The Institution: The First Five Days

February 19-23, 1969

(Cherokee, Iowa)

On admission, the patient was alert, anxious, depressed and appeared immature with a poor self-image. On the ward, she was noted to be quiet and cooperative in the ward routine. She was slightly depressed but showed no sign of anxiety at the time of the interview. She expressed extreme hostility toward her guardians who are her grandparents. She admits to experimentation of drugs. Consciousness was clear; she was well-oriented, and there was no disturbance in memory. She showed fairly good ability to counting and arithmetical calculations. Abstraction ability was good. Her insight and judgment are not impaired. Her conflict, as noted in the diagnostic staff note, appeared to be external rather than intrapsychic.

 ꟷ Dr. Mariano A. Favis, Jr., “Initial Summary: Mental Examination”


Wednesday, February 19, 1969

Oh-my-God. I can’t believe they did this to me. When I tried leaving for Pennsylvania, Dee Dee and I got into a huge argument ꟷ what a scene.

All this crap after he said I could leave. He lied to me.

Suddenly, I’m in court for a bogus hearing; they declare me crazy; hours later, after being locked in an empty, windowless room without food, water, or bathroom facilities ꟷ I had to pee so bad, and did they care? ꟷ some sheriff dude drives me, stuck in the back of a caged cop car, to Cherokee; and here I am ꟷ in the funny farm. What chance did I have?

Even my lawyer was against me, the old fart.

I can’t go anywhere. I’m in what call an admission ward, a fancy name for locked ward, where they bring my meals to me. They said I have to earn my freedom. Shit. I thought I was in America, the land of the free. Only if you join the Establishment and play by their rules. In a few days, I’ll get an escort card, which means I can go places only if I’m escorted by a staff person.

Every time someone talks to me, I start to cry. Can’t they see I don’t belong here, that this is all a huge mistake? I hate all the questioning they have put me through ꟷ I’m so tired of it all. I’ll be in here forever, locked up, never to be seen again. I’ll grow old in here, no husband, no children ꟷ no life.

Damn Mo and Dee Dee; I’ll never see them, ever again, at least not voluntarily; they have put me through more misery in one month than I have experienced in my entire life. I have lost all respect for them, nothing but lies, lies, and more lies. Broken promises, sneaky and underhanded conduct. No wonder I’m paranoid.

One minute the nurses say I won’t be in here very long, and the next, they yap about having to earn ground privileges. All my outgoing mail will be monitored, which means I have to be careful what I write to Jeff and my friends. I don’t know about incoming mail. I would think not ꟷ I’m not in jail, am I?

Or am I?

But at least I’ll receive all my letters, read by my keepers or not, privacy notwithstanding. I never received Jeff’s last letter ꟷ he said he sent it on Valentine’s Day ꟷ so I assume Mo and Dee Dee still have it and have probably read it.

At least I talked to Jeff yesterday ꟷ I told him about the court hearing, so maybe he’ll figure it out and not worry. The minute I have a free moment without some stranger hovering over me, I’ll write Jeff and tell him I’m okay. I don’t want him to panic or give up on me because I’m crazy, though I’m scared I’ll never get out of here.

Damn scared.


Thursday, February 20

I feel better today; I try to keep busy, and that helps. I can’t change the fact I’m here, so I might as well play the system. I’ll get out that much sooner. I even went to a dance tonight ꟷ not as cool as L.A. happenings, but better than nothing. There are lots of people here, but many of them aren’t insane, just struggling with emotional problems they want to solve, most staying a month to six weeks. I want to make friends here, if only to keep from being isolated and bored. I kind of like rapping with the ward clerks and nurses, though some of them act like they feel terribly sorry for you, which I don’t like. But most of them deal with us as human beings. That’s really groovy.

Today, they took my mug shot in the x-ray room. I had quite a frown. I thought they’d cut my hair and make me wear a jail jumpsuit, though I did have to undergo a physical ꟷ inside and out, except for the pelvic exam, which will be done later ꟷ something to look forward to.

Nothing like a stranger sniffing up your pussy.

So far, Jeff’s been so patient, but for how long? He might decide out I’m not worth the trouble, especially after dealing with Mo and Dee Dee.


Friday, February 21

I’m now a proud owner of a ground card, which means I can go anywhere on the hospital grounds with another patient without being accompanied by a nurse. I’m moving up rapidly. God, it sure feels good to get out and get some fresh air.

Mo and Dee Dee still haven’t sent my clothes. I’ve been wearing institutional wardrobe, clothes older than God. At least I did wear a dress to the hearing, so I don’t have to wear a mu-mu for the social events.

I keep myself busy and continue attending all and any social events, although I don’t have an earth-shattering time ꟷ it passes the time faster.

