Memoirs From the Asylum

Author: Kenneth Weene

Enter into a world of three people whose lives are no longer their own. Walking through the doors of an insane asylum, whether patient or doctor your mind, life and attitude take on a whole new perspective and many things happen that is beyond your control.  Imagine living your life in a catatonic state not understanding what is happening around you and no longer able to protect yourself because you can’t speak? Imagine having other people take care of your bodily needs because you cannot. Living in your own world, hidden behind a curtain so thick that you can’t see through it, around it or over it, you fall deeper into oblivion and cannot find your way back. Memoirs From The Asylum, by author Kenneth Weene is an eye opening, enlightening novel that brings to light what many people choose to push under the rug, abuse in our hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities of those who are defenseless and cannot speak for themselves.  Working in the mental health field, our author knows firsthand what really happens behind open and closed doors in these facilities. As you take the journey along with our narrator and our many characters into their lives within the walls, halls and grounds of this institution you too will become appalled at what these human beings have endured.

As you open to the first page of this novel you are entering the world of the insane, the hopeless, abused, mistreated and the doomed. The narrator brilliantly describes the inner sanctum of an asylum from the patients, to the aides, nurses, doctors and the horrific environment and treatment these people are subjected to. The narrator introduces himself, a young girl who is catatonic and schizophrenic and a doctor, who is about to start his residency in this hospital.  A doctor whose reasons for becoming a psychiatrist are short of trying to escape the world he came from with a depressed and unhappy father to another where he tries to help those not much different. Meet Marilyn, the young catatonic schizophrenic who spends her day looking at a crack in the wall opposite her bed considering it her safe haven where no one can enter her world or hear what she is thinking. As the author relates to the reader her past and the many things she endured due to her naivety and the abuse she took from others without any true knowledge of that fact, we learn what can happen when a simple game goes too far.

Our narrator has entered the asylum because he is afraid. His fears consume him and he wants to hide from the world. An incident in his past has left him this way and learning how to play the staff of this place and use the correct words they want to hear, he feels eventually set him free and give him back some control. Control that is what the staff of this place has over these people and when anyone goes off or tries to speak out they silence them in any way they can.
Next we meet Buford Abrose the young resident sent to do his residency in this horrific place. Plagued with his own nightmares and fears this young doctor endures the coldness and callousness of his supervisor whose main concern is not the patients. Each patient has no real human identity. They are their illness or diagnosis. The world these inmates live in is worse than that of a prison. Most live as our narrator relates, in their own inner world disconnected from reality and hopefully finding their own peace somewhere in between. But, will they? As he tries to connect with Marilyn his first patient, he begins to reflect on his own past that haunts him. Marilyn, according to our young doctor is here in body only and her mind has permanently left the room. But has it?

As the author recounts Marilyn’s inner thoughts and what her true desires are and that of her abused past, we come to realize that she and so many others in this place are victims of their own weaknesses, the insecurities that have never been addressed and the fears instilled in them while growing up. There is Jack who wants to take over the world and has enlisted the help of our narrator to become part of his army. There is Mitch who has Alzheimer’s as my mom does. He is one patient that I can totally identify with and every time they over medicate him or treat him poorly my anger rides up since dementia and Alzheimer’s are not illnesses of the insane. But, what is recounted about him is really so true and the treatment he gets reminds me of why my mom is at home with great care.

The administrative director is at the epitome of the hierarchy of this place filled with deteriorated people, staff, furniture and a director that needs to spend a week in the asylum himself. The world of medicine has become, as we learn, filled with forms that need to be filled out and balancing budgets. Caring for the patients is secondary to completing the paperwork in a timely fashion. Orrin Partles stands for everything someone should not be in power and controlling the fate of others until fate deals him a different hand.

Meeting each patient and hearing their voices though that of our narrator, the reader can understand, feels the pain, frustration and hopelessness that each has to endure in order to have some semblance of a life or ability to survive. Trying to cope with the indignities that befall all of them, often drugged and isolated in a rubber room when they get too loud or try to let the world know they are there, these patients as you will learn have no chance to win their fight back to sanity with a staff who really hates them and what they are doing and doctors who are just going through the motions. Sad, true, telling, horrific and heart wrenching and at times comical as the author relates some of the stories of incidents that happen to the patients but are related to us by our narrator who seems to be the only one who might be sane.

The voices of the characters that are gone are often heard in those of the ones still there. The sounds, smells, odor, and real life bodily functions are so graphically and vividly described that you can close your eyes and hear the screams of inmates, smell the rancid odors in the halls, and picture the horrific conditions. The reader can feel the pain as needles are stuck into the bums of hapless patients to silence them. By the way, Valium is injected in the butt.)

The sounds, smells, odors and real life bodily functions are so graphically described and vividly you can close your eyes and hear the screams of the inmates, smell the rancid odors in the halls and picture the horrific conditions they live in and the pain inflicted when  needles stuck into their arms to silence them.

There are many ways a person can find freedom as the author relates. Just how three of these inmates find there way out, you will have to learn for yourself, as the ending will surprise you. The twists and turns and surprises will let you know that sometimes there is a dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel but not for everyone. What happens when the crack in the wall is sealed and the world of one patient takes on new meaning? Escaping life the asylum is really the ultimate hope of all of these inmates, including our young doctor.

Everyone likes to escape at one time into their own world where they can feel free, safe and unharmed. Escaping what all of the people in this asylum want but will never experience other than in their own minds. The poem at the end of the book says it all.  I WILL BE FREE!

Sharing his real life experiences working in mental health, author Kenneth Weene brings to light how events in our childhood often hold fast in our present as he relates Stan’s story throughout the memoir. Memoirs From An Asylum should be made required reading or all those going into the field of mental heath, those already in it and possibly jaded by their experiences, time and frustrations at those who run these institutions and allow these atrocities to happen. One doctor whose voice was never really heard and one man, who wrote it down for all of us to read, remember and never forget: Our narrator and author Kenneth Weene.  This is an outstanding novel, written in narrative form, which engages the reader from the first page until the surprise ending on the last. This is definitely one of my best picks for 2010. I want to thank the author for giving me the honor or reviewing this book.

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

Fran Lewis is an avid book reviewer, reading and writing staff developer with the Board of Ed.

Author of 5 published books

Author of Memories are Precious Alzheimer’s Journey Ruth’s Story

Author of the Bertha Series of Books and Book Reviewer