In December 1978 I took a job supervising developmentally disabled adults at a sheltered workshop in California. I was supposed to teach and supervise the folding of small cardboard boxes with a group of 14 clients. It was boring, and boring movies followed the work period. I had to make sure my group behaved. The last hour, we went into the Art Room to draw pictures. I hated that stuffy, crowded, windowless room with the moldy, smelly old carpet. I had always hated Art classes; now I was the teacher. I counted the minutes until the clients went home.
The second day I told my supervisor I quit, but she talked me into giving it two weeks. I needed the money.
The next afternoon there were no movies. We went into the Art Room again. Eva said, “I’m tired of taking orders. I don’t like having a boss. Why do we have to do everything you say, Frances?”
I said, “OK, you can all take turns. Pretend you are the supervisor and I am a client.” That’s how the whole thing started. I got a pad and pen and wrote down what was said, editing the non-essentials, and prodding to keep the train going and relatively on the track. In the safety of role playing, verbal interaction began where there had been none between most of the clients. I had my vehicle. If we could do role playing we could do group discussions and-one to-one sessions!
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Angelo is 42; I met him the third day. I thought he was the executive director, well-dressed and charismatic. Then he started to laugh. There wasn’t a room in the building in which he couldn’t be heard. I wanted to know what he was laughing about, he was having such a good time. Before I could ask, a woman grabbed him by the hand and tried to pull him across the room. The more she pulled, the more he laughed. She said, “Go to time out for being disruptive.”
He yelled, “I’m talking to God about three oranges, and it’s funny.” She left the room and brought back a counselor, who threatened him with a day’s suspension if he didn’t go to “time out”. Angelo grimaced and leaned forward into a running limp too controlled to be real. I asked to have him transferred into my group. Two weeks later I got him.
Joe is 72. In 1941 he was institutionalized because it was reported that he thought he was a sheriff who was going to be killed. He spent 30 years in Stockton State Psychiatric Hospital, then was transferred to a board-and-care home where he still lives. Joe didn’t want to go to war, I’m sure of it, and some of the evidence is in the book.
Eva is 27. She was born without eyes. She lives in the same board-and-care home as Joe.
Hale is 25. When I met him he always referred to himself as “It” or “He”. He types pictures. In a few minutes he can type a picture of anything you ask, a piano with the right proportions, machines, people… I asked him how he does it. Hail: “He plans it all out in his head just like the computer, then he transfers it to the paper.”
Hail is the fastest worker in my group. I timed him at his peak: 200 boxes carefully folded in 20 minutes. But when he gets tired or the work doesn’t go right, he throws chairs!
Eno is 20. When he is upset he talks in bits and pieces, repeating the same phrases over and over: “The dog dish, the dog dish…,” “Mean Mother Madge, Mean Mother Madge…,” “Hans Ziegler died last year, Hans Ziegler died, I don’t like his yellow glasses.” He always takes little running steps. I wanted to know why, and I wanted to know about the dog dish.
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I was encouraged to continue the sessions with my clients when counselors and other supervisors told me how much they enjoyed reading the dialogues, and how helpful they were in understanding some of the difficult cases. One of those other supervisors was Timothy. I thought he was gorgeous but untouchable. I played violin and he played cello. We started taking our breaks together and walking to the beach for lunch, alone. One day he kissed me and I knew we were in love. Soon he moved in with me. A year later we were married.
By June 1981 I had more than 1000 typewritten pages of dialogue, and I had gotten to the bottom of some intriguing mysteries. Then we left the center and took a caretaking position on a wilderness ranch, where Tim and I had time to edit, organize, and type God Help Me I May Be Calculated Into An Institution into a manuscript. Some of the stories that had been one-to-one dialogues became monologs. I deleted most of my lines because they were unnecessary and slowed the action. Names and addresses have been changed, but nothing has been added except notes in which I clarify references and supply minimum background information.
~ Frances Tompkins,
(known to my clients as Frances Buck, from my previous marriage)