If only they would let me sleep in; they get us up with the chickens, 6:00 a.m. We sit around until 7:00, when we go to breakfast. Then we wait for lunch. I’ve been reading and playing cards with the other patients, mostly poker, hearts, and gin rummy. This morning, the hospital offered exercise sessions, which I need badly ꟷ Mo and Dee have driven me to compulsive eating. Daytime TV stinks. If they’d let us sleep longer, the days wouldn’t seem so long. On Monday, I’m supposed to start Occupational Training, O.T. for short, a fancy name for Arts and Crafts and Basket-weaving. I was told I might be able to get a job on the outside while I’m here, but the Chaplain said to wait about two weeks before bringing that up with my doctors.

I hope to hear from Jeff soon.


Saturday, February 22

Mo and Dee have accused me of stashing acid and pot around the house. How ridiculous is that? I don’t have a big-time connection in Sioux City, and, besides, I wouldn’t take that risk. I have decided ꟷ emphatically ꟷ that I’m swearing off drugs. I’ve seen nothing but heartache: flipped out people, bad trips, and paranoia. Drugs run the dope head’s life, making him a slave, just like Mo and Dee are slaves to their old ideas. I feel sorry for them. Stoney, too, because I think LSD and the heroin will kill him.

I realize that Stoney doesn’t really want to love ꟷ he wants to die.

Acid is a bore; I’ve done about 120 hours of tripping on the same thing: colors, patterns, sounds, and I don’t notice any of the so-called insights. I quit just in time ꟷ I’m not quite so paranoid, I no longer have the feeling I’m being watched all the time, not even here.

I’ve been living in a world of two extremes, trading one for the other: Mo and Dee’s narrow-minded world of false morality and the upside-down world of drug abuse.

I’m not surprised at Mo’s lies; she keeps her word only when it suits her purposes. But if the truth stands in the way of something she wants, all bets are off.

But Dee Dee surprises me; he has always been a man of his word. I adored him; he was my model, and I wanted to be as intelligent and informed as he seemed to be. He kept his cool in any emergency. When I was on drugs, I didn’t want him to know about it, but when he found out my secret, I didn’t deny it. I thought I could trust him. So what does he do? He breaks his word, lies, and then expects me to beg for forgiveness. So he declares me unfit for society and sticks me in here.

What a joke. The court appointed me a lawyer for my hearing, and they didn’t even give me a chance to consult him alone. He might as well have been on the other side. When I tried telling my story, they interrupted me. One man kept saying, “Don’t you realize what LSD can do to you?”

Damn, I know, I know. What was he trying to prove?

Okay, I was on drugs. But now I’m off ꟷ obviously, they don’t believe me. I’ve made mistakes, but I love life, and I want to explore my future.

If I ever get out of here.


Sunday, February 23

Wolfie* flipped out at recreation tonight. I was dancing with him ꟷ he seemed okay ꟷ but then he squeezed me around my waist and pushed me against the wall. I thought he was going to smother me to death. I told him to stop, but it was like he was in a trance ꟷ he just stared at me with those strange beady eyes, like he was going to drill into me. As three orderlies peeled him off me, he screamed and writhed like a snake, and they had to drag him across the floor and tie him to a Gurney.


I later found out he’s in the men’s locked ward for doing something horrible. What, I don’t know. The other patients don’t seem to know the specifics, and the staff isn’t saying.

Why would they allow people like that to mix with the rest of us?

I haven’t heard from Jeff yet; he’ll probably get my first letter from here by tomorrow, but it seems like forever since I’ve been in the shrink house. I couldn’t bear it if he turned his back on me now. I just want to get out!

I’m being so self-centered ꟷ at least I don’t have to worry about the draft. Jeff has that worry hanging over him.

What if he gets drafted before I get out of here? I would absolutely die.

Maybe if I talk to my social worker, he’ll see how I am and recommend my getting out as soon as possible.

I wrote Pam last night; I hope she isn’t mad at me.

Dee Dee got his hands on her last letter; she called him an uptight Hoosier. Boy, was he steamed. He called her a 14-karat tramp. If she’s a tramp, then so am I.

I hate when he judges my friends according to Establishment standards.

After four days, still no clothes. You’d think Mo and Dee would at least send them by mail, but I suppose they’re still going through my stuff, reading my letters and diary, finding all the dirt they can dig up and use against me.


Memoir Madness Excerpts: Return to Table of Contents


“The Institution: The First Five Days,” © copyright 2013 - present, by Jennifer Semple Siegel, may not be reprinted or reposted without the express permission of the author. Published in Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment


*Names of Cherokee inmates have been changed to protect their privacy.



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