In Mind - a written monument to all people with intellectual disability. (Items 21 to 30)

50 pieces of poetry and short prose by Peter Limbrick

This is collection of short pieces about people of all ages who have learning disabilities and about the conditions they experience in any country. The collection spans the period from the1970s, co-inciding with the gradual closure of some of the big 'mental handicap hospitals' in the UK.

The poetry and prose pieces, written in a variety of voices, are offered as a monument to adults and children who have lived and died or are living now in inhuman situations. The first piece, ‘Letter’, is from an imaginary hospital manager to a national newspaper. It sets the context for this In Mind collection.

Some poems mention One-to-One and the One-to-One book. This was a 1970’s project in the USA and then UK to raise awareness of adults and children condemned to institutions.

Some of Peter's other poems are published in recent issues of Scintilla, the journal of literary criticism, prose and new poetry in the metaphysical tradition.

Please contact Peter if you would like to use one or more of these pieces in some way.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


21. Tobacco Tin

Interrupting our conversation the orderly

came into the Matron’s office to hand over

the remaining possessions of an inmate

who had died that morning.

‘Is this all?’ asked the Matron casually

sliding the scratched tobacco tin into her

desk draw.

There is an unspoken rule that you can

only own what you can carry with you.

Anything left on the ward will disappear.

Did this deceased person leave a bag of

stuff in which the tin was the only item

worth keeping for any interested relative?

Tobacco tins hold matches, cigarette

papers and tobacco keeping the next

smoke always handy. It is common for men

and women to scratch patterns on to the

lids making their tin a valued personal item,

like a family photo in a wallet.


22. Workshop

The workshop manager is explaining to the visitor

that the idea of this new unit is to give inmates a feel

for having a job, being at work, coming in five days a

week, being punctual and being paid on Fridays.

He says, when asked how people are selected,

that they are the women and men from the high-

grade wards who look as though they might be

suitable, might have the aptitude, might have the

necessary level of understanding.

He shows the visitor the inmates on the first bench

who are sorting various electrical components into

separate trays.

The visitor asks if this work comes in from local firms

and realises he has touched a nerve.

‘I wish!’ replies the manager. ‘I have tried most of the

local firms and none of them will send work to us.

Some have been to have a look and decided that we

are too slow for them. As it stands, I think they will

never use us.

‘In that case’ asks the visitor ‘How do you pay them

on Fridays?’

The manager looks downcast saying he can’t pay a

wage. The hospital budget allows only enough money

for a couple of packets of fags for each inmate.

‘And I have to fight for that’, he adds.

The visitor enquires what happens to these

components when they have been sorted into their


‘I mix them up again ready for the next morning.

What else can I do?’


23. Turvey

As Senior Nurse, I welcome this opportunity to report to the

Hospital Management Team on the recent One-to-One event on

Turvey Ward and to thank you for the money you allocated to it.

I hope you will agree it has been a worthwhile investment.

            As you know, our hospital held its first full One-to-One day

earlier this year with over 200 volunteers coming to partner 

residents. The positive public response and the benefit to our

residents inspired our voluntary help organiser and Turvey Ward’s

charge nurse to work with One-to-One’s national organisers in

planning an experimental event focused on just one ward.

            Turvey Ward was chosen as it has few visits from relatives and no

volunteer involvement. This is because of the high level of disability

and dependency the residents suffer. Each has physical disabilities as

well as mental handicap and many are doubly incontinent. Staff only

have time for basic physical care. When parents do come, they find it

impossible to manage their daughter or son out in the hospital

grounds because the old wheelchairs are not up to the job. Staff feel

their ward is neglected and their hard work is unrecognised. It has

been a ward with very low morale.

            The ward event was a great success bringing back some of the

volunteers from the One-to-One Day and, importantly, some

relatives. The day was a mix of painting workshop, street theatre,

music and inflatable play structures. The One-to-One office organised

a volunteer to write about his experience for the book about One-to-

One. The Management Team will get copies when it is available.

            In summary, One-to-One events are bringing benefits to

Bromham Hospital with increased volunteer involvement generally

and with raised morale on one of our most challenging wards. Our

local community has benefitted too by learning about the hospital and

getting involved. I am sure the level of suspicion and fear is reducing.

There is potential for further development so this interim report is a

forewarning of further requests for funds. Thank you again for

supporting these initiatives.


24. Union

While working with mental handicap

hospitals to help them stage One-to-One

Days, I wrote to the chief of the

Confederation of Health Service Employees

to explain why these institutions

were not fit places for men,

women and children to spend their lives.

I gave a good account of the many horrors

I had seen and sought his support

for the people and organisations

campaigning to have them closed down.

His very polite reply was that

mental handicap hospitals should

definitely stay open because of the jobs

they provided for his members.

How naïve I was!


25. Mirrors

One day these institutions will surely be put

under the metaphorical microscopes of eminent

psychologists and social scientists in the world’s

top universities.


They will study maternal deprivation in relation

to babies born with brain damage and advise how

to promote bonds of attachment when there are

too few staff and too many infants. Rocking, head-

banging and eye-poking will be explored and

explained and we will learn why a life without

choices in food, clothes, friends and activities

makes people more like automatons than

humans. The time taken for newly-admitted

children to stop pining for their parents will be

measured with recommendations about whether

to allow visits during the pining period. If brave

enough, they will explore sexual frustration

 ̶  inevitable when women and men are segregated

on separate wards and describe how it should

best be dealt with.  


