In this Aug. 13, 2014, photo, a female student wearing a shocking device on her leg, lines up with classmates after lunch at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Source
What you are about to read and watch and hear will be extremely difficult to process. It’s horrifying. I’m asking you to read it anyway.
It’s necessary, because we need to understand that this is happening. Not in some far off country that we can claim no control over, but here, in our very own back yard.
Please read. Please watch. Please listen. And then, please, for the love of God, act.
This can’t continue.
“The first shock was in my leg. It was a stinging, ripping, and pulling pain that froze time. I was standing when it happened, and I immediately fell because I lost control of my leg. It hurt, but didn’t really register with me. I wasn’t afraid yet.”
“I no longer had my meds, and I would get this itchy feeling, like a hundred ants under my skin. I would fight it, but then I would get a tingle down my spine, and then I would become terrified because I knew what was coming. My hands would get cold and shake. Then the burst would come. Like slamming my head on the desk over and over until the shock came. After that would be a strange feeling of calm and peace — because it was over with. I released the impulse and had gotten the coinciding shock.”
“Some actual behaviors I was shocked for were: covering my eyes with my hands, covering (pressurizing) my ears, tic-like body movements, wrapping my foot around the leg of my chair, not answering staff within 5 seconds, saying the word “no”, shaking my head, tightening my fingers for more than 2 seconds, waving my hands in front of my face, 5 verbal behaviors in an hour (talk to self, repeating, crying, bizarre speech, nagging), tensing up, getting out of my seat without permission, not following directions, and attempt to remove restraints.”
“Two female staff members would bring me to the upstairs bathroom and lock me on the restraint board, face up. Then they stripped my clothes off and bathed me like a sponge bath. They touched my private areas against my will. I was completely helpless. This is a whole other kind of abuse …”
“The video of Andre McCollins being shocked on the board tells the story. It is absolutely terrifying. The anticipation and the helplessness of being tied down and not knowing when another shock is coming. And that was the point, to add more fear to the shock. I had this done to me many times. Only sick, sick people can think this is ok.”
“While I was sitting in a restraint chair, a staff [member] would burst into my conference room — I was one-on-one alone with staff — and screamed at me to hurt him, holding a knife. Even though I did absolutely nothing and sat there in shock, not having any idea what was going on, I would receive a shock from the GED device. This happened a couple of times a week, at first, and left me in a constant state of fear, never knowing when I’d be hurt for no reason.”
“It’s so scary. I would ask God to make my heart stop because I didn’t want to live when that was happening to me. I just wanted to die and make it stop,” [Jennifer Msumba] told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner in an interview at her mother’s home outside Boston. “I thought, they won’t be able to hurt me anymore.”
“They grabbed my arms and walked me over to the board. Told me to sit then lie down and started locking me in. I was begging, pleading that I didn’t do anything and could they explain what I did. Nothing. I didn’t fight, I just shook. My limbs went cold with fear, knowing what was coming and having to wait for it. She went outside the door and closed it most of the way so I couldn’t see her. All I could do was breath in shudders and kick my one leg that was looser then the other. Then she shocked me out of nowhere. And said “there is no hurting yourself”. One down, 4 to go. When they do this, time stops and everything around me would turn into a nightmarish cloud. I would just beg in my mind for them to hurry up and do it. But the whole point is to MAKE you anticipate. To fear, to suffer. Not knowing when it’s coming. The shit is so sick and twisted, it should be in a movie. They put this show and tell on that they care, but this is what REALLY happens. This is what really fucking happens. After about 10 minutes of agonizing mental and physical torture and 5 shocks later, they took me off the board.”
“Then, in 2011, Edward Placke, a former Assistant Commissioner of New York’s Education Department, was shaken by an encounter with a New York City teenager during a visit to the school. The girl was anxious, but she spoke deliberately, even though a Rotenberg staff member watched over their meeting. Get me out, she said. Take me home.
“She said she was shackled to a chair,” recalls Placke.”
“It’s illegal to torture prisoners and animals, but not disabled people.”
“The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, has long been criticized for its treatment of disabled children and adults. It has been condemned by the current and previous United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture, many disability rights groups, current Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and an FDA advisory panel (Hinman and Brown; Conaboy; Rothstein). It seems strange that the Judge Rotenberg Center is even still running, but it is, and is still using electric shocks as punishment for many of the disabled children and adults who currently live there.”
“For Rob Santana, who declared about JRC: “It’s worse than jail. That place is the worst place on earth”; for Raquel, a 15-year-old who caught a reporter’s eye and held up a message in pink marker that read “HELP US”; for Janine, a 16-year-old who has been hooked up to the GED for half of her life (Gonnerman, “School”); for xxx who bravely wrote her testimony about her experience at JRC; for Christopher Hirsch; for Andre McCollins; for Rodrigo; for the six students who died at BRI/ JRC over the years: Robert Cooper, Danny Aswad, Vincent Millitich, Abigail Gibson, Linda Cornelison, and Silverio Gonzalez; and for all the other current and past victims of torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center, we must change policy that permits this civil rights violation to occur, and create new policy to stop it.”
So what do we do?
Start by clicking on the Occupy JRC Facebook page and hit “like” in order to follow the story and get action alerts.
Call or write to the FDA and demand follow-up from last April’s hearing in which they considered a ban on aversive conditioning using contingent electric shock, but have yet to issue a ruling.
Call or write to the NY State Education Department, JRC’s biggest customer, requesting that they decertify the JRC immediately.
If you see a conference itinerary that includes the JRC as a presenter / participant, request that their invitation be revoked.
Tweet Bill DiBlasio, Mayor of New York City, the JRC’s biggest customer, @billdeblasio using the hashtag #CloseTheJRC. Tag anyone you think will retweet it, including me @diaryofamom.
That young man screaming for help in the video? He’s my daughter. He’s your son. He is our brothers and sisters. He is all of us.
We don’t treat human beings this way.
This has to stop.
Edited to add:
I posted the following on Diary’s Facebook page. I think it’s important that it live here as well.
Friends, there’s something that I need to say. I hope that it will come out respectfully, gently, and urgently, as it is intended.
Yesterday, I published a post about the horrors at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, MA. The post was composed almost entirely of quotes, each and every one of them linked back to their sources. If I remember correctly, with the exception of the Fox and CBS News reports, every single one of the original pieces I cited was written by, or directly quoted, an autistic person. That was by design.
The autistic community has been trying desperately to bring attention to the atrocities at the JRC for years. Autistic activists have been writing, picketing, pleading with lawmakers, testifying at hearings, and otherwise doing everything they possibly can to be heard. Nonetheless, when I wrote that post yesterday, I was thanked by some for “breaking the story.”
That saddens me. Moreover, it terrifies me. I didn’t “break” this story. I shared a story that autistic people have been telling for years. You might not think that’s an important distinction, but I do. And they do, as well they should. Because my voice should not be more powerful nor more credible than theirs. Ever. No one should be made to feel that their story isn’t real, isn’t important, has never been told, until someone else tells it. And that is the message that we are sending when we fail to acknowledge the efforts of those in the trenches.
Please click on the links in the post. Read the original stories. See the work that has been done for YEARS by autistic advocates on behalf of their brethren who are being treated in a way that we do not allow our prison wardens to treat convicted criminals in this country.
Then please go to the section of my blog roll entitled, “Vital Perspectives from Autistic Adults. Follow their blogs. Like their Facebook pages. Sign up for ASAN’s newsletter. Listen. Not to me, but to those who are doing the real work.
From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of me and my daughters, thank you.