Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Victorian Straitjacketed Cruelty: You Couldn’t Make It Up - Well I could...

Coming firmly under the general category of ‘you couldn't make it up’ I came across this (slightly edited) newspaper article while pondering the thorny subject of how one might have ‘put away’ a troublesome young ward or heiress. Of course one might, as Elizabeth Jane Cochran wrote way back in 1887 “…take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading [matter] and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck”. But how to get her there in the first place? HmmmBut then way back, there were all those possibilities embodied in the marvelous Magdalene Laundries (left) and as has been said, once even young girls who were considered too promiscuous and flirtatious were sometimes sent to such an asylum. And they knew a thing or two about dealing with the recalcitrant young miss in those places.

"A sullen temper, often shown by refusing food, is best dealt with by silence. When a girl wakes up to the fact that no one takes any notice, nor is troubled (apparently at least) by her self-starvation, she gets weary of her self-imposed martyrdom and learns sense." [Arthur J. S. Maddison, Hints on Rescue Work, A Handbook for Missionaries and Superintendents of Homes (1898).

Talking of asylums and straitjacketed bondage: I have just signed up to the affiliate program run by ‘The Girl Asylum', another site filled with content I would think eminently suitable for my readership and of course relevant (which I consider important) to at least part of the story arc of the INSTITUTIONALISED series – click the banner pic (top) to visit or check out the sidebar and the foot of the page.
PS: I have also added a brand spanking (Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha!) new search facility which you can find at the top of the right-hand sidebar and that you can use to search the blog content, blog links etc. I have just tried it and it works a treat!


Anonymous said...

Admission to and release from an asylum each present challenges, but it is clear that it is usually much easier to get in than out.

Consider the case of Doctor Veronica Jackson, famed criminal psychologist. Summoned to the police station one night on what she is assumes is a consultation, she is stunned to find that court documents have been prepared ordering her admission to the local asylum for the criminally insane!

The desk Sergeant, recognizing Doctor Jackson from her numerous previous visits, quickly confirms that is a mistake. But alas, he is a lazy and indolent fellow, and concludes that it is easier to simply pass her through to the asylum then to have to fill out the paperwork needed to delay her transfer. And so, as the Sergeant and his fellow officers watch the game on the television, Victoria is led away in cuffs and ankle shackles to the waiting prison van for the long ride to the heavily fortified asylum.

Ironically, Doctor Jackson had visited the same institution only a few days before on a surprise inspection, and had given both the facility and the staff a very harsh report. Now the same staff members that she had threatened with criminal charges admit her to the asylum she had so harshly condemed.

Veronica finds that being admitted to the asylum as a new patient is a very different experience than her visit a few short days before, when she had marched in only to kick backsides and take names. Her fingerprints and photo are taken. Her nails are clipped short and scrubbed free of polish. Her lovely long hair is buzzed into a crewcut. And finally, all of her clothes and jewerly are boxed for shipment.

Veronica suffers the indignity of being searched inside and out for drugs, all in the presence of several male orderlies she had ordered dismissed for their past criminal records of abuse of female patients.

After a hose down and delousing, she is fitted with her new straightjacket and diaper, and is left alone in her new padded cell for observation. Is it any wonder that when the Director visits her the next day, only to find Veronica in her soiled nappies, that the former Doctor Jackson looks quite sorry for herself?

No matter, the diagnosis is depression. Veronica's eyes grow wide with panic as the gag is fitted in place and the electrodes are attached to her shaved head for a rigorous session of ECT. The first of many shocks to come, I'm afraid...

After 90 days of such treatment her "observation" period ends, but her behavior has deteriorated to the point where release is unthinkable. After a perfunctory court appearance, her commitment is made permanent. On the brighter side, her harsh report remains forever unfiled, and the asylum is free to continue business as usual. A happy end for all. :-)

Toyntanen said...

I have to say that I liked that! Short, sweet and succinct, but it’s the unjustified incarceration that does it for me! Correction is so much sweeter when it is undeserved.

summertime75 said...

Great little "short story" much like those by Rod Cart.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, all!

You make an interesting point. However the concept of "undeserved correction" becomes quite murky once an incarceration commences.

Doctor Veronica, quite desperate to escape, finally agreed to a despised orderly's degrading demand for oral satisfaction in exchange for slipping a note to a lawyer who might make her case to the proper authorities.

After Veronica quite literally sank to her knees and swallowed her pride, the same orderly turned her in for "attempted bribery" without ever contacting the attorney. The Director, after adding the charge of attempted escape, subjected Veronica to an exemplary strapping across her bare bottom as a penalty for her transgressions.

Such an assault would have been unthinkable a few days before, but now, classified as "aversion therapy" it was merely another black mark in Veronica's ever growing file. Under such circumstances, can an correction EVER be considered undeserved?

Madmonkey said...

You should flesh that our and add some more details and it would be a nice little short story.

Anonymous said...

Alas, there isn't much else to tell, gentle friends. Veronica's sanity hearing was perfunctory. She was led into court with her head shaved, wearing only her straight jacket, ankle shackles, and nappies.

Her mind was sharp and clear, since the Director thought it would be more amusing if Veronica could understand fully what was happening, and retain the memory of the day her legal rights were stripped from her as a treasured keepsake for years to come. Although her mind was lucid, the sedative she was given made it difficult to form words, and the erudite psychiatrist was reduced to mumbling, "Naw! Naw! Ama no creeezza. Naw! Naw creezee!" as she stood barefoot in front of the Magistrate's massive wooden bench.

