Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
<www.dsq-sds.org>
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


CD REVIEW

Moyer, J. (Producer), & Leasure, J. (Executive Producer). (2004). Lest we forget [CD]. Highland Heights, OH & Dayton, OH: Music From the Heart and Partners for Community Living. The 2-CD set is available for $19.95. Purchasing information can be found at the website: http://www.jeffmoyer.com

Reviewed by Paul Marchbank

Lest We Forget (2004), an audio CD collecting bits of interviews with individuals familiar with Ohio's state institutions, force feeds a kind of bitter but useful bolus to a short-sighted and forgetful public. It presumes that its audience remains unaware of the poor conditions in which many of the country's cognitively disabled individuals lived during the twentieth-century, and accordingly delivers a heavy blow of information intended to forcibly knock the blinders from its listeners' eyes. No conversations with the occasional happy resident, satisfied guardian, or dedicated physician pop up to complicate the polemical pathos of this revisionist narrative. The creators of this particular project mean to shock and awe, and they succeed.

Lest We Forget is an informative historical narrative that provides deliberately redundant, first-hand reports of conditions inside institutions like Orient and Apple Creek Developmental Center during the 1960s and 70s. The project's producers layer their evidence to drive home a few important truths about state-run institutions. Less a neatly ordered mosaic arranging numerous, discrete voices than a cairn stacked high with a few heavy-handed accounts, the recording overwhelms its listener by reiterating each in a series of increasingly discomfiting points. In chapter two, for instance, a few witnesses separately describe the smells of urine and defecation which greeted them at a given institution's door, another handful reiterates the claim that over fifty patients were regularly packed into a single sleeping area, and a third group composed of by-now-familiar voices decries the cast-iron cages, or "cribs," that staff used to restrain bothersome clients.

Framed by an outraged narrative voice, and subdivided by excerpts from a sentimental ballad about institutional isolation and hardship, this moving collection of anecdotes rehearses many sordid details that will be uncomfortably familiar to those listeners who have worked, volunteered, or resided in state institutions. These include the surprising mobility of private possessions, a dramatic loss of privacy (such that self-stimulation is always a public affair), and a ubiquitous dependence on cigarettes–an addiction encouraged by staff looking for effective reinforcers. Those interviewed also mention a number of variables that have presumably become less problematic (where not totally eliminated) over the last fifteen years, including inadequate meals, corporal punishment, solitary confinement, and other forms of maltreatment more often associated with incarceration.

A few extremely poignant moments complement the litany of general grievances, including one parent's recollection of watching a young, affection-deprived girl be thrown to the ground by staff for merely touching a visitor, and another advocate's bitter observation that the campus of one such institution was actually improved when the state government decided to turn it into a prison.

In this way, the documentary marches towards a clear and uncompromising vision of the draconian conditions experienced by many of those whose families institutionalized them following diagnoses of mental retardation. The project touches briefly on the guilt felt by parents and siblings who made the hard decision to send their mentally disabled family members into institutions, but by and large glosses over the personal factors and especially the powerful cultural values that informed (and still inform) these kinds of decisions. Neither America's continued idolization of self-sufficiency and "beauty," nor its citizens' quick and conscious reliance on institutions and professionals figure much in this tale which spends its energies pummeling the wretched institutions themselves. Producers Jeff Moyer and Judy Leasure settle for the much larger and more attractive rhetorical target, helping pave the way for another story that needs retelling, that of a society and government constitutionally unwilling to provide adequate care and opportunities for those with cognitive disabilities.





Copyright (c) 2006 Paul Marchbank



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