Care in the Community

In 1986, the UK started the countrywide closure of the mental asylums, which housed over 100,000 patients, who were moved into the community. It was a noble act but very difficult for many of the former patients, who had to live amidst prejudice and ridicule. They were often treated with fear and suspicion by others, and ostracised from the rest of society. My great grandma was one of these people, and she found it very hard to leave as she had become institutionalised. This poem is looking through her eyes…

They shut down all the asylums,
din’t they.
Lofty, archaic ceilings,
echoing cries
of institutionalise.
Faceless Freud-styled fodder,
clothed in layers of regulation.

Pluck out my eyes so
I no longer see
the haunting corpse
of a ghost of a spectre
of a prison.
That crushed me
in fists of banal sterility.

They shut down all the asylums,
din’t they.
They kicked us onto streets.
Into people,
into mocking,
into laughter,
into ridicule,
loonies, nutters, crazies.
And we don’t know where we live anymore,
us half-breeds.
Walking around in polyester frocks,
yet floating in visions of hospital smocks
and medication time.

Care in the community,
they call it.
Well, it’s shit.
Cos the community don’t care,
and us crazies don’t care,
and we try to get by,
and the people stare,
and they call us freaks
and they whittle away
at our fragile egos,
crushed, broken and weak.
Like discarded eggshells
not Faberge.

They shut down all the asylums,
din’t they.
Freedom should taste like haute cuisine.
But when you’ve learned to live
within a bubble of lithium, valium, Ativan,
something’s got to give.
Imperfection is perfection
in a kingdom where the crazy rule.
But step beyond the lock and key,
to the world where
the weak and troubled fall,

and people cannot help
their ignorance.
For dig to the bottom of
their cruel-school bones,
as you learn to dance
to the ridicule
and you put your face on the joker
of every card you’re dealt.
For the laughs are at you
not with you;
Cheap and how the hyenas choke on
their resonant, acid tongues.

But I live in this half-way world;
my legacy is a white walled asylum
and I hear that my penance
thrives on my fear.
Hail Mary,
hear my prayer.

They shut down all the asylums,
dint they.
The lies they told
with their penny pinching lips.
They told us it was progress.
And they told us it
was freedom.
And I sit here in my prison.
Of fear.

Sarah Drury

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