Wednesday, December 14, 2011

jcl368 at Timberlawn

It has been nearly thirteen years since my admission to a private, for-profit mental institution.

My parents placed me on the adolescent girls ward of Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital at the tender age of fifteen. I had been suffering from severe depression, anxiety disorder and suicidal tendencies for many years even at that young age. But that was not why they put me there.

I was a nuisance to them, as were many of the other girls on the unit to their own parents. I was in two short-term psych wards before my admission to Timberlawn, to 'hold me over', as they told me. While I was in Brookhaven, my doctor came and spoke to me at rounds, and told me where I was headed. I asked him, "Why are my parents sending me there? Don't you have a treatment program of your own?"

You see, I had discussed this program with the other teenaged patients of this ward, and had been told it was a good program, taking about six months to complete. It had taken me some time to adjust to the thought of being exiled from my home and family for such a long time.

But my doctor was about to blow that idea out of the water. "Because," he informed me, "that's the only place that can keep you for a year to a year and a half."

I thought he was joking. You have no idea how wrong I was.

I was incarcerated there for two years, two months and three days. It was a death sentence, as far as I was concerned. And unlike the other girls, I had done nothing wrong. They had all been involved in various forms of juvinile delinquency, premature sexual activity, drugs, running away... you name it, they'd done it. In fact, none of them was really mentally ill. It wasn't a hospital at all. It was a prison.

I had never done any of these things. I'd never even had sex. The worst of my sins seemed to amount to not doing my homework or helping with the housework, and taking an overdose of Tetracycline at the age of twelve. But that had only been a wild attempt to get my parents to wake up and smell the coffee. I'll go back in time to shortly before that happened.

I was a scapegoat in my school. I was the one and only scapegoat. I was hated and despised
by all, and I couldn't figure out for the life of me why. It started in the first grade when my family moved to Dallas, Texas, and just continued to worsen as time wore on. Old kids left, new kids came in. The old kids remaining indoctrinated the new ones, informing them that I was untouchable, and that to associate with me was to become me. So I was adrift, alone, in a sea of enemies I had not earned.

As if that was not bad enough, my parents were also very abusive toward me as a child. I am perhaps unusual in this respect, but there was no sexual abuse in my past, and very little physical. The abuse in my family was psychological, verbal, emotional, situational... But I can assure you, it was severe. I remember wild rages, streams of profanity, accusations, threats, (idle, thank God), faces red with hysteria, voices shrieking at the top of their capacity until they sounded not so much human as like hawks diving at their prey. My only salvation was that they ignored me most of the time. But when it came to my problems at school, this was a disaster.

I don't know how many times I told them that I was having problems that went far beyond the norm, problems I had tried to solve but found totally out of my control. I was unable to influence the behavior of my peers no matter what I did. I was a social leper. I was viewed with disgust and abhorrence.

This treatment was unbearably painful to me, which was the only reason I bothered confiding about it in Mom and Dad. They prompty ignored me.

They made up every excuse in the book. I asked for a transfer to another local school. They
never even looked into the possibility. I continued on my collision course with insanity.

My father started forcing me to see psychiatrists at the age of nine. But you've got to understand my father. He didn't give a damn about my feelings. He wasn't trying to help me with the depressions or the panic attacks. His only concern was knocking me into line. He was obsessed with education; thought it was the cure-all to the universe, because it had rescued him from his childhood in poverty.

He couldn't stand having a child that never did her homework, and waited until the last minute to do class projects and papers. "That little ----. Goddammit, I'm not gonna put up with that kind of behavior. She'd better well shape up..."

He saw psychiatrists as a sort of police of the mind. It was kind of like sending me to the
principal's office. And I knew it. I tried to refuse, and he got belligerant in true fashion. So I went.

Three years later, they looked into putting me in a private dummy school for kids with learning
disabilities. The resident psychiatrist misdiagnosed me with "mild depression". I didn't know what I had, but I knew damn well it wasn't "mild". My mother asked why that diagnosis; the good doctor said that it was because "severe depression usually involves a suicide attempt."

