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I often receive e-mails from former residents, employees and family of former residents of Pennhurst. The e-mails are most often stories of experiences at Pennhurst. Some negative, some positive. Recently I received a series of e-mail from a gentleman who had a cousin who was a resident of Pennhurst. According to JD, his cousin Bobby witnessed and in some cases, was a victim of sexual and mental abuse. Bobby was released in 1981.
Below you will find the original e-mails in their original form. Spelling and grammar has been edited:
E-Mail received on August 8, 2007:
I have some scary info about Pennhurst to tell you. I will tell you a little now and let me know if you want to know all of it. My cousin was born in 1956 and admitted to Pennhurst in 1963, the year I was born. He was released in 1981. We visited him many times. I lived in Pottstown [at the time]. He was from there too. 100's of P[ennhurst] residents wandered from P[ennhurst] to Pottstown in the 80's while they were closing up. Anyway, when I went to see him I always said “Lets go to Admin to get some P[ennhurst] dollars so we can go to the store.” He always got very scared and said no. So we walked around and sometimes he muttered “Go admin. Get dollars. Never come back.” It took years for me to find out what he meant. I think around 1980 he said “Jimmy go Admin. Get dollars. No come back. Did he go the store or go home? No come back.” So I found out [that] Jimmy was from Downingtown. I called his family. They said, “Don't ever call us again. Jim is in Pennhurst.”
Anyway my cousin knew P[ennhurst] grounds very well. [He knew] all the buildings by a name, #, or letter. He said “Don't go to A (was admin), 66 (was storage), 68 (was laundry), old firehouse, or greenhouses.” ”He said, “If go no come back.” Anyway, in 1981 when me and my aunt went to pick up my cousin (the lady said wait for an hour). I went down to the basement in Admin [building] and entered a tunnel, walked straight through a door and went upstairs. It looked like a place they fed them. Back down through a door, out, walk straight, through a door, upstairs, looked like storage, back down, went right, through door, all this in tunnel. Through a door, up, laundry, back down, kept going. Next door [was] locked. Well, all the way back to Admin [building]. [Then I] went up and outside. [I] tried to follow [the] tunnel above ground. [I] went past laundry. [I] saw the old firehouse, kept going and lo and behold, [the] greenhouses. So I figured it all out. Others had taken this trip from a[nd] to [the] greenhouse which my cousin told me in his own special way. But “no come back.” I won't say more lest I may get in some trouble. You figure it out. Clues - storage = wheelchair or “push bed”. Laundry = sheets. F[ire]house = fire/distinguish. Greenhouse = ground. No store today buddy.
My cousin is fine but sometimes asks is Jimmy coming. I say “Not today. He went to the store, ok.” I had this written down all these years and finally went on the Inter[net] and looked up P[ennhurst]. I hope you understand what I am saying. I have alot more to tell. Did you know that up until about 1995 they were still finding people living in P[ennhurst]? Some who never left and some that returned. When P[ennhurst] was closing half of the residents did not want to leave. They suffered abuse but that was their home. Figure that out! What a shame. When I was a child/ teenager my parents threatened me, “You better be good or we'll send you to Pennhurst. Write me soon, - J.D.
E-Mail received on August 9, 2007:
I do not think that we will ever know what happened to Jimmy. From the mutterings and fragments of sentences that I heard from my cousin and his references to buildings and things, he possibly heard from his “moms”(nurses), Jimmy and I am sure others went to the store and never came back. From my two journeys through that one tunnel I told you about [in the previous e-mail] and my walk above it, this is what happened. Jimmy went to A[dmin] with his mom [nurse] and received some P[ennhurst] dollars. She told him “We are going to the store and we are taking the fast way.” He was probably so happy. So down to the tunnel (under A), straight, [then] under dining bldg, straight into 66 (storage bldg.to us). In that basement I remember seeing all types of old mechanic and lawn tools and wheelchairs and push beds and old medical instruments. So I believe that is where “it” started, you know what.
Then she/they pushed him a wheelchair right in the tunnel to 68 to get wrapped sheets and soaked w/some. [Then they] kept going in the tunnel right to the old firehouse where you know what happened. What is the name of the place? So either under the firehouse or the greenhouses was where Jimmy went shopping forever.
