Posts tagged Torture

Friday Lazy Linking

Tortured until proven innocent

Last year this article by Chris Vogel from the Houston Press won the Molly Award from the Texas Observer. It’s about teenagers locked in the Harris County (Houston), Texas jail system while awaiting a trial. They have not been convicted of any crime, or proven to pose a threat to any human being’s life or liberty; but if they are juveniles (14, 15, or 16 years old) who have been certified to be tried as adults, then they await their trial — often for over a year — in an isolation cage, with the lights on 24 hours a day, where they are held against their will apart from any human contact for 23 hours of every day. The 60 minutes they spend outside of the isolation torture cell is for recreation, where they are, very often, shackled. This is, of course, an extreme form of psychological torture. Like many of the most extreme forms of psychological torture, it is inflicted on kids who haven’t yet been convicted of any crime, but is inflicted on them For Their Own Good:

Harris County sheriff’s spokesman Lieutenant John Legg says the jail does not make special accommodations for juveniles.

They’re treated like any other inmate, he says.

Except for one glaring difference: isolation.

One reason for this, says Legg, is for their own safety. He says several years ago, teens were allowed into common areas with each other during the day, but they would fight and steal each other’s commissary items, so jail officials decided to keep them in their cells for a majority of the time. A choice, says Legg, which has had the desired result.

— Chris Vogel, For Their Own Good: Harris County juveniles certified as adults are jailed in isolation 23 hours a day—without being convicted of a crime, reprinted in the Texas Observer

The result desired by Lieutenant John Legg, no doubt. I wonder how much his prisoners desired the result of being tortured 23 hours a day for the sins of other prisoners they had no control over.

Like George, Diego [16 years old] says time drones on, blending into one seamless, never ending day. He is bored constantly. So bored, he says, that some days he can’t even concentrate to read. Occasionally, he catches himself talking to himself out loud. At times he’s thought he was hallucinating. Like many other teens in segregation, he’ll beat on his cell door and try to start a riot, sometimes because we didn’t get our full hour out of our cell and sometimes because there’s nothing else to do.

He says he can’t wait to turn 17 and get placed in with other inmates, or get convicted and go to prison, just so he can escape the isolation.

— Chris Vogel, For Their Own Good: Harris County juveniles certified as adults are jailed in isolation 23 hours a day—without being convicted of a crime, reprinted in the Texas Observer

Meanwhile, here’s Dennis McKnight, who used to do the same thing to presumed-innocent juveniles awaiting trial in Bexar County (San Antonio), on the trials and travails of jailing presumed-innocent teenagers:

To the adult jailors, though, it all comes down to a choice between the lesser of two evils: general population or segregation and isolation.

They shouldn’t be held in 23-hour lockdown, admits McKnight, but unfortunately that’s where we have to put them for their safety and for everyone else’s safety. It’s a trade-off that we are forced to make.

Well, no. It’s a trade-off that they force their prisoners to make. Or, more specifically, they make the trade and their prisoners are forced to take the goods. Even if they’d prefer being convicted if it just meant they could get out of the torture.

But I should be more sympathetic. It’s so hard, really, when you need a safe cage to lock all these presumptively innocent teenagers up in for years at a time.[1] Who knows where to put them all? Vogel quotes Liz Ryan of Youth Justice saying, It’s a Catch-22 … They don’t want the kid in isolation and they don’t want the kid in general population. They know it’s not safe either way. Well. I wonder if they’ve tried putting them, you know, not in prison?

  1. [1] It helps if you can revise the meaning of the word safe so that it includes things like being safely driven out of your mind over the course of years.

In Their Own Words: “All bets are off.”

From Small Wars Journal 2009-05-15, from a retired soldier who served under, and thinks the world of, Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, former commander of Camp Nama, now named by anti-torture Peace President Barack Hussein Obama to command the United States government’s military occupation and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan:

Obviously writing from the seat of retirement, and with absolute respect and gratefulness for LTG McChrystal’s aggressive leadership, personable demeanor, and unwavering mentoring, I envy the guys that are soon to find themselves sharing the same mess hall, weight room, and helicopter as The Pope. The man is unstoppable. Demonstrably more committed than most. More open, in fact insistent, on creative and innovative ideas from his subordinates to fight the war on terror. From my perspective, our rules of land warfare, our respect for human life, and our strategic constraints handcuff us to the point that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. But, with LTG McChrystal at the helm now all bets are off.

