Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/651

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

which those who confine, or are instrumental in confining, persons that have children, should be compelled to see that the children are brought, a certain number of times every year, to visit the parent thus confined. Again, patients should have greater freedom in communicating with the outside world. As it is, every letter written by a patient is carefully read by the superintendent or some officer; now, suppose a man is unjustly confined, and that the superintendent is an accessory to this false imprisonment. What opportunity would such an unfortunate prisoner have to obtain his freedom? The superintendent can prevent any letter going out that contains any reflections upon himself or the institution in his care. Should friends wish to see such a patient, all the superintendent need do is to say that he can not permit an interview, because the patient is excitable or sick—any such excuse will do. It is always against rules for a patient to address visitors unless they come to see him particularly. But suppose a patient was successful in laying before a stranger a case of injustice—what then? Why, the superintendent can say that the patient did not know what he was talking about, and that would end the matter with ninety-nine people out of a hundred, for every one knows how humiliating it is to appear to be deceived by an insane person!

Let the reader remember that I am not publishing this to bring a railing accusation against asylums or superintendents. While I was confined I was treated like a gentleman, and was shown every consideration by the superintendent and all the officers. I do not believe that in the institution where I was a case of unjust imprisonment could possibly occur while the present superintendent is in charge. What I wish to demonstrate is that the system invites abuses by making it so easy for an unprincipled superintendent to act in collusion with an unprincipled outside party, where there are financial or other temptations to deprive some innocent man or woman of his or her personal liberty. It is enough to say there is the writ of habeas corpus; but how is an unfortunate person in such a case to inform a lawyer that he wants such a writ issued in his behalf? And does any one believe that, if the Board of Visitors in New York could have been relied upon to do their duty thoroughly, any such outrage as that upon Mr. Silkman could ever have been perpetrated, or that it would have ever been attempted?

The "cottage system" has been spoken of as one means of rendering asylum-life pleasanter. But, although that system is better for the patients, it is not nearly so convenient for the officers; and, as these latter have always more to say on the subject than the patients, it is not likely that the cottage plan will ever be very extensively adopted. It is much easier to manage an institution where everybody and everything are in one large building than where they are scattered in different houses. Nevertheless if patients could have more of out-door life, could move about in a flower-garden and breathe the fresh air and