Or it could be that the clever scientists

will have to report that their metaphorical

microscopes have become metaphorical mirrors

reflecting only society’s brutality. 


26. Quick Getaway

Ernest was an old man.

His wife had died about a decade ago leaving

him to look after their daughter. Janet came

from a very late pregnancy and had learning

difficulties. She had always lived at home,

largely at the insistence of her mother.

Neither parent thought of Janet having a

disability. She was just ‘our Janet’, not to be

grouped with any other disabled people.

Her older brother lived nearby. He was a

caring and attentive sibling. Ernest was

independent and solitary. A few neighbours

and acquaintances had done their best to

stay in touch with him and Janet after his

wife died but he wanted none of it. He let

them know their caring attentions were no

longer welcome. He struggled on with Janet,

not so much as an act of love, more stoically

carrying a burden that had fallen to him.

It was an austere and cheerless household;

Ernest bearing his cross, Janet enduring

imposed social isolation. A day came when

Ernest decided he could not carry on. He

rang social services during the morning and

must have put a very strong case because a

woman came round just after lunch.

Assessing the situation - an old man with a

thirty-something daughter - and having only

Ernest’s point of view to go on, she rang her

office to ask for a vehicle that could

transport Janet in her wheelchair.

When Ernest’s son called in later, as he did

most days after work, he had to ask,

‘Where’s Janet?’


27. Giving Up Baby

Over the years, many parents in many countries must have

accepted the invitation to leave their baby in hospital with

the advice, ‘Go home and try for another one’.

This is a very negative and medically paternalistic view of

parenthood. If it has some superficial concern for the

mother and father, it ignores the welfare of the baby and

assumes no one has to be concerned what happens to ‘it’.

Perhaps the concern is neither for the parents nor for the

child, but only a desire to keep society neat and tidy, free

from those who do not fit.

I have listened to many parents talk about life with their

child at home but not yet met a mother or father who

opted to give up their baby given this quick cruel choice.

Or, if I have, I did not know. So I have questions.

After giving up their baby, I wonder how soon the desire

for another pregnancy can begin. Do parents fear lightning

will strike twice in the same place? And then, if there is

another baby on the way, what are the parents’ fearful


Is the forsaken child talked about with family and friends?

Or do parents concoct a story about the baby being ill and

dying in hospital, telling everyone it is too painful to talk

about? Children who die have a place in the family with

photographs, ceremonies on birthdays, a gravestone.

Can parents of babies left in hospital allow themselves such

open remembrances?

What do parents feel when they see a child of a similar

birth date in the street or on TV? If more children do come

along and grow up, are there unspoken anxieties about

their expected offspring, about it running in the family?

I imagine the trauma and bereavement of leaving a new

daughter or son in hospital weighing heavily on a parent

whether they keep it secret or not.

They deserve all compassion.


28. Capsule

Cognitive dissonance, simultaneously holding two

beliefs that do not fit together, can flavour

a parent’s love for their brain-damaged baby.

There is the child’s beauty; the perfect fingers

and toes, the trusting eyes, the angelic aura as

they sleep, the warmth when snuggled in a lap.

Then the worrying brain scans, the negative

hearing and vision tests, the slowed development,

the doctors’ pronouncements.

Some parents will respond to the dissonance

by entering a time capsule with the baby, admitting

others if they speak only of the child’s beauty.

In time, emerging from the capsule, there is a longer

journey of adaptation, seeing the child’s beauty,

strengths and needs all at the same time


29. Honesty

‘Your son is the most disabled baby I have ever

worked with.’ A chilling pronouncement for

any parent to hear from a paediatrician but

they had asked for it.

They were confused.

They remembered the early medical advice

that Taro had brain damage that would result

in very significant physical, sensory and learning

disabilities. But for twelve months now his

therapists and the teacher of deafblind infants

had been full of praise for how well Taro was

doing, how pleased they were with him.

Taro was much loved and his parents gave him

all care and attention. But they had seen almost

no progress in his development since he came

home from hospital.

They had known the paediatrician since Taro’s

difficult birth and its aftermath of crisis and

emergency. They trusted her and decided to

confront her with their confusion. She

perceived their question, ‘Just how disabled is

our baby?’ was sincere and heartfelt and, in her

wisdom, knew it was deserving of a direct,

honest and respectful answer.

Of course they were upset.

But now they knew the situation. Now they

could plan their family life accordingly, sort out

their priorities, work towards the likely future.

They would tell Taro’s professionals that their

work was valued but they did not need the

exaggerated praise, the unjustified optimism.

They would prefer honesty sensitively given.


30. Bones

Where are the children?

Some you meet by chance,

necessity taking them to

surgery or hospital.


A few, you won’t see at all

because they are kept at home,

hidden away, secret children,

shameful children.


Others, you will only find

if you visit that place where

children are put away,

out of sight, out of mind.


In some parts of some

countries, you must visit

mountainside or forest

to search for the bones.

share your information  Cartoon © Martina Jirankova-Limbrick 2011