Tuesday, 20 September 2011

STALAG JERICHO

Would I seem melodramatic if I occasionally refer to Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind as a prison camp? It had no armed guards in towers equipped with machine guns. Neither did it have search lights, delousing stations, vicious guard dogs, and barbed wire around the perimeter. How then could I and my dorm mates call it a prison?

In Deliverance from Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), I wrote about the unnatural way we were housed, fed, and poorly educated at that institution. The administrators micromanaged our activities so that we couldn't even go unescorted to the local store to buy chocolate bars. A supervisor took all of us there once a week like prisoners on a day pass. One particularly nasty "dorm parent" treated us like POWs, as I point out in the following excerpt.

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Back at the dorm, we had a new weekday supervisor whom I shall call Mr. Thynne. He was a tall man in his twenties, whose voice had an annoying whining quality to it. Everyone hated him almost instantly. One of his first unpopular ideas was to make us run up and down Eighth Avenue at seven o'clock in the morning.

The rising sun appeared as red as our eyes felt when we dressed hurriedly. "Come on, you lazy bums," he goaded as we struggled into our clothes, "You boys need to get your exercise."

When everybody lined up at the gate, he addressed us like a drill sergeant. "Listen to me. You boys will run each morning for fifteen minutes. It's not gonna kill you to do a little running." When we began to murmur, he said, "Stop whining. You boys don't get enough exercise so I'm going to make sure you do."

After the first few mornings of these pre-breakfast runs, even Charlie grumbled. Mr. Thynne refused to heed our pleas for rest and resorted to insults whenever we slowed down.

Michael summed up our feelings eloquently after one morning jog. "He's running this place like a bloody prison camp." All of us heartily agreed.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Click here to read more about this compelling story. You may also e-mail me directly if the comment form doesn't work.