By, Russell Moss
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I walked down a long corridor, high above New York. Looking out the window, down on the people below, I feel that I am a king and that there is nothing wrong. They are as insignificant as I am. I walked into a room and sat down in my hospital robe.
“So, tell me a little about yourself,” the social worker requested as he and some psychiatrist gathered around me at the table. The inquisition would not last long; I all ready know all the answers. They both prepared themselves to practice “medicine.” They wanted to “get to know me,” and by that I mean they wanted my history, history of madness, history of wasted youth, and history of being strung out, all on a nice and tidy Q and A answer form. It’s always the usual questions of when did you start, how long, with whom, what happened, how much, and so on and so on and so on. Every institution has the same tidy Q and A profile. Once you have been in as many institutions as I have, the answers are only second nature. After awhile, you can diagnose your own “illness” and even prescribe your own medicine. The psychiatric field has nomenclatures for every little disorder. I happen to have about 3 and sometimes 4, depending upon the shrink, counselor, or psychologist. Every institute has at least some head guru mind fuck or all, depending, of course, on how much insurance you have. Every institution has this objective, creating in a subject the ideals of that particular institution.
“I’m Dr. Andric,” the stranger said as he offered his hand in a posture of greeting. His hand shake was weak; moreover, he looked like some hippie burnout. His grey hair, fashioned in a pony tail, screamed, “I was a child of the sixties.” I liked him.
“Right on, I’m Russell,” I said trying to be sociable though my eyes were still red from crying just a few moments ago. I love my father.
“My name is Tony,” the social worker interjected. He sat quietly waiting to jot down my responses to the incoming query. Tony was Italian and showed very large, white pearly teeth when he smiled.
“So why are you here?” Tony asked.
Why am I here? What kinda bullshit question is that? Well for starters, I am afraid to go to my classes. Sometimes I can’t even get outta bed. I am depressed; I cry for no reason and last week I tried to kill myself on Xanax and heroin. I hate that question most of all. They all know why someone is here. They just ask this to break the ice. Theses intake interviews take place in every type of institution: legal, vocational, clubs , medical, and so on. Whatever institution it is, interviews are there to disclose the hidden, to begin to inoculate you to that particular institution. So begins my inoculation.
“I’m sad and, I tried to kill myself on H and pills” I mumbled.
“How much pills and heroin did you consume that day?”
“I ate about 75 pills of Xanax and, ohh injected about 4 bags of heroin”
“You know that is a fatal combination,” the doctor said shockingly. “You must be some sorta tough guy. A real hardcore drug addict,” he added sarcastically.
I never thought I was a hardcore drug addict. Hardcore addicts steal, commit violent crimes, kill puppies and eat small children. Though I have been in seven rehabs and detoxes, I have never considered myself a hardcore druggie.
“Of course I did. That’s why I did it, but it didn’t work, again.”
“Again? You mean this has happened a couple of times?”
“Yeah a couple, someone always saves me. Well, I guess fortunately, this time, I was found on the sidewalk Uptown, blacked out, dead to the world, just lying there in broad daylight.” I continued, “The last thing I remember was Wednesday around 4pm. They found me Uptown around Thursday at 2:40 pm. I became aware that I was still alive Friday, sometime. The nurses filled in the blanks. But they all called me Hemmingway.”
“Hemmingway?” Doc questioned.
“Yeah, I guess while I was in the hospital I thought I was Ernest Hemmingway. Yeah, I was shouting, over and over, that I was Hemmingway and that they couldn’t hold me here. I’m Ernest Hemmingway, I shouted over and over. Do you know who I am?”
“Do you think your Ernest Hemmingway?”
“Only when I’m on death’s dose dose of pills and dope.”
“Do you know where you are now?” Doc Questioned.
“Aren’t I not on the 18 floor of Bellevue hospital?”
“Indeed you are on 18 north, a psychiatric ward. Have you ever been on a psyche ward before?”
“I’ll attack Italy from Germany,” I commanded with the voice of a General. “Pick up your dice, brother, I’m gonna kick your ass,” I ordered. Risk can ruin childhoods. It is a board game of meglomanic proportions. One player tries to defeat all the other players by engaging in a quest of world domination. It brings out the Napoleon in everyone. There is no remorse. Just bitter war and fury.
We played like a family. I loved playing anything with my Dad. My little brother always had to barge in. He deserved to have his ass whipped by me. He sucked at Risk. I was 17 and didn’t even want him around. We argued. We fought. He was my younger brother and I was superior.
