Elgin State Hospital

ISPI was a short-term facility. I hadn’t improved after four months, so I was sent to Elgin State Hospital. There was no limit here on how long you might be confined. Some patients had been here for decades.

Two staff members drove me there, packing me between them in the front seat of the van. It was a long ride – an hour or more. The scenery changed from urban to rural.
Finally we topped a hill; I saw the hospital down below. It was a large building, with a central section and two wings. My heart sank. It looked like a Victorian madhouse – grim windows, wrought-iron bars in curlicue patterns, domes, dull brick walls…

Elgin State Hospital

Elgin was an old hospital, built in the 19th Century. The main building had been a Victorian madhouse, though it was no longer used. Patients were put into smaller, more modern buildings scattered around the grounds. Conditions were drab, but comfortable.

The intake psychiatrist saw me that evening. He was bald with a beard that made him look like Ming the Merciless. His voice and face showed absolutely no emotion – no interest, no hostility, nothing. He was scary. I was terrified of him. I was afraid he’d have me put into restraints or lobotomized or something. Instead, he put me with the general population. I fervently hoped I’d never have to meet him again.

Ming the Merciless

My time at Elgin was uneventful. Because I was a quiet patient who didn’t make trouble for the staff, I was permitted to roam the grounds. This felt wonderful, considering the alternative was to be confined in the dreary rooms of the hospital.

I met several of the patients, some of whom had been there for many years. I wondered what was so bad about them that they had to be confined. They seemed OK to me. Why were they still here? I worried that I might be kept for years. I couldn’t see much difference between them and me. Maybe I’d be kept there indefinitely.

I spent much of my time at Elgin trying to convince the staff that it would be OK to discharge me. I really didn’t want to become a lifer. After two more months, I was finally discharged.

Altogether I’d spent six months in State hospitals. It was only the beginning.

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