someone like me, who is mostly able-bodied save for troubles with my back from scoliosis, since I could feed myself, ask for private time, and go to the bathroom alone. There is also often this assumption that goes unchallenged that the disabled have it made in the U.S, that we’re lucky not to be living in a country where we’d be kept in cages or denied food and water. So I often end up shoving stories like this in their faces, reminding the world that being cognitively, not physically, disabled, or living in America is no guarantee of your human rights being respected.
Jonathan’s story made me vomit into the toilet, and after a rough day like today, I was left crying, murmuring, “Murderers, murderers…” I’m still trying to process this story, so I’ll just post some of the most important quotes from the story, to remind the world that disabled people do not in fact, have it made in America. We are often the most vulnerable and the most abused population in any country, and a country’s having money is no guarantee of human rights being respected or basic needs being fulfilled for the disabled. Without further ado, here is the lowlights from this article. Next time someone jokes about me needing some time alone in a rubber room, or asks me why I am so afraid of losing my freedom, I’ll give them the URL to this story. You should read the whole thing, but these parts are the most important, with the bold emphasis being my addition:
Yet on a February afternoon in 2007, Jonathan, a skinny, autistic 13-year-old, was asphyxiated, slowly crushed to death in the back seat of a van by a state employee who had worked nearly 200 hours without a day off over 15 days. The employee, a ninth-grade dropout with a criminal conviction for selling marijuana, had been on duty during at least one previous episode of alleged abuse involving Jonathan.
But the institutions are hardly a model: Those who run them have tolerated physical and psychological abuse, knowingly hired unqualified workers, ignored complaints by whistle-blowers and failed to credibly investigate cases of abuse and neglect, according to a review by The New York Times of thousands of state records and court documents, along with interviews of current and former employees.
Patterns of abuse appear embedded in the culture of the Sunmount Developmental Center in the Adirondacks. Last year, one supervisor was accused of four different episodes of physical and psychological abuse of residents within a span of two and a half months; another employee bragged on Facebook about “beating retards.”
Direct-care workers were often high school dropouts, some with criminal convictions. One lower-level supervisor had a petty larceny conviction. Edwin Tirado, the employee eventually convicted of manslaughter in Jonathan’s death, had been convicted of selling marijuana and, as a youthful offender, for firing a shotgun in his attic.
He was let go from a third job after being accused of calling 1-900 sex lines using a company cellphone, and from a fourth job after he inexplicably had a hairdresser cut off all the hair of a disabled woman in his care.
They discovered a logbook inside the bag detailing startling changes to Jonathan’s treatment plan. Among other things, the school was withholding food from Jonathan to punish him for taking off his shirt at inappropriate times.
Inspectors also found that a resident had claimed that a caretaker had called him a “retard” and threatened to have another resident “beat him up.” When the resident was indeed assaulted by the second resident, inspectors found that Sunmount officials did not investigate whether the employee had instigated the fight. In another episode, an employee dumped ketchup, salt and pepper on the head of a resident during dinner. The agency’s response was to transfer the employee to another unit.
In one case, two employees played a game they called “Fetch,” throwing French fries on the floor and laughing as one resident dived to get them, while another jumped out of his recliner and a third ate them off the floor.