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Former halfway house residents discuss halfway houses

BROADCAST: Oct. 16, 1973 | DURATION: 00:54:19


Discussion about halfway houses with a panel of former halfway house residents.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel As kids, we used to use the comment to our friends, "You're okay, the world's crazy." Did you ever have the feeling in this year 1973 that maybe you're nuts, or if you're not nuts, maybe the world is nuts? And then you get to wonder who decides who's crazy, and we know there are millions of people throughout the world in all societies and mental institutions, and there are people outside in power positions. And you start wondering, "Wait a minute. Who has made the decision those people should be in and the other people decide?" And that's pretty much the basis of this gathering around the microphone this morning with Ali, Big Bob, Medium Bob and Marilyn. All four have been in mental institutions, and they have some excellent ideas, one of which is being fulfilled at the moment. There's a coffee house. The group is called the Committee of Us, and, uh, we'll hear from Ali and his colleagues and Big and Medium Bob and Marilyn about this coffeehouse in Uptown and about a project called Homecoming, a new approach to halfway houses, to be run, by the way, by the people who have been in mental institutions, as is this coffeehouse. I thought there's a song written by a friend of mine, Jeremy Taylor, and it's about a boy named Paul, and Paul was put away. And here's how it happened, and then we'll comment about that as we go along. [pause in recording] In hearing that song, uh, Big Bob, Medium Bob, Ali and Marilyn, Medium Bob, your thinking as you heard that song.

Medium Bob Yeah, I was, I was thinking that it's a, it's a really funny song because in the end, he says, you know, why did you turn out to be such a weak person, and the feelings that I got while he was singing about his parents were really something else, that he had no choice. His parents helped him decide that he was going to turn out that way, and that he was gonna be kind of a helpless person.

Studs Terkel Is this you talking about yourself?

Medium Bob Somewhat, yeah. Um, you know, like most, most people decide that they're going to go crazy between the time they're 0 and 5 years old. Uh, that's my opinion. Um, I think that in Paul's case, he had a lot of help from his parents. It wasn't necessarily his own decision. You know, I think he was kind of forced into it. And I think that probably happened to me. In therapy I've been trying to recount about the time that I did decide that I was crazy, and I think it was around the time I was four years old. I haven't been back to the feeling yet, but I'm working on it.

Studs Terkel I know that you also have groups at your coffee house, Committee of Us. It's called Committee of Us Coffee House? In Uptown. A psycho dramas, we'll hear about that we as go along. Big Bob, you were laughing times you heard that.

Big Bob It reminds me of a little bit, you know. Like when I was a little kid and I was raised up and I went with taking showers with them, um you know, and my mom used to spank me, because I used to do things that I wasn't supposed to, you know. So that was you know, that's, that's, in little ways it minded me. The way my parents raised me. And then they told me, I had to learn when I'm, when I -- because I wouldn't be a sissy if I don't learn, you know. And I didn't have anything [near?] a choice. So it was my parents raised me that way. I'm -- is lucky. I didn't come out to being a maniac. Sex maniac, really.

Studs Terkel But when did you decide? You know, Medium Bob [said decided?].

Big Bob When I said, when I was about seven years old.

Studs Terkel You decided what?

Big Bob Well, what was happy? Why did that, what was it all about? When I was seven years old, and one time I asked my dad, but I'd seen him [gag?] mom, and I asked him, I said, "What was he doing on top?" And my old man was sick, you know. So that's how I merely found out.

Studs Terkel I mean with the effect on you, he says he decided, being about he decided to go crazy when he was about four or so, that you served time -- by serve time, I love this phrase. I said "serve time," phrase used, all of you did in mental homes, you know, and served time. Did it have that effect, Ali?

Ali I think yeah, the time I served was time, time out of my life. I don't know if I decided to go crazy in the way that the Bobs are talking about it. Strange things started happening in my head one day, which, you know, I've been told since were chemical reactions, not psychological per se, but I went to a doctor and he said, "Oh, you're just uptight because you miss your girlfriend, and so when you take these pills, and everything'll be all right." So what he was doing, he was saying, you know, I'm your daddy, everything's gonna be alright. And now Paul's in a mental home, his parents may be [calm?]

Studs Terkel Paul of the song.

Ali Right, and maybe his parents aren't the greatest. but the mental home acts as parents to him, you know. And they keep telling him that he's crazy. And once you're told you're crazy, a lot of 'em believe in it.

Studs Terkel Marilyn.

Marilyn Well, for one thing, up from the song, it just sounded that he stuttered, I wouldn't consider him crazy. It's just, uh, impediment, that's all. And I think he did have some hang-ups, though, about parents. But I don't blame him. Sounded like they didn't care about him.

Studs Terkel What about yourself? Upstairs we were talking in the cafeteria, you said you always been sick all your life.

Marilyn Right.

Studs Terkel Big, Big Bob doesn't believe it.

Marilyn Well, it's true.

Big Bob I don't believe it.

Ali I think I think for [eleven?] you're told you were sick.

Big Bob She displeased that what her parent says, yeah. That she's sick. She's not. She's not all that sick.

Marilyn Well, I get depressed, and I forget

Big Bob You're not human if you don't get depressed. You know? You're not human. What the hell.

Studs Terkel We're sitting around talking, Committee of Us, and there's a coffeehouse. Well, suppose we start at the beginning? Ali or Medium Bob or Big Bob or Marilyn. Suppose we start by thinking how the Committee of Us came to be.