In Feb 1981 when I first was in that tunnel, I could not get into the basement of old firehouse and the tunnel ended right there. I am sure if I had entered there I could have found many burnt things and probably another door to the tunnel leading to under the greenhouses.
Maybe that tunnel ended there and there could be a giant room or rooms covering the whole area under the firehouse and the greenhouse. If someone could somehow get under those places alot of mysteries would be solved.
There was no light at the end of that tunnel, only darkness. I did return to P[ennhurst] on a senior class field trip in May 1981. I'll dwell on that whole trip later. Part of it was to meet Teddy Thomas. [Do you] know of him? Well my friend and I went back into the tunnel. We got to 68 laundry door and guess what? The tunnel had now ended there. Before, in Feb, I had continued in the tunnel to the locked firehouse door. I guess they filled it in so no one would ever find out anything. So we went back up on the grounds. We managed to get into the firehouse. There was no way to go to basement. Was there ever a way? There was a basement because I had gotten to that basement door on my 1st trip. I never got the chance to look around the greenhouse area as some staff were coming.
Well I hope you understand what I have tried to say. I hope someday we can really find out what happened in just that one part of P[ennhurst] and bring Jimmy home or is he home? My cousin is now 50, out of that place for 26 years. When I visit him I tell him “Let's go to the stores. I will give you some money.” He still seems a little scared and says, “No rubber?” I show him real U.S. paper money and he says “OK. We go shopping” and I say “Time to go home.” He never replies.
A few times after I took him home, he said “Will you take me home?”
“You are home.”
“No home. Jimmy home.”
He gives me a strange look that cannot be described.
“Someday”, I tell him. I smile and he doesn't but has a
strange happy-like, content grin but very expressionless. Almost like he is
somewhere else. Maybe he is here and with Jimmy in some bizarre way.
E-Mail #1 received on August 10, 2007:
Just a quick response. What my cousin means by “no rubber”
is that he does not want Pennhurst dollars which were made of rubber. Because
when I used to visit him at Pennhurst, I said to him, “Let's go to A[dmin] and
get some dollars (Pennhurst rubber dollars) and go to the store he always got
scared and said no. He knew that when people went to A[dmin] for dollars to go
to the store, they never returned. I guess he really became really scared when
this happened to his best friend Jimmy in 1980. I'll tell you more about my
senior field trip there in 1981 next time. They only showed us the "good part",
"the nice place" and
I met their poster patient Teddy Thomas who was in all the newspapers for months in 1981. If you go to Pennhurst soon, I hope you can find the old firehouse and greenhouses or where they used to be. The important thing is to someday find what is underneath them. I am sure you have seen or heard of the morgue and cemetery but I will believe my cousin, the real morgue and cemetery are under the of [firehouse] and ghs [greenhouses].
I said this would be short but since I am here, here is another memory that may be related to the pictures in the store [The “pictures” is a reference to Poloroid pictures that I had found in the Limerick building in the late 90s that showed a retarded female resident being molested by a man in a white uniform – Peecho]. I believe during the summer of 1977, me and a friend had just completed 8th grade in Pottstown and he had a summer job at shelter/halfway house there at York and King Street. I used to go there to bug him and met a nice older guy (parolee) who had to do community service. Guess where? Yes -Pennhurst. So a few times we took the bus there. We always took bags of clothes to donate to the store. He had to stay there helping in the store for 3 - 4 hours. I just hung out in that building or close by outside. One day outside I said hi to a guy and he got very mad and violent and pulled out a comb (I guess he believed it was a knife) and chased me. I think Staff saw him because later back in the store, I looked out the window and there was 3 workers kicking and kicking him. He [was down] on the ground. I told my older friend Bernard what was going on. He said, “That's ok. Don't worry. That's just a bunch of patients playing, having fun. Forget it.”
Another time, while in the store I could hear crying and screaming, both male and female. It sounded like it came from under the store in the basement. Very strange. I now believe that was a also one of the places where torturing and sexual assaults took place. When I told my friend about all the screaming down below, he said they are showing a horror movie to the patients and not worry. I said, “Can I go watch?”
