Why I Owe my Life to Ronald Reagan
My story has evolved from the case of an anonymous adoptee to allow me to consider myself to be the direct product of a giant political turn of events that permanently changed the social landscape in California. I am reading a newly published book called The Insanity Offense by E. Fuller Torrey that adequately serves as a historical corrective account of the poli-social climate taking place in California during the early 1970s. From the first moment I was told that I was adopted up to the most recent time I was last in contact with my reunited biological family, I have yearned to understand the circumstances of how I came to be. Mine was not a common "girl gets pregnant too young from high school sweetheart" story.
My mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic in her early adulthood and subsequently shut up into Agnew Insane Asylum, a virtual cuckoo's nest to befit the stereotype. The book traces the story of deinstitutionalization, legislation that ultimately led to my conception, birth and adoption. Governor Ronald Reagan championed a cost-cutting effort to shut down the state's mental health facilities. "Ronald Reagan has frequently been called the father of deinstitutionalization in California..." (Torrey, 42) Under an act named for its authors, Lanterman-Petris-Short, the LPS act moved to close the asylums under the guise of protecting the civil rights of the mentally ill. The authors stipulated that no one should be committed to custody without their consent nor required to take the psych meds that quieted their sick minds. "The 1973 proposal... caused immediate controversy." (Torrey, 45)
The film "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest", with its portrayal of inhumane treatment to mental patients was used to influence opinion and pad the testimonial advocating for the closures.
As a result of the LPS act, the behemoth San Jose institution called Agnew Insane Asylum closed its doors and opened up the floodgates for patients to roam the streets unsupervised and under medicated.” Many discharged patients were placed in rundown boarding houses with little or no supervision." (Torrey, 50)
"As these individuals stopped taking their medications and wandered away from their shabby accommodations, observers noted an increase in the number of mentally ill homeless persons on the streets."(Torrey, 50)
The book sets the stage of my original tale as the drama of my birth is unveiled on the pages with my parents as the players. When I was reunited with my biological mother, I learned that she was an ex-patient of Agnew Insane Asylum where she had undergone years of inhumane treatments ranging from medications that all but lobotomized her to ECT shock therapy. When she was filtered with the trickled masses down to the slum-like boarding houses surrounding San Jose State College, she was free to exercise her civil right to refuse treatment which she did sevenfold. I was told she was known to wander from the house, opting not to take her medication leaving her family to wonder if she was still alive for extended periods of time. It was in those first years that the LPS legislation was in action that my sister and I were born in 1971 and 1973 respectively. Our mother had cultivated a regular fling with a drifter she first met in the boarding house who was seeking a respite from an extended drug run. During the years of our conception, the couple had tossed around a plan to marry but after frequent unpredicted episodes of destruction, the drifter i.e. my father, backed out of it. When my sister was born, the authorities wouldn’t let my father near her much less consider him for custody citing his frequent bouts of absenteeism and alcoholic behavior as reasons. My sister was placed into the system, thereby securing my fate before I was born two years later.
My mother was pronounced :”gravely disabled”, a condition evidenced by behavior in which a person, as a result of a mental disorder is likely to come to serious physical harm or serious illness because she is unable to care for her basic needs.”( cpsa-rbha.org/doc)
Based on the limited documentation from my case that I was able to glean from the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services, I learned that my adoption occurred just over a year after the date of my birth. When I met my mother and inquired as to the reason, she recalled through tearful flashbacks, an account of the way she was forced to sign away parental rights. The caseworker I spoke to told me she was given the chance to volunteer before the mandate was set in place. “It would have been disastrous” (if she had been allowed to retain custody”, said her family members.
Having discovered the book, I am satisfied at having the next best thing to my own original birth certificate. In this book, I have found direct historical evidence of what had previously been spun to me in wafted anecdotes losing steam through time. The hazy history I harbored in the case of how I came to be has been duly documented as a direct result of deinstitutionalization by Governor Ronald Reagan. It breathes life to a sketchy past and lends credence to my sealed case. In putting the pieces together, my case ceases to be such a puzzle.