I thought that was the key. If I tried to kill myself, and failed, my parents would have no choice but to admit that I was severely depressed, and get me some real help. Wrong again. ´

I woke them at one in the morning, after they came home from being out to eat, leaving me to
babysit my younger brother and sister, and mispronounced the name of the antibiotic I had taken fifty-two of. "That's stupid! Why would you do a thing like that?" As if I had conjured the whole thing out of thin air. "Stupid."

The next evening, they left me alone with the kids again, as if nothing had happened. What I
thought they couldn't possibly do, they did. It would turn out to be a pattern with them. It never even occurred to them that they had driven me to it.

And, as I've said, three years later I found myself locked up against my will. I've spent many a sleepless night wondering why, oh, why did I sign those papers willingly? Why didn't I fight back? And the only answer I can come up with was that I thought it would have been useless. I believed that, since I was a minor, the lack of my signature on those documents would make no difference whatsoever. And I had already been put away for seven weeks. Seven weeks to chip at my stubbornness, and wear away my resolve.

The next two years were so horrible I can't really descibe them. All I can do is make a long story short. The unit was filthy, tiny, and roach-infested. The carpet was dingy, fifteen years old, and smashed down, and you could tell that it used to be purple with green and yellow and orange stripes. The wall was plastered with orange burlap.

It was an environment of terrorism. Punishment was the norm. Relief from it was a rare exception. The doctors spent perhaps a total of five hours a week on the unit, each, on a good week.

You never saw them. You only saw the angry, vicious, vindictive yet totally untrained "mental health workers" who were assigned as jailkeepers of sorts. Upon entering the hospital, the patient is deprived of everything human; here are only a few examples.

The first thing they told me when I entered the unit was that I was not permitted to leave the "Big Lounge". But that was really only half of the room. There was an imaginary line drawn down the middle, dividing a 20' by 30' space into two parts, the "Big" being the portion closer to the nurses' station, and the "Small" being the farthest away. It seemed ludicrous, shocking, unnatural. But I had no choice but to obey. I had a bad feeling about what would happen to me if I didn't.

The next thing they did was to put me on "Suicide Precaution" (SP), and lock everything I owned in my closet. I had to be accompanied by staff everywhere I went. They even made me leave the door open a crack as I went to the bathroom, or took a shower, or changed my clothes. In all honesty, it is the most degrading thing I had ever experienced, especially since it was totally unneccessary and uncalled for. I felt violated, as if I were being raped.

The hospital was merely a continuation of the abuse that I had experienced at the hands of my
parents, and in that way these "mental health workers" were rubbing salt in my wounds. I was in a constant state of pain and terror. If I made the slightest mistake, even if it was totally innocent and well meaning, I was punished. Every moment of our time was regimented. It didn't just stop at being forbidden to cross a line. I was forbidden to look at the television, even though it was in full view, or to ask someone to change the station on the stereo, even if it was bothering me, or to sleep, lie down, close my eyes, read, write, eat, drink anything but water, except at meals, and then you could only eat the disgusting, greasy food that came into the unit on a metal cart. I was given so little time to do my necessary things; showering, shaving, putting on makeup, doing my homework, eating, cleaning up my room; that I had to
hurry like the world was ending to get them done. Then I had to go out and sit on "privilege".

That was part of the abuse. They wouldn't even let you call it a punishment. I had to sit there for hours and hours with no diversion, dying of boredom and anxiety, unable to think of anything but the fact that I was being watched every second, and that any moment now, I would make a trivial mistake, and receive cruel and unusual punishment in return.

The hospital controlled the girls so well because of their free and lavish use of restraints.
Five-point leather restraints. I spent a grand total of two days in restraints, and by the time it was over, I was dying to get out of them, because they tied me down so tightly, I couldn't sleep. This, even though I had never shown one single violent tendency in the entire time I had been there.

Why was I put in restraints, you ask? For getting up off my chair and walking peacably back to
my room and lying on the bed.

I knew in advance of doing that that they would restrain me for it. I had been hoping they would put me in my room where I could be alone, unwatched, unharrassed, in peace and darkness so that I could finally rest. But I didn't know what I was getting myself into.

It was that knowledge, that we could be put in restraints for unlimited periods of time simply for open, deliberate defiance of the rules, that made us follow them so religiously. The rulebook looked more like a telephone book, and the rules were ridiculously strict. But we followed them. The staff pitted us against one another. We turned each other in for going one minute over a ten minute snack break, an offense for which the punishment was twenty-four hours on chair. Chair is precisely that. You sit on it, back to the table. You don't move. Don't talk. Don't look at anyone. Don't divert yourself in any way. Keep one foot on the floor at all times. And you could sit there for hours.