— Small Wars Journal 2009-05-14: The Pope

(Via Andrew Sullivan 2009-05-15, via Crispin Sartwell 2009-05-15.)

What a shock.

Let’s review.

The nearly 10-minute video clip, which has drawn nothing but negative comments toward the trooper on YouTube, shows Gardner approaching Massey’s SUV and asking for his driver’s license and registration. Massey asks how fast he was going, which prompts Gardner to repeat his request.

I need your driver’s license and registration — right now, the trooper says.

Massey continues to question Gardner about the posted speed limit and how fast he was going but hands over his papers. The trooper walks back to his car.

Gardner returns to the SUV and tells Massey he’s being cited for speeding. On the video, Massey can be heard refusing to sign the ticket and demanding that the trooper take him back and show him the 40 mph speed limit sign.

What you’re going to do — if you’re giving me a ticket — in the first place, you’re going to tell me why … Massey says.

For speeding, the trooper interjects.

… and second of all we’re going to go look for that 40 mph sign, Massey says.

Well you’re going to sign this first, Gardner says.

No I am not. I’m not signing anything. Massey says.

Gardner tells Massey to hop out of the car, then walks back to the hood of his patrol car, setting down his ticket book. Massey is close behind the trooper pointing toward the 40 mph speed limit sign he’d passed just before being pulled over.

Turn around. Put your hands behind your back, Gardner says. He repeats the command a second time as he draws his Taser and takes a step back.

The trooper points the Taser at Massey who stares incredulously at him.

What the hell is wrong with you? Massey asks.

Gardner repeats the command to turn around two more times as Massey, with part of his right hand in his pants pocket, starts to walk back toward his SUV.

What the heck’s wrong with you? Massey can be heard asking as Gardner fires his Taser into Massey’s back. Immobilized by the weapon’s 50,000 volts, Massey falls backward, striking his head on the highway. The impact caused a cut on Massey’s scalp.

Massey’s wife Lauren, who was seven months pregnant at the time, gets out of the SUV screaming and is ordered to get back in the vehicle or risk being arrested. Gardner handcuffs Massey and leaves him on the side of the highway while he goes to talk to Massey’s wife.

He’s fine. I Tasered him because he did not follow my instructions, Gardner explains to the audibly upset woman.

You had no right to do that! she responds. You had no right to do that!

While Gardner is still talking to Lauren Massey, her husband gets to his feet and approaches the trooper from behind. Gardner takes the handcuffed man back toward his patrol car and again orders Lauren Massey to stay in her vehicle or risk being arrested.

Officer you’re a little bit excited. You need to calm yourself down, Jared Massey tells Gardner before being put into the trooper’s patrol car where he continues to demand an explanation for his arrest.

— Geoff Liesik, Deseret Morning News (2007-11-21): Trooper’s Taser use pops up on YouTube

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely force their way into situations they have no business being in, use violence first and ask questions later, and pass off even the most egregious forms of violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal. In order to stay in control of the situation, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to pepper spray lawyers for asking inconvenient questions and to beat up teenaged girls for not cleaning up enough birthday cake or being out too late at night. It hardly matters if you are an 82 year old woman supposedly benefiting from a care check, or if you are sound asleep in your own home, or if you are unable to move due to a medical condition, or if the cops attack you within 25 seconds of entering the room, while you are standing quietly against the wall with your arms at your sides. It hardly even matters if you die. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how senselessly he escalates the use of violence and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless his victims are, he can count on his buddies to clap him on the back and he can count on his bosses to repeat any lie and make any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK ….

Note that Gardner never, at any point in the video, claimed that anything that Massey did in the encounter was threatening or that he felt he had to defend himself. He explicitly stated, over and over again, to Jared Massey, to his wife, and to a fellow cop, not that the reason for his actions was self-defense, but that it was to coerce compliance. Gardner also never told Massey that he was under arrest until after knocking Massey to the ground with his taser. However, cop enablers are not about to let the mere evidence of their senses get in the way of fabricating excuses for police violence …

— GT 2007-11-27: Law and Orders #3: John Gardner of the Utah Highway Patrol tasers Jared Massey in front of his family for questioning why he was pulled over

Some days, I really hate being right.

Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah trooper who used a Taser to subdue a stubborn motorist who was walking away from him during a traffic stop felt threatened and acted reasonably, state officials said Friday.

