To make it sound fancy, I suppose, I would call it the mens de captivus, meaning “the mind of the prisoner.” This is something ~ one powerful trait ~ I noticed while in the Samson Group Home. To expand on this definition, mens de captivus means “the whole mentality (perspective, world view) of the individual (almost) completely cloistered within a relatively small, insular community.”
Many of the fine people with whom I lived displayed a mens de captivus at least to some degree ~ that is, their whole world essentially consisted of the “cloister,” or group home. Within this there were certain activities and relationships that proved very important, which are not (perhaps) nearly so important on the “outside.” Buying and selling cigarettes, for example, while technically not allowed, was a daily occurrence.
The relationships with mental health technicians (MHTs), therapists, and the group home director proved in many ways to be more fundamental than their relationship(s) to family and friends. I suppose this was due to the immediacy and constancy of those relationships. Of course, their/our relationships with one another were very important, and this all became at least somewhat dominant in group home life.
Consequently, life apart from this local, confined community ended up seeming rather foreign and, perhaps, frightening. While many, if not most, of the groups sessions were on some basic life skill (BLS), you could look around the room and see that some consumers were quite obviously not paying any attention, while still others (however few) were even falling asleep! (Granted, these sessions could be boring, but still…)
One fellow resident hit the nail on the head when she said, “It’s really sad. It’s heartbreaking… These people look so defeated. It’ s like they’ve just given up, like they have no hope!” True, and the emptying of any hope for life beyond the group home community was filled with a mens de captivus, that is, an entire life-perspective and feeling grown from within the “cloister.”
And this is really where I believe the Church, and other religious institutions (i.e. temple, mosque, synagogue, etc.), can really make a palpable difference. If good church folk can not only come by to visit, but somehow make arrangements to help integrate group home residents (or “consumers,” as they are called) into the larger, outside community, it would make a world of difference.
Well, this would be an act of connection beyond the four walls of the group home. I believe that it would at least disrupt the mens de captivus, which would be fundamentally positive. The mens de captivus certainly needs to be disrupted! Resident/consumers are ultimately not helped by being confined so much of their time within a mentally/emotionally/psychologically disabled “cloister.”
I remember very well getting up in the morning just in time for breakfast, followed by an early morning shower, followed by morning meds and then day treatment. We ate lunch at day treatment, and afterwards I would feed the birds (and squirrels, racoons, and opossums) and the fish in our backyard pond. After this, I sometimes laid down for an half-hour nap, but then I almost always went ahead and did my chore.
Interspersed throughout my day were, of course, requests to buy or bum something. (This is just part of the local, cloistered, group home life.) And, too, we shared many items and even cut (and sometimes styled) each others hair. Living this more or less complete life, largely sectioned off from the rest of humanity, it became easy ~ too easy, really ~ to forget what it was like to live an “ordinary life” in society-at-large.
Part of my own hope and dream now is to do something to alleviate this mens de captivus, opening the prison door, so to speak, gently leading individuals back out into the verdant fields of promising life in the wide world we inhabit. Yes, it can, and often is, frightening; then again, true freedom (authentic liberty) is scary if for no other reason than the fact that the immediate future always stands open to innumerable possibilities with very few guarantees. Is it worth it, though? Yes! Most assuredly!
For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…
Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance
Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God
Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled
Crazy Life: A Little Less Crazy? But Still Guilty
Crazy Life: Dreams and Dreams Again
Crazy Life: In Praise of MHTs