“No, just for patients”
He knew they were in the movie.
I guess volunteers at P[ennhurst] got their orders. See, hear, tell nothing. Well got to go. Write soon, -J.D.
E-Mail #2 received on August 10, 2007:
Things keep popping into my head. When I was in grade school kids always made fun of Pennhurst. They even made up a cheer/song that they said patients at P[ennhurst] had to perform for staff and visitors. They thought P[ennhurst] was a big joke. Over 30 years I can still remember them laughing and cheering:
I'm from Pennhurst
proud and true,
I will do my cheer for you,
clap your hands (but you don't - you stomp your feet),
stomp your feet (but you don't - you clap your hands),
Pennhurst is #1 (and you hold up 2, 3, or 4 fingers straight or all bent up and leave out a big groan or screech)
Wow, how very funny. They did not have a cousin living there. What is weird is how and why do I remember this? Also, I have been looking at some other stupid and fake websites like Opacity and others who think P[ennhurst] is a big joke. They laugh at it, make things up, some go there to party and play and graffiti. I don't have a computer at home so I cannot make a website to expose these other sites and make one of my own. I visited a relative there 2 times a year from 1971 to 1981. We visited my cousin every year on his birthday [which is] Sept 14 and at Christmas. Most of these bum-ass fakes and pranksters were not even born until after they closed P[ennhurst]. I have been thinking about putting the letters I sent you on their fake websites to let people know the truth but they'll probably laugh. What do you think? Would you want to put them on your website? Good idea or not? I found an old P[ennhurst] dollar, all shriveled up, stuck together. Remember [it is] rubber. I will save it forever. I am now looking for Teddy Thomas, pictures, articles from 1981 & Pottstown Mercury newspaper. I know I saved them FYI - I do all this computer work at the library. They only allow me 1- 2 hours a day. Write soon, - J.D.
E-Mail received on August 16, 2007:
I haven't forgotten you. I have so much to tell. I lay in bed at night and am starting to remember so many things that I saw and things my cousin Bobby told me. I am supposed to see Bobby on 9/14/07 for his birthday. I am now living in Pottsville, PA - close to my father. I still go to Pottstown alot to see my mom and her sister (Bobby's mom) and Bobby. I grew up there, only 10 miles from Pennhurst.
In 1979 or 1980 while visiting Bobby, he lived in a community. I saw a blind man hit on the head with a rake and a naked woman carried out of a house and thrown into a cart on back of a large lawnmower.
I will tell you more about that when you write me or on the phone. Also, I remember going into a building right next to the greenhouses. I came out of the tunnel and followed it real far, I believe, to this building but could not enter it from the tunnel because the door was locked. But I walked there and saw it on the day Bobby left, [which was] Feb 1981. We had walked by it and the greenhouses before through[out] the years. He said they were bad places like A[dmin], 66, and 68. He called that building “fire” and the greenhouses “plants”. He called the people who mowed the grass, gardeners, landscapers - “grassman”. When we saw them he said “Bad!”. He was afraid of them. They were the ones who hit that blind man and took that woman. Anyway, let me know if you can call me. Give me a day and time. I would love to give you an interview by phone or e-mail. I give you permission to put my previous e-mails to you on your website. People out there have to know some of the things that really happened there.
Also, I remember alot of ex-patients who lived in Pottstown during the 70's. Some are still there. More went there after they closed but I do not know them as well as I went to the navy in 1981 after graduating. they even put some ex-patients into grade school with me but they did not last. That is another story. Write soon, J.D.
E-Mail received on August 20, 2007:
Hi Peecho, how are you ? I want to try to get everything accurate, complete, in chronological order and maybe add a few new things I have remembered and found out from my mother. I was there yesterday, I saw some old paperwork she had and learned things about my aunt and Bobby's condition. I am going to my aunt's and Bobby's house for his birthday on 9/14. I want to find her old notes. Also, I remember a picture of a patient crying in a doghouse with a big German Shepard out front of it. My mom told me my aunt was an alcoholic and liked to hang out with and invite her male friends over. Bob's dad left when he was 1. She put him in Pennhurst because he was uncontrollable, that he was weird & didn’t talk and act like other kids. The truth was she was ashamed of him and he interfered with her personal life. She dropped him off at P[ennhurst] in 1963.
