By Kanya D’Almeida | Truthout | July 18, 2015
They called it the “shoe leather treatment” because that was exactly what it was: 10 or 11 guards, sometimes more, would form a circle around the patient and kick him unconscious. Then they’d drag him across the room, strip him naked and throw him in a tiny room with just one window to allow in the snow, and leave him there to freeze.
That was in 1961 in Pennsylvania’s Farview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Twenty years later, the routine abuse that took place there became the subject of a memoir by Bill Thomas who survived 10 years in that institution before breaking out and eventually testifying before a Special State Senate Committee Inquiry on the practices of administrators, guards and even doctors at Farview State Hospital.
The facility has since been closed down, as were thousands of others like it during the wave of “deinstitutionalization” in the 1960s and ’70s. Some state mental hospitals remain, but they are much less prevalent than they once were.
However, the shoe leather treatment lives on in jails and prisons around the country, which have become surrogate institutions for people with mental illnesses and where violence, neglect and abuse of prisoners labeled with psychiatric disabilities is on the rise.