At the worst things got for me, I was spending as much as twelve hours a day on chair. I was
deprived of all activities, even on-unit, which meant that I sat with my face in the corner (like a dunce) while they watched movies and played table games. They told me their reason for doing this to me was because I was "stuck in my treatment". I didn't understand what that meant, and they wouldn't explain it to me. I was supposed to figure it out on my own. They were angry, condemning and critical all the time. They harped on me for "isolating", as they called it. I had tried for months to comply with their demands. I sat around the small round table trying to "shoot the bull" with the juvinile delinquents, but I could never get myself to do it. The very thought of joking around in this horrible dungeon, and fraternizing with people who would subject me to twenty-four hours on chair for leaving a fork out of arms' reach was repugnant to me. Instinct always won.

They put me back on SP. They took away my reading break and my two ten minute snack
breaks. Then they started withholding my mail and the gifts my mother had been sending me. I never saw any of them. They made up some lie about sending them to the dry cleaners, and left it at that. When I asked, no one knew anything about any dry cleaners.

Then they started forcing me to take psychotropic drugs. I was terrified. I had heard of long-term negative effects of said drugs. Loss of motor control, trembling, flashbacks, zombism. I started to have a nervous breakdown. I had never had one before entering the hospital, so I had no idea what was happening to me.

My whole body went rigid. I had terrible difficulty eating, sleeping, moving, walking, talking,
writing. My body was alive with pain. When I sat in a chair, I felt as if I were going to fall out of it. My eyes started rolling back into my head. I couldn't keep them on a page well enough to read it, but I was still expected to go to school as if nothing were wrong. I tried to make it go away. It was like having rigor mortis. But I couldn't will it away.

I don't remember half of the drugs they gave me. He'd put me on one, and when it didn't have
the desired results, he'd switch me to another, and another, and another, and so on, as if I were some sort of guinea pig. I only remember the three that were most important to me. The first was Mellarill (pardon me if I have misspelled it.)

I took it with my nine o'clock meds. The next morning I awoke nauseated and lightheaded.
When I got out of bed, everything went black, and I thought I was going to faint. I complained to the head nurse. She got my doctor. When he came, she ordered me to stand up and took my blood pressure. The muttered something about it being dangerously low. "I can't understand it," said Dr. Grover Lawliss. "I gave her a very small dose."

The next drug was Navane. That was what drove me over the edge.

I had seen other people who had been put on Navane. I have one word for them. Zombies.

I lost it. I was wild with fear. There was no way I could not take the drug. Those who resisted ended up in restraints for six months or with a year and a half added to their "treatment". I had to take it.

I lost sixteen pounds in two weeks. That's the only physically concrete thing that happened that proves that what I was going through was legitimate. And to anyone who may be thinking I was anorexic; I was not. I had always been a compulsive overeater. When my nervous breakdown started, I was 5' 2" and 128lbs. I now weigh fifteen pounds more than that. This was very unlike me.

Things started getting better when he took me off the Navane and put me on Valium.

That was my salvation. I thought, "Whew!" What a stroke of luck. I knew valium. Valium was
harmless. Valium was the koolaid of drugs. Not only that, but it would help me to get some rest at night, and feel less anxious during the day. I knew this was it. I had to make damn sure he kept me on that one.

I knew his style. As long as I was thriving on valium, I knew he wouldn't put me on anything else.

But that didn't change the fact that I went through a very serious medical phenomenon which
went ignored. I was never given a medical exam. I was never given any help, aside from the valium. I wasn't even permitted to go back to my room and rest, which was what prompted the restraints thing. The worse things got for me, the more they punished me, and the more they told me to just knock it off. As if I were just doing it deliberately to manipulate staff.

The same thing all over again.

I was totally brainwashed. I bought into their story. I really believed that they were helping me, and that I deserved all that I got. It wasn't until six months after I had left that I started realizing how badly I had been abused, and feeling angry about it. Then I had nowhere to turn. The kids I ran into who had been there either didn't agree with me or didn't care. They seemed to want to run from the subject. Or they looked back fondly on the experience. I couldn't understand it. Was I crazy?