Now here is what I found out looking at the papers at my mom's [house]. Bob [was] released in Feb 1981 without any medical records. So my aunt applied for SSI for him. She said he was a patient at P[ennhurst] for a long time [but she had] no proof. She and [the Social Security office] requested them. They received nothing. A doctor saw him in 1982. [He] said Bob had schizophrenia with an IQ of 60. He (well, she) got SSI. Guess what? A letter came from P[ennhurst] in 1986 saying Bobby was recently released. He has severe retardation [with an] IQ [of] 30. Wow! What a big record for 18 years in there!
OK, [in] 1990, a new doctor says Bob has Axis 1 - bipolar disorder 1, Axis 2 - borderline personality disorder [and an] IQ [of] 70 and GAF [of] 20.
[In] 1995, another doctor says he has Fragile X syndrome [with an] IQ [of] 80 [and a] GAF [of] 30. Well I believe the last 2 and don't think he should have ever been put in [P]ennhurst.
Next, I have been racking my brains out at night laying in bed trying to remember things. I went there to visit starting 1971 but I actually cannot recall things or places until I was maybe 11, 1974. In 74, I remember Bobby was living in a building up front in the main area, possibly Devon. Jimmy was there too. Then in 1976 they both were real far back to the left. They were in diff[erent] buildings, possibly Pershing or Buchanan.
In Sept 1979 Bobby was real far back to the right in a community [in] a group of homes. There was a bldg of blind patients and one of women. No Jimmy. So he disappeared in 79, not 80. I believe my cousin and Jimmy were put in buildings far from the main area because they knew too much. They both could understand, communicate, and remember things. I think Bobby did not disappear because he had visitors and family support [and] Jim did not. I believe Bobby was released in 1981 so nobody would talk to him. This is when they were being investigated, in court and in all the newspapers. This is when they had Teddy Thomas in all the papers as their poster patient. They showed us him and his home there when we were there on our class trip may 1981.
Back to Sept, 79, that is when I saw the blind man hit and the naked woman carried away. Same day, same 2 groundskeepers [or as Bobby referred to them – “bad grassman”.
I am going to take a break for now. I have to remember the tunnel I was in [and] exactly what I saw and where it was. [I] also want to look through my aunt's old notes and papers when I visit. When she was drunk she used to scream and shout at Bob [and say] “Llook at you! All your life in Pennhurst and you are still the same! They did not help you!” Well what can you expect? Half of them f-ing doctors didn't even go to college.
I will try to talk to her. She does not like to talk about P[ennhurst] but she kept alot of notes. So it may take a few weeks to complete this interview and to write down my memories and info correctly. I am kind of like a perfectionist. I want to get everything correct and complete. So write soon. I would love to talk to you, call me 570-XXX-XXXX. [I’m] always home after 5 pm. I could call you if you would want me to. J.D.
First E-Mail received on August 30, 2007:
This is about the sexual abuse at Pennhurst. My cousin Bobby and his best friend Jimmy were involved in homosexual activity with each other and probably with other patients and staff. They were instructed by and made to do these things by staff for their own pleasure. The staff were participants and the audience. When I saw Bob and Jim on my visits I asked, “Bob, do you have a girlfriend?” He laughed and said, “Jimmy hiney.” When I asked Jim this he also laughed and said, “Bobby hiney.” This told me they were having sex together. I said, “No, a girl”. Like one that was walking near us. They both said, “Debbie hiney.” This told me that they were made to have anal sex with female patients. I believe the staff promoted and encouraged homosexual activity and anal sex with females to avoid unwanted pregnancies which was common due to so many staff members and male patients having sex with the females. I believe the groundskeepers played a major role in both the sexual and physical abuse. My cousin was afraid of the bad grassman. I saw welts and bruises on Bobby's legs on several visits. I asked what happened? “Bad grassman say ssshhhhh”. Probably he saw and knew too much and better be quiet and tell nobody. When I took my girlfriend Linda to meet my mom, aunt, and Bobby last year, he said, “Linda hiney” and smiled. She didn't know what to make of this. Later I told him, “Don't say stuff like that, forget that stuff”. He just gave me that weird grin. – J.D.
