Posts Tagged 'fear'

Guilty Except for Insanity

Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian


This morning as I sat eating my cereal and drinking my coffee, I flipped through my Portland State Alumni magazine that arrived in the mail yesterday. I came across an article about a film directed by one of Portland State’s psychology professors, Jan Haaken, called Guilty Except for Insanity. The documentary explores the insides of the Oregon State Mental Hospital, and the problems that have plagued it for years. The hospital is the site of the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (based on the book by Ken Kesey), and has somewhat mimicked the horrors of the film, with charges from the U.S. Department of Justice for “massive civil rights abuses of patients.”
The quick blurb in the magazine intrigued me for a few reasons. I thought, “Great, just another film that makes people with a mental illness look dangerous and scary.” Without having seen the film however, it seems that this is not Haaken’s intent at all. Haaken is pushing to expose the living conditions at the hospital, but more importantly how the crimes and permanent hospitalization could have been avoided had the patients received help earlier. The film project began after students in Haaken’s psychology class at Portland State found that media coverage of the hospital actually heightened the community’s fears and the perception that those leaving the hospital are still dangerous.
There are many people who are much more knowledgeable than me of how those with a mental illness must navigate the judicial system, (I suggest reading Pete Earley’s Crazy: A Father’s Journey Through Mental Health Madness) but every time I hear of one of these nightmare abuse cases it makes my heart ache. That’s someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s brother or sister or friend.
Guilty Except for Insanity follows five patients who enlisted the insanity defense for serious crimes, however students interviewed over 90 patients and staff throughout the two years of production. When production began, Haaken was limited to only visiting hours, but slowly gained access inside the wards. The staff and patients saw the documentary in progress and gave feedback at various junctures, and Haaken weaves art, text, graphics and songs produced my the patients throughout the film. One of the aims of the films is to “raise public awareness concerning the tragic loss of community mental health services throughout the United States and to bring into view the human costs of longer prison terms in the United States — a driving factor in increased reliance on the insanity defense.”
The Northwest Film Center and Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium held a screening last weekend on June 27. Haaken has also prepared an hour-long version of the film for television use and DVD distribution. I’m eager to see the film and the work of the students and patients, but I wonder if it will have any affect on the community in Oregon. “The people in the hospital aren’t that different from the rest of us,” Haaken says. “I’m hoping, if nothing else, viewers see that.”

To read more about Portland State Psychology professor Jan Haaken and her work, please visit: www.guiltyexcept.com

**The above picture is The Oregon State Mental Hospital, however a new facility is under construction and is scheduled to open in 2011.

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