Classes were going well. Patients shared their ideas in order to make them more real. I would fabricate parts that were put together by Jim, Juan, and Ethan. Making real objects was great for their self-esteem. Everyone was impressed. The hospital director suggested implementing a pilot project which required redesigning, fabricating, and installing a new office for her. We could recycle materials. Dolores believed this was a perfect opportunity to get brownie points for us. I’d also get approval to design and build a marine and horticultural center in the rehab dept.
Everything was falling into place. Ideas began to gel. One valuable lesson I had learned as an industrial designer was that you get more money for fashion. Recalling the shabby green frog vases I’d seen being crafted in ceramic workshops all over the state, I thought, ‘Why not use the same resources and labor to make handsome Greek urns with unusual finishes?’
Sheltered workshops survived by producing plain outdated designs. They could thrive with smart design and well-conceived manufacturing and marketing plans. Ordinary wooden frames could be transformed into exotic frames with fashionable new moldings. Beautiful mirrors and other framed products could revitalize the industry.
I began to see my pre-vocational class as a small corporation having a dozen workers with talents and abilities I could never afford in the real world. I had a captive audience with nothing better to do with their time and energies than work under my direction. I could arrange for them to make money and challenge them to be responsible for their behavior. It certainly seemed clinically sound to me. I fantasized we’d eventually be the design and marketing arm for the entire Underworld State Department of Mental Health.
We could design products for manufacture, arrange preferential buying plans with other state agencies, and create products for the mass market. I was crafting a timely script, a sequel entitled ‘The Dirtiest Dozen’; how the discards from hell became social heroes. I know it’s grandiose, but I envisioned managing a manufacturing and marketing empire from an asylum; like in ‘Crazy People’ with Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah. Once we succeeded in the world of mental illness, new doors would open to sheltered workshops all over the state. They’d come to be dependent on us for sustenance and nourishment.
There was hardly anyone to share my ideas with. My family was supportive, but believed I’d gone off the deep end back when I decided to work with this population for peanuts. My peers on the job found me metaphysically weird. Sharing anything with them would be a contribution to hospital gossip. My good friends supported me, but they were not a mastermind group. I’d just have to stay focused, moving forward, one step at a time. Every thought and idea could bring me closer to my goal.
Over the next several weeks, both groups came up with some exciting new concepts. Betsy had an idea for a line of stuffed toys for children that were perfect items for sheltered sewing shops. She called them `Love Bugs’. They were insects like spiders and scorpions. You’d be terrified if they were crawling on you, but instead, they were soft, cute, and cuddly.
David and Jim came up with a unique new idea for modular interconnecting building materials. They were kind of like Legos or Lincoln Logs and could be fabricated from recycled materials. We created several prototypes of quarter scale furniture with them. Potential markets were open.
Jack and Virginia created a gimmicky `Women’s Liberation Survival Kit’ ~ a cloth bag made from a military looking khaki material, sewn and silk screened, and featuring a collection of already filled pockets and compartments. These pockets contained things like packs of condoms, a small canister of pepper spray, a compressed air horn, female paraphernalia, cosmetics, and other assorted goodies.
On my own time, I made appointments with buyers from major department stores in order to get feedback and gain additional insight into our products and planning. A few buyers wanted to know when they could purchase some. One buyer expressed doubt about connecting merchandise with mentally disabled criminals. He thought it might detract from their salability. ‘Manufactured by forensic psychiatric sheltered workshops’ was not a great selling point. Our team felt this wasn’t an obstacle. We’d suppress any bad news and glamorize the good news. I was motivated. Patients felt inspired and passionate. Positive behavioral changes were taking place. Everyone began to notice as we made ourselves ready to negotiate with hospital administrations and sheltered workshops across the state. I couldn’t believe how well everything was moving forward.
Stay tuned as everything begins to go south…