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.