Wednesday, December 14, 2011

PART TWO:On Resilience, Faith and Courage - Joe Clayton's Story

Part 2 of 3:

Joe Clayton was 12 years old when he walked through the cavernous halls of Rideau Regional Centre for the first time.

Essentially ejected from the foster care system, rejected time and again by those who were meant to protect and nuture him, he quickly learned to fend for himself inside the institution's walls.

In this overcrowded and  brutally depressing place, Joe spent his days trying to avoid the staff  - and his nights unsucessfully warding off the abuse heaped upon him by other inmates those who lived there, too.

"I was always scared," he recalled, years later, finally free and speaking to my DSW class at Loyalist College. "I always felt ashamed, like no one cared because of how I was treated. I was always scared for my life."

Joe had many reasons to be afraid. During the day, staff and orderlies tortured their young and vulnerable charges, punishing them for the slightest infraction. Joe spent many long hours scrubbing the kilometres-long hallways with just a brush, or banished to a "Side Room" where he would huddle naked on the floor, weeping.

More than once,  staff members grabbed the boy and shoved his head down the toilet, flushing even as he struggled to breathe. Or they'd wrestle him into a "monkey suit" (a straitjacket) and leave him trussed up for the day, just because.

The staff were our God, our mothers, our fathers.

Joe and the others were paid 25 cents an hour to pluck feces from the mountains of soiled linen used by the residents of Rideau Regional. It was dreaded, horrible task but one which Joe and the others were forced to repeat hour upon hour, day after day.

Even the nights offered little solace for Joe. As a resident on a giant ward, he had no privacy - beds lined every wall, spilling out into corridors and hallways. But his blankets offered little protection for the slight boy, for Joe was raped and sodomized almost nightly for 6 years.

In fact, years later, an examination revealed heavy scarring in his rectum - the result of repeated assaults. Beatings were regular and cruel and meted out by staff and residents alike. In the dorms, in the showers, inside the darkened doorways of the institution's long corridors, Joe knew mostly fear and pain.

Many times, Joe tried to escape, sometimes alone, sometimes with his friend, Freddy Sanderson. Joe says that the staff began to taunt him and Freddy, teasing them with thoughts of freedom:

"They played a game with us. They said, 'If you run away and don't get caught for three weeks, you'll be free.'"

Once, the pair almost made it to Montreal before they were caught and they spent several weeks in "Side Rooms" as punishment. After that, they were no longer permitted outside the Centre's locked doors. Besides, staff reasoned, where would he go?

Joe never received visitors at Rideau Regional. In fact, he was told that his family had all died. No one was coming to rescue him. He was alone, except for Freddy, his blood brother, his friend.

An terrible reality for a young boy who came of age inside a cage.

 "There was nothing wrong with a lot of us when we went in," he says, his voice shaking only a little. "But we were all of us broken when we left."

Part III coming soon...


  1. Oh Liz. This is hard. Hard to write, I imagine. Hard to read. But nothing near what it was (is) like to live it.

    I feel ashamed of humankind.

  2. Mama, I know. I know that shame. It was hard to write because I know it's true, and now that I do, I can never UNknow it.

    It forces me to take notice, take a stand, ACT.

    And it makes me afraid - of all that has come before in places like this and worse. But moreso, I fear what STILL IS.

    In this beautiful, awesome country, very, very bad things happen.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. wow,so touching, so sad

  4. Thankfully, Rideau Regional is closed forever, as are two other "Schedule 1" institutions in Ontario. Sadly, there are dozens of institutions just like them across the country. Even sadder, there is an "institutional mentality" among some who continue to support folks with disabilities - in group homes, on their own, etc.

    Specifically, I don't know what you can do, except this: teach your children well. Teach them about inclusion, community and that every life is and can be purposeful and rich. And that EVERY PERSON is worthy - of care, of respect, of compassion, of basic human kindness.

    The history of developmental services and the "care" we've offered society's disabled is shameful and horrible.

    The future of that care need not be. Thanks for reading, MamaB. Thanks for caring and mostly, for passing on the lesson.

  5. brought shivers.. Horrific how people were treated, let alone those who cannot defend nor protect themselves and trusted other's of the most primary of all things.. thank you for sharing liz

  6. Liz, even though Rideau Regional is closed, those in charge should still be accountable.
    This story and the previous one are just horrific. As a mom and a citizen, they make me feel sick with dread -- and shame. I had absolutely no idea. But people should know.
    Can you send these to newspapers in the region? The Citizen?
    These stories deserve an official audience. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Pam @writewrds

  7. Pam, I so get your anger and shame. There was a Class Action lawsuit and there is another in the offing. In fact, Joe's story and his willingness to tell it were instrumental to the closure process. He's a courageous man.

    Part III of this post series will reference that suit and the one(s) coming up.

    There are several articles from in and around Smith's Falls which refer to the closure of Rideau, but most, sadly, focus on the loss of jobs for staff, not on the horrific reality of life INSIDE those walls.

  8. I met Joe and history is horrifying. It makes me angry hat the staff responsible got away with this.