Trooper Jon Gardner remains on leave, primarily for his safety, after numerous anonymous threats were made against him, said Supt. Lance Davenport of the Utah Highway Patrol.

Gardner twice zapped [sic] Jared Massey with a Taser when the driver walked away and refused to sign a speeding ticket on Sept. 14. The incident was recorded on Gardner’s dashboard camera. Massey filed a public-records request and posted the video on YouTube, which said it has been viewed more than 1 million times.

We found that Trooper Gardner’s actions were lawful and reasonable under the circumstances, Davenport said at a news conference, joined by Scott Duncan, commissioner of the UHP’s parent agency, the Utah Department of Public Safety.

The investigation was conducted by officials in the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the highway patrol. The officials have asked the Utah attorney general’s office to also review the case to determine if laws were broken.

Massey was not at the news conference and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The video showed Massey arguing about whether he was exceeding the speed limit on U.S. 40 in eastern Utah. Massey got out and walked to the rear of his vehicle. The trooper pulled out his Taser when the driver tried to return to his seat.

Massey shrieked, fell and said: Officer, I really don’t know what you’re doing.

Face down! Face down! Put your hands behind your back, Gardner said.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

This seems to be more or less how most cops seem to think that all their conversations with the public that they serve and protect should go.

When Massey’s wife emerged from the passenger side, the trooper ordered her to get back in — or you’re going to jail, too. Moments later, when another officer arrived, one of them said, Oh, he took a ride with the Taser.

Davenport said that comment was inappropriate.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

Well, that’s mighty white of him.

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

The investigation found use of the Taser was justified because Massey had turned his back and put a hand near his pocket, Davenport said.

For a law-enforcement officer, that is a very, very scary situation, he said.

Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

— USA Today (2007-11-30): Utah taser probe: Trooper acted reasonably

Remember that at no point in the encounter did Gardner ever claim that he used the taser because he felt threatened or because he believed that Massey was reaching for a piece. In fact, he explained several times why he used the taser, to Massey, to Massey’s wife, and to another cop, and every time he said the reason was that Massey didn’t follow instructions. I’m sure he just forgot to mention that he feared for his life, too. It’s wonderful how a gang of cops investigating possible after-the-fact excuses for another cop’s use of violence can jog the memory.

However, once we strip out the self-serving lies, note that we are left with the following:

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

… Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

Let’s review.

Officials said Gardner could have issued the ticket without Massey’s signature.

… Nonetheless, the trooper now realizes that other options were available, Davenport said.

And there you have it. In the view of the Utah Highway Patrol, it is lawful and reasonable to torture you with 50,000-volts of electricity in order to force you to comply with their orders, even when those orders are completely unnecessary and even when other options are available.

What a shock.

(Story via Strike the Root and no authority 2007-12-01.)

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #15: Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America

You know the rules; here’s the quote. This is again delayed (this time, by the belated Tyrannicide Day celebration of going to see V for Vendetta on opening night; in case you’re wondering, it’s very good, but you should read the comic book, too, or you’ll miss out on a lot of good stuff). This week’s reading is from the bus on the way to work: a long passage from the first chapter of Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (2002). Whitaker is explaining the historical backdrop of Benjamin Rush’s European medical training:

One of the first English physicians to write extensively on madness, its nature, and the proper treatment for it was Thomas Willis. He as highly admired for his investigations into the nervous system, and his 1684 text on insanity set the tone for the many medical guides that would be written over the next 100 years by English mad-doctors. The book’s title neatly summed up his views of the mad: The Practice of Physick: Two Discourses Concerning the Soul of Brutes. His belief—that the insane were animal-like in kind—reflected prevailing conceptions about the nature of man. The great English scientists and philosophers of the seventeenth century—Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, John Locke, and others—had all argued that reason was the faculty that elevated humankind above the animals. This was the form of intelligence that enabled man to scientifically know his world, and to create a civilized society. Thus the insane, by virtue of having lost their reason, were seen as having descended to a brutish state. They were, Willis explained, fierce creatures who enjoyed superhuman strength. They can break cords and chains, break down doors or walls … they are almost never tired … they bear cold, heat, watching, fasting, strokes, and wounds, without any sensible hurt. The mad, he added, if they were to be cured, needed to hold their physicians in awe and think of them as their tormentors.