The Director sealed Veronica's fate by describing in a disgusted tone the story of Veronica and the Intern to document "my patient's unwholesome but insatiable appetite to orally consume the seed of her male superiors." The smiling Judge agreed to the Director's request to classify Veronica as a sexual deviant, and to confine her to the section of the asylum reserved for criminal sex offenders. The Magistrate also promised to visit the institution soon, to "investigate the patient's unusual thirst first hand."

With that, the gavel slammed down, and the panicked patient added an amusing postscript by losing control of her bladder. Some were disgusted, but those who had known the haughty doctor in better days were quite amused.

The hobbled Veronica was led back to the transport van, living proof of the tender care the legal and mental health establishments offers rebellious young women. Small wonder it is called the "booby hatch"...

Harry Standing said...

Dear Anonymous, You are *so* on my wave length with the professional/vane woman being on the wrong end of the admissions procedure: jewelery, hair, makeup, nails, clothes etc.

As for Garth, Maddison's quote is one I researched a long time ago :-) I continue to share the fascination with the good Sisters taking charge of privileged girls...In addition to the Magdalene laundries, my favourite is still the older (more or less modern) teenager being erroneously received into the Industrial School...

Anonymous said...

Hello Harry!

I share your fascination with the transformational power of "processing" and it's seemingly magical power to metamorphize a successful and highly intelligent young professional into an incorrigible delinquent in need of correction.

How did the our successful young woman get into the processing area?

Was she a judge or a law enforcement officer on a tour, who tarried too long in her examination of one on of the punishment straps, and found herself separated from her group?

Was she idealistic member of a peaceful and lawful protest, who's beauty singled her out for special attention by the reactionary authorities?

Did she refuse the romantic attentions of a local judge or constable, only to find herself arrested for some archaic or trivial misdemeanor?

Is she a reporter or academic, who requested a chance to experience "processing" to complete her research?

Is she a proper and morally correct young woman, who visited the jail to post bail for a drunken relative or boyfriend, only to find herself "processed" after the true culprit is released?

Is she an earnest reformer, visiting the prisoners to offer the wretched refuse creature comforts and guidance, who finds herself misclassified as one of those she had hoped to save?

Is she the niece of the warden, there to visit an uncle who would scarcely object to a "mistake of identity" that would allow him control her inheritance?

Did the officer who stopped her for jaywalking decide to "process" her, merely for the pleasure of watching her strip, squat, and cough?

No matter the reason. In the end, she is processed. The bureaucracy requires that she be stripped naked and inspected internally, preferably in the presence of the arresting officers and the warden. No matter her protests; her protests merely confirm she is a prisoner, and processing for prisoners, once started, must be completed. She must be disinfected and deloused. Hair must be cut, nails must be trimmed. Her number will be assigned, her belongings must be boxed and crated.

The reason she is there does not matter. When processing is complete, she is simply another miscreant in need of discipline.

I enjoyed your INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL DAYS stories, and agree it is a classic of this genre. Nicely done. Did you write any others?

Harry Standing said...

I didn't I'm afraid, though I'm impressed that you read it! (In retrospect, it contains to many typos and the odd continuity error, it makes me cringe a bit!).

The original idea was that a similar scene would appear as an incident in a novel (bits of which I've penned, but the majority of which requires attention)...it was intended to serve as a metaphor on wider theme - basically, modern bureaucracy, nannying etc reducing everything to plain, unexciting, regimented life...[Or something like that].

(Garth's use of lulu.com also cheered me when it came to the getting published issue)

Yes, there are *so* many scenarios whereby the girl can find herself incarcerated - and so many permutations on what form the induction can take...

Orage said...

Where can the Industrial School days stories be found?

Anonymous said...

Our Intrepid moderator found the story for us here:


I would encourage you to keep writing, Harry, as you have a real talent. I raced through your story, anxious to see what happened next, and the errors you were so concerned with went unnoticed by me!

It would be wonderful if you shared some of the bits you penned, as the feedback might give you more ideas and encourage you to write more.

If you like stories of professional women being "processed" into institutions, you might try the Katie Smith or Joe Doe archives, or the yahoo strip search group.

Of the sorts of scenarios I listed, which were closest to what you were pursuing? Or were you going in a different direction?

Toyntanen said...

I totally loved Harry’s INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL DAYS: possibly the finest example of an ‘admission procedure’ piece I have ever read - especially the detailed fingernail and toenail cutting and scrubbing! I came across it on HaircuttingStories.com as I recall and I can’t remember noticing any glaring typos – but I’m dyslexic so what do I know. LOL. What I can remember is that it left me wanting to read more, which is what it is all about. I’m not sure that I have visited the Katie Smith or Joe Doe archives – something I’ll remedy in a moment. It’ll give me a welcome break as I have been alternating between gardening and writing all day and now I’m knackered.

Madmonkey said...

LOL that's funny. I found this blog when I was searching for other stories by the author of "Industrial School Days".

Toyntanen said...

Hi, Madmonkey!

Well, old chap, that's the nature of the ‘Web’ or the ‘Net’ or whatever you’d like to call it - it does exactly what it says on the tin. LOL. Incidentally I don't think any feature on this blog has ever had anything approaching the number of comments nor generated the amount of dialogue that this posting has!

Rex Talbot said...

Dear Anonymous (so many Anons, why not use a name?)

I first read your Veronica outline a few days ago and it has stuck in my mind. It is such an interesting and arousing story. Do you have any intention of fleshing it out into a novel?

Because I am very much tempted to write a story on the same theme ..

rex_talbot (at) yahoo (dot) com