A year had passed when I got my first big break to get to know the patients. Rehab was responsible for holiday activities. Halloween was about to happen. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you were our fortune teller this year?” Dolores asked. I became the ‘palmist’, dressed in satin robes with sun, moon, and pentacles (five pointed star). A silver hand hung around my neck. I called myself “M” (caricature by Chris Wynter).
I examined everyone’s hands, pinpointing their challenges and issues and carefully tailoring my words to their ability to understand me. Most patients instantly reacted, “Hey, you’re for real!” or “You really know me!”. Dolores had inadvertently set me up as a confidant for them. Word of my abilities spread quickly. Soon the art room gained many new recruits who became regulars.
Mohamed was ‘a lifer’. I imagined he’d had enough Thorazine to sedate a small army. A very large middle-aged dark black man, Mohamed was a cross between Muhammad Ali and Bob Marley. He was the most popular patient in the place. Mohamed had been a Hell’s Angel, cocaine addict, and cold blooded murderer. He found `religion’ in solitary confinement. I began receiving Plain Truth magazine shortly after I met him. He placed me on their mailing list. I learned about contraband from Mohamed. Patients with money got marijuana, alcohol, extra cigarettes, and other stuff smuggled through security.
A particularly hard not to notice occurrence was the way large quantities of office and recreational supplies would arrive and vanish quickly. I began hoarding yellow pads, pens, and pencils in my desk before they disappeared. Seemed like staff was getting away with whatever they could. Even office machines vanished. When I asked a friend who worked in another hospital about what was happening, she said it was “par for the course”. Many people who work for government agencies have a kind of chronic poverty consciousness that makes them feel entitled to get away with whatever they can. I thought most workers in helping professions don’t take enough for themselves.
Nothing was as it appeared. One security staff member, who always acted friendly with patients, said to me confidentially, “I’d shoot every one of them in the head at night while they slept if I could get away with it”. I pretended he was joking, but was deeply shocked and awed. Watching patients pretend to act how they believed staff wanted them to be got to be a spectator sport. When backs were turned, patients would give staff the finger or a contorted face. Staff would do the same to patients and each other.
There was a state organization whose job it was to inspect state hospital social service programs. I believe it was called `WXYZ’. The hospital got plenty of notice from WXYZ. They’d show up and lots of hustle and bustle would be happening. It was `Show Time’. Everyone was active and cooperative and everything was `spic and span’. We ran as smoothly as a ‘Timex’. Normally, we were pretty scuzzy and programming ran unpredictably. You know… the kinds of things inspectors need to see.
The biggest scam of all was the creation of the woodworking and refinishing shop. The state allots monies for capital improvements and program development each year. Unspent monies are removed from the following year’s budget. A $100,000.00 surplus needed to be spent quickly. The cabinet approved purchasing expensive woodworking equipment for the Rehab Dept. They failed to inform us that the patients would ‘never’ be permitted to use the tools as they were much too dangerous. I had questioned Billy early on about who was going to operate the equipment. He told me that he and I would do all the machining, initially, but eventually patients would be trusted. I disagreed. None of our conjecture mattered, because when the fiscal year was over, the cabinet scrapped the shop. Now they could ask for more money next year.
I figured if everyone else was getting away with things, so could I. I began collecting more artwork. `Gigolo’ worked security at the hospital entrance. When no one was around, he’d wave me past the bag check and metal detector. To my knowledge, even the director of the hospital was scanned and checked daily. I took advantage of his trust in me by waiting outside the hospital entrance until no one was in the foyer. I was ‘Smiley’, so I’d enter the security area with a big smile on my face. Gigolo would wave me on. In my satchel were a camera, tape recorder, batteries, and extra tapes. I began recording patient songs and stories on audio tape. I knew I could, so I did.
Virginia was abandoned by her mother at birth. Fished out of a garbage can, she grew up in orphanages. As Virginia ventured out into the world on her own, she became a magnet for one co-dependent abusive spouse after the other. Virginia prayed her children wouldn’t be forsaken, but they were. Virginia had a grade school education. She never developed work skills. Her children were homeless and starving. She loved them too much to stand by and watch them starve so she killed them. What else could she do? Virginia’s haunting voice expresses the agony of her soul. I found her tunes and lyrics profoundly poetic and deeply disturbing. She asked me to share them.