On the verge of manhood, I desired my Dad’s respect and love. In my youthful mind, I saw him as a Great War hero—a Vietnam vet. He always walked tall and worked hard. He was a career military man. I feared him more than loved him, but when he shared himself with me over a board game, I valued the time.
Nonetheless, there we were playing Risk. We were having a nice time, kicking each other’s asses all over the war map. “I took Italy, ha ha, you suck, and so does Mussolini,” I started to chant and mock my brother. My brother started to meltdown like Chernobyl. With vehement anger, he exploded all over the Risk board. Pieces were strewn all over the living room, like a nuke had just gone off.
I attacked my brother for his insubordination. I pummeled him. I was winning the war, beating my father and that jerk ruined my conquest. Anger erupted within Dad as well. He picked me up by my neck and commenced to choke me—leaving his fingerprints into my flesh. It was chaos. Maybe Risk had penetrated our senses because we were all going at it like rabid soldiers. My Mom came and broke up everything. We all went to our rooms.
The next morning my parents and I went on a drive. We pulled up to some building. It looked hollow and empty, just small patches of grass and white brick. The sign in the lawn said Charter. I had no idea what was going on. We walked in and were promptly greeted by a receptionist. She showed my folks to a room, and I sat out in the lobby. What was going on? My mother was abnormally quiet. They were in there awhile. I looked through the magazines but I saw nothing that caught my attention. What the hell is this place? Then a man with a white coat appeared from a door and motioned for me to enter. I thought that my parents went in there, so, being a little anxious, I followed the man through the door. I was being led to the slaughterhouse. The door slammed behind me and I was trapped.
My parents left me there at what is officially known as Charter Behavioral Hospital for Adolescence. What was wrong with my behavior? Me and my brother always beat each other; my father had always been physical. What’s the big deal?
I was promptly introduced to Dr. Beeker. This would be my first interview. This guy wanted to “get to know me.” I sat in his office with a fancy wooden desk. He had some degree on the wall of some school I never heard off. He looked like Larry from the Three Stooges, only with black hair and black frame glasses. He was fat and Jewish. I thought there would be a couch to rest upon but there wasn’t. That was disappointing. I thought all shrinks had couches, so they could rest their fat asses on them as they try to figure me out. He would be my first shrink.
“Hi Russell, how are you?” Dr. Beeker asked.
“What the hell do you think? I was tricked into coming here by my parents. How in the hell did they know about this place? Why am I even here? I am not fucking crazy. And who the fuck are you anyway?” I snapped off to the question that he asked.
“Well then Mr. Moss could you explain to me about your drug arrest, expulsion from high school, your abuse towards your brother, your obvious anger.”
I thought that was just normal teenage stuff. Sure I got arrested, but somebody snitched. Pot smoking normal. Sibling rivalry normal. Teenage angst normal. Besides I was punk rock my duty was to buck the establishment and especially the institutions. I was being brainwashed for nothing, for being a free thinker. I was a rebel.
“Excuse me, Mr. Doctor guy, how in the hell do you know so much about me?”
“Well me and your parents have been talking for a week, since you your return from Florida” he said smugly like he was a spy that had infiltrated my life.
That’s just great! My parents have been conspiring to get rid of me. After my drug arrest they sent me away to my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Charlie. My parents didn’t know how to handle to me. I guess I was wild and out of control. I just hated high school. As a military brat, they drug me around the country: Alabama, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota. I went two different high schools. I was the new guy again. I hated school. I discovered pot because it was easy to make friends. So after my pot arrest, I was sent to live with family, far away from the forces that were transforming me into something terrible.
In Florida, with my family, was an institution all itself. My surrogate family were conservative Christians. The kind that believe in miracles, speak in tongues, laying on of hands, dancing and other Pentecostal hilarities. They believed that demons were in my music, punk rock. They said my clothes were rebellious and my hair cut was of the devil. So they bought new clothes, trashed my music, cut my long hair. Didn’t Jesus have long hair? They sent me back home to Mom for non-compliance.
That is the thing about some institutions they only want the appearance of compliance with the changing of only the exterior. Does changing what someone watches or what some listens to change the heart of a person. Is that not the purpose of religion? We have made Religion into an institution, just like any other, having a form but not the power. My Aunt gave me the left foot of fellowship before she offered me the right hand of compassion. Now I am in a new institution with Beeker.
“Well if you know such about me then, Doc, why am I here? What have my parents told you?” I demanded.
“You know what we have talked about, it is what me and you, together, will discover while you stay here” Doc said.
