Tag Archives: Oak Ridge

New Book: The Psychopath Machine: A Story of Resistance and Survival

Steve Smith has recently published a book detailing his experiences as a patient at Oak Ridge, the maximum security forensic mental hospital in Penetanguishene, Ontario, in the late-1960s and 70s. Details about Smith’s book, The Psychopath Machine: A Story of Resistance and Survival, and further information on Oak Ridge can be found on his website. (AHP’s previous coverage of Oak Ridge and details on the digital exhibit, Remembering Oak Ridge, can be found here.) The book is described as follows:

When Steve Smith set out to hitchhike from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Canada’s west coast back in 1968, he was just an eighteen-year-old hippie with an appetite for adventure. But a short way into his journey, a reckless decision to steal a car landed him in police custody. Afraid of getting caught with the two tabs of acid in his pocket, Steve popped them into his mouth. It was one of the worst decisions of his life.

Mistaking his drug trip for a mental breakdown, the authorities placed him in Ontario’s notorious Oak Ridge mental health facility. While there, not only did he find himself shoulder-to-shoulder with people like notorious child killer Peter Woodcock and mass murderers Matt Lamb and Victor Hoffman, he also fell into the hands of someone worse: Dr. Elliot T. Barker.

Over the next eight months, Barker subjected Steve and the other patients to a battery of unorthodox experiments involving LSD, scopolamine, methamphetamines, and other drugs. Steven also experienced numerous other forms of abuse and torture.

Following his release, Steve continued to suffer the aftereffects of his Oak Ridge experience. For several years, he found himself in and out of prison—and back to Oak Ridge—before he was finally able to establish himself as a successful entrepreneur.

Once he began investigating what happened to him during his youth, not even Steve was prepared for what he would discover about Barker, Oak Ridge, and one of the darkest periods in Canada’s treatment of mental health patients. The question remains: Was Oak Ridge and Dr. Barker trying to cure psychopaths or trying to create and direct them?

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CBC’s “The Secrets of Oak Ridge” and the Difficulties of Journalistic History

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has just aired a piece on the controversial history of Oak Ridge, the forensic mental health division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ontario. (The Oak Ridge building officially closed in 2014, but Waypoint continues to house Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital.) “The Secrets of Oak Ridge” aired March 1st, 2016 as part of the CBC’s national news program The National and is described simply as: “Allegations of treatment with LSD, sleep deprivation, torture. The painful legacy of an Ontario psychiatric facility. Reg Sherren reports.”

The 15-minute piece, driven by the narrative of one man’s experiences in the institution in the 1970s, describes some of the treatment practices at the institution at this time and questions the ethics of those involved. A provocative indictment of the institution and its doctors, the segment unfortunately lacks any counterpoint regarding the ethics of the therapeutic practices employed at the hospital. Absent any discussion of the greater context of psychiatry at this time, the treatment of patients at Oak Ridge is presented as unequivocally cruel, unusual, and unethical. This is certainly the experience of the former patient featured in “The Secrets of Oak Ridge.”

And from our present-day vantage point we may well feel similarly. Taking the context of 1960s and 70s psychiatry into account, however, the ethics, or lack thereof, of the program are less clearcut. At the time, Oak Ridge’s use of LSD and other psychopharmaceuticals – alongside other therapies – was seen as a positive form of treatment and a promising advance in the field. Where the CBC segment is most successful is in presenting the patient’s voice, as he recounts his experiences at the hospital. Respecting this patient’s experience, while putting that experience into historical context is a fine balancing act, one, unfortunately, “The Secrets of Oak Ridge” does not attempt. Contextualizing these treatment practices does not mean invalidating the experiences of this or any other patient, but it is necessary for a more complete understanding of what transpired at this hospital in this moment in time.

As we’ve reported previously on AHP, the recently launched Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit produced by former AHP contributor Jennifer Bazar, is an excellent and under-utilized source for this much needed information. Details and fuller context for the social therapy program discussed in the CBC segment can be found on this page of the site. (It should also be noted that a class action lawsuit against the hospital and the program’s doctors, on behalf several patients, is as yet undecided.)

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Cheiron Workshop: “Archives, Repositories, Websites, Blogs, Exhibits, Oh My! Digitization Considerations and Conceptualizations”

The 47th Annual Meeting of Cheiron, the International Society for the History of the Behavioral and Social Sciences, just wrapped up at the University of Kansas. On the final day of the meeting we presented the workshop “Archives, Repositories, Websites, Blogs, Exhibits, Oh My! Digitization Considerations and Conceptualizations.” The workshop drew on our joint experiences with three different web-based history of psychology projects:

Logo_Full_HighPsychology’s Feminist Voices, a Multimedia Digital Archive,

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Remembering Oak Ridge, a Digital Archive and Exhibit,

AHP

and this blog, Advances in the History of Psychology.

This post is an extension of that presentation, where we discussed some of the many considerations associated with digital projects. These kinds of projects – be they blogs, exhibits, archives, podcasts, etc. – straddle the boundaries of traditional historical scholarship and the burgeoning field of digital humanities. They can provide valuable material for researchers, act as resources for educators and students, or comprise a complete research project in their own right. Some projects even manage to serve all these roles.

There are, of course, more issues related to digital projects than we could ever hope to address in a 50 minute conference workshop or even a slightly-expanded blog post. Our aim, however, was to provide those interested in undertaking digital projects with some of the tools and resources needed for success – and, given the digital focus of the discussion, it seemed only natural to share this content online as well.

To help guide our discussion, we proposed a fictitious example: a forthcoming digital project on Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiments. Below are 8 talking points from the workshop and associated issues, as well as our accompanying Prezi presentation. A list of resources, slightly expanded from the handout circulated to our audience members, is also provided below.

If you have any questions or resources of your own to share, please leave us a comment!

Archives, Repositories, Websites, Blogs, Exhibits, Oh My!
Digitization Considerations and Conceptualizations

 

1. What kind of project are you undertaking? Continue reading Cheiron Workshop: “Archives, Repositories, Websites, Blogs, Exhibits, Oh My! Digitization Considerations and Conceptualizations”

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Remembering Oak Ridge: A Digital Exhibit

Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene (circa 2000s). Aerial photograph of Oak Ridge. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge digital archive and exhibit
Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene (circa 2000s). Aerial photograph of Oak Ridge. In J. L. Bazar (Ed.), Remembering Oak Ridge digital archive and exhibit

AHP‘s very own contributor Jennifer Bazar  has curated a fascinating online historical archive and exhibit on the Oak Ridge forensic mental health division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Find the exhibit here.

Established in 1933 and closed last year (2014), the Oak Ridge division at Waypoint was Ontario’s only maximum security forensic hospital served by both the provincial criminal justice and mental health systems. The exhibit opens the locked doors of its eighty one year history “to dispel the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround forensic mental health care centres and their clients,” and compellingly tells its unique story by sharing artefacts, photographs, and archival documents “to demonstrate how treatment practices, security restrictions, and individual experiences both changed and remained consistent” throughout the institute’s existence. Exhibit sections include: Origins, Building, Legislation, Treatment, Daily Life, Patients, Staff, Research, and Community.

You can also browse through the exhibit content here (400+ items total: photos, docs, artefacts, audio, video), and please look forward to further additions to the collection over the next year including “personal experiences from patient case records, interviews, and oral histories with former staff members of the Oak Ridge division.”

 

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