“CRIES OF PAIN, CRIES OF JOY
SCREAMS OF TORMENT WITHIN
SILENTLY WHISPERING INNER FEAR
A WALL OF PRETENSE TO HIDE
BITTER REALITY WITH NO REMORSE
CHANGING MOODS, ALWAYS DENY
TRUTH IN A WORLD OF UNENDING STRIFE
REACHING OUT THE LAYER OF LIFE
DREAMING OF THE EVERYDAY CHARADE
MOVING FACES IN A MASQUERADE
REVEALING THE UNRELENTING SOUL
OF A TIRED AND LONELY BEING
HIDDEN QUALITIES SOARING BENEATH
THE EXTERNAL EXISTENCE ABOVE
COULD THE ENERGY EXIST TO FIGHT
THE SHADOWY SILHOUETTE OF I?”
“Have you ever seen a hand that frightened you?”
That’s a question I often hear. A sweltering day sent a chill through my soul as I first touched Manuel’s hot sweaty palms. Manuel’s huge reddish balls of thumb were full and smooth with no lines. They looked like they’d been stuffed with extra-large eggs. The picture is simulated. The ball on the right is mine. It has many significant relationship lines within the lifeline. I love a lot of people. Manuel had none. He had a mega-dose of desire, lust, and passion; nourished with fear, anger, and hatred, and no ability to have intimacy with another human being. Manuel allegedly kidnapped eight boys, took them to rooftops, raped, murdered, cut their penises off, and then carved crosses in the bases of their skulls.
Manuel pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a maximum-security forensic hospital for the criminally insane. When I met Manuel, he was dying of kidney disease. He’d been on dialysis machines for five years. His kidneys were shot. There would be no donor for a child serial killer. Manuel’s time was running out. He wanted to tell his story and asked if I would record it. Before accepting Manuel’s word, I examined his hospital records and psychiatric treatment plans. Dozens of articles about the murders were recorded on microfilm in the news section of the public library.
Although the evidence was circumstantial, Manuel fit the profile. The media generated a public frenzy. Hundreds of detectives and policemen were on the case. The first suspect had to be disguised as a policeman in order to not be lynched by the public. ” It took over two hundred police, some wearing riot gear, to prevent over 1000 angry people from storming the xxx police station in the mistaken belief that a suspect in the mutilation murders of four young boys was inside the building.”
Manuel’s ball of thumb is the star of his story. Manuel came to the USA from Puerto Rico at age thirteen with his father and brother. He had great aspirations, but got hooked on drugs (marijuana) and headed downhill after that. Manuel said to me, “Drug addiction was in my genes. From the first time I tasted drugs, I never stopped”. A huge round ball of thumb symbolizes sensuality, compulsion, and indulgence. A paradox is that a large ball of thumb can also symbolize a huge appreciation of nature, children, and all things beautiful, along with abundant generosity and warmth. Manuel’s low set thumb and very stiff fingers and life and head line closely tied together at their start symbolizes that Manuel’s bad habits were deeply embedded.
Many thieves and pick pockets have inwardly curving pinkies. Hooked on heroine, Manuel resorted to stealing drugs to support his habit. He hung out with prostitutes and criminals. Meanwhile, his mother died of brain cancer, his sister died of cirrhosis of the liver, his half-brother died of a drug overdose, and his other brother was locked up for murdering their crazy father. Manuel’s tale would make an extremely dark TV sitcom.
Manuel dealt heroine to support his habit. When he turned sixteen, he was arrested for drug dealing. In Purgatory’s “tombs”, Manuel began banging his head against the wall. He was sent to a maximum security outpatient mental hospital to detox and six months later he believed his habit was broken. Manuel discovered he had talents in arts and cooking. He tried living with a woman at seventeen, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble. While in and out of prisons and mental hospitals, Manuel managed to get his common-law wife pregnant three times during his leaves; two daughters and a son. One daughter had to be on dialysis for failed kidneys.