I'm not really sure, even today. I wish I could find other people who have been through what I
have been through. People who will bond with me to put these places out of business. I want to lobby for the rights of children not to be put in places like that unless they have been convicted of a real, honest to goodness crime. This is medeivalism. This is like the days when you could get someone locked up just because they owed you money or, God forbid, because you didn't like them and had the money and clout to make it stick. Anyone moved by my story can E-mail me at

The orinal statement from Usenet.

2018 update

January 2018 it was announced that Timberlawn will close down after pressure from the state caused by concern of the safety of the patients - Source: DMN Investigates: Troubled Timberlawn psychiatric hospital is closing before the state can shut it down (The Dallas News)


  1. There is a brand new group on Facebook. The Orange Burlap Unit, I believe. I am not a member, it is a closed group for former patients only. It cannot be found by doing a search, but if you wish to contact me, perhaps I can help. Reply to my comment and I will provide my contact information.

    1. I was a patient at TPH in the late 80's. I would love to be able to share with others

    2. Hi Amy. I read your reply to JCL368. I’m sorry to hear you had a traumatic experience at Timberlawn in the 80s. I did too. In '89. It’s been nearly 30 years, and I have been haunted by the experience ever since. I’ve been looking for other people with similar experiences. I don’t know if you still visit this blog but if you do, I hope you will contact me.
      I am at work on a documentary film about the subject of harmful treatment and want very much to be in contact with anyone who has a story to tell. I’d love to hear from you. My email is:

    3. would like to khnw how to contact orange burlap unit on fb please

    4. I was on the adolescent girls unit for 15 months in 1980-1981. I would be interested in talking with some of the others who were there with me. Seeing the words: "Big Lounge" and "SP" made my heart race. I would really like to know how to contact the Orange Burlap Unit.

    5. when i read this i almost puked. i was there from 83-86. my whole life was affected by their abuse.

    6. Do you know how to get on Facebook page?

    7. I would like to know how to find the orange burlap group

  2. I hope I'm not too late. I just came across your story today while looking up stuff on TPH. Curious about what has happened to that place since I was there (1983-85) Came across your story and I can't believe how nothing had changed in all those years. All of the horrible, horrifying things that happened--I could've put my name on your story. Anyway, I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for writing what I have never been able to. Hugs. Kym

    1. I am the author of the above post. I was also in Timberlawn between 1983-1985, but the blogger who posted it did so without asking me, so it seems like it was written later. I'm certain that I knew you, because there was a Kym on the unit when I was there. At outpatient group they said you were having a rough time, and I was concerned, but I didn't know how to contact you. I hope you're doing all right now. Love, Jennifer

    2. Anyway, here are some links on more recent abuses at Timberlawn.

    3. Hi Little Buddha. I'd read your responses here to canopener. Thanks for the useful links. I’m sorry to hear you had a traumatic experience at Timberlawn in the 80s. I did too. In '89. It’s been nearly 30 years, and I have been haunted by the experience ever since. I’ve been looking for other people with similar experiences. I don’t know if you still visit this blog but if you do, I hope you will contact me.
      I am at work on a documentary film about the subject of harmful treatment and want very much to be in contact with anyone who has a story to tell. I’d love to hear from you. My email is:

    4. Jennifer and Kym I was there with y’all. That place ruined me. Hell on earth.

    5. Molly! Kym! Jennifer! I’ve wanted to find you guys so many times. I can’t believe I ran across this. I agree a thousand percent with everything you guys have shared here. I’m interested in connecting. Trudi.

    6. Trudi i have never gotten a response from anyone on here. You can email me at

  3. P.S. I also had Dr. Lawliss. Even saying the name makes my skin crawl.

  4. I was there around 83-84

  5. Interested in the F B group.

  6. Hello...VERY interested in joining the FB group. Does anyone know how that's done or what it's called now or how to find it? (TPH late 80's early 90's) H E L P please. ��

    1. Amy did you ever get an answer to your question? I'm interested in joining too TPH 1989-1990.

    2. I’m sorry to hear of these terrible conditions. I made several visits to the hospital in 2005 and several other times until 2008 (stayers were from 2 weeks-6 weeks) I was an adult and of course it was quite different. I found amazing succes with the trauma resolution program (Dr. Ross) and I am so thankful for that. I did notice many MANY things that was concerning regarding safety. If it hadn’t been for a therapist, a patient would’ve died. THE TECHNICIANS were the issue! Another patient died while on CVO (constant visual observation). I also noticed sanitation issues that never seemed to be full address. The ONLY reason I continued there (which meant a flight from TN) is because the help I got was so phenomenal.

