One afternoon when I lived at the warehouse, I received a letter. Judging from the poorly sealed envelope, schmaltzy stationary, and shaky handwriting, it appeared that an enfeebled elderly woman had written it. In the brief three-sentence letter she revealed that she herself lived in a nursing home. She explained that she regularly wrote notes to nursing home residents, and signed-off with a call for God to bless me.
Some greenhorn “Up With People”-type psychologist had likely hijacked the poor woman’s good intentions. That’s terrible and awful and everything, but it’s a safe bet that she had allowed the psychologist to hijack her good intentions.
Like most bullies, the controlling powers-that-be in a nursing home—from fuck-stupid CNA’s to the browbeating administration to arrogant visiting MD’s—prey on those weaker than them, the elderly and infirm. They regulate every aspect of a resident’s life: living accommodations, daily schedule, food, clothes, medicine, recreation; they severely limit contact with the outside world by prohibiting (at least where I served time) unfettered solo travel, private phones, and the Internet. (Residential medical facility administrations staunchly deny this.)
But the most insidious manner of control practiced by warehouse big wheels loomed as the manipulation of residents’ emotions. The staff, especially Mr. Gold, absolved themselves of wrongdoing by virtue of the residents’ unquestioning acquiescence to authority. In other words, if the reasonably mentally-competent among the residents had grown some balls and refused to become pawns, the staff might’ve thought twice before demoralizing them. (Of course, people afflicted by severe retardation, acute brain damage, or dementia are exempt from the basic personal responsibilities of their sound-minded peers.)
Visiting psychologists routinely emphasized a resident’s need to adhere to the official warehouse schedule and “keep busy” to “forget [their] troubles”—the language of Mind Control 101. I distinctly remember one of these witch doctors suggesting to a resident that she write to another “poor forgotten soul” living in a nursing home. The psychologist insisted it would make the patient “feel better” about herself.
With the below letter, I began a correspondence with Miss XXX that lasted several months. Then she stopped responding; maybe she got wise, maybe she died. For each letter, I used different formatting and levels of grammar in an attempt to convey authenticity. Reactionary cretins—educated* and otherwise—who treated me like a retarded gerbil, and residents that allowed themselves to be used as doormats had piqued my outrage. I’m not proud of my charade, but I’m not particularly ashamed either. I could tell by her letters that Miss XXX wasn’t mentally handicapped—at least not severely so.
July 13, 1995
Dear Miss XXX,
A nurse is writing this because I have lost both of my arms to cancer.
Here is a little bit about me. I used to be involved in organized crime. This was in the 1930’s. I have even killed a few people. I have also been involved in prostitution, bookmaking, and bootleg whiskey. Now I am ninety and nobody wants me and I have also lost my penis to cancer.
Last year I found God and if He will save a sinner like me He will save anybody. That’s all for now.
* A formally well-developed intellect doesn’t necessarily preclude stupidity.