Discipline, threats, fetters, and blows are needed as much as medical treatment … Truly nothing is more necessary and more effective for the recovery of these people than forcing them to respect and fear intimidation. By this method, the mind, held back by restraint is induced to give up its arrogance and wild ideas and it soon becomes meek and orderly. This is why maniacs often recover much sooner if they are treated with tortures and torments in a hovel instead of with medicaments.

A medical paradigm for treating the mad had been born, and eighteenth-century English medical texts regularly repeated this basic wisdom. In 1751, Richard Mead explained that the madman was a brute who could be expected to attack his fellow creatures with fury like a wild beast and thus needed to be tied down and even beat, to prevent his doing mischief to himself or others. Thomas Bakewell told of how a maniac bellowed like a wild beast, and shook his chain almost constantly for several days and nights … I therefore got up, took a hand whip, and gave him a few smart stripes upon the shoulders… He disturbed me no more. Physician Charles Bell, in his book Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting, advised artists wishing to depict madmen to learn the character of the human countenance when devoid of expression, and reduced to the state of lower animals.

Like all wild animals, lunatics needed to be dominated and broken. The primary treatments advocated by English physicians were those that physically weakened the mad—bleeding to the point of fainting and the regular use of powerful purges, emetics, and nausea-inducing agents. All of this could quickly reduce even the strongest maniac to a pitiful, whimpering state. William Cullen, reviewing bleeding practices, noted that some advised cutting into the jugular vein. Purges and emetics, which would make the mad patient violently sick, were to be repeatedly administered over an extended period. John Monro, superintendent of Bethlehem Asylum, gave one of his patients sixty-one vomit-inducing emetics in six months, including strong doses on eighteen successive nights. Mercury and other chemical agents, meanwhile, were used to induce nausea so fierce that the patient could not hope to have the mental strength to rant and rave. While nausea lasts, George Man Burrows advised, hallucinations of long adherence will be suspended, and sometimes be perfectly removed, or perhaps exchanged for others, and the most furious will become tranquil and obedient. It was, he added, far safer to reduce the patient by nauseating him than by depleting him.

A near-starvation diet was another recommendation for robbing the madman of his strength. The various depleting remedies—bleedings, purgings, emetics, and nausea-inducing agents—were also said to be therapeutic because they inflicted considerable pain, and thus the madman’s mind became focused on this sensation rather than on his usual raving thoughts. Blistering was another treatment useful for stirring great bodily pain. Mustard powders could be rubbed on a shaved scalp, and once the blisters formed, a caustic rubbed into the blisters to further irritate and infect the scalp. The suffering that attends the formation of these pustules is often indescribable, wrote one physician. The madman’s pain could be expected to increase as he rubbed his hands in the caustic and touched his genitals, a pain that would enable the patient to regain consciousness of his true self, to wake from his supersensual slumber and to stay awake.

All of these physically depleting, painful therapies also had a psychological value: They were feared by the lunatics, and thus the mere threat of their employment could get the lunatics to behave in a better manner. Together with liberal use of restraints and an occasional beating, the mad would learn to cower before their doctors and attendants. In most cases it has appeared to be necessary to employ a very constant impression of fear; and therefore to inspire them with the awe and dread of some particular persons, especially of those who are to be constantly near them, Cullen wrote. This awe and dread is therefore, by one means or other, to be acquired; in the first place by their being the authors of all the restraints that may be occasionally proper; but sometimes it may be necessary to acquire it even by stripes and blows. The former, although having the appearance of more severity, are much safer than strokes or blows about the head.

Such were the writings of English mad-doctors in the 1700s. The mad were to be tamed. But were such treatments really curative? In the beginning, the mad-doctors were hesitant to make that claim. But gradually they began to change their tune, and they did so for a simple reason: It gave them a leg up in the profitable madhouse business.

In eighteenth-century England, the London asylum Bethlehem was almost entirely a place for the poor insane. The well-to-do in London shipped their family lunatics to private madhouses, a trade that had begun to emerge in the first part of the century. These boarding houses also served as convenient dumping grounds for relatives who were simply annoying or unwanted. Men could get free from their wives in this manner—had not their noisome, bothersome spouses gone quite daft in the head? A physician who would attest to this fact could earn a nice sum—a fee for the consultation and a referral fee from the madhouse owner. Doctors who owned madhouses mad out particularly well. William Battie, who operated madhouses in Islington and Clerkenwell, left an estate valued at between £100,000 and £200,000, a fabulous sum for the time, which was derived largely from this trade.

