Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Preparations for Leaving the Institution

(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Photo by Naaman Fletcher
In talking with Dorothy about life at Partlow State School, It sounded as though there were attempts in later years to enrich the lives of the residents through volunteer efforts.  It was the federal court, however, that mandated changes in the institution and insisted that residents be equipped for greater independence outside the institution. In the Wyatt v. Stickney case, United States District Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that residents at Partlow State School were being denied their constitutional right to treatment. There was some stark and shocking eye-witness testimony entered in those court proceedings back in 1971. Here are a couple of examples:

“I think if you walk through Partlow, you can see. . . the effect  the people who begin to become involved in eccentric mannerisms, the rocking back and forth, peculiar behavior mechanisms, the people who sit in a semi-stupor in a place, without any activity, the people who slowly deteriorate and turn to the simple elements of human behavior .... We have ample documentation in this country that individuals who come to institutions and can walk stop walking, who come to institutions and can talk will stop talking, who come to institutions and can feed themselves will stop feeding themselves; in other words, in many other ways, a steady process of deterioration.”

“The food was slopped out unceremoniously by the working residents. There was a kind of a cake ... as part of the meal, and it was handed out by the working residents using their hands and dropping it on the trays. There were no knives or forks. Many of the residents ate with their hands ....”

                                           (The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 84: 1338, 1975 footnote, p 1350)

So it was that the landmark case in federal court would set the wheels in motion for Dorothy and many others like her to find a fuller life outside the institution. This is how Dorothy describes those transitional times:


At Partlow we couldn’t even go off the premises. It was that way for years and years until the Shriners – I think that’s what you call it – they started getting it together where we could go out and have more privileges than we did. Sometimes we didn’t have much privileges.  I had a case manager who used to take me up to the canteen and take me out for coffee and everything.

Partlow columns

I remember the first time I went out with somebody. I went out with another girl’s sponsor. We went to some place in town. We had lunch at this restaurant and the plates would be sent out on a conveyer belt. It went so fast you’d have to get you plate off or it would run off on the other end. I well remember that. Then after I come down here she wrote to me.

Sponsors wrote to you and got your packages out on Christmas or Thanksgiving; Easter or Valentines. They’d take you out sometime or sometime they would just send you cards.

Getting Us Ready to Leave Partlow

Partlow staircase
I went for a little while to rehab and that was how I got out. The day they said I could leave, I was so glad I didn’t know what to do. They sent me down to Thomasville to that Thomasville Resource Center.  I think I was down there a year and a half. 

It was alright, I lived in a house and then they moved me to another house with three more people. I stayed down there a long time.  I was there two or three months. They put me to live with an older couple. I didn’t want to stay with them and I ran away. In a day or so, they came and took me back to Thomasville. I had a job at a little old motor court. I had to change beds, and mop and sweep. They paid me about $10. That was the first time I got paid for doing work.

I went to a cooking class when I was in Thomasville, and I had to learn how to use a coin operated laundry when I first came to live in the group home [at St. Andrew’s Foundation in Birmingham].  Then I got to interview with Jim and Harry and I got to come to Birmingham.  The house I was supposed to move into caught fire, and that delayed me, then I had to wait another long time.

We had to get on a school bus when we went shopping. We would go about 12 miles to ride to the Delchamps grocery store. There was a restaurant called Delmars. We couldn’t go there unless somebody took us. I think I’ve really really been down the grist mill.

Inside an empty room at what was Partlow State School

Work cited:

“The Wyatt Case: Implementation of a Judicial Decree Ordering Institutional Change,” The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 84: 1338, 1975.

About the Photographs:

The pictures above were taken by Naaman Fletcher on the premises of Partlow State School years after the institution was closed down. They are featured on his blog What's Left of Birmingham at .

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