Big Bob You better talk to

Medium Bob Let's say it's about two years ago now. There were some people from the state that were interested in the community and the people in the community. They were working in halfway houses and shelter care homes and things like that, and they decided that they were gonna reactivate a group called the Committee of Us. At one time, the Committee of Us was quite a revolutionary group, and they wanted to do a lot of changes in the hospitals and in the shelter care homes and things like that. So we got together a small group of people and started the Committee of Us and we incorporated as a non-profit organization, and at that time we had two goals. When the committee was really small, we had two goals. One was a coffeehouse, which we now have. So we've met that one goal, and the other one was to work in halfway houses and bridge the gap between the hospital and the community with the people, to help them get settled in apartments, if that's what they wanted to help them, fight their problems in the halfway houses, to help them live better lives, to enrich the quality of their lives, to give them a place to go as far as the coffeehouse is at night and on long holiday weekends when there aren't professional mental health people around, to offer friendship, to give him a bus ride maybe to a basketball game, which we have done. Oh, go on an outing to the park and have a picnic. Talk about our lives, talk about ourselves, find friends, just to make life in Uptown generally better than it really is. Or that it is now.

Studs Terkel Medium Bob said something about when there are no professional people around.

Big Bob Right, I can explain it to you.

Studs Terkel Okay, Big

Big Bob Well, the group, the group [of us?], where none of us is professionals, and we don't think that we need the professionals. We think we can do it ourselves, and we're trying. We made our own coffee house like Bob just got through saying, and we did. We, like, like he said, we started out. We wanted to make a lot of things and it was very hard. We tried, and we're still trying to get it up to be some something. And like I said, no [confessionals? professionals?], why, like I'm saying, if you we think we have [confessionals? professionals?], a lot of people don't like us, 'cause we got professionals, this way, everybody's that's in our, is in it, is has been hospitalized, and this way, this way, that they can't say well, we're hiring professionals and professionals thinks that they know it all. We don't have that.

Medium Bob I think there's one thing, that one thing, when when when a professional says you're crazy, it means something. But when somebody else who has been crazy says you're crazy, it means something else, and it's easier to talk to a person who's been in a hospital, talk about your craziness, talk about your fears, talk about all the things that that puts you there, and I think it's easier to get together that way,

Ali Especially when you just come out of the hospital, because you just come out of a place like Chicago State or whatever, no matter, even if it's a very swank nice hospital, you just come out of the hospital. You're very disoriented and spaced out, your welfare money has been cut off. Have to get a place to live. You have to make an application to a halfway house, there are all these things that you have to do, and most of all, you're not sure what happened to you. You hallucinated for, for two years straight. You don't know what's going on, and you know, psychiatrist can explain it to you, perhaps, and some sort of academic logic, but [unintelligible] well, I went to the same thing, and it's gonna pass, and it'll work out. Um, if you take away all the tranquilizers, people in Uptown just take away all their tranquilizers and give them all some dignity, you give 'em all some human respect. Yeah, mental health will have gone a long way.

Studs Terkel You speak of tranquilizers. A lot of people, the people who come to the half-- for, people who come to the coffeehouse, Committee of Us, who are most of the patrons come there?

Ali Most of the people are residents of Uptown. Most of the people are poor, on welfare, or unable to get on welfare for a reason or another. And most people are also ex-mental patients. All the participants in the group are ex-mental patients, and many of the people from the community come in. Many alcoholics come in and they sit down. We drink coffee with them and we're friends.

Studs Terkel You also, you said something up at the cafeteria that many are on tranquilizers given to them by professionals.

Ali Right. Most of the people, at least 90% of the ex-patients, I would say, are on psychiatric drugs. I think in all of us in this room, are probably on psychiatric drugs.

Studs Terkel What's a psychiatric drug? What is a psychiatric

Medium Bob It's a drug that does something to your brain and

Big Bob Yeah, like [totally?] seen to keep your nerves down, like you're not human. Let's say

Marilyn Like LSD.

Studs Terkel Marilyn.

Marilyn LSD would be.

Studs Terkel I mean, what is the drug that is given by the professional? Is to make that person who is different to behave himself.

Big Bob That's what they're supposed to say. If you take it, if you gonna get up and throw this chair for the window, the only way you're not is if you take this medicine, you won't get able to get up and throw it through it. You be

Ali I think some of the drugs have a place that they're used. Yeah, small quantities for the [right?] problem. But you look at, you know, I was down at Read Hospital the other day, and I walked down the streets in Uptown on the Committee, and people are overmedicated. They're walking around overdosing for one reason or another, because they only see their psychiatrist once every two months, because psychiatrist would rather have them quiet in a halfway house with a hospital so they don't cause as much trouble.

Studs Terkel Medium Bob, you were thinking of something.

Medium Bob I was thinking about, you were asking the question about tranquilizers, and what are they good for you? Sometimes they help you to stop hearing voices.

Studs Terkel What kind of voices?

Medium Bob Oh, wow. Like voices from TV and radio that tell you to do crazy things.

Studs Terkel Go ahead, keep talking.

Medium Bob I don't know what to say about that. You know, like if it helps you do something like that, I think it's a valid reason for giving a drug. But a lot of people in Uptown like Ali was saying are overmedicated, and it's because they do want to be under control that they might live in a halfway house. They might throw a chair, or they might break a window, or

Big Bob Right.

Medium Bob Or say

Big Bob something Kill

Studs Terkel Just as you're saying, breaking a chair of throwing a window, therefore you gotta medicate them. But Big -- Medium Bob was saying something -- you won't hear those voices, you hear the, keep hearing these voi-- now, it's not Joan of Arc hearing strange voices, it's not somebody hearing a voice of a di-- you're talking about the TV commercials

Medium Bob I'm talking about all of TV.

