Revisiting Kings Park

Posted on June 29, 2012
Kings Park producer Lucy Winer speaks on a panel after the film screening.Kings Park producer Lucy Winer speaks on a panel after the film screening.The documentary, Kings Park, produced by Lucy Winer was shown on Wednesday June, 20th at the SVA Theater in New York City. More than 150 people attended this event, many of whom were Fountain House members, panel speakers, and supporters.

See photos from the event.

Kings Park, a psychiatric institution located on Long Island, was established in 1885 and closed in 1996.  At its peak in the 1950s, it housed over 9,000 patients. When the ward was open, it was a harbor for the people with mental illness who could not be taken care of outside of the institution. In the film, Lucy Winer interviews many of the patients and staff who used to work at Kings Park in order to show what psychiatric wards were like before de-institutionalization in the 1960's.

Kings Park was nothing like the hospitals we have today. In fact, few psychiatric facilities that resemble it remain open. In the documentary, the institution is depicted as a gruesome and disparaging space. As the facility was taped in its end stages with peeling wall paint, no furniture, and the absence of apparatuses, it may very well reflect the rooms as they truly were before closure. While revisiting the hospital, Lucy recalls that in the day room, there was nothing to enliven the place at all. The day room, she says, was just as bare as it appeared when she was filming.

In short, Kings Park was portrayed as a disaster, yet it was a necessity because patients had no other place to go. Some called it a safe haven, but the majority considered it to be worse than hell. Some patients stayed for many years while others, like Lucy Winer, were there only for a few months. As she delves into the past, she remembers being tormented by her stay on the hospital’s floor for violent women when she was 17 years old.

Lucy’s story is troubling and deeply concerning. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to the hospital because of suicide attempts. Though revisiting Kings Park was deeply personal, she finds that there was more to say about Kings Park than just her own experience. Beyond this, Lucy finds a plethora of roles that the psychiatric facility played in society and mental health care.

She starts her journey by finding the providers who had her psychiatric medical records, and she soon realizes that, without the recollections of other people, she may never be able to tell the full story of Kings Park. As she interviews people, some patients remember awful experiences such as abuse, maltreatment, repeated and unnecessary restraint, and over usage of shock therapy.

Though the past of Kings Park may be irrelevant since few of these hospitals remain, the story’s ironic twist is that present-day facilities for many mentally ill people may be reverting back to resembling Kings Park. But this time, they are not psychiatric wards. Instead, these facilities are prisons, housing thousands of inmates, many of who have mental illness and are not receiving the services that they need.

The saddest part of the story is that it can truly be the luck of the draw that some mentally ill people gain access to places like Fountain House or Hands Along Long Island (HALI) clubhouse, which initially developed as a place for former patients from Kings Park psychiatric hospital. Throughout the panel discussion at the end, one psychiatrist who visited state prisons and administered psychiatric treatment to inmates discussed that there is hope for these people, but ultimately, the systematic criminalization of the mentally ill isn’t fair.

All in all, the film opened my eyes to the old realities of what hospital stays were like and makes me very grateful for not living in those days. In a time and place where Thorazine was the only dispensable medicine allowed and attendants were the only personnel in hospitals, many people were at a disadvantage and in a position to deeply fear assistance. Most of all, the film showed me how lucky I am to be at Fountain House, especially when so many people in the penal system are sentenced to time in prison, when all they may truly need is a community and some treatment to support them.
Marianna F.
Employment Unit, Fountain House


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