Second E-Mail received on August 30, 2007:
I finally figured out the route and layout of the tunnel I was in twice in 1981. I also remember some people and things I saw down there. Went down to the basement in admin (Bobby = A). I opened a door, entered the tunnel and went straight (south). I entered a door on the left. This was the basement of the dining hall. There were 2 men at a table with their heads down and one sitting on the floor banging a doll on the floor. I went back into the tunnel and kept going south. I came to a T, one tunnel went east. I continued to the right (west), after a very short distance I saw a naked man lying on the floor shaking and whimpering. Yards from him I entered another door on the left. This was the basement of storage bldg (Bobby = 66). There was a naked man sitting on the floor banging a pipe on the wall. There was so much junk. Also were wheelchairs, push beds, pipes, wood, cans of paint and who knows what else. I went back in the tunnel and proceeded west. I entered another door on the left. I was in the base of the laundry (Bobby = 68). That place was a mess. There were also wheelchairs, some broke and burnt. There were piles and carts full of sheets and towels. Also saw some burnt pieces on the floor. Also cans of paint there. There was one patient on a wheelchair in a corner laughing. So out the door and I continued west until I came upon another T walking north in the tunnel were 2 patients carrying buckets. Don't know why and didn't ask. I went south. I was trying to get to the firehouse (Bobby = fire) and greenhouses (Bobby = plants). So I kept walking , pretty far and came to the end of this tunnel to a locked door which was the basement of the firehouse or which led to a large area or giant room under the firehouse and greenhouses. In that last tunnel there were good sheets, burnt sheets, dolls, burnt dolls, pipes, rocks broken and burnt pieces of beds and wheelchairs, another big mess.
So I went back to A and went outside and walked to the firehouse but could not go in due to staff around there. I also saw the greenhouses on my second trip in the tunnel (May 1981) I got to the second T past 68 there was no more T or tunnel heading south to the firehouse. It must have been filled in so back to A and outside. Again I walked to the firehouse and this time went in. This place was almost empty and there was no way to go the basement. Was it covered up? Was there ever a way to go the basement? So I went back outside. I was walking towards the greenhouse but there was a group of staff there so I never got a chance to look inside there. So here are my thoughts and opinion of what went on there by what I saw and Bob told me (see older e-mails). In 66 and 68, patients were abuse, beat, and wrapped up and doused with something and taken to the area beneath the firehouse and greenhouses. There they were abused and [possibly] tortured. And I'll say probably disposed of and buried. They probably (I say probably but you know the true outcome), they vanished, disappeared, “no one come back” per Bob. This is where Jimmy is and you know what is so strange? This is where Bobby wants to go. So beneath the fire and plants areas is the place where horrible things happened. The end of the road (well, tunnel).
I hope someday that area can be dug up. Maybe that basement or large area or giant room under there could still be there. I know the buildings above are gone but the area (cemetery) beneath may still be there. Could there be another tunnel coming there from the west? Someone must find this place. I bet Bobby could. If he had not had family and visits, he would be there with Jimmy and not here with us. He knew and I know. He said don't go to A, 66, 68, fire or plants. The bad places and stay away from the “bad grassman”.
Well, Peecho and everyone out there, this is it. Peecho, I hope you can check into and find out more about these e-mails I sent today. I will answer all your interview questions in my next e-mail. Sincerely, your friend, J.D.
One final request by E-Mail received on September 7, 2007:
Can you put the following at the end of my e-mails and the [eyewitness account]? I would like to dedicate my account and info about Pennhurst to my cousin Bobby, his best friend Jimmy and all the patients who did or did not leave. They will always be part of Pennhurst and Pennhurst will always be part of them. I love you all. Forever your best friend, J.D.
J.D. – Thank you very much for relaying this info to me and the community.
Sincerely, - Peecho