Even though most of the mad and not-so-mad committed to the private madhouses came from better families, they could still expect neglect and the harsh flicker of the whip. As reformer Daniel Defoe protested in 1728, Is it not enough to make any one mad to be suddenly clap’d up, stripp’d, whipp’d, ill fed, and worse us’d? In the face of such public criticism, the madhouse operators protested that their methods, while seemingly harsh, were remedies that could restore the mad to their senses. The weren’t just methods for managing lunatics, but curative medical treatments. In 1758, Battie wrote: Madness is, contrary to the opinion of some unthinking persons, as manageable as many other distempers, which are equally dreadful and obstinate. He devoted a full three chapters to cures.

In 1774, the English mad trade got a boost with the passage of the Act for Regulating Madhouses, Licensings, and Inspection. The new law prevented the commitment of a person to a madhouse unless a physician had certified the person as insane (which is the origin of the term certifiably insane). Physicians were now the sole arbiters of insanity, a legal authority that mad the mad-doctoring trade more profitable than ever. Then, in 1788, King George III suffered a bout of madness, and his recovery provided the mad-doctors with public proof of their curative ways.

Francis Willis, the prominent London physician called upon by the queen to treat King George, was bold in proclaiming his powers. He boasted to the English Parliament that he could reliably cure nine out of ten mad patients and that he rarely missed curing any [patients] that I had so early under my care: I mean radically cured. On December 5, 1788, he arrived at the king’s residence in Kew with an assistant, three keepers, a straight waistcoat, and the belief that a madman needed to be broken like a horse in a manège. King George III was so appalled by the sight of the keepers and the straight waistcoat that he flew into a rage—a reaction that caused Willis to immediately put him into the confining garment.

As was his custom, Willis quickly strove to assert his dominance over his patient. When the king resisted or protested in any way, Willis had him clapped into the straight-waistcoat, often with a band across his chest, and his legs tied to the bed. Blisters were raised on the king’s legs and quickly became infected, the king pleading that the pustules burned and tortured him—a complaint that earned him yet another turn in the straight waistcoat. Soon his legs were so painful and sore that he couldn’t walk, his mind now wondering how a king lay in this damned confined condition. He was repeatedly bled, with leeches placed on his templates, and sedated with opium pills. Willis also surreptitiously laced his food with emetics, which made the king so violently sick that, on one occasion, he knelt on his chair and prayed that God would be pleased either to restore Him to his Senses, or permit that He might die directly.

In the first month of 1789, the battle between the patient and doctor became ever more fierce. King George III—bled, purged, blistered, restrained, and sedated, his food secretly sprinkled with a tartar emetic to make him sick—sought to escape, offering a bribe to his keepers. He would give them annuities for life if they would just free him from the mad-doctor. Willis responded by bringing in a new piece of medical equipment—a restraint chair that bound him more tightly than the straight waistcoat—and by replacing his pages with strangers. The king would no longer be allowed the sight of familiar faces, which he took as evidence that Willis’s men meant to murder him.

In late February, the king made an apparently miraculous recovery. His agitation and delusions abated, and he soon resumed his royal duties. Historians today believe that King George III, rather than being mad, suffered from a rare genetic disorder, called porphyria, which can lead to high levels of toxic substance in the body that cause temporary delirium. He might have recovered more quickly, they believe, if Willis’s medical treatment had not so weakened him that they aggravated the underlying condition. But in 1789, the return of the king’s sanity was, for the mad-doctors, a medical triumph of the most visible sort.

In the wake of the king’s recovery, a number of English physicians raced to exploit the commercial opportunity at hand by publishing their novel methods for curing insanity. Their marketing message was often as neat as a twentieth century sound bite: Insanity proved curable. One operator of a madhouse in Chelsea, Benjamin Faulkner, even offered a money-back guarantee: Unless patients were cured within six months, all board, lodging, and medical treatments would be provided free of all expence whatever. The mad trade in England flourished. The number of private madhouses in the London area increased from twenty-two in 1788 to double that number by 1820, growth so stunning that many began to worry that insanity was a malady particularly common to the English.