Big Bob All about the late shows, the way they kill people and the way they do this, and things like that.

Studs Terkel And this is run by sane people, right? These programs are run by sane people,

Ali It's supposed to be.

Big Bob I don't know. You know, it's really, it's really saying -- it's like this, when you got, when you come over from the army and you come over here and just like when you, when you learn how to kill over there and you kill somebody here, you go to the, you go to the electric chair. If you, if you, you know, if you have you, if you killed a man self-defense or not, you know, that's just this [unintelligible] like that, and a lot of people believes in the Bible. You should not kill. And then when you go over the army, they make you kill. Or they either dope you up and get you over the line and shoot him down out of the trees and that. I was told this. I never was in, and I tried to go in. I was classified A-One until they found out I was from the state hospital, then they classified me Four-F. They would not take me. And that's what burns me up. I mean, when I try to get a damn job on your application, it says, Have you ever been hospitalized? If you have been in penitentiary and you say yes and then when you go up to the man and you put No, he hires you, then he finds out you have and come first comes and tells you. Why did you, why didn't you tell us the truth? I said if I told you truth, you wouldn't hired me, and sometimes the guy comes out and say yes, he says, because that's the way it's supposed to be. So it looks like we -- this [time? kind?] we're getting out of the hospital into the community. It sounds like we don't have our rights. And I thought we were supposed to have our civil rights.

Ali Just on a very basic human [matter?]. I went to see John, who's a former vice president of the committee last night down his halfway house. Okay, I got there at a quarter to five. At five o'clock, they said visiting hours are over. Residents could only have visitors between 10 A.M. and five P.M. and all the all the visitors had to leave. That's not a human way to treat somebody, you know. That's part of their policy. They showed it to me, and we had this woman Barbara, who's very active with us, and she's an outpatient. She's been an outpatient for some time, but she had to come in and get a couple of electroshock treatments recently. There was no reason for that. That's murder. That's, you know, that's killing brain cells.

Studs Terkel Electric shock treatments. We'll come back to that as subject you're talking about. Were you -- any of you subject to electric shock treatments?

Big Bob I had shock treatments, yes. When I was down Bernard, that's what they give me to supposed to get my mind straightened back up, you know? Then from there, they sent me to Dixon State School, and I was so far, I was just getting back, and I run away. I went UA, then I got myself a job, then I lost my job after I put down an avocation at O'Hare Airport. And then I went on public aid. And then after I got on

Studs Terkel You got on public aid, and then you tried to go to work. I'm sorry.

Big Bob Yeah, I got on public aid and I wanted to get off of public aid. I wanted to be like anybody else, get a job. Go out and pay my rent, do my own things, you know, and I was fused that I couldn't do it. [Unintelligible] prove I was crazy. I didn't have my civil rights. That's just the way it looks to

Studs Terkel Does this happen, so go on strong, Medium Bob or Ali, the question of the job difficulties and applications, someone who's been in a mental institution?

Ali I think so. I think, yeah, I can go in, apply for a job, and they look at me one way, and then, you know, if I say that I have been in a hospital, they'll look at me another way. I've had that experience. Um, you know, I've had jobs, you know, but never have I, you know, recently written that I've been, you know, have been in the nut house. I never heard they found out.

Big Bob Well, the reason why I'm saying, like O Hare Airport, they take a picture of your identification, your fingerprints, there ain't no way in hell you can lie out of it. Okay? That's how they found that out, was from in the hospital. When they found out

Studs Terkel You applied for a job there.

Big Bob I applied for it. I applied for a job and I said I was not in. It took them six months to figure, well, they really didn't want to get a hold of me I guess, but after they found out, the man told my secretary, Barbara was her name, the man's secretary told me if they're gonna fire me because I lied on my identification on the job form. So I went to the man and I asked him, I said "If I would have put down I was in the hospital, would you hire me?" He said no. He said "I could not do that." He said, "That's the rules." He says, "You guys is all nuts," he says, "Stay away." He says "We can't, we can't cover you. We don't have that

Studs Terkel He say you guys are nuts?

Studs Terkel And I told him it wasn't for us nuts, guy wouldn't have a Goddamn job like us.

Studs Terkel I was thinking as Big Bob's talking, Medium Bob, Ali, Marilyn, earlier you were saying, talking about the places you were in, the different homes, whether it be Lincoln or Manteno or State, Chicago State, you said they're like the parent, the parents of Paul in that song. Is that it? And they look at you as nuts, too, is that it? Marilyn?

Marilyn Like, well, I went to Chicago Read and all they do is just give you medication. That's all they do. They don't spend much time with you, or you -- if you want any activity at all, you have to communicate with the other patients in the hospital. Maybe once in a while that they arrange dances or they have snacks. But I mean as far as individual attention, they don't give it to, and I don't think that's right. And then, uh, another thing is, if you do have money, they take it from you, you know? And sometimes they steal it from you. And that happened to me. I had $60 and they put your money in like in a trust fund, and the woman who counted my money said I only had $40, and there was nothing I could do about it. And I've heard, I heard that it helped -- it happened to a couple of other patients, and one woman said she had $1400 on her, I wonder what happened about her money. I was just hoping maybe something could be done about that.

Studs Terkel Ali.