      The trauma resolution program and therapists were the most brilliant I had ever seen as were the psychiatrists. I hate that the safety issues weren’t dealt with. Who is to blame? My conclusion would be those who own the hospital (which I understand owns many).

      I’m sorry for all people went through especially back in the 80’s. I am also sorry for this who weren’t safely watched and monitored since. I am glad the hospital shut down. Dr. Ross’ great program has been moved to another hospital so I’m glad it is still in practice. God bless all.

  7. How do I join the Facebook group? I was there from 86-87.

  8. I'd really like to know about the FB group too. I'm a survivor and documentary filmmaker looking for other TL survivors to connect with.

  9. You should write this into chapters and expand on it. I see the potential for a book in your story and writing. Author Susie TenEyck

  10. My then 15 year old son was there April 2012. I'm mortified at what I found about the pedophile and "therapist" Jordan Root working there then, but as I read, I get angrier that my boy was stuck in this hell hole. This was the first time he was admitted to a psych hospital, and though he was discharged, he was a shell of himself afterwards. He was readmitted to BCA Permian Basin before being referred to Cedar Crest in Belton. He came home and died of suicide December 6, 2012, right in front of me. I don't know anyone who was there, who would remember anything, but I have always, get-level suspected something more happened to him there.

  11. NNWitt, it has been hell. I know we'll meet again, but I can't sit still in the waiting. His death has to be talked about, has to be turned into something good somewhere. So I volunteer w/a grief support group and response team. it helps.

  12. I was also a patient in this corrupt and abusive hospital in ‘85-86. I would be happy to contribute to a documentary to help shed light on this terrible place. There have to be so many of us that left with emotional scarring for life.

  13. I believe orange burlap unit was coined by a fellow patient 79-81 'in the land where i was born lived a doctor named fanonni and he hobbled all along on his orthopedic shoe. We all live in an orange burlap unit; an orange burlap unit' This would replace the lyrics of we all live in a yellow submarine by the Beatles. Concentration camp torture. The place was hell. anyone who was there I am sure still suffers from the memories.

  14. I was there from 1980 to 1985. I hold the record of being there the longest. And there was nothing wrong with 53 years old and all the shit I went through I'm am a good guy. Just slow on growing up. Does any one remember me david chambers

  15. David I think I remember you! I was there from 83-86. I'm about to turn 51

  16. Hi, recent commenters. I'm glad to see you all connecting. My stint was 77 to 79.Believe it or not,the Orange burlap and stripey carpet was an UPgrade done while I was there (I think it was early 78?) Before, everything was painted blah institutional beige. With all the flourescent lights the ambiance screamed "Hospital!!!" The only pops of color in there were the colored plastic "Chair" punishment chairs we often had to sit on silently from waking to bedtime - but so it passed for medical treatment they called it "so we could get in touch with our feelings" in our files. Who in their right mind would ever think a Bright Chaotic Shade of ORANGE would be a soothing color for a bunch of angry teens? The answer is NOBODY! This further demonstrates my opinion that WE were the sane ones. And hat "fancy" new decor seemed cheap/low quality when new. Not surprised it fell apart so soon. We've got Survivor Power, tho, y'all - we made it out! Fist bump from your elder sister in Torturelawn Spirit.

  17. Stint... Chevens... 1985-1986. Almost exactly 9 months. I would love to expose what happened even though they've torn this place down. Some of you guys I know.

  18. I was there about 1960. I had 30 electric shock treatments and 20 insulin shock treatments. I was comitted by my husband at the time because he didn’t approve of my behavior I was held prisoner for three months against my will without even having an evaluation. The three months was all the law allowed without a court order at that time and also all my insurance would pay. I lost so much of my memory and was so demoralized that my life has been destroyed.