L.A. Child Protection: Children Who Are Forbidden To Cry
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
Beating kids stops crying. What a statement, eh? But I was beaten daily as an 8 year old child to stop my crying in my sleep. And it worked. I believe after only 4 days, I had learned to quit crying. Another survivor of the asylum/child protection institution I was put in, describes guards beating him, as a 3 year old, until he learned to not cry there too. You would think beating children would make them cry. But if the beatings are severe enough, they make children NOT cry. I would assume that mental state of *not crying when in fear* is called “trauma.”
I read a passage once, written by a woman survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. She described going to the prison camp with her two very young children. They learned right away not to cry to survive. This mom endured the concentration camp until the French soldiers “liberated” the camp. She described herself standing in the camp yard, with her two kids, as these soldiers kept saying to her, “You’re free now, you are free” and she said she looked at these soldiers and just couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. Until one of her kids began to cry, for almost the first time in his life. The mom hearing this, and seeing her kid not shot for the crying, woke up. Then her daughter began to cry and was not shot. And upon seeing and hearing her own kids CRY finally, that was how she realized they were rescued. She said once it finally hit her, that these were liberators, and she had survived, she said she, herself, fell to the ground and SOBBED WILDLY, like a baby, pounding her fists and feet into the ground, in what she called a “tantrum...”
I can seriously relate to that mentality. As a child, I was placed in a child protection asylum/institution called MacLaren Hall. Mac Hall was a gory prison and torturous asylum for unwanted children in Los Angeles, Ca. We, the children, were most often sent there for our parents’ criminal level child abuse...supposedly to protect us from our parents’ violence. But inside Mac Hall was a violent hell. We children were treated like criminals, put into uniforms, with armed guards, with bars on all windows and barbed wire fences and turrets around our play yards. And the guards knew we were *unwanted* so no harm would come to the guards for mistreating us. It was like a Dickens novel, right smack in the middle of Los Angeles, in the 1960’s! And I am the FIRST survivor of Mac Hall to out this place in public, in a first-hand voice, for what it truly was, a torture chamber for unwanted kids. And since I have come out with my first hand accounts of surviving Mac Hall, I have been contacted by almost 20 people now, who survived that place, and can testify to *exactly* what I have said went on in there. And we are actively seeking more survivors to finally confront and DEMAND restitution from L.A. County for this torture as kids in their custody.
My first night in Mac Hall, I was put on a cot in a room with about 12 other girls and a guard. It seemed to take forever to finally go to sleep in this strange place, all alone, at the age of 8, on the heels of a day in police stations with my parents, who were now taken from me. But I woke up to 6 girls beating me up in my bed. I asked why they were doing that. They said I was sobbing in my sleep and wouldn’t shut up. I apologized profusely, yet the next few nights we repeated this scene, of me going to sleep, and waking up to 6 girls beating me up in my bed. After about 4 nights of this, I finally, somehow, learned not to cry in my sleep! And I do not recall crying out loud or where someone could see me *ever* in Mac Hall, while awake and conscious. I remember being far too terrified to be seen crying.
I just got a letter yesterday from a stranger who contacted me via email about an article I wrote on Mac Hall. Unfortunately, just like the other survivors who have contacted me, he said Mac Hall was just as I described it – a violent, unsafe hell for kids. He said he was 3 years old when he was sent to Mac Hall in 1965, and he remembers wandering the yards and halls of Mac Hall, sobbing, looking desperately for his mom, crying out for his mom. His dad was dying and his mom had been too sick to care for him...so he was taken to Mac Hall. He said a guard was angered by his crying, and took him to a room and beat him, and he says the guard pulled his eyelashes out, also, until he quit crying. Mac Hall survivors have a lot of eerie details like that, that kids and even adults would not imagine normally...like I believe this guy, that guards *did* pull out his eyelashes to stop him from crying as a 3 year old there. Because they did similar scary and bizarre things to me there too. The guards were maniacal and very much like Nazis in concentration camps. Several of the survivors even referred to Mac Hall as a “concentration camp,” including the man who wrote me yesterday. I remember ZERO tolerance for crying by guards, and fellow prisoners in Mac Hall.
I find it interesting that 1) no crying was allowed in a place full of traumatized kids, without their parents and homes and 2) that we all learned not to cry in Mac Hall. And much like the woman in the concentration camp, I realize I am safe *IF* I can cry. I *still* do not cry when I am in danger. Was it just it was too chaotic to have lots of sobbing children in Mac Hall, so we were taught silence to keep order? Or were we told to stifle all feelings to avoid any introspection on the horror of this situation? Were we taught not to cry so the state workers who inspected and visited the facilities did not know what really went on? You could hear what I remember as a constant low rumble of children wailing, screaming, crying, down the halls in Mac Hall...but what is weird is I do not recall *seeing* any of the kids cry in person there. You *heard* them cry and scream down the halls, but you didn’t see them. And in time, it seems their crying stopped, as did mine, and the guy who wrote me yesterday...eventually all kids stop crying in concentration camps, and at Mac Hall.
Kids cry for a reason. And kids *don’t* cry for a reason too. It is terrifying to me, to realize that *every* survivor of Mac Hall learned not to cry during severe pain, fear and trauma. We learned to be silent, in more ways than one, for survival. We learned that any acknowledgement of who we were, where we were, and why we were in Mac Hall was forbidden and taboo, including crying. As long as we kids did not cry, people could pretend, somehow, that this asylum was okay. But it is now almost 40 years since I’ve been in Mac Hall and I am still not done crying over it, now that I am safe enough to be allowed to cry over it. The tears stifled in Mac Hall are still not done flowing out of me, 40 YEARS later. And some Mac Hall survivors I have met, still do not feel safe enough yet, to cry those lost tears. They are still in severe trauma, still afraid to cry...afraid of what might happen, if those floodgates are opened.
If you were not beaten for crying as a kid, you probably did cry. But as kids who were OWNED by the state, we were beaten until we stopped crying altogether. Even in our sleep. I can often tell once I’ve reached safety, as *that* is when I will finally cry about things...not in the heat of it, but once I am safe enough to cry about it. Crying is a serious privilege that abused kids do not get. Some of us did not cry as kids and need to cry now as adults, looking back. I had crying beaten out of me, as did my brothers and sisters in Mac Hall. But I am safe enough, finally, to cry now.
For more information on MacLaren Hall:
“The Unwanted,” a 10 page article by Ed Hume, Pulitzer Prize winner, in Los Angeles Magazine - http://www.edwardhumes.com/archives/00000014.shtml
“The Lost Orphans of MacLaren Hall” - http://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagemachalllostorphans.html
“When Child Protection Looks Like Jail” - http://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagemaclarenhall.html
“Mac Hall and Los Angeles’ Child Abuse” - http://users.resist.ca/~kirstena/pagemachallrestitution.html
“United Friends of the Children” - http://www.unitedfriends.org/about/about.html
“Reforming Los Angeles County's Foster Care System” - http://www.wclp.org/aboutwclp/successstories.php?story=1
“The Foster Care System is a Mess,” written by Sharine Xuan, age 15, South Pasadena High School, Oct 2002 - http://www.layouth.com/4_16_12.htm
“Policy Changes at MacLaren Hall” - http://antonovich.co.la.ca.us/pressrel/3/mcc.htm