Ali I was at the same hospital she was talking about last week as a visitor at Read visiting a friend of one of the members, and they had a board meeting, which they allowed me to sit in on, because I thought I was a patient, too. And they treated me like a patient. Forty men in a room and one woman sitting in front of everybody says, "Now, everybody. It's wartime meeting. Is everybody happy?" And she talked to us like we were two years old, and the guys had like, very excellent suggestions. Okay. Can we have seconds? You know, meal time. This chair is dangerous. Can we fix it? Can we have our laundry done? You know, sometime. And can we have movies from the library once a week? Nothing far-out. Nothing that anybody could call crazy, no matter what your, your standards of crazy is, and they said, "That's a good idea. You know, we'll look into that." Nobody was taking notes. I talked to the guys, says, the guys, finally they stopped suggesting things and they said, "Look, I suggested this last week and last month and I've been here for two months. I made the same suggestion every week and you don't listen to me, so I'm not going to say anything else." So she said, "Okay, it's 3:30, war meetings are supposed to last until four o'clock so we can get our state money. If nobody has anything else to say, we'll have a half-hour of silence." I don't remember having a half-hour of silence when I was in that house until since I was in third grade and was bad at school.

Studs Terkel You know, this sounds like a scene from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". The woman sounds like Big Nurse. I should point out that the four of us -- the commit-- not the four of us, no, the Committee of US and a group called Homecoming, that's for changing the way halfway homes are being run, haven't run by those who've been in the homes rather than quote unquote "professionals" are having a benefit October 28th, 11th Street Theater, a benefit to see "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", which is so much on target as far as you're concerned, and it'll be, they're buying out the house, your two groups are buying out the house that night.

Medium Bob That's right.

Studs Terkel Medium Bob, your thoughts. We're talking about

Medium Bob We're talking about hospitals being parents.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Medium Bob It's uh -- if you want a baby, if you want a baby sitter, I'm sure you can find one, but to me, that's what a hospital does is they just babysit for you. They give you a place to sit during the day, a place to lay down at night and three meals a day. That's about it.

Marilyn They don't seem concerned, and it's aggravating. And it could happen to them. Who knows? I mean, I just don't like their attitude. You know? How they looked at you.

Ali Like once

Marilyn How they treated you.

Ali Okay, fine? Thanks. Like once in the hospital, like I was -- a friend of mine was very broken up and crying and, you know, I was fairly okay. And, you know, he was in his room. I just walked up and hugged him for a few minutes.

Studs Terkel You walked up

Ali My friend. You know, that's just a human, human gesture. Uh, and the nurse comes running in, and she says, "Get out of his room immediately," and she was implying homosexual stuff going on. That wasn't the case. And, you know, she should never give him, you know, the other patients [unintelligible] understanding, but she didn't, you know, so I -- I tried to, and she says, "Okay," you know, I says, "Lady, I'm not gonna rape the guy."

Studs Terkel So she kicked you out of the room.

Ali Right.

Studs Terkel 'Cause you were trying to console this guy who was crying.

Ali Right.

Studs Terkel By holding him.

Ali Right.

Studs Terkel And did she hold him?

Ali No, she went back to her desk and [unintelligible] on the desk.

Studs Terkel How is it with halfway houses?

Marilyn Well, I lived in one. and it's not too bad.

Big Bob I, I

Studs Terkel Big Bob.

Big Bob To myself, halfway houses is a bunch of crock of baloney. Many places, they just get people off -- there's another hospital like -- this is like being -- it's like being in the hospital. You got rules. You gotta follow them. If you don't, you're gonna be sent back to the hospital wherever the hell you come from. And they threaten you with this. Marilyn is scared 'cause she aint't got -- if she talks about it, she will not be at the Grassmere tonight. Okay? If it goes on about anything bad, she will be put out on the street. And we know this, and she knows it. That's why a lot of people are scared to come out and talk and say what it is.

Studs Terkel Marilyn?

Marilyn It's kind of true, but, I mean, I do like it. They show more concern than uh, then when you're in the hospital.

Studs Terkel You know, I was thinking of something before we take a slight pause and hear about what happens with a coffee house run by the Committee of Us and the psychodramas and what, how people help one another there and about the project called Homecoming. Uh, Ali and Marilyn, Big Bob and Medium Bob are my guests. And it isn't it funny? I said, "Well, I guess you better not use your last names." You didn't mind, but I thought to myself maybe no, because this very prejudice that is still so pervasive, isn't it, I was thinking, so decided to use just first names, that in itself tells us a lot, doesn't it? So let's take a slight pause. We'll return to Ali, Marilyn, Big Bob, Medium Bob after we hear this message. [pause in recording]

Marilyn [Whispers]

Studs Terkel Resuming the conversations about who is crazy, who is not, talking to four ex -- even the phrase, four ex, do you mind that phrase, ex-mental patients? Does that phrase disturb you when you're referred to as that, Medium Bob?

Medium Bob Sometimes it makes me proud to think that I have friends that have been there and can talk to them better than I can to other people.

Marilyn When I when I first joined the Committee, I couldn't believe -- excuse me. When I first joined the Committee, I couldn't believe that they were in the hospital, I thought they were kidding me, 'cause some of them seemed intelligent and normal. Unless they're drunk or quiet, then I'm not sure of their mental ability.

Studs Terkel Big Bob?

Big Bob Well, for myself I'm proud of it. I'm proud that I can get out and do, do this. I wish they would have done when I was in the hospital, and I woulda known that they had something like this going on. That's me.

Studs Terkel Ali?

Ali Whoever I am, it's not. it's not because of the hospital, but it's, you know, in spite of the hospital, in many ways, and on that basis, I'm proud to, you know, to be out of it. An ex patient.

Studs Terkel You know, before I asked Medium Bob who conducts and with his colleagues some of the psychodramas at the coffeehouse, the Committee of Us, in Uptown, beginning we spoke of parents. But they are not solely it, are they, are there other factors too that make for people like turning off society? In your case, Medium Bob.