“There is nothing to discover, and if there was I wouldn’t share it with you, someone who conspired to have me institutionalized. And I do not want to stay here, I want to blow this joint, now.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Moss, you are here for a couple weeks. You’re parents signed you in.”
That is still today a betrayal that cuts deep. My mom and dad being my very own Judas. I was there for two weeks. I refused treatments on all levels. They decided to curse me with ADHD and depression. I would not take their meds. I would not talk in the therapy groups. I would not comply. My non-compliance would land me in something called long term treatment. I was definitely going to fight any type of brainwashing. Instead of God to change what ails me, these people sought pills to change me, causing my world to turn against me. Change to what, I don’t know, but change is what all institutions are looking for. It is better said that institutions are looking for compliance and conformity.
I left Doctor Beeker or I should say that he sent me away to a place more suitable to my needs. The audacity for him to think that he knows what I need. I need to leave this hell. I need to be making love to young ladies. I need some acceptance from my parents. I won’t hit my brother any more. As a matter of fact I will let him win at Risk.
Yet, here I am at Charter’s long term facility. This place is where the real crazies go. The ones that stare off into nowhere or talk to themselves. I don’t belong here. There is nothing wrong with me. You must be on crack to thank that I will spend a year here. I am not turning 18 within these walls. There must be away out from this place.
This facility has a school. I hate it. I skip classes only to be placed in time out. Time outs are a form of punishment for misbehavior. I am forced to stare at the walls for 15 minutes. I refuse to leave my room at times. The staff say this will only make my stay longer. There must be an escape. I can’t run away. Where would I go?
This place is full of retards. They line up like bums at a soup kitchen only they are taking a hand full of skittles–colorful psycho-tropic meds that could sedate Rush Limbaugh. I am surrounded by multiple personalities, manic-depressives, suicide cases; I don’t belong. The weakest is Eugene. He is a really big fat kid everyone seems to hate. Fat people are easy targets. Maybe if I drive others to behave unstable then that would be enough to have me removed. The refusal of treatment will not suffice to see me ex-communicated.
My plan was simple I would just vandalize his room. There is a D and D game that he loves. That would be my first target. While all the other drones went to that pseudo – school, I skipped it and started my infiltration into Eugene’s room. I approached his desk covered in comic books and watercolor paints and a portrait of his family. He had a mom and a dad, and a couple of sisters. They all were smiling. They looked happy. I grabbed the picture. I took a marker from his desk and wrote on the picture in cartoon bubbles above his sister’s mouth. “I want to suck your dick Eugene.” I drew on the other sister’s mouth, “Daddy please stop raping me!” I took the picture and placed on his pillow and squatted over the picture and took a big shit right on his family. Then I grabbed that dork of a game and pissed into box to were it started to leak out the sides.
Part two of my plan was to truly tell all these shrinks and quacks that “I’m fine, I don’t belong here.” I went into my room and went to the external heater like one you might find in a hotel. I removed the top panel so that the heating coils were exposed. I turned it up to inferno. While it was getting ready I wadded up some notebook paper and used the blazing coils to start a fire. I felt like Drew Barrymore as I light up the curtains and bed sheets.
Fuck these people, fuck this place, I don’t need your help. I am fine .Fuck your meds. Fuck these losers. I hope they will all die. I will watch you burn.
Needless to say, my plan backfired. The alarms went off and as soon as I had started my cookout, some orderlies came in and doused my blaze with fire extinguishers. I wasn’t there the fire alarms sent everyone outside. I didn’t want to hang around at the scene of the crime anyway.
We were called back in. There was this pathetic cry of “Fuck!”, and everyone ran to Eugene’s room to see this huge fat man melt down to nothing. He came running towards me. I had not planned on hand to hand combat this early in the day. So I jumped on a nearby table. Now this fight is fair, eye to eye, to a 380 pound, 6’9 giant, that I have just awoken. A good fist fight would land me in an isolation chamber with a shot of some drug that sedates. That was all the motivation I needed to pounce on the giant—good thing giants are slow. My minuscule blows barely made the giant blink. At this point I became alarmed and hopped that the orderlies would come to my rescue. They did. They grabbed me and restrained me to a table. My legs and arms were bound; my head was strapped to a neck brace, so I couldn’t turn my head. I received a shot of some kind of euphoria and was wheeled away to my own personal padded suite.
I was strapped there for what seemed like days. I showed them. I started a riot, destroyed property, almost burned everyone alive, complete anarchy. I didn’t need to be here. I was fine. You people are the ones who are crazy. They would have no choice but to exile me. I didn’t need their treatment. No way where they gonna brainwash me. They came eventually and loosed me from the table. There were red marks around my wrist and ankles, like handcuffs that were too tight.
