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In the Tunnels

We were presented with a challenge to write a first person account about an insane asylum at Real Toads today.  Margaret’s post is filled with information on one asylum, Willard Asylum.  My inspiration, however, is drawn largely from my time teaching on the old Clarinda State Hospital campus and the stories that swirled about the treatment of the patients.  The school used the extensive system of tunnels to travel from building to building in the winter, but there were rumors about the tunnels beneath the tunnels and the horrific evidence there of how patients were treated.  Lisa Gordon has generously offered the use of her photos to illustrate our poems.  Click the picture to visit her collection.

courtesy of Lisa Gordon

courtesy of Lisa Gordon

I died today
just a little bit more
running from my
that’s what they call it;
is my name for it.
cold, wet sheets
binding me to stillness,
a struggle to breathe.

I fought free–
for a moment racing
across the landscaped yard,
yellow jonquils
red tulips
green grass below
kissing my feet
as sunshine blesses my soul,
rising like a bird on the cloud.

Caught!  Returned!
because I fought;
drug to the tunnels,
–to the tunnels
beneath the tunnels;
HoRrOr upon HoRrOr!!!
shackles and chains;
blood on the walls;
left to die

12 thoughts on “In the Tunnels

  1. To tell you the truth – the title scares the hell out of me. It really is hard to grasp – I wonder how many dr.’s and nurses were innocent – how many were guilty of true torture. I fear the answer! I am SO sorry to be responding so late – I really appreciate your participation!

  2. Knowing that this was the real fate of so many makes this almost unbearably sad to read. Of course she fought! And for that, more tor– um, I meant treatment. Mercy.

  3. I like what you did with your word play….captured the annunciations in a very chilling way. It’s a wonder some of my ancesters didn’t end up in a place like this….maybe they did.

  4. What is interesting in this poem is that it turns the tables on who is insane and who is mentally stable. The speaker is our heroine, fighting for freedom.

  5. This is terrifying, all the more so for the brief escape to a field of flowers……it reminds me of the movie Frances, the true story of actress Frances Farmer whose mother kept admitting her to insane asylums like the one in your poem, because she was “difficult”. They finally gave her a lobotomy. A very sad story. Of which there are apparently thousands upon thousands we havent even heard.

  6. O, O, just when i am convinced of her love and sanity, I see her submerged into the hell of medical experiment. What license commitment gave!

  7. Yes, treatment was too often a license to torture–imo, the so-called doctors were far sicker than their patients ever were. This is chilling and vividly told, with a real sense of horror, Teresa.

  8. For some reason I read this as someone trying to escape from the nightmares inside their own head, rather than an actual escape from an asylum. Whichever way I read it, it is still a very nice read!

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