Medium Bob I don't know what to say about that. Like, I've always been a loner, probably because my family was a lone family, too, and I didn't have much chance to develop real good relationships at home. And I didn't carry it out when I went to school and things like that. So I was always pretty quiet. And that was, I guess, part of my decision to go crazy. It built up until the time that I was about 25 when I really freaked out and just couldn't cope with, with anything and I had to go to the hospital. In psychodrama sometimes we work on that. We work on parental messages. We work on messages from other people. It's really just a form of group therapy. And it goes on every Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9 o'clock, and you don't have to be a Committee member to come. You don't have to be an ex-mental patient. Anybody can come to psychodrama. It's open. It's

Studs Terkel What, uh what, what sort of psychodrama? What's an example? Anybody. Big Bob, you ever taken part?

Big Bob Yes, I have. I have, uh I had a lo-- some problems and they worked it out with me and, you know, I think it was good. It's a good cause that we have a program like that going on. I really do.

Studs Terkel What's an example, when Ali or anybody of a psychodrama case?

Medium Bob Okay, um, psychodrama is more or less putting your personal problems on a stage and having other people act out the other roles of what's happening in your life. If it's a parental message you're working on, you pick somebody in the group to be your parent, mother and father or either, and talk to them like you would talk to them if they were right there, and then the person will play the role of your parent and talk back to you. Sometimes this helps straighten out some parental messages. Sometimes it helps straighten out problems on the job or in your daily life with your friends and acquaintances. Stuff like that. An example of a psychodrama, it could get heavy. Like, uh, sometimes we worked on parental deaths or problems with jobs, getting jobs, sometimes we role play an interview with a job that's coming up like somebody might be nervous about talking to an employer and explaining a two years' absence from work or something like that. We work on stuff like that.

Studs Terkel Big parental death. This is, this aspect of guilt enter into, guilt? Are you made to feel guilty at times? I'm just curious. You know, when you're in a mental institution.

Big Bob You see, you see, I -- this is what I say, don't sound like professionals. Professionals will not come this [drunk? strong?] with us. That's why I say we don't need professionals, see, like Bob. He's not a professional. I'm not a professional, Ali's not a professional, and we can get, we can answer more people questions better, because they trust us, they know we're not -- we've been in it. We've been through almost the same thing, but different ways. And this is the way I see it.

Studs Terkel Ali?

Ali I could just, you know, agree with Bob that, uh, ex-patients can help other patients in a lot of ways that professionals can't. When it gets to specialization, some specific special point, brain damage or what have you, you know, of course you need the professionals, and that's what they went to school for. But when it comes down to giving people support and giving people reassurance, it's the people you live with, and the people who have lived like you have that can help.

Studs Terkel Can I ask, the families, the nature of the families you came from, just curious about economic -- Medium Bob, you also -- how would you describe the family, working class and middle class or what?

Medium Bob Working

Studs Terkel Poor? Working-class family. You mean low income. Sort of would you say.

Medium Bob Oh, maybe low middle class.

Studs Terkel Blue collar?

Medium Bob Yeah, blue collar.

Studs Terkel Blue collar. What about you?

Big Bob Between bad and good. My parents was some side of it, some side of her was my parents was pretty good, and some side, she wasn't worth a dime.

Studs Terkel No, I mean economically, they were.

Big Bob Yeah.

Studs Terkel Just

Big Bob Right.

Studs Terkel What about you, Ali?

Ali My father's a clerk, a white-collar clerk, typist for, uh, for a railroad company. Amtrak. And they never had too much money. I never had a car until I was, my parents had never had a car. My parents never had a car until I was 16 years old. They never had too much money. They're kind of educated, but never wealthy.

Studs Terkel What about you, Marilyn?

Marilyn Well, my mother and father were divorced and I lived with my mother and my mother always had to work to support us. My father did send child support money for me, and

Studs Terkel White collar, blue collar, just curious.

Marilyn He was a barber.

Studs Terkel He was a barber. You know, it's interesting about four here. There's an old myth that upper-class people have nervous breakdowns more than working class, for which, of course, is fraudulent as a $9 bill. And here now there's blue collar, low income white collar, uh, service jobs, we're talking about.

Ali I was, I was in one of the hospitals, suburban hospitals visiting somebody this summer in Des Plaines, and there was an open ward. There was wall to wall carpeting, telephones in the rooms of the patients who could go out, and they had this behavior modification program. If you're good -- this is for rabble-rousing little kids, teenyboppers. If you're good, they give you little tokens and extra helping at dinner, and if you're bad they take away those privileges. But if you're really good, you get to sleep on a water bed, and you look at that place and you look at like, and Bob can tell you the type of stuff you know, we can [unintelligible] stuff you have to sleep on, with and who you have to sleep with, you know, roaches and rats at some of the lower-class state hospitals.

Studs Terkel You're think about behavior modification. So that's a punishment, isn't it? Sort of the carrot and stick program, is that it?

Ali Right.

Studs Terkel Medium Bob, you were just sitting there. You were smiling slightly to yourself.

Medium Bob I was thinking about what you were saying about upper-class people have nervous breakdowns often. I think more often than not, they're eccentric rather than crazy. And whereas when you're in a working class or middle class, you're crazy instead of being eccentric.

Studs Terkel You mean the double standard?

Medium Bob Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah, when someone is very rich and behaves differently, he's eccentric. When someone is not too rich, poor and behaves differently, he's nuts.

