Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Their own private Guantanamo

The website for The Nation magazine has published my article about civil liberties violations in the Eldorado case. The article includes excerpts from those searing statements from the mental health workers who actually saw what was going on. So, in addition to providing the links to the full statements, I thought I'd provide some more excerpts below.

For those who may have forgotten: After Texas Child Protective Services removed more than 400 children from the YFZ Ranch, the state arranged for the Hill Country Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center to send mental health professionals to the scene.

CPS required them to sign confidentiality agreements. But 11 of the workers were so appalled by what they saw that they felt they had to go public. Their anonymous statements were released to the media, and the Salt Lake Tribune posted them on the newspaper's website. I've previously posted the full statements on this Blog here Below, some excerpts:

All of the children were healthy when they were taken from their home, but when herded into extremely crowded quarters with an artificial environment (lighting on 24 hours a day, no fresh air, no sunlight, strange food, uncomfortable beds, surrounded by strangers watching their every move) they became ill. Chicken pox ran rampant through the children, diarrhea, respiratory conditions and other illnesses created greater discomfort and even hospitalizations.

Living conditions in the coliseum were not conducive to good health for anyone, and the presence of hostile CPS workers who spied on them constantly, kept them awake at night by shining lights in their faces and talking and laughing created enormous stress for the mothers and children. None of them slept well or enough.

The women and children were placed in barracks built in 1800 with no air and no indoor plumbing, 80 women and children on cots side by side, even pregnant ladies.

The more uncomfortable they were, the more CPS thought they would talk.

The women were lied to and denied access to their attorneys. They were told that they were going to be moved to another location so families that had been torn apart during the move from the ranch could be reunited, but when [we] got off the bus at the new location, the mothers of children age 12 and older were taken through a door and loaded onto another bus to take them back to the ranch. They didn't even get to say goodbye to the children.

On the awful day that they separated the mothers and children the level of cruelty and lack of respect for human rights was overwhelming. Crying, begging children were ripped away from their devastated mothers and the mothers were put on buses to either return to the ranch or go to shelters. Most went to shelters because they were told they would be able to see their children if they did not return to the ranch. This, of course, was another lie.

The floor was literally slick with tears in places. A baby was left in a stroller without food and water for 24 hours and ended up in the hospital. A 4-year-pld boy was so terrified that he snuck away and hid and was only found after the coliseum had been emptied the next day.

CPS workers were everywhere and these people had no privacy. CPS intruded on their every activity and conversation, and even followed us around and made notes on everything we said.

I witnessed a small boy, maybe 3 years old, walking along the rows of cots with a little pillow saying "I need someone to rock me, I just want to be rocked, I want to find a rocking chair." Two CPS workers were following him and writing in their notebooks, but not speaking to him or comforting him.

As I was talking to a mother, her child spilled water down his front; he stood up on the cot so that she could wipe him off. A CPS worker strode over and told the mother "You need to set him down NOW." The woman nodded and continued to wipe his shirt. The CPS worker then said "If you don't sit him down NOW I will set him down for you."

I witnessed a young mother … be required by CPS to board the bus back to the ranch, though her young child was in the hospital with 104 degree fever and even though the child's physician had personally requested the mother's presence at the hospital. This event haunts me still, and I cannot imagine such a heartless act.

CPS yelled at the children, would not allow the women to talk with their lawyers, deprived them of sleep and constantly accused them of things most of them did not understand.

CPS workers … asked the women to follow them into another room while the children were asked to follow other CPS workers and escorted them to the other end of the facility. As the children became scared and realized that their mothers were not going to return to them, they began to cry and become emotional. CPS responded by placing bed cots upright and building a wall so that the children could not see what was going on at the other end of the facility.

On the last day of my stay at the coliseum, the mothers had been removed …The children had cried bitterly on the removal of the mothers and they were not with strangers. The noise level went up several decibels as crying and running and screaming took over. Children were grabbing toys from others and using the toys as play weapons against each other and their 'captors.'

The entire [mental health] support staff was 'fired' the second week; we were sent home due to being "too compassionate."