Manuel spent five years in a state penitentiary while his family survived on welfare. The prison system tried to rehabilitate Manuel by teaching him several different trades. He had the best of intentions, but was unable stay out of trouble. Then he found religion and went to live in a church. Becoming fanatical, he began preaching from the bible to his family, friends, and strangers on the street. He claimed he tried to stay away from drugs, but even a drag of a cigarette or sip of beer would rekindle his addiction.
A combination of drugs and religion led to grandiosity. “I was greater than God. I really believed I was Jesus Christ”. Manuel took medication for his hallucinations. On drugs, he could temporarily cope. If he forgot, he’d become mentally and physically ill. Manuel began taking speed and cocaine again. His delusions and hallucinations became grandiose. One forensic psychiatrist described Manuel as a “walking time bomb”, a violent psychopath destined for evil and a forensic lifestyle.
Several authorized and unauthorized exits from QRS, a low security mental hospital, coincided with the mutilation deaths of young boys. Manuel was seen preaching on the streets near the scene of one crime. He was connected to other murder locations because of relatives who lived nearby. Manuel denied killing the boys. He insisted that a court appointed defense attorney talked him into copping a plea of insanity. He claimed he didn’t know anything about the legal system and just followed his lawyer’s advice.
“I was sold down the river. Everyone needed a murderer and I was him”. Manuel was found criminally insane. There were no more mutilations of children after he was put away. I believed Manuel committed those crimes. I also felt compassion for him. He was born on the short end of a very hard thorny stick in the nature and nurture departments. I felt totally repulsed by him, but I also realized that Manuel might have been a very different person had he had real love and nourishment in his childhood. Manuel could have had a healthier and happier life with the right nurture.
I was reading everyone’s hands, but never shared anyone’s secrets with anyone else. Rehab staff knew, but considered me harmless. They were more neurotic than patients. Many had overdeveloped superegos. They only did what they knew they could get away with. A majority of patients had huge ids and no superego. They did what they thought they had to do, never thinking about the consequences of what they did. They saw only one solution to their problem. On the whole, patients had less peripheral lines in their palms than staff who were more confused.
Soon a new art therapist would be in place. I began preparing for my prevocational classes. My favorite patients were ready to sign up. A few others I’d I tried to interest remained apathetic. I published an appeal for ‘prevocational classes’ in the ‘Scene’.
Mark is my name. I was `M’, the fortune teller at our Halloween celebration. Many of you know me as part-time art therapist. I’m actually an industrial designer. I design products for manufacturing companies and teach design at local colleges. I also offer workshops to help inventors manifest their creations. My job title here is `Vocational Instructor’.
One year ago (this week), I began working here. I hoped I could motivate many of you to nourish your natural talents and abilities. I planned to offer guidance and support on projects of your creation. I assumed you’d be inspired by an opportunity to work on your own projects. Over the past year, I‘ve heard many reasons why you can’t or don’t want to be involved. You’re so used to circumstances being hard, you can’t imagine anything else. Disappointment is too painful. You’re afraid to be enthusiastic. You’re afraid to trust anyone. Your self-esteem is too low. You’re not worthy or capable, but you are.
I’m appealing to anyone who feels inspired or curious about their potentials and is willing to make a commitment to a weekly schedule to work under my direction. You must be accepted to participate in my class. A brief interview with Mr. Cartozian, Rehab Counselor, will be required. His approval, along with the support of your treatment team will determine your eligibility. If you want my help, you’ve got it.
I promise to dedicate myself to helping class members make their projects a reality. Any project you choose is fine as long as it’s possible. Twelve students will participate in classes. There will be two work / study groups with six students each. Each will meet twice per week; one session on Tuesday and one session on Wednesday.
Here’s my vision: We’re motivated about our projects and willing to do whatever it takes to make them happen. We’re sharing in healthy and constructive ways and learning a lot from one another’s projects. Everyone is learning to draw and make things in our workshop. A variety of projects are happening; works of art, music, writing, and practical items like furniture, magazine racks, floral planters, and boxes of all shapes and sizes. If you can envision yourself in my class, please speak with me directly in the Rehab Department on a Tuesday or a Wednesday over the next several weeks.
Stay tuned as we finally begin vocational classes.