Big Bob Yeah, but you know, like I was saying at that coffee, when we had coffee, guys that's very rich, they have to wake up and worry who's gonna rob him and who ain't. I don't have to wake up and worry who's going to rob me, because I don't have nothing to get robbed. So that proves that I'm not too crazy. Think of it.

Studs Terkel Well, earlier, upstairs at the cafeteria, Big Bob, you were talking about the advantages of being quote-unquote "crazy." Some of those advantages?

Big Bob Well, it's like I just said, one of them, you know, there's a lot others, you know? But like I say, like lawyers, when they send somebody up to the, up to the penitentiary and he worries about if the guy ever going get out, what's gonna happen? Is going to have him bumped off and he can't sleep. Who's gonna kill him and that? You know, I couldn't, I couldn't be in that profession. I would, I couldn't make it, 'cause I'd be very -- and I can sleep. I can lay down and go to sleep. He can't. He be worrying, "Who's next guy? Why did I have to send this guy up for? Why did I have to send this man to the electric chair? Who's got the rights to putting a man to the electric chair?"

Studs Terkel I notice the one, you spoke of the one negative part, and that is all responsibility is taken away from you, right? Somebody does your thinking for you.

Big Bob Yeah.

Ali I think there's only one reason people go crazy, and that's because it's they feel powerless, they feel helpless. They feel okay, they can't make it. They can't, making decisions about their life with their mommy and their daddy or they feel they can talk to the welfare worker and he won't listen, or the cop or the cop that patrols the area. It's just gonna take away all your power. You know, I feel that the government, you know, it's gonna take away your power. That's why there's, like, a neurosis of helplessness, political helplessness among a lot of people. You know, if you finally just feel, okay, I'm a child, I'm helpless. I'm powerless. There's nothing more I can do. So you strike out, you know, in a very unproductive way where you stuck it yourself and you withdraw, you give up. And the total withdrawal is suicide, you know. So, uh, you know, what we have to do is we have to you know, come to a position of strength within ourselves. You know, realize that we do have a power to change ourselves and the power to change the society if we can. That's what the Committee is about, is people changing the society. At least our neighborhood in Uptown, in the ways we can, and changing ourselves in the ways that we can, and with each other.

Studs Terkel Medium Bob, is what Ali is talking about really is the key, isn't it, to almost everything, that feeling of powerlessness, nothing you can do about it. Make someone say step out.

Big Bob We're getting tired of being treated like animals, not like human beings. And why I say this, I saying like why, when I was discussing a while ago about us trying to get jobs, and we get fused, we're human beings and they won't never give us the chance to prove it. Once we're nuts, we've always be nuts, that what they got

Studs Terkel There's something else here, isn't it? Over and beyond. We're talking now about people who've served time, and liberty to say this in middle homes or in halfway houses, say, taking over their own destiny. Their own words. This applies to people on welfare, doesn't it? It applies to minority groups, doesn't it? It applies to old people, doesn't it? It applies to women, it applies to homosexuals. It applies to everybody considered outside, whatever that middle is. Isn't this what we're talking about really? Because you're talking, even though we're talking about people who've been considered different nuts, crazy, unstable, talking about all those others, and it's powerlessness you're talking -- now you're talking about taking over your own lives, that's what

Ali And those people are coming together, you know, [you got?] time in the coffeehouse. You walk in the coffeehouse tonight and you'll see people from the ages of 18 maybe to 75, and you'll see, you'll see people of all races. You know, you'll see a lot of different types of people. Most of them have been so-called crazy, but people you know, run the whole level, you know, the whole continuum of, you know, saying that they're insane, any type of sanity that there is, but there are all types of people. You know, Black people getting together with Appalachians because they know that they're in a similar situation, they're all in a certain situation in this country.

Studs Terkel When you say, as far as the age is concerned, they're all ages there. That's interesting. We always think of coffeehouses where young people come here, this is 18 to 75.

Big Bob Well, the reason why we made it to 18 on up, it was it's against the law after 10 o'clock having a minor in there. So we just want to, don't want to break the

Studs Terkel But you have older people there, too. Where is

Big Bob It's on 46, 4608 North Sheridan Road is our office, and 4613 is

Studs Terkel But the coffee is 4613. Anybody's welcome there.

Ali Anybody, right. Coffee's

Big Bob It's only a nickel a cup.

Studs Terkel A nickel a

Ali cup? Right.

Big Bob And it, well, a nickel a cup adds up.

Studs Terkel So that's 4813 North Sheridan.

Ali Forty-six

Studs Terkel Forty-six thirteen. You open every night?

Ali Every night except Wednesday.

Big Bob Every night but Wednesday night, and Wednesday night is our meeting night.

Studs Terkel And say have a coffee and there's conversation, sometimes psychodrama.

Ali People are welcome to come to the meetings on Wednesday.

Studs Terkel Oh, they are?

Big Bob If have any good ideas.

Ali They're the smoothest parliamentary procedure meetings I've ever seen.

Studs Terkel You mean really -- and they're parliamentary procedure meetings? And these are meetings run by people who have been in mental institutions.

Big Bob Yes.

Studs Terkel I suppose people who come there have a chance of comparing those meetings, say, with City Hall, City Council chambers run by Mayor Daley and decide which of the two is the more civilized. That'd be interesting. [Unintelligible] That'd be very interesting. Go to a City Council meeting first and then go to your meetings. Where, where is the meeting hall?

Big Bob At 4608 North Sher-- I mean, 4613 North

Studs Terkel That's on Wednesday.

Big Bob Wednesday night at 7:30.

Studs Terkel We haven't talked about your connecting group, you have a group, homecoming.

Ali Okay.

Studs Terkel And what's the homecoming, purpose of homecoming?

