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April 08, 1979 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-04-08
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Page 8-Sunday, April 8, 1979-The Michigan Daily

(Continued from Page 7)
Aulds and Verosko point to negati".e
community reaction as another factor
in placing John out. They say neigh-
borhoods get angry when they think
handicapped people are about to move
in, especially if they know they're from
Plymouth Center. Furthermore, if he's
going to be placed in a group home in a
regular neighborhood, one will have to
be built or renovated to accommodate.
handicapped people.
Aulds took exception to what was said
in Baker's record regarding his
"disadvantaged" family. She claims
this had nothing to do with his
placement in Plymouth. In her opinion,
John's family was not disadvantaged.
Her opinion contradicts statements in
John's record, which portray him as
severely disadvantaged, culturally and
economically. His house was described
as "falling apart" and "unbelievably
filthy." His mother was receiving Aid
to Dependent Children, a form of
Welfare. He was never taken out of this
environment, never sent to school. Both
parents were alcoholic. By almost any
standard, John was disadvantaged.
Verosko has been at Plymouth for
four months and says he's seen great
improvement in that time alone. He
claims that in four months, the patient
population has gone down by almost a
hundred due to placement, and says
that every child in Plymouth is on a
placement list.
"Sure, bad things happened in the
past," he said. "There were bad people
here. But we're moving in the right
direction now; we're getting things
done. It's not as simple as it looks. We
can't just say, 'Okay, John shouldn't be
here,' and whisk him out. But we're
doing everything we can."
When asked if Baker will be out of
Plymouth in a year, Aulds replied,
"Well, we hope." Aulds and Verosko

cording to him, there are "all kinds of
them," not only in Plymouth, but "all
over the country, almost all of them
poor." He said he's seen epileptic and
blind people in institutions who were
carelessly diagnosed as retarded
because their disabilities prevented
them from doing well on the standard
IQ test. Whatever check mechanisms
institutions use to separate the
physically handicapped from the men-
tally impaired appear to be rusty.
Jan Hiipakka, special education
teacher who works with "high fun-
ctioning" people from Plymouth in
Northville School's Special Ed. depar-
tment, supports O'Malley's view.
"John especially shouldn't be there, but
I'd say the same about just about
everyone in my class," she said.
"You see," she explained, "a few
years ago, Plymouth just started taking
anybody, if there wasn't enough room
for them anywhere else. That includes
not only handicapped kids, but kids who
were supposed to be put in juvenile
homes. There's juvenile deliquents out
there who are quite normal mentally."
John's day-to-day life at Plymouth
can perhaps be best described as
"adequate." He is fed, clothed, and
sheltered in a room complete with car-
peting, TV, and stereo. But one visit
makes it clear he'd be better off
Willis Hall, where John lives, is free
from the heavy antiseptic odor one ex-
pects at institutions. The walls are
freshly painted, and the floor is clean.
There's a bright green bulletin board on
one wall where pink construction paper
block letters announce, "Spring's
Here!" On the other end of the bulletin
board, fluffy multi-colored paper
flowers are stapled to the green
background along with a few photos of
residents and a pamphlet that exhorts
"Know Your Rights."

hate those things. The paint's even wor-
se." He gestured with annoyance at the
tuna fish pink walls. "That's a ugly
color. I wanted it painted tan or light
blue, you know. But that's just the way
it is. What I want doesn't matter. They
painted it pink."
He looked around the poster-
decorated room and seemed to relent a
little. 'It's not such a bad room. They
gave me a stereo and TV. But I never
get to make decisions."
The attendants acknowledge that
John's different; they don't lump him in
and treat him the same way they do
everybody else. John says they give
him the keys to the building and let him
move around with comparative
freedom. "The other residents are
looked after; I'm looked upon," said
John, putting it more cleanly than I
could have,
When John talked about the other
residents, he showed fondness and
respect for them; his eyes began to
show their characteristic warmth. He
was reluctant to compare them to him-
self, and to categorize them as "dum-
ber." His sensitivity must stem from
experience; he knows what it's like to
be carelessly classified as "dumber."
"I don't know if they're worse off
than I am or not," he said. "I don't
know how their intelligence is or how
they are because a lot of them can't
talk. They could be as smart as me and
just not be able to say it in ways I can
understand . .. Some people just turn
off to them because they're retarded,
but they can be communicated with ...
If I got out, I'd visit them everyday. I'd
never give up on my friends."
He also expressed concern that some
other residents aren't being given much
help in developing their mental
abilities. "I feel that they should be
taught everything possible and not held
back, no matter what their intelligence
is," he asserted.
After last year's furor over abuse at
Plymouth, it may be surprising that
John had good things to say about the
staff. "Basically, I like the staff I work
with," he said. "Sometimes they come
in with an attitude-a bad one-but
that's understandable. They have a
hard job and they don't make the rules
... I've never been abused, and I don't
think I ever will be."
John stands out as bright to people
he's worked with on a day-to-day basis.
Norman Hajjar and Jane Gaitskill have
worked as volunteers with him over a
period of years, and they say he struck
them as "different" right away.
John's teacher also spoke highly of
him: "The other residents have great
liking and respect for him. If my kids
are misbehaving he makes them toe the
line in a good way. He teaches them a
lot about morals and values just by
example. He's always kind and gentle,
which is even more remarkable con-
sidering how bitter and frustrated he is
about what's happened to him."
Brian O'Malley describes John as
"the Social Co-ordinator of Willis Hall,"
and John himself spoke of his abilities
with the other residents. "The atten-
dants let me help with the kids because

