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February 01, 1996 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1996-02-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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n - i ne IvInnIan aiiy - 1 nursuay, reuruary 1, lZn NATION/WORLD
Deaf man builds new life after 69 years in mental hospital

GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) - At 87, Junius
,Wilson finally has a life.
He lives comfortably in a neat, three-bed-
room brick house with a front porch, where he
likes to chat with a new friend in an obscure sign
language, the Raleigh dialect, that was taught to
blacks in the 1920s.
He helped pick out his furnishings, including
a wall clock with big numbers, even though he
can't tell time. He proudly points out his shoes
to visitors.
It is a simple life, but it's the state's way of
making amends.
Wilson, a deaf black man, was accused of
rape in 1925, castrated and locked up in a state
mental hospital for 69 years. A "lunacy jury"
found him incompetent to stand trial. But the
charges were dropped in the 1970s, and at some
point authorities realized he never was mentally
ill or retarded.

Falsely accused of rape, man was castrated, locked up

For the past two years he has been living in the
house on the grounds of Cherry Hospital.
The state that confined Wilson in a segregated
and rat-infested institution and forgot about him
for generations finally acknowledged mistreat-
ing him. Now, it provides him with the home
and round-the-clock care.
"It is truly a Southern Gothic tale," says John
Wasson, Wilson's state-appointed guardian.
Wilson's case is so old that many details
have been lost; nobody knows for sure whom
he was accused of raping. Even his age was
unclear two years ago, when he was thought to
be in his 90s. School records found recently
show he is 87.
When the rape accusations were made, Wil-

son was 17, deaf and mute. He wound up insti-
"I am certain people were afraid of him,"
Wasson says. "People are afraid of deaf and
mute people today."
Wilson "has been the victim of social politics
that we look back on now and are deeply troubled
by," says John Baggett, deputy director of the
state Division of Mental Health.
According to state records, Wilson's family
largely forgot about him, too, visiting him only
twice in 69 years. Now, a cousin from Seattle
has sued the state for $150 million, accusing it of
violating Wilson's constitutional rights. The
case could go to trial as early as April.
Baggett says Wilson suffered at the hands of

the state, but he has little sympathy for distant
"I think we owe Mr. Wilson a good quality of
life for the rest of his life," he says. "I'm not sure
we owe the relatives anything."
Relatives say that state records are incom-
plete and that the family sought Wilson's re-
lease at least twice. An attorney for the cousin,
Andre Branch, says Branch would not benefit
from the lawsuit; the money would go first to
Wilson and then to his next-of-kin, his sister in
New York City.
The state contends Wilson's family is at least
partially to blame forhis mistreatment. Afterthe
charges were dropped, Wilson remained hospi-
talized because no relatives could be found to

care for him.
Court documents suggest Wilson's family, in
fact, might have been responsible forthe charges.
In a 1995 deposition, Wilson's niece accused an
uncle of having Wilson "put away" by falsely
accusing him of attempted rape.
The only voice missing from the fray is that of
Wilson. Wasson keeps his ward away fr
reporters, saying bright camera lights hurt
eyes and prying questions might dredge up
painful memories.
Wilson is free to come and go. As recently
as Jan. 27, he visited relatives in his home-
town of Castle Hayne, along North Carolina's
When people visit him, Wilson likes to take
them on a tour of his house, opening closets and
displaying their contents, Wasson says. He is
particularly proud of his sneakers, Converse's
Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

man chose
over house
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP)- Nel
Berry has a laptop computer, a cellular
phone, a screaming-fast modem and a
slew of friends on the Internet.
About the only thing he doesn't hae
is a place to live and a job.
"People don't understand why I chsc
to live on the streets, but I don't under-
stand why they're willing to pay $500 a
month just for a place to live," he said
"All a house is is a glorified cardboard
The 22-year-old thought he had it
pretty good until last week, when some-
one abandoned an old car near his camp-
site under two freeways, bringing z.
Highway Patrol out to have a look
What they found was Berry's tent, a
mattress, some clothes and the juice
that powered his computer gear- sev-
eral heavy-duty batteries taken from a
state Transportation Department
worksite nearby.
Berry was jailed on charges of theft
and possession of stolen property, pun-
ishable by 90 days behind bars. It was
the first run-in with the law for Berry,
who said he grew up in group hos
and on the streets of Los Angeles.
Thirteen batteries were found at
Berry's camp, at least three of them -
24-volt, 50-pound cells costing $90 each
- belonging to Caltrans.
"They're real big and they have a lot
of power. We're not talking DieHard.
We'rctalking large, earthmoving equip-
ment batteries," said Novato police Sgt.
Jim Laveroni.
Berry insisted he didn't steal the
terics; he found them among the junk
under the freeway.
Yesterday, after five days in jail, he
was released without bail. Prosecutors
recommended him for a program that
will allow him to keep the arrest off his
record as longashe stays out of trouble.
For more than a year, Berry lived a
mountain-man life in the tangled trees
under the freeways. He went to work
each day as a $9-an-hour shipping
and returned each night.
A polite, shy young man with strong,
if mildly expressed, opinions,hemade
enough to live on but thought rents in
well-to-do Marin County were shock-
ingly high, and he didn't want to share
a household with strangers.
"So I figured I'djust go to Costco and
buy a $50 tent and live on my own," he
Berry, who got his first taste o
on-line world at age 17 when a fried
took him in fora while, spent his money
instead on computer gear.
He got a post office box and a voice
mail account so he could get mail and
phone calls. Next came a pager, so he'd
know when someone had called his
voice mail number. Then a cellular
phone account so he could make calls.
Last summer, he got a laptop so he
could log in from his tent. He use n
adaptor to connect his equipment tc e
"With me, instead of watching TV
six hours a day, I'm on line, talking to
real live people," he said in a jailhouse
interview. He said he found a computer
bulletin board he used to be on in Los

Angeles, and "everybody there was so
nice and so friendly. They all wanted to
meet me."
At the health-aids manufacturing -
pany where he worked, the owner,wo
declined to give her name, spoke fondly
of him as nice but a little "different:"
She said that it was his choice not to
work full time and that often his night-
time wanderings on the Internet had him
coming in to work hours late in the

Dexter's not his usual self.

the salsa.

You suspect

So you

call Dr. Nusblatt, your

family vet

back home.

The call is
(TOO bad about the

chi ap.
conLsltation fee.)

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