In this era of medical optimism, English physicians—and their counterparts in other European countries—developed an ever more innovative array of therapeutics. Dunking the patient in water became quite popular—a therapy intended both to cool the patient’s scalp and to provoke terror. Physicians advised pouring buckets of water on the patient from a great height or placing the patient under a waterfall; they also devised machines and pumps that could pummel the patient with a torrent of water. The painful blasts of water were effective as a remedy and a punishment, one that made patients complain of pain as if the lateral lobes of the cerebrum were split asunder. The Bath of Surprise became a staple of many asylums: The lunatic, often while being led blindfolded across a room, would suddenly be dropped through a trapdoor into a tub of cold water—the unexpected plunge hopefully inducing such terror that the patient’s senses might be dramatically restored. Cullen found this approach particularly valuable:

Maniacs have often been relieved, and sometimes entirely cured, by the use of cold bathing, especially when administered in a certain manner. This seems to consist, in throwing the madman in the cold water by surprise; by detaining him in it for some length of time; and pouring water frequently upon the head, while the whole of the body except the head is immersed in the water; and thus managing the whole process, so as that, with the assistance of some fear, a refrigerant effect may be produced. This, I can affirm, has been often useful.

The most extreme form of water therapy involved temporarily drowning the patient. This practice had its roots in a recommendation made by the renowned clinician of Leyden, Hermann Boerhaave. The greatest remedy for [mania] is to throw the Patient unwarily into the Sea, and to keep him under Water as long as he can possibly bear without being quite stifled. Burrows, reviewing this practice in 1828, said it was designed to create the effect of asphyxia, or suspension of vital as well as of all intellectual operations, so far as safety would permit. Boerhaave’s advice led mad-doctors to concoct various methods for stimulating drowning such as placing the patient into a box drilled with holes and then submerging it underwater. Joseph Guislain built an elaborate mechanism for drowning the patient, which he called The Chinese Temple. The maniac would be locked into an iron cage that would be mechanically lowered, much in the manner of an elevator car, into a pond. To expose the madman to the action of this device, Guislain explained, he is led into the interior of this cage: one servant shuts the door from the outside while the other releases a break which, by this maneuver, causes the patient to sink down, shut up in the cage, under the water. Having produced the desired effect, one raises the machine again.

The most common mechanical device to be employed in European asylums during this period was a swinging chair. Invented by Englishman Joseph Mason Cox, the chair could, in one fell swoop, physically weaken the patient, inflict great pain, and invoke terror—all effects perceived as therapeutic for the mad. The chair, hung from a wooden frame, would be rotated rapidly by an operator to induce in the patient fatigue, exhaustion, pallor, horripilatio [goose bumps], vertigo, etc, thereby producing new associations and trains of thoughts. In the hands of a skilled operator, able to rapidly alter the directional motion of the swing, it could reliably produce nausea, vomiting, and violent convulsions. Patients would also involuntarily urinate and defecate, and plead for the machine to be stopped. The treatment was so powerful, said one nineteenth-century physician, that if the swing didn’t make a mad person obedient, nothing would.

Once Cox’s swing had been introduced, asylum doctors tried many variations on the theme—spinning beds, spinning stools, and spinning boards were all introduced. In this spirit of innovation and medical advance, one inventor built a swing that could twirl four patients at once, at revolutions up to 100 per minute. Cox’s swing and other twirling devices, however, were eventually banned by several European governments, the protective laws spurred by a public repulsed by the apparent cruelty of such therapeutics. This governmental intrusion into medical affairs caused Burrows, a madhouse owner who claimed that he cured 91 percent of his patients, to complain that an ignorant public would instruct us that patient endurance and kindliness of heart are the only effectual remedies for insanity!

Even the more mainstream treatments—the Bath of Surprise, the swinging chair, the painful blistering—might have given a compassionate physician like Rush pause. But mad-doctors were advised not to let their sentiments keep them from doing their duty. It was the highest form of cruelty, one eighteenth-century physician advised, not to be bold in the Administration of Medicine. Even those who urged that the insane, in general, should be treated with kindness, saw a need for such heroic treatments to knock down mania. Certain cases of mania seem to require a boldness of practice, which a young physician of sensibility may feel a reluctance to adopt, wrote Thomas Percival, setting forth ethical guidelines for physicians. On such occasions he must not yield to timidity, but fortify his mind by the councils of his more experienced brethren of the faculty.

— Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America, pp. 6–13.

This book is one of the only things I’ve read that ever made me cry.

Further reading