Mucatatuck Oral History - Sarah Poole Interview
"I expected to go out of there feet first... I was just like the clients, I had been there my whole life. How could I function on the outside?" Sarah Poole started working as an attendant at Muscatatuck State Developmental Center in 1968. She soon moved to the Speech and Hearing department, where she spent most of her 35 years. When she was interviewed in 2003, she had just retired and the Center was scheduled for closure. Sarah describes her experience at the state institution from the perspective of a direct care worker.
"I had very many times I was very angry and very miserable because of the decisions made by those above me." She expresses skepticism about changes in philosophy espoused by disability professionals over the years. "There were those older ladies out there they had these dolls sitting up on their dressers, the porcelain dolls from their childhood." "The decision was made that dolls were childish and no one can have a doll. Didn’t matter if it was their personal property, it was disposed of." A few years later, she was told to encourage residents to enjoy their personal property. "We moved from the education model to the hospital model, that’s when they got rid of the dolls and stuff, to the behavioral model to the da, da, da. Whatever’s the popular thing at that particular time." There was talk among employees about the behavior of the higher-ups. "You had to pretend like you respected them because of their jobs, but since we were a tight little community we knew too much about them."
Sarah recalls occasionally feeling unsafe. While still in her twenties and "green as grass," they sent her to a particular unit, alone. "These guys were like you would find in a prison. They were big, strapping guys. Most of them worked on the farm and they didn’t really have opportunities to interact with females appropriately... they sent me down there and it was the scariest event of my life." The work could be physically challenging and exhausting. In some areas where she worked, "there would be maybe two of us and 60 people that we had to bathe and get to bed," she recalls. "After we got them to bed, then we scrubbed one end of the building clear to the other end of the building."
Sarah describes her coworkers as dedicated. "I’ve heard of people that were so devoted to their jobs and to their clients that even on their days off they would call to check on them." In the years when it was still allowed, some staff would take residents home with them on weekends or holidays. She affectionately recalls her relationship with the "high functioning ladies" she worked with. "Eeverybody called me Mom. Sixty-eight-year-old-year-old women were calling me Mom." Before unpaid work by residents was outlawed, "they got up, they went to work; they came back home, just like the rest of us did. On weekends they would get up and they’d do their personal laundry and they’d do their hair and their nails, and we used to play rummy in the day room on weekends just to pass the time."
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