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"My name is Russell Daniels. I was 12 years old when I was sent to a state school. When I left I was 28 years old. Now, I'm 50 years old. I went in April of 1958. It was a rainy day. I went to the institution because I had problems with going to school and stuff like that. You know, when you didn't like school that's what happened. And that's one reason why I had to go to the institution, because I was a problem child.

I wasn't allowed to see my family the first week. After a while, they'd start letting you have visitors. In those days, they let you go out for the day but when you came back you would be searched. You couldn't have money, watches, rings, or anything. They'd take everything away because those were the rules and regulations.

Russell Daniels
Russell Daniels

I'm really proud to be out and I never want to go back to any institution at all. It was terrible. They treat you like dirt. You don't get treated like a human being. They treat you mean, like, you know, you do something, they slap you. "Do this, and do that. Sit down and don't say a word." I wasn't abused, but other people were.

So, when I got about 17, I took off. Packed up my lunch and took off and went into the woods and went on the highway and started walking. Then I got picked up by the police. They brought me back and put me in seclusion.

After I got used to being there, I went to school and I had a job. I used to help clean the place up and do dishes and set tables. They didn't pay you. That was a job, and that's what you had to do.

You'd have to get up at six in the morning, get dressed, make sure everybody else was up, make your bed, and then everybody went downstairs in the day hall. They were ready to go down for breakfast at seven o'clock. We all had to be in line. The second shift came in, they went outdoors and played; you know, play baseball or something like that. Lunch time was about noon, and then they came in about five o'clock. Everybody came in, washed their face and hands, lined up and got a tray and got their food in line and sat down. At night they watched TV until nine, which was bedtime. Everything shut off, the lights off and that's it.

Now, I live like a king. I'm happy I do what I want, go where I want, I can come back when I want. Nobody tells me, "You can't go here, you can't go there." 'Cause that's annoying. I live by myself. I pay my own rent. I pay my bills. I work at the Senior Center. I have been working there for about three years. I'm a janitor. I clean up the place and lock up and help the elderly people out. You know, help them downstairs and stuff.

I love it. And they all love me.

I have friends that I visit in the institution. They tell me they want to leave because they saw me leaving. They said, "Well, gee how come this guy is leaving?" So I said, "All you have to do is be patient. You'll be next."

Russell Daniels is a board member of the self-advocacy organization Open Door Club. He lives in Belchertown, Massachusetts.