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A Special Hell

A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta's Eugenic Years

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Special Hell
    Book Description:

    Using rare interviews with former inmates and workers, institutional documentation, and governmental archives, Claudia Malacrida illuminates the dark history of the treatment of "mentally defective" children and adults at the Michener Centre in Red Deer, Alberta.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2049-0
    Subjects: History, Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. A Note on Language
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Chapter One Introducing the Michener Centre
    (pp. 3-30)

    In the early twentieth century in Alberta, children deemed to be intellectually disabled were left at home without services, interned alongside people labelled as insane, or sent to a specialized institute for children in Brandon, Manitoba, almost a thousand kilometres from the Alberta border (Alberta Social Services and Community Health, 1985). By 1923, the Alberta Government had built an institution to house those it called mental defectives at Oliver, just north of Edmonton. However, at the last moment, the government decided instead to place those labelled as insane in the new Oliver facility and to move the children it deemed...

  7. Chapter Two Entering the Gulag, Leaving the World
    (pp. 31-58)

    In light of the close ties between the move to long-term institutionalization for mental defectives and the development of eugenics, it is reasonable to assume that certain race, class, gender, and ethnic categories were overrepresented in institutional populations, including those at the Michener Centre. Low IQ test scores or unsatisfactory educational performance were not the only traits that sent children into segregation and professional “care” for mental defectives. Rather, disproportionally large numbers of females and people who were impoverished, rural, or of First Nations, eastern European, or Mediterranean descent composed the institutional population (Grekul, 2002). This is the case for...

  8. Chapter Three Dehumanization as a Way of Life
    (pp. 59-92)

    By the 1960s and early 1970s, when most of the individuals who participated in this research went to live and work at Michener, the imposing brick building that had housed the institution’s first 105 children had become the administrative heart of an enormous complex of multi-storey residences for inmates and staff, service buildings, offices, recreational and physical plant facilities, farm and workshop buildings, and greenhouses, all arrayed on two campuses kittycorner to each other. The South Campus (located to the south and west) housed the Provincial Training School (PTS), the children’s services side of the operation, and the North campus...

  9. Chapter Four Ordinary and Extraordinary Violence
    (pp. 93-121)

    The previous chapter described how dehumanizing processes were threaded through daily institutional life at Michener in routine and normalized ways. The institutional use of space, its management of time, and the ways it controlled inmates’ privacy, relationships, and personal property acted as technologies of dehumanization, making inmates into “others” to their former communities and families and to staff within the institution, and finally giving rise to divisions among inmates. These dehumanizing activities not only separated inmates from their former and potential networks of support but also made the management of inmates’ bodies and minds much easier for staff. The dehumanizing...

  10. Chapter Five Resisting the Institutional Order
    (pp. 122-130)

    The impression conveyed thus far through the archival record and survivor and ex-worker stories is that the institution was a terrifying place in which virtually all humanity was ground out of its inhabitants. It is not difficult to speculate on what the effects of these kinds of violence might be for the individual being brutalized and for the individuals who observed such brutality. For staff members who observed or were invited to participate in routine and extraordinary violence, the regimen signalled that to behave violently was permissible and even appropriate in that environment, and often the regimen telegraphed that belonging...

  11. Chapter Six Broken Promises: Education in the Institution
    (pp. 131-149)

    The previous chapters have traced the contours of violence, dehumanization, and social isolation that characterized daily life in the institution, examining their effects on the children and adults who lived there. In addition to what life inside was like, we heard how and why people came to live at the Michener Centre. For many, although there may have been eugenic underpinnings to rationalize their admissions, the overt justification to family members and to the children themselves came from a promise of better care. As previous chapters attest, this promise was one on which institutional life clearly failed to deliver, and...

  12. Chapter Seven Training, Exploitation, and Community Dependency
    (pp. 150-172)

    In the previous chapter, I argued that vocational training was the most prevalent and valued form of education in the institution, evidenced by the late arrival and relative rarity of education-specific facilities as compared with the early presence and constant growth of vocational training programs within the institution. I also argued vocational training acted as a generator of resources that profited the institution and served as a public symbol of the positive aspects of Michener’s educational and treatment programs.

    The belief that work can offer a “cure” to children and adults with intellectual disabilities is rooted in the industrial revolution....

  13. Chapter Eight Bad Medicine: Drugs, Research, and Ethics
    (pp. 173-195)

    The previous chapters focused on the institution’s educational and rehabilitative programs, painting a picture of exploitive and abusive practices that belied the institution’s mandate as a training facility and its promise of educating its charges for release to a fuller, more productive life in the community. In this chapter, I examine medical and eugenic practices to expose the dishonesty embedded in the institution’s promise of care and proper treatment for children whose health needs were purportedly not being adequately met in the community. Despite family physicians and social workers routinely using this rationale to convince parents that institutionalizing their disabled...

  14. Chapter Nine Eugenics and Sexuality
    (pp. 196-223)

    In 1995, Leilani Muir, a former inmate of Michener, launched the first successful lawsuit against the provincial Government of Alberta as the entity responsible for the abuses of passive eugenics in the form of institutional confinement and for the abuses of active eugenics in the form of involuntary sterilization. The question of informed and ethical consent lay at the base of Muir’s and subsequent lawsuits. In early 1996, the judge presiding over the Muir case began her summary with the following statement:

    The circumstances of Ms. Muir’s sterilization were so high-handed and so contemptuous of the statutory authority to effect...

  15. Chapter Ten But That’s All in the Past, Isn’t It?
    (pp. 224-234)

    The last half of the twentieth century saw significant changes to services offered to people with intellectual disabilities in the West, as the result of a number of highly publicized exposés of institutional life. Several high-profile Americans consciously chose to take intellectual disability out of the closet and worked assiduously to change attitudes and practices concerning hiding children away in institutions. Television stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, whose wholesome family show ran from 1951 to 1957, entertained children and their parents with their exploits as modern-day cowboys and cowgirls who saved the weak, helpless, and good from crooks and...

  16. Appendix I: Research Participants – Biographical Information
    (pp. 235-240)
  17. Appendix II: History, Power, and Access to Knowledge
    (pp. 241-252)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 253-258)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-276)
  20. Index
    (pp. 277-302)