Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Resilience, Faith and Courage: Joe Clayton's Story (Part One)

Part 1 of 3:

Some weeks back, a man called Joe Clayton came to visit the DSW class at Loyalist College.

Joe Clayton with some of my DSW classmates
November, 2011

An eloquent though soft-spoken man, Joe visits Belleville every year, speaking to students about his life in Rideau Regional Centre,  - an institution that was once "home" to thousands of mentally disabled Canadians.

His presentation brought to vivid, awful life the reality of institutional life. Rideau Regional was, in fact, a house of horrors and as Joe wove his tale, I could not help but feel three things:

1. Enormous shame that in this awesome country, there were are  places like this, where we treated  treat our most vulnerable citizens so very, very badly,

2. Awe and almost overwhelming gratitude for Joe, that he survived years of abuse - mental and physical - and neglect, only to emerge strong and clear and willing to tell his story,

3. Determination that I, along with my classmates, will be among those strong enough to help heal the wounds of men and women like Joe, who deserve the best lives, instead of memories like these:

       Joe Clayton was born in Pembroke, in 1953. In poor health, Joe's mother was unable to care for him and so entrusted him to a family friend. Sadly, the friend died and in 1958, Joe was made a ward of Children's Aid Society.

Remembers Joe, "I sat in the back seat of the car and then I got up and I stood and looked out the car window. My mom got farther and farther away from me and then she was gone out of my life."

Joe was five.

 His first foster family actually adopted him, but within six months, decided they'd made a mistake. He was too aggressive, they said. "Mentally slow," doctors declared.

And so began years of bouncing in and out of foster homes, where Joe was beaten, neglected:

"I remember in one of the foster homes where I was, we went to the beach. I was playing in the water and having fun. Then I was upset about something. The people who were taking care of me they got really mad at me. When I got home, they told me to go to my room. They came to my room and tied me up with a rope. They put my arms back and tied my hands and put a cloth over my mouth. They left me there like that on my bed for one day."

 The only bright spot came in the early sixties, when Joe  landed on the doorstep at his second-to-last foster home. The Polish man who opened his home to the young boy "treated me like a son," according to Joe.

Sadly, Joe's kindly foster father fell from a tree while cutting down branches and died, so Children's Aid Society sent Joe to Rideau Regional Centre.

(Photo courtesy of Joe Clayton)

 He was 12 years old.


  1. You are doing angel's work, Liz. Thank you for telling stories that need to be told.

  2. Wow, Liz. Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea life was so bad at Rideau Regional.

  3. Oh, gets worse. Much, much worse.

    Leanne, thank you lovey, but I am merely the teller of stories - the work, the REAL work is being done by Joe himself, and so many others like him, who've been to Hell and lived to tell about it.

  4. Oh Liz. It is so hard to hear these things. And yet I feel so fortunate. How do you do it? How are you the keeper of this pain? Does writing help? What an amazing thing you do.

    Is this the man you wrote about on Facebook?