they know I'm good at it. I've broken up
fights between kids that attendants
couldn't handle, just by talking to the
S JOHN TALKED about this,
there was some pride in his
voice. But it was the defensive
pride of someone who hasn't been given
much credit for his accomplishments.
"I want people to appreciate what I can
do," he said. "When I get out, I'd like to
work with people who have problems. I
think I'd be good at it, because of my
experience . . . I don't feel at all ap-
preciated here."
Not feeling appreciated, "low self-
image," "bitterness"-all these
feelings must be part of the emotional
baggage John will take with-him when
he leaves Plymouth. When and if he
does get out, he might never recover
from his experience there.
His teacher feels that although he'll
probably be able to catch up with time,
his ability to learn has been slowed. "If
he'd been educated normally, he'd have
the same abilities of anyone else," she
asserted. "He's not mentally impaired,
but when you get older, it's much, much
harder to learn."
Hiipakka went on to talk about how
his social development has been slowed
by his stay in Plymouth. "It's so hard to
form social relationships there," she
explained. "So many of the kids are
belo'v his level mentally, there's such a
high turn-over in the staff. And the
behavior of the attendants is uneven.
Some of them are good, but others are
really bad."
"What can you expect?" exclaimed
Hajjar. "He only knows about the
outlside world through Channel 7 News,
Police Story, and The Flintstones .. .
And as for the staff, most of them are
nothing more than people who just
stand around. What kind of role models
can you have at an institution?"
Hajjar mentioned a 16-year-old
epileptic girl whom he thinks is
misplaced at Plymouth. He said he
thinks she's "being destroyed" by in-
stitutional life, and by being labelled
retarded. "She's really a great kid,"
said Hajjar. "One I told her that she
was great and that she could do
anything she wanted to do, and she kept
saying, 'No, no, I can't do anything,
I'm retarded.' Her attitude was that she
was a nothing." This girl's self-image
has been created for her by her
placement in a home for the retarded at
a young age. Such negative feelings can
implode in a self-fullfilling prophecy of
self-contempt and apathy. Even if she
is placed out next week, she might
never get over her poor self-regard, her
feeling of being "a nothing." And John
may never recover from the hurt of not
feeling appreciated.
Verosko insisted that John is an
unusual case, that "there are only three
of four people at the most" like him at
Plymouth, a very tiny percentage. Only
three or four like John isn't many, con-
sidering Plymouth's 680 patients. But if
only one person has been made to feel
like "a nothing" due to his
misplacement in an institution, it is a




claim to be doing their best, but there The start obviously cares enough to
are people who feel they're not doing try and make the place pleasant and at-
well enough. Brian O'Malley of The tractive. But Willis Hall is still an in-
Michigan Association for the Protection stitutional residence. The decor is con-
of Retarded Citizens has taken a special crete and formica, the flourescent
interest in John's case, and he doesn't lighting is relentless, and the building is
think enough is being done. even more regimental than a low-cost
O'Malley met John last December, on development, with long, narrow halls
a visit to Plymouth. He saw John in the and rooms all roughly the same cubic
hall, and started talking to him. He was size and shape. Meals and bedtimes are
impressed by John's lucidity, and scheduled. For residents to go out any
became sure he shouldn't be at place, they must have someone take
Plymouth. "The only real effort to get them who's willing to go through the
him out that I know of was back in '74,'' paper work of signing them out for a
said O'Malley. "They were actually day, explain where they are going, and
thinking about putting John in a house be back in time.
on Cass Corridor, where John refused Aside from the physical aspects of
to go. That was the last serious effort I life at Plymouth, John plainly doesn't
know of." fit in with the people there. The other
O'Malley did not, however, put the residents were barely coordinated
blame on any one person, or group of enough to walk; they lurched and
people. He blames the bureaucracy staggered, their curled fingers groping
inherent in large institutions.-"There at anything in sight in an effort to
are no wicked people at Plymouth," he steady themselves. Tangled half-words
said, "but crazy things go on in in- and noises tumbled out of their mouths
stitutions of that size. They have a life when they tried to speak, their eyes
of their own. They're multi-million rolled uncontrollably, and drool ran
dollar complexes and they feed off down several chins on to the floor. Some
people like John Baker." of them are strapped in crash helmets
so they won't hurt themselves when
ULDS AND VEROSKO didn't they slam their heads against the wall,
admit Baker to Plymouth. as they often do. One little girl was trip-
Verosko in particular has been ping around with her pants around her
there too short a time to be held respon- .ankles, unconcerned and unable to
sible for John's situation. It must be retrieve them. According to the aides,
frustrating dealing with these people can't eat or get dressed by
bureaucracy and red tape of finding a themselves. They even have to be
place that doesn't seem to be there. But supervised on the toilet, and if they
ten years is a long time. If it is a aren't taken there in time, they'll non-
question of building or renovating a chalantly wet their pants. Not everyone
house, as Aulds suggested, that could- on the ward is this severely retarded,
have been done by now, if it had been but most are.
attended to when the first recommen- OHN WHEELS himself down the
dations were made. . hall to his room briskly. As we
O'Malley eaims thatJahn isn't the, .: enter. the, roomn,,hisfirst. vwrd
only persoiwho's beenm ii pide ''Ac re, I ock'*AiC-'s'e'cheapcurtains. 1L



sunday magazine

Inanity as
the social

Owen Gleiberman

Judy Rakowsky

The Ramones:

the Acader

Cover photo by Andy Freeberg


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Ann Arbor, Michigan-Sunday, April 8, 1979



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