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The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic [Hardcover]

By Darby Penney, Peter Stastny & Lisa Rinzler (Photographer)
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Item description for The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney, Peter Stastny & Lisa Rinzler...

By the time it closed in 1995 after 126 years of operation, Willard Psychiatric Center, overlooking Seneca Lake in upstate New York, had been home to over 54,000 people. Some were released to their former communities after years of institutionalization, but many more died there. If not for the discovery of more than 400 suitcases filled with patients' belongings in the hospital attic (which led to a 2004 exhibit at the NewYork State Museum in Albany that attracted more than 300,000 visitors and now to this book), their lives would have been lost to history.
In The Lives They Left Behind, the contents of 10 of these suitcases are skillfully examined and compared to the written record to create a moving - and devastating - group portrait of 20th century American psychiatric care. The stories of rich and complex lives not hinted at in the hospital records emerge from a wide array of personal effects - letters to loved ones, photographs of school days and foreign travels, knickknacks, religious tracts, a christening gown, professional photographic equipment, a delicate hand-painted bone china teacup and saucer.
Here are the personal dramas of new immigrants and native-born Americans coping with a host of problems in times of war and economic hardship. They are men and women of different races and ethnicities, among them a young dispossessed German nun, a Scottish nurse and an African-American World War II veteran. The confusion following displacement; the rage or despair that resulted from illness, loss of loved ones or work; and the experience of hearing disembodied voices were only some of the misfortunes that put them on the path to institutionalization, from which most would never escape alive. As it restores the humanity of the individuals it so poignantly evokes, The Lives They Left Behind reveals the vast historical inadequacies of a psychiatric system that has yet to heal itself.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   205
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.08 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2008
Publisher   Bellevue Literary Press
ISBN  1934137073  
ISBN13  9781934137079  

Availability  0 units.

More About Darby Penney, Peter Stastny & Lisa Rinzler

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Coauthor of "The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic," Darby Penney is a national leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities and a former state mental health official. An experienced trainer and qualitative researcher with a background in state mental health planning, Darby has written, presented and consulted nationally and internationally on a wide range of issues concerning empowerment, inclusion, rights, and other topics. She is the President and Executive Director of the Community Consortium.
Coauthor of "The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic," Peter Stastny is a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker who has advocated for radical changes in the mental health system and worked on several transformative demonstration projects in New York and around the world. He has collaborated with Darby Penney and other experts-by-experience on spreading self-help and empowerment programs, spearheaded the employment of ex-patients in alternative services, and is a founder of the International Network for Alternatives and Recovery (INTAR). Peter was on the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Columbia University and continues to teach and work in New York City.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Specific Groups > Special Needs
3Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Personal Health > Children's Health > Special Needs Children
4Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Psychology & Counseling > General
5Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Psychology & Counseling > History
6Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > Psychology & Counseling > Mental Illness

Reviews - What do customers think about The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic?

Could Have Been So Much More...  Aug 1, 2008
I was gravely disappointed by this book. What could have been a unique, enlightening, and fascinating piece of work was simplified beyond belief, full of opinions instead of research, and really did far less justice to the individuals profiled than the author appeared to believe.

And...ok, this is an extreme pet peeve of mine...the editing was terrible. What it is lately about editing that has become so difficult? And we're not even talking about true editing, just simply making certain there are no typos and that form and grammar are correct. This was so poorly done it was painful to read.

I had looked forward to this book for some time, so I was very disappointed when I got through the first ten or so pages and realized it really wasn't for the thoughtful reader who wants solid research behind a story. No, it was a quick read for a non-critical thinker that likes to be hand-fed polemics.

Middle of the Road  Jun 23, 2008
Not one review before mine gave a score of "average". Folks either really like this book or absolutely hate it. The numerous errors and typos were easy to spot. The authors quickly established that they had "an axe to grind". But in most of their observations they were talking about institutional care of the past, rather than the current system. Not to say that events upon which they report aren't still happening. I do think the authors do a reasonable job of showing that a number of the cases upon which they report did not have a "wretched" before Willard. Examples such as "She is in a [private boarding] home and refused to leave after being ordered out and used vulgar and obscene language" seems pretty weak as justification for a lifetime of institutional commitment. And it does seem clear that the culture of the time resulted in very little timely research regarding the underlying reasons behind the patient's abnormalities. I do not share the view that these folks would have been upset with their stories being told, in fact with varying degrees, those that could think coherently would have probably welcomed it.
Psychiatry and polemics do not mix well  Jun 17, 2008
The book consists of a conundrum of stories, as deducted by the authors from the suitcase contents (!) and case notes of former long-term patients in a state mental health institution. The authors' agenda becomes clear after reading a few pages in this book - they do not approve of state mental health institutions, disqualify them as inhumane, and attempt to explain away the chronic and persistent mental health issues that led many patients to be admitted there in the first place as mere alternative lifestyles minimized and explained away by the treating 'traitors'. Religious delusions, for example, are termed as 'spiritual turmoil'.

This is in no way a realistic picture of the mental health field. Reality is that some of our patients simply require long-term care. Period. A more reasonable take can be obtained from the new book by E.F. Torrey "The insanity offense" where a clear argument is made, backed by epidemiological data, that the closure (now lack) of long-term facilities, while well-intended by liberals - for issues of 'humanity' - and by conservatives for 'cost-considerations', has gone awry. There is in fact an unprecedented wave of mentally ill patients who now occupy our prison system, for example, or who bounce back and forth between acute hospitalizations and highly structured living situations.

In essence, a very polemic ill-advised book, that fails to address the truly important issue we face: how to provide the best and most appropriate care for our most ill mental health patients. The authors strongly argue against structure, but fail to provide any alternatives whatsoever.
Real Stories with Real Power  May 14, 2008
"The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic" is a straightforward book about an ugly part of our history. Its power, however, is that it demands that we look at the here and now. By clearly and simply reconstructing what little CAN be reconstructed of the lives of souls forgotten in a huge mental institution the authors left me with a haunting question: where are we stashing and forgetting the troubled souls of this generation? The answer is to be found in our prisons, under our bridges, in isolated board and care homes ....... and?

Darby Penney and Peter Stazny, in this book, in their museum exhibition, on the "suitcases" web-site and in displays and presentations around the country, have given back something of what was taken from the individuals who were committed and consigned to the anonymity of large institutions. It is up to us to see that the "taking" ends in whatever form it occurs.
Relevant, Powerful, Honoring of forgotten lives  May 9, 2008
This powerful book documents the lives of people who were marginalized and forgotten. The authors took the opportunity to honor, respectfully, the individuals who were locked away and treated as though they didn't matter. The case notes illustrate just how much the "professionals" refused to see beyond the diagnostic lens, to the real person facing extraordinary challenges.

This is relevant today because it still happens today. Having worked as an advocate for people confined to state mental hospitals, I can testify that there is a disproportionate number of individuals of color, individuals who came from other countries, individuals whose culture and traditions differ from the accepted norm. Rather than recognizing trauma and helping survivors recover, we label people and drug them, often condemning them to a lifetime of disability. Even though we don't keep them in the hospital for the rest of their lives, many lives are wasted through overmedication, hopelessness, and learned helplessness. This constitutes institutionalization in the community. Penney and Stastny have done a great service to the people they memorialized in this book: they gave them a name and a story.

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