Someone must have slandered Jean Gambell, for one morning in 1937, without having done anything truly wrong, she was arrested. Gambell, a poor working girl in England, was falsely convicted of stealing two and a half shillings from her boss. She didn’t steal the money, and in fact the money was later found, but by then it was too late. She had already been convicted, and, more to the point, she had already come under the eye of State psychiatry. Declared
feeble-minded, this fifteen year old girl was locked up in English psychoprisons for seventy years over a trivial crime that she never committed. Her family desperately tried to get her released, but could not. Eventually she simply disappeared into the system, and her brothers no longer even knew whether she was alive or dead. Jean Gambell herself repeatedly told her prison guards in a
care home that she had family she could go to, but they kept her locked up, because she had been officially declared crazy and stupid and could, therefore, be dismissed as a liar. All for her own good.
Jean Gambell finally escaped the talons of the therapeutic State last month–at the age of 85, with a lifetime stolen from her–when her brother finally learned that she was alive and confined in Macclesfield Mews
Seventy years locked up in institutions hardly seems to be a punishment that befits the crime of stealing half-a-crown.
However, it is just such a fate that befell Jean Gambell when at the age of 15, in 1937, she was falsely accused of stealing 2s 6d (12.5p) from the doctor’s surgery where she worked as a cleaner.
She was sectioned under the 1890 Lunacy Act and even though the money was later found, she has been moved from mental institution to mental institution. More recently, she went into a care home and has been lost to her family, who thought she was dead.
But last month, by chance, her brother stumbled across correspondence which led to the discovery of her existence and the family was reunited.
Her brother David Gambell, 63, who still lives in his mother’s old home in Wirral, Merseyside, received a questionnaire addressed to his mother from Macclesfield Mews Care Home.
I thought it was just a survey for old people and I was about to throw it away when I saw Jean’s name pencilled in on one corner,he said yesterday.
I couldn’t believe it. I suddenly realised that my sister was still alive. I rang the care home straight away and they confirmed that our sister was there.He and his brother Alan, who had last seen their sister as small children when she was allowed to visit home with two wardens as guards, travelled to the Macclesfield home.
They were told by staff that their 85-year-old sister was deaf, could only communicate in writing and was very unlikely to remember them.
A little old lady on walking sticks came in,said Alan.She looked at us and cried out:Alan…David. Then she put her arms around us. It was very emotional.
I am sure that what has kept her going all these years was the challenge of proving to the authorities that she had a family. The trouble was, nobody would listen to her.
The brothers spent much of their childhood in orphanages because their parents were so poor. They said that they had later discovered that their father had tried for years to get Jean freed after she was put in Cranage Hall mental hospital in Macclesfield for beingof feeble mind, but was unsuccessful because her records had been mislaid.
She spent years, lost in a maze of instutitons and care homes, trying to convince people in authority that she had a family. But nobody would believe her.
There is one thing that is even more terrifying than the savage cruelty of the hangman State, and that is the dispassionate sadism of psychiatric State–the therapist armed with the law, the straight-jacket, the lobotomy, and a near-absolute entitlement to take your freedom and destroy your life, and call that
care for your professionally-reckoned best interests.