(Editor's note: this letter of apology was emailed to Andrew Palmer in response to the article "Gaebler Hell and Back," which appeared in Voices for CHANGE, Issue 10. Andrew wrote this article to help cope with the emotional baggage he was left with after his experiences at Gaebler. Jodi Bernstein's letter has now also become a part of Andrew's ongoing healing process. We all wish more former mental health worker's would emulate Ms. Bernstein's example. To read Andrew's Gaebler article, which helped to inspire Ms. Bernstein's letter, please click here)
Through the magic of the Internet and google.com, I accidentally came across and just finished reading your article on your experiences on the Gaebler Children's Unit in the mid-1970s. The article had an immense impact on me, both because of the vivid and accurate description of Gaebler and the indignities that you (and others) went through, but also because I was one of those "mental health workers." I cannot do anything about the past, but I can say I'm sorry.
I don' t know if you remember me --- and frankly, given your negative experiences I hope that you don't. But my name is Jodi Bernstein, I worked on "Ward E" from 1976 - 1978, and remember you and Harold and Diane, the counselors you mentioned in the article. You hit the nail on the head, I was in my mid-20s at the time and it was one of my first jobs out of college. Moreover, the counselors were oriented to policies and procedures (such as they were) through example and on the job training.
I have thought about Gaebler over the years and have wondered what happened to some of the kids who were there, especially because even at that time I questioned why some of you were on a locked mental health unit. (In all honesty, if my parents were still alive they would confirm that I gave them mountains of shit during my own adolescent adjustment reaction, which in retrospect, I realize was due in part to my first episode of what has become a long history of dysthemia). Not only were seclusion and restraints the standard of care at that time, the culture in Gaebler encouraged a rigidity and cruelty on the part of the counselors that was conducive to an abuse of power. And I cringe with discomfiture when I think about many of the things that we did in the name of "keeping people safe".
After Gaebler, I went to law school and am now a lawyer in a community hospital. I wear many hats---compliance officer, patient advocate, patient safety officer. I no longer work in the mental health field but am familiar with the National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse. I know there have been many positive changes in the past 25 years, but there is also room for many other changes as well.
Although your article on Gaebler had a sobering effect on me, I was heartened to realize that you went to college and have become an articulate and successful mental health advocate. Again, I apologize for being part of such an inhumane environment.