by Thomas Hester, M.D., Medical Director for Georgia
On August 24, 2000 Dr. Thomas Hester - a psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Georgia Department of Mental Health - came before a conference of 1,000 mental health consumers/survivors/ex-patients. To the astonishment of everyone there, Dr. Hester made a formal apology for the neglect of the cemeteries at Central State Hospital where perhaps as many as 30,000 former patients are buired. He also apologized for some of the ways that state institutions hurt, rather than helped people, and set out a plan for improvement. I don't think there was a dry eye in the hall. Here are his words:
But in addition to public apology, another part of recovery is going into action. Making amends is not enough. It is not enough just to admit the exact nature of your wrongs - and apologize. And so today I am committing, on behalf of the State of Georgia and the Facility system, to take four actions:
1. The State will pay for the survey to be completed to support the application of the cemetery at Central State to be on the National Historic Register.
2. The State will pay and support the cleaning up of all the graves that are covered under debris and overgrown.
3. The State will help the Consumers' vision of finding a home for the unplaceable markers by constructing planters that lead from the gate to the angel. The planters will allow a place for the iris' to grow that have been collected by Consumers. The iris' are symbolic of the strength of those individuals who lie in the graves that shall forever be unmarked, and to honor each of those markers that can't be placed in these planters.
4. A commitment for perpetual care and maintenance so that we never go back again.
It is essential for the system, the State and the Facility system, to recover and to recognize that by going through these steps of making a searching and fearless moral inventory, that admitting the exact nature of our wrongs, and making amends to those that we have harmed, that we as a system and as providers will realize promises. But in order to keep tose promises and experience those promises as the key factor - and the key factor is identified in Alcoholics Anonymous - "We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it." We can never forget! We cannot afford to forget what happened at the cemetery - what happened to consumers! We must never forget and continue our recovery by abandoning control-efforts and promoting recovery and self-determination; leaving the bonds of segregation and isolation and promoting integration into the community for consumers! And above all . . . Never go back to desecration and recognizing the inherent dignity in humaness. As I've often learned that groups can recover, that "we can do what I can't." I believe the partnership between the State and the Facilities, with the Consumer Movement as two recovering bodies, if you will, can accomplish far more than any group can together.
I humbly ask you forgiveness and commit myself to making these commitments a reality.
Reactions to Dr. Hesters Apology:
Linda Buckner said the apology moved her to tears because, "There have been times that all I needed from the system was for someone to say that they were sorry, but no one ever did. Now they have met us half way and we can begin the healing."
Sherry Olvey, Program Director of the Georgia Consumer Leadership Institute: "It's so powerful. Not only did he apologize, but he also acknowledged the power of recovery and wanting the state to become a recovering body."
Tim McClention, Consumer Specialist at Atlanta Regional Hospital: "An apology is the beginning of showing that they really want to change."
Glenda Brown, Georgia Consumer Council: "We created a moral force through this cemetery restoration work."
To see photographs of the new bronze angel, ornate gate and cleared cemeteries that the Georgia Consumer Council has worked so hard to achieve, click here.
Thanks to the DMH Office of Consumer and Ex-Patient
Relations for Helping to Fund This Website!