Ali About oh, a few months ago, a woman named Barbara walked in, walked into the coffeehouse meeting, one of our Wednesday night meetings, and she got on the agenda and she said "Wouldn't it be nice if we all could live together? Or at least some of us could live together and run our own show." And she talked a little about her idea of an alternative halfway house, and a number of people joined with her, some committee people, some other ex-mental patients, and we've got a lot of support from other people in the community. We're talking about an alternative to the halfway houses that people here have been talking about, which run from good and overcrowded, to bad and just decrepit. Talking about something that's run for and by ex-patients at the one or two house coordinators would be, would serve on a rotating basis and also be ex-patients. And we feel that this is look -- something that would, you know, take people into a whole living situation that would be positive for them. Give people you know the pure support, create a living situation where you don't have to be under the guidance of a house manager that gives you $2 a day, an allowance out of your welfare check for your food, and people would live communally and cooperatively. Now, what we've done is we've incorporated as a non-profit organization. We've gotten a large donation of furniture, which is, which is nice, but we don't have a house to put the furniture in. At this point one of the reasons for the benefit is to raise money for a house, and we need a house, we need people to help raise money for a house, with any type of work that people can do to create this new type of living situation. The Committee is entirely behind it and we're entirely behind the Committee.

Studs Terkel Let me just say this to the audience, those of you who haven't seen "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", if you do see it and I trust you do on the night of October 28th, 'cause it should be a tremendously exciting evening, well, first for the play, and second for the audience, an audience of very live people. People who know what "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is all about, the company, the acting company, the performances are excellent. It's at the 11th Street Theater, but October 28th is the benefit for the Committee of Us and for homecoming, and you can call 2-7-5-7-9-9-7, 275-7997, the tickets are [unintelligible] which is quite reasonable indeed. And it all, the project sounds fantastic. This'd be then halfway houses, just as the coffeehouse run by people who have been there. Let's have a go-around, just, oh wait, we have time. Considerable time, 'cause there's so much, talk about, we haven't I know. Big Bob is bursting to talk of many of his experiences. Medium Bob, you've been sitting there for a while. About your thoughts, way back. You went way back when you were listening to the song "Young Paul" sung by Jeremy Taylor, you were also speaking of, you were commenting about the autobiographical nature as far as you're concerned, you know, and you decided. Do people decide at a certain time you think You said when you were 25 you freaked out. Was there a certain one event or was an accumulation of things?

Medium Bob It was a series of events at that time that that I just couldn't cope with life. The work that I was doing was too much for me. I was spending too much time at work. I didn't have any social life and uh, things just got too much for me, and I just completely freaked out for about three days and wound up in the hospital.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of something else now, I could -- I'm haunted by what Ali said, haunted because it's so basic. The sense of powerlessness, you know, the sense of power. Come back and -- what about you, Big Bob? You yourself are a big guy, you're very lively. You're full of vitality. Were you a troublesome guy when you're in those places?

Big Bob Yes, I was. I was, I [stare?] when I was in in the hospital after I got out of, from Bernard [possible reference to Barnard Road, which was where Manteno State Hospital was located?] to Dixon, an employee hit me and I hitting him back, and they were going to send me back there. And I told him that I was there to get help, not to be, be bruised up, to be picked on.

Studs Terkel You know who you sound like and look like? McMurphy. He's one, one of the heroes of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", and McMurphy could be in real life Big Bob. Isn't that so? You know the Ken Kesey novel.

Ali I saw the play. There's a similarity.

Studs Terkel Marilyn, do you know the, Ken Kesey novel?

Marilyn No, I

Studs Terkel Well, but you're gonna go that night to see it, though.

Marilyn I'd like to. I haven't bought a ticket yet. I haven't bought a ticket yet.

Studs Terkel I'll buy you a ticket.

Marilyn Good.

Big Bob How many tickets would you like to buy?

Studs Terkel Well, I'll buy four right around here.

Marilyn But you can't come with, huh?

Studs Terkel Well, I saw it. I won't be here then, so I'll be in Sweden.

Big Bob I just wanted buy one for my girl. Girlfriend is sitting right beside me, and watching it.

Studs Terkel Okay, let's come back to what we're talking about, to, uh, to yourselves. Your thoughts now. Do you feel, since you've been together, when was the Committee of Us formed?

Medium Bob About two years ago. And okay, since we've been together, we've done -- for a while we were operating out of our office without the coffeehouse, and we were doing night programs. It ran anywhere from an informal group on poetry all the way into a heavy psychodrama. We also had guitar music some nights, uh, sometimes we just had rap groups and just sat around and talked about ourselves and made friends that way. Since we moved out of the office into the coffeehouse, we haven't had as many night programs, but we've had more chance to be friends and just rap and talk over a nickel cup of coffee. Um, right now, we don't know where the coffeehouse is going, because the place where we are is going to be moving. So we're looking for a new place for a coffeehouse, probably will be moved up further north if we continue with the coffeehouse. That's another decision that we have to make. Right now we're being funded by W. Clement Stone, and our money is running out. We don't know for sure if he's going to renew his grant or not.

Studs Terkel Well, he can get all that Agnew money back, for stuff that went to Agnew see you can get all the funds back and get that.

Big Bob There you go.

Studs Terkel That would help, you know, could have the support of Agnew get all

Big Bob Least we're doing a good cause. We're not throwing it out the window.

Studs Terkel Let's come back to, uh, Marilyn, quiet here. You were saying you've been sick all your life, you said you're sick now. Do you feel a little different now since you moved to this group? Just curious.

