The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Thursday, July 05, 2007

From the Bedlam to the Fourth of July

A rainy day in Connecticut


(Psychiatrischer Bezirk)

I had originally planned on writing about my experience at the Forensic Psychiatric ward the other day . . . frankly I'm tired, so I'm very tempted to just put up pictures from today's trip . . . but I know if I push it off, it won't go up . . .

The ward is on a hill, bordered on the side by a dilapidated red bricked factory. The sky is overcast and gray, hinting to the imminent fall of rain -some Fourth of July this will be, I muse to myself -stuck in a mental ward on a stormy day . . .
We enter, and after passing through a relatively posh waiting room, come to to the security clearance. I realize that I forgot my American ID, but the guard tells me that my Canadian one will work (it's actually a Quebec Health Insurance card -but in most countries it would even pass as looking like a drivers license).
We go through the check list: our cell-phones must be left outside, the Jewish Art calendar can come in and be given to the patient, our Tefillin must stay outside -the leather straps could theoretically pose a threat if, uh, he acts up. The hats must also stay behind.
Ready to go.
A thick metal door slides open with a click; we enter the anterior room that is now revealed. The door slams behind us with an electronic click. A new door in front of us opens.
We have entered the ward proper. We walk down a long hallway, led by a guard to the visitor room. -the third open door to the left.

Inside sits X . . . He's dressed in baggy jeans and a polo-shirt. I notice that his shoes are Velcro -laces meaningfully absent.
We shake hands, I think how every Jew is a Jew. Not about his crime.
We speak.
He's interested in Torah, would love to do all the mitzvos he can . . . he has a decent collection of books -but he considers himself more of a mussar'nik, not a chossid.
He mentions several times his guilt, how he won't get out . . .
'Here in Connecticut Valley they keep you for a very longtime, but at least its safe.'
I tell him that every Jew is connected via two paths, one revealed, one hidden.
On the revealed level we connect to G-d via mitzvos, if we miss out on a mitzva, we miss out on a connection. If we abrogate a mitzvah, we have separated ourselves from our source -G-d.
But on a deeper level, every Jew, no matter where he is or what has transpired, has a connection to G-d that supersedes the connection via Torah. Therefor even if by Torah Law he is guilty, Teshuvah -return to G-d- can bring forgiveness. It reforges the bond that was destroyed via the normal medium of Torah, by tapping into the internal and eternal bond that is deeper then the Torah, which is 'only' the wisdom of G-d, instead connecting to the essence of the Creator.
Once this bond has been reforged, the person continues to connect via the normal path of Mitzvos.
Suddenly an awful cackle -the maniacal kind that one would think could only come from a mental ward- is heard over the intercom.
The words cling to the inside of my throat . . .
'What was that?' I finally ask.
'Oh,' X. says, 'Just someone having fun with the intercom.'
Right . . . fun.

The conversation goes on.
We focus on what can practically done in place where wearing tzitzis is forbidden for the same reason he can't wear shoe-laces.
We decide that 'Modi Ani', the prayer of thanks said upon rising, is fitting -after all it represents the inner connection that can never be defiled or imprisoned, as it were, that we had spoken about.

We leave with a second, more personal handshake.
As I walk through the long hall, I look out the window to the inner courtyard set aside for patient exercise. The grass is almost as gray as the sky . . .

(Judaïsme américain)

We drive from Middleford to Glastonbury, where the Connecticut shluchim have made a family fourth of July barbecue.

Despite the on and off rain, the backyard is full of behatted Rabbis with their third trimester wives. Children in brightly colored yarmulkes or frilly dresses prance about . . . then play a game of Chassidic 'Jew-perdy'.
'I'll take Rebbes' names for 300!,' a little boy calls out.

While helping ourselves to a hot-dogs and chicken wings one of the many shluchos walks over to us.
'So where are you bochurim?' she asks in her Brooklyn twang.
'Oh Litchfield . . . I hope you're helping out there -doing the dishes, cooking food, shopping! You know the rebbetzin there is a tzedeikis -she has to run the camp, and is the head counselor, plus she has all of her children and . . .'
'Leave the boys alone!' Her husband calls out.
'Why? These are modern men! Modern men can do everything . . .'

'Who was the Ba'al Shem Tov!' one of the Mendys calls out . . .
Life sure is varied.

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Irina Tsukerman said...

That's quite a story. I'm amazed at your ability to concentrate on the Jewish aspect, instead of letting the thought of a criminally insane person distract you.

Mottel said...

I'm glad you liked it . . .
i would say that because of my religious studies I'm able to view things in such a light.
How would your legal studies effect your view of such a person?
Would you say that he is paying his crimes to humanity as decided by the courts, or would you see things in a different light?

Tamara said...

First, I love the photo. It looks like a painting.

I think going to visit X was a great thing. I've visited someone in prison, and I know from first hand experience, it is more than appreciated. I also used to visit kids in a mental hospital here in L.A. Again, interest from the outside world helps others to feel human again.

Will you stay in touch with X?

Oh, and are you from Quebec?

Mottel said...

I touched it up a drop using Picasa by playing with the saturation amongst other things.

I'm sure visiting him was an important thing -as I said, every Jew is a Jew and human contact is very important. The question is more, what does one do with the gut feeling that come about through meeting a criminally insane person who killed both of his parents . . .
I'm not sure if we will stay in touch, as he is hard to reach due to his location -but the rabbi here speaks to him regularly and visits from to time to time.
I am from LA -born and raised, but my parents are both Canadians from Montreal, so upon birth I was registered as Canadian citizen. When I went to Yeshivah in Montreal, my Grandparents helped me take up 'official' residence.

Irina Tsukerman said...

I'd say that my legal perspective would help me somewhat because I would at least be able to see him as someone mentally ill - in order to be convicted of being criminally insane you have to meet a very high standard, pretty much not knowing what you were doing at the time you were doing. That would easier than if I knew he knew what he was doing but was somehow rationalizing it, as many killers do. Still, it probably very difficult even for me, for the horror of such madness is probably much more striking than any fictional monstrosity.