Trigger warning – abusive things happening to me in the 1990s
There have been some high profile cases in the media of late around restraint of Autistic school students. Obviously this is a terrible thing which should not happen. However, a lot of the discussion is around who was responsible? There is a lot of apportioning blame and working out who to pin the bad practices on – the school, the funding body, the individual teachers? I honestly don’t know who to blame in these cases. I was not involved in the decision – either as the person deciding to restrain kids – or the person on the receiving end of the restraint. I honestly don’t know where to point my finger, I will never know what happened or why.
I do have some experience which informs thought on this topic though. I have been on the receiving end of restraint in a number of settings (although not in school). The me you see today was not always positive and proactive, employed and engaged in life. Instead I was a broken, angry, negative ‘no hoper’, prone to spending months in psychiatric hospital and years in prisons. I was not even the usual miserable prisoner of denizen of the hell of the high dependency unit in the psych ward,. I was in fact probably the person the staff of these places would be betting would be first to die. I was self-destructive, had zero self awareness and had no fear of death or injury.
My first experience of restraint came when I was 22 and in what was probably the most horrendous psychiatric hospital in Australia, the medical staff headed up by a formidable and arrogant psychiatrist who had no experience of women with a diagnosis of Autism. He had treated a couple of young men on the spectrum but was flummoxed when faced with female, Aspie (and at the time very depressed and psychotic) me. He deiced I mist have borderline personality disorder, presumably because I was self-destructive and had identity issues. He stopped all my medication for reasons best known to himself. Of course the result of this was that my already very shitty life got even worse. I was looked in the seclusion room with the small window papered closed. I couldn’t see out. I was there for a week. I was by myself, totally psychotic and locked in a tiny room. I didn’t see humans very often, When they came in I would assault them – not really wanting to hurt them but to try to get past them and into the rest of the hospital with other people. I regret to say that I behaved like an animal, but then I was caged like one, wasn’t I?
There was no help in this place. My misery was met with institutional violence. I had never felt more alone in my life. And really, essentially I was alone. Of course there was no escape from the hospital and I was sent from there to prison after assaulting the formidable chief psychiatrist.
Prison was even worse than hospital for at least a hospital claims to be there to help patients. Prison makes no pretence about its role as a brutal institution. As a very unwell, Autistic prisoner my life was about as hellish as it has ever been. I had meltdowns when I was stressed and assaulted staff. After some tweaking of the management regime for ‘Purkis’, this resulted in five days in what (for reasons lost in the mists of time) was called the ‘wet cell’. This was where people were kept under observation if the staff thought they were suicidal. The light was on 24/7, the ‘bed’ was a concrete slab with a canvas ‘blanket’. I had to wear a canvas nightie with no underwear and there was a camera watching every action I took, including using the toilet. If I was really lucky I would be let out to have a shower once during the five day stint in this awful place.Of course the officers would watch me while I showered. I got used to this over time. Sometimes the prison staff would play a fun game and turn on the radio in the cell and leave it on all night. Between the loud radio and the fluorescent lights I didn’t sleep all night. If you want to see powerless, come and visit twenty-soenthing, prisoner Jeanette. I didn’t count how many days I endured this judicial torture bout it would certainly have equalled months of my life.
Whenever I was ‘released’ into the prison from the wet cell I was delighted. But I was still in a tiny cell most of the time. I would pace up and down the five or so metres of my cell in a vain attempt to get exercise. I had a radio as my only home comfort and I tell you, the Triple M rock music station must have kept me sane enough to have taken the path I did when I left prison.
For me, these experiences are still difficult to think about, but that is my personal experience of restraint and being powerless. I don’t believe anyone should have to experience powerlessness like that and particularly not children. I don’t have any solutions. I don’t know how you stop people wanting to disempower and control other people. It was hard to share this but I think it needed to be written. If you need me I will be cuddling my kitty. Thank you for reading this.
I couldn’t really find a suitable image for this one so this will have to do…