Book Review: 2 Years & 4 Months in an Asylum

from the book…Two years and Four Months in an Asylum by Reverend Hiram Chase

. It was originally reviewed on my wordpress account, back in 2012 but never got any notice there, and since I am slowly removing everything from there and migrating here, I thought that this was a good next transplant.

I found the book while I was proofreading for Gutenberg,  It caught   my eye because we had been to Rome and visited our sister who was working in Utica and she mentioned the abandoned insane asyum there, being akin to the “Willowbrook ” state institution in our native Staten Island.  So having driven by it, I  signed up so that when it was released, and releases take forever btw, I would know and get a chance at “smooth reading” it before its final publication. It’s an excellent book, fast paced and about 75 pages, not like today’s mammoth tomes that bore you silly for 400 odd, but something easy and thought provoking.

What was stunning was that the man writing this, is a reverend in upstate New York, who was institutionalized because his congregation did not want to give him a pay increase that he was due after so many years of service. Bizarre right? But think again…if you turn his story around it’s not as bizarre as it first seems.

Utica Today

If you work in a place and ask for a raise you may not get one, or worse, you may not get one and then transferred to a project, a task that is a dead-end where you have no chance of promotion or making yourself known and getting ahead much less getting a raise….isn’t that another type of institutionalized Siberia.

Some contend that if they ask too many questions, want too many of their rights they get sacked when the time comes because they “couldn’t get along with their teammates and made a fuss”. Again, that’s no different than the good preacher. This set of quotes comes from his time in the hospital and the things that he notices, and our good man notices a lot because he wants to reassure himself that he is not as crazy as everyone is telling him. Reminds me of Olivia de Havilland and the Snake Pity, an excellent movie btw, also in the same vein.

Librovox has also made an audio recording of the story. You can listen if you prefer while you drive or do your errands, over here.

First, there are some men who need never fear of becoming insane–their minds are not sufficiently active–they will never rack their minds with study or industry and so loll about during their chores each day in a leisurely pattern–in a word, they have not brains enough to become insane.

Then there is the second class; they are quite liable to overtax the mind with the burden of their business and work hard and long on problems forgetting sleep and exercise. As for how many there are in the asylum. I cannot say, however, but I have seen and met them so I know that they are there.

Of the third class, they are mainly from the laboring class of community, and here you find a great number in the asylum. Many of these suffer in various ways, and from various causes. Some, by overwork; some, by exposure to all weathers, some become prostrate with ill health and cannot look after themselves, and so their nerves are unstrung. Many in this class, as well as in others, have greatly injured their nervous system by the excessive use of coffee, tea and tobacco and lack of sound sleep.

It is a remarkable fact that but few men are found in the asylum who are not users of tobacco; it is the universal cry of the patients through all the asylum for tobacco, is proof of this fact. I think there are five to one of this class in the asylum compared to all the other classes; yet, perhaps, they number ten to one.

The fourth class is that reckless and unsettled portion of community that never look beyond present gratification, whatever it may cost. Rum, tobacco and idleness, constitute their chief study; habits unfixed; system in living never enters their thoughts; and though this is not the larger class of community, I doubt not but two to one of this class are found in the asylum to any other class of society.

It is a given fact that a great number in the asylum were brought there by their dissipation. It is not strange that many of all the classes mentioned should be found in the asylum, but to see the imbecile and driveling idiot thrown into a lunatic asylum, carries prima facie evidence with it, that the object in placing them there was not to prevent their doing injury to themselves or others, nor for their recovery from their unfortunate state, for many of these were born so.