So Charles Bartlett, with legal representation, got discharged from the state psychiatric center. He went into town to a street that had several boarding houses, rented himself a room, and then sued the hospital for stealing his life. He got a major kick-ass lawyer whose name I no longer can remember, but the lawyer was a lone wolf; he didn’t travel in a pack. His law practice consisted of him and one junior lawyer; no corporate jerk-offs telling him what he could or couldn’t do. He took Charles’ case and then hired Dr. Franklin G. Reed from the Dept. of Psychiatry at Upstate Medical Center to provide expert testimony.
Frank was my psychiatrist and my friend, and I kept not being able to get an appointment with him. When I finally did see him, he explained that he had been either preparing for testimony or testifying in Charles Bartlett’s case. Frank had evaluated Charles and found him to be without mental defect or disorder. Frank sent me downtown to observe the last day of testimony. The trial was not in the big old courthouse; it was in some new building. The courtroom was small with blonde wood and everybody on one level. I was the only observer. Everybody else who cared about Charles was dead or gone. During break the lawyer came up and asked me my name; he said he wanted to know who was in “his” courtroom. I told him Frank sent me.
The testimony I heard that day left me shocked, sickened, sad, angry, hopeful and sorrowful. The New York State psychiatric system had stolen a man’s life and now a lawyer was trying to get him a ton of money in compensation. Charles never had a career or earned a pension. He never had the opportunity to marry or have children. How the hell can you compensate a man for the loss of grandchildren?
For one thing, you only can keep a man locked up if he is dangerous to himself or others. Tons of testimony said Charles wasn’t a threat to anybody. On the last day of testimony, the witness was the athletics director. In small, precise questions, the lawyer elicited a story that was simply this: The athletics director had known Charles for twenty years; Charles frequently participated in athletics and never was a problem.
For another thing, if you keep a man in a hospital because you say he’s sick, then you’ve got to treat him. If the treatment in the 1950’s was a lobotomy, then did they consider it? Never mind that we now know that lobotomies were a horrific and useless treatment; if that’s what the treatment of the day was, did they try it? Shock treatment? Drugs? Did you, NYS Psychiatric Center, treat the patient?
No, they did not. They kept Charles locked up because of a supposed mental illness but they hadn’t treated him for it for decades. And he’d behaved very nicely, thank you, without any “treatment” for his so-called “disease.” There is every appearance that Charles Bartlett never had any mental illness. He had trouble sleeping—don’t we all at one time or another? Naïve and trusting, he went to a hospital for treatment and got railroaded into a prison system without benefit of a legal defense or a trial. That was how the psychiatric system operated.
Charles Bartlett lost his case. Not because he was diagnosed with a disease he never had, or received no treatment for said disease, or was locked up when he wasn’t dangerous. He lost his case because the state’s attorney successfully argued that the law did not permit a state hospital to be sued. Legally, they were invulnerable fortresses.
Charles Bartlett’s attorney appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court decision. A state hospital can be sued.
Charles Bartlett, lost to the world for 32 years, gave us the right to sue state psychiatric centers. They now operate in fear of accountability.
Charles Bartlett lived a life of value.