They said they were discussing my fate. They had no choice but to throw me out, back into the world, were I belong. I left in a padded cell with a mattress for days. I became impatient with the damn tribunal’s verdict. They need more incentive. So I began destroying the mattress.I ripped it apart at the seams and removed the springs. I stretched out the springs to make short metal spears. They were actually sharp enough to cut into my padded cell. I cut into the fabric just enough to start ripping it with bare hands. I was surprised to discover that the walls were down feathers. I was having fun now. Those feathers were flying around like a teenage pillow fight. I ripped open every single wall. The floor was lined with feathers. I was a beautiful mess.
That basically sealed the deal. They were going to release me. I knew I could beat their system. I was fine, just misunderstood. They finally let me out of that cage (that birdcage). They proceeded to escort me to the lobby, and upon my arrival I discovered, not my parents waiting for me with open arms, but a police officer with a real set of handcuffs.
I was being criminally charged by Charter. I would get 3 counts of vandalism and 1 count of arson. I wasn’t going home; no I was going to juvenile hall. A whole other type of institution. This place is a place of rules. A place of waiting, waiting and more waiting. The clothing of choice is a comfortable florescent orange suit. The food sucked. The people sucked. The guards sucked.
This was my first time in jail. Jail is the institution of institutions. Its main objective is to rehabilitate the inmate to conform to society. This is done mainly by keeping you in a 10 by 10 cell. Yet many men have become accustomed to living behind bars. They start to absorb the chaos, and when placed outside of that chaos they lose control. They have become institutionalized. A man who can’t live in the world without the structure of prison is a sad being. He is broken and can no longer live free. He is freer behind bars.
There are institutions within institutions, even in jail. Juvenile hall started to become overcrowded. They had to double up in the cells. I got a cellie named Jerry, but people called him Lil’ Loke. A short scrawny little gangta who claimed Vicelords as his set. We hit off pretty well even though we were from different worlds. During the past month of jumping from institution to institution, I finally made a friend. He told me of all gangsta bitches that he fucked, all da’ blunts dat he puffed, and all the guns that he had and drugs that he sold. His set was one of the biggest around. By the end of the night he asked me if I wanted to be a part of his click. I said sure no problem. He had me get on my knees before him. He made me repeat after him, some sort of ethical code of the gangsta’. Stuff like, “No snitchin”, “In for life”, “only way out is death,” and other things that pertained to absolute surrender to a code that is madness. You know, just some casual commitments. So I did it. Lil’ Loke made a crown with his fingers, an obvious gang sign, and placed it upon my head. I was being crowned into the Vicelords. Then he slapped the shit outta me. This ritual was done 6 times, and then I stood up to be welcomed into the set with a hug. Then Lil’ Loke shouted down the cellblock that “the white boy just got made into the vicelord.” The whole cell block erupted with some cheers and some curses. I actually became afraid.
They let us out for chow the next morning and about 5 black dudes surrounded me. I nervously said, “What the fucks up, ya’ll?” They asked to see my crown, so thanks to my excellent tutor I knew what to do. I showed it to them and at that point they started to kick the shit out of for what seemed like eternity. They stopped, and now it was official, I was a Vicelord after my inaugural beat down.
Being in a gang is definitely a form of an institution. They have a bunch rules that you have to follow your whole life or you might possibly get killed. The rules were designed by some sociopathic drug dealer. Gangs are about conformity and control. A gangster is doomed to follow the crowd—doomed to be institutionalized. I was only a gangster for 30 days then they released me. I went back home. I had beaten that year sentence at that madhouse. I had not surrendered to an ounce of therapy. I had joined a gang. I had been in jail. I was an arsonist. All of this in a about 2 months. I went home in time to enjoy a great summer—to enjoy my freedom, to enjoy my youth.
I was afraid to answer his question. Maybe it was the fear of knowing that I have been from ward to ward , program to program, and from clinic to clinic. I have been on many wards.
“Yes Doctor Nadrick, I have been on many psyche wards” I answered humbly and quietly.
“Well what do you expect this place, 18 north, to do for you?” he asked.
“ Sir, I am not young anymore. I tired of rehabs, I am tired of failing all the time. Lying awake at night, alone, is not my idea of a good time. I want to think of other things besides death. I don’t want to feel this way. I want love and happiness. I need this place. I wished I would have listened when I was kid. Do you think this place can help me?”
“Let me show you to your room,” He smiled as we walked me down the ward , through the institution.