As someone from the Northeast Philadelphia area, I grew up hearing people say things like "Keep that up and they'll have to put you in Byberry". My whole life, Byberry was just an abandoned place where they used to send "crazy" people. It wasn't until today, when I stumbled onto an article about Byberry Mental hospital that I got more detail on what actually happened there. The details in the article paint a revolting picture of a system that completely failed those who needed its help the most.
I have been interested in the history of asylums and mental health care in 20th century America since I went to the Pennhurst Asylum haunted attraction at Pennhurst State School. I know many people find attractions like this disrespectful, but I can say that it was a catalyst to education for me. I would have never learned about the reality of what happened at Pennhurst, Byberry, and the whole United States were it not for this attraction. As a whole, this effort to help the mentally ill resulted in an unquantifiable amount of damage done instead. Lives were lost, innocent people suffered, and those responsible got away without any punishment.
When reading about places and atrocities like this, I can't shake the feeling that there is something similar going on today. Something that we are doing that is so obviously abhorrent that people will look on us with disgust in 50 years. In retrospect, these mental hospitals were clearly failures on every level. But, why could people not see it back then? How and why could they choose not to see it?
I think of Moriz Scheyer and something he said in Asylum, written about his escape of the Nazis as an Austrian Jew. During the occupation of France, Scheyer describe how every non-Jew did everything that they could to make money. Even the Nazi guards themselves would allow anything, should they be bribed with enough money. Scheyer gives the reader the sense that the majority of people were primarily motivated by greed and lust, either lying to themselves about or actually oblivious to the true cause of the Nazis. Wealthy French aristocrats threw themselves at the Nazis, just to be aligned with those in power as they took their country by force and killed their fellow men, women, and children.
What in people allows them to ignore such horrors for personal gain? What are we ignoring now?
What am I ignoring now?