Marilyn In some ways, I was not -- I never knew of such a group before. And, uh, I like the idea of people meeting with one another, sitting around talking. But the problem is that we're all poor, we're not wealthy, and we do kind of leech off from one another. That's what I don't like, really.

Studs Terkel Well, you call that leech off one another, that's funny. You say, you open up

Marilyn Well, I mean, some people don't want to -- like me, if somebody'll give me a cigarette, I'll give them one back when I have one.

Studs Terkel But that's not leeching,

Marilyn No, I don't think so. But some people won't give you a cigarette back when you need

Ali It's too bad the American Tobacco Company couldn't give us a lot of cigarettes.

Marilyn I mean, that's mostly

Big Bob -- I'd like to, I'd like to know if anybody would have a chance to rent us a, either, we'd like to have a bus or something so we can take people out like out of the nursing homes, folks' home, and halfway houses like to picnics and camping and stuff like that. We'd like to have these, but we can't afford it right now.

Studs Terkel So you've got the ideas. You've got the people.

Big Bob We've got the ideas, but we don't have the bread. We don't have the money.

Studs Terkel [Unequal power?] so you lack the money.

Marilyn I think it would be great if we could get a bus.

Studs Terkel A bus, well maybe somebody could have an extra bus, could lend you or something, that's possible, so I -- well, let's just say that to the audience, there a bus, and the other is, but mostly for those listening as well as for yourselves, to see this quite beautiful production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", 11th Street Theater, and there's the benefit for the Committee of Us and homecoming, together, and that's on October 28th. That's a Sunday night? October 29th -- 28th, and it's 275-7997. To call. Tickets should be tremendously powerful performance that night, too, with an audience that very fully understands the play, too. Could we --thoughts that we haven't talked about, as we're winding up this power [sic] for now, I hope we can meet again some more, and talk some more about things. Marilyn, what else comes to your mind? You from Chicago?

Marilyn Yes, I

Studs Terkel Anything comes to your mind, you feel like saying now?

Marilyn No.

Studs Terkel Okay. Ali?

Ali I just want to say that, you know, we're supporting one another, but we need people's support, you know, and left -- you know, Uptown, Bob and I were discussing this morning, Uptown is a mental health ghetto and one of my friends from the Committee and I went down to the Near North Side last week, and he said, "You know, this is like the country," and that's the Near North side, which is a semi-ghetto itself, so a lot of changes that have to be made in Uptown, a lot of people have to get out of Uptown, and a lot of changes have to be made for all of us in this country together. That's, you know, everybody.

Studs Terkel You see this, you see your condition, what you're doing, as indicative of the world outside, too, of every other part of our society, too.

Ali I'm saying, you know, I'm saying what the mental health system wants us to do is remain isolated.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Ali You know, tranqued up, electroshock, sitting in shuttered homes all day, you know, playing cards, and all we have to do is get out in the community and link hands with everybody

Studs Terkel Well, one question to ask you, Ali, what's the attitude of people of Uptown? Of course, many people of Uptown are in your position. But the others toward the halfway houses there.

Ali Well, the residents have, you know, a lot of mixed feelings about, about where they live. A lot of complaints. Some of the people in the area, you know, feel the area's unsafe for one reason or another. But the reason the area is unsafe is not because people are crazy. The reasons the area is unsafe, you know, has to do with the fact that nobody has any money, you know, and people are starving, you know, and we don't let our members, you know, sleep in the alleys. But, uh, a lot of people who have no other alternative, you know, as a very poor place to live, you know, it's a depression, and, you know, we can't allow ourselves to be depressed in any way possible. We have to keep fighting. We can't give up.

Studs Terkel Big Bob.

Big Bob Well, myself, I'm glad I'm [unintelligible] here. Discussing and I think we're gaining something out of it, you know, that's me. And, uh, what I really think, I wish there's more people get, get together and do it like us, you know.

Studs Terkel Well, Big Bob, you said that you're glad you're gaining something out of this, well, I am certainly. I have a feeling that members of the audience are. They're gaining perhaps even more than you are.

spk_0 I hope so.

Studs Terkel Indeed it's for all of us really. It's my home, my own hunch. Medium Bob.

Medium Bob We were talking about the Uptown community, and it wasn't too long ago that Uptown was kind of a dumping ground for all the people from the state hospitals and things like that. And there was a lot of concern at that time in the newspapers and other media outlets that said that Uptown was a mental health ghetto, um, it hasn't been too long now since the people of Uptown, the people that are okay in Uptown, not the people that have been in halfway houses or state institutions, said that they didn't want any more shelter care homes. They didn't want any more ex-mental patients. So Uptown is really a confused community because they say they want to help, they're building a mental health center there, they're trying to do everything they can in the community, and yet they don't want any more people coming in that they can help, that could make it a therapeutic community, that could expand some of the help that they get in the halfway house out into the street. And I think that Uptown could be a place where therapy could go on in the street if people were concerned.

Studs Terkel You know, perhaps that's the way to end this program, Bob's thought that this could be a therapeutic community, and in a way, if I could be metaphorical, this is the idea, that therapeutic community that could be Uptown thanks to the Committee of Us and to homecoming and to people who have had the experience would apply to poor people, welfare people, all others on the outside, could really be a way salvation for the rest of the city and perhaps the society, and thanking of Big Bob, Medium Bob, Marilyn and Ali for being here, and just to remind the audience the benefit on behalf of the groups, of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", Sunday night, October 28th, and you can get tickets, five bucks a ticket, which is quite reasonable. And it's 275-7997. That's a meeting of art and life.

Marilyn Thank you.

Ali Thank you.