Two years ago, I was formally invited on a journey: to work on an oral history project to recover African American psychiatric history. At the time of this was not conscious of the fact that I had been preparing for this journey for the last 20 years. In hindsight, I can now see that I started packing for this voyage on one of my first visits to see my sister in a state psychiatric hospital.
During that visit I recall hearing the chilling screams of a patient – screams that were virtually ignored by others in the ward, patients and staff alike. I remember looking past the nurses’ desk into a small room where a young white man was tied to a cot. He was the source of the screams and a nurse, noticing my concern, commented that he was out of control and just screaming for attention. What was clear to me, and probably even clearer to the young man, was that attention was the last thing he was going to receive in that place.