Classes were going well. Patients shared their ideas and the desire to make them real. Initially, I’d fabricate parts to be assembled by Jim, Juan, and Ethan. Making practical and useful objects was great for their self-esteem. Everyone was impressed. The director of the hospital suggested implementing a pilot project which required redesigning, fabricating, and installing a new office for her. We could use recycled materials. Dolores believed this was a perfect opportunity to shine and get brownie points for us. I’d also get approval to design and build a horticultural lab.
Everything was falling into place. Creative ideas germinated. One of the most valuable lessons I learned as an industrial designer was that you get more money for fashion. I eagerly recalled the ugly green frog vases I’d seen in ceramic workshops across the state. Why not use the same materials, resources, and labor to create Classic urns with unusual finishes?
Sheltered workshops survived by producing plain outdated designs. They could thrive with smart design and well-conceived manufacturing and marketing processes and plans. Ordinary wooden frames could be transformed into exotic frames with fashionable new moldings. Beautiful mirrors and other fashionable products could revitalize a dying industry.
I began to see my vocational class as a small business 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, energies, and talents 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. Win, win, win… or so it seemed.
We would design products for manufacture, arrange preferential buying plans with other state agencies, and create products for the mass market. I was directing a theatrical production, a sequel to the ‘Dirty Dozen’. ‘The Dirtiest Dozen’ ~ tales of how discards from hell became social heroes. I envisioned managing a manufacturing and marketing empire using mental asylums as the foundation and framework.
‘Crazy People’, one of my all-time favorite ‘crazy’ movies with Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah was about how crazy ‘Truth’ in advertising is. The truth is that stability and success in mental illness treatment would open new doors to working with sheltered workshops everywhere and offer sustenance and nourishment for all.
My family was supportive, but believed I was bonkers the moment I decided to work with a bunch of nutcases and freaks for next to nothing. There wasn’t anyone else around to share my inspiration and ideas with. Many of my peers in rehab thought I was weird. Sharing anything with them would add to the already uncomfortable hospital gossip. My close friends were mostly supportive, but I needed help from a mastermind group. I’d just have to stay focused, moving forward one step at a time, every thought, idea, and action bringing me closer to my goals.
Over the next several weeks, both vocational groups came up with 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’. There were insects like spiders and scorpions. You’d be terrified if they were crawling on you, but instead, they’re soft and cuddly.
David and Jim came up with a unique new idea for modular interconnecting building materials. Unlike Legos or Lincoln Logs, they were fabricated from discarded, recycled, and repurposed materials and processes. We created several prototypes of quarter scale furniture. Potential markets were opening in our minds and hearts, and we believed that they would soon manifest.
Jack and Virginia created a very timely and clever `Women’s Liberation Survival Kit’. It was a cloth bag made of a military style denim camouflage material, hand sewn, silk screened, and featuring a collection of pockets and compartments filled with supplies like tampons, packs of condoms, birth control dispensers, a small canister of pepper spray, a compressed air horn, female paraphernalia, cosmetics, and other assorted goodies.
I made appointments with buyers and merchandise managers from major retail department stores to get feedback and gain additional insight into our products and planning. A few buyers wanted to know when they could purchase our products. One merchandise manager expressed doubt about connecting expensive merchandise with mentally unstable people. He thought it might detract from their marketability. ‘Manufactured by forensic psychiatric workshops’ was not the best-selling point.
Our team felt that wasn’t an obstacle. Like Republicans, we’d suppress bad news and glamorize alternative facts and good news. Patients were inspired and excited about the opportunity. Positive behavioral changes were taking place. I felt motivated. Everyone was beginning to notice as we made ourselves ready to negotiate with hospital administration and sheltered workshops across the state. I couldn’t believe how well everything was moving forward. The great white whale was in my sights.
Stay tuned as my white whale becomes a white elephant and all of our efforts head south…