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The Madhouse

The Madhouse

The Madhouse
In the late 17th century, we British decided that, as a humanitarian effort and public service, we’d collect up all the people from the towns and countryside who were bonkers and confine them in institutions, so that society could be protected from them.

As so often proves the case, the idea of a collective solution to an individual problem is doomed to failure from the start.

There are many problems with madhouses. First, they need funding and, of course, the entity that receives the funding is likely to prefer skimming off whatever they can, rather than spending it on the inmates. Second, the sort of people who apply to become staff are often not the most desirable, and in fact are often dangerous. Third, one madman might be a social problem, but what happens when you throw them all in together? Are conditions likely to make them less mad or more mad? (I would suggest the latter.)

When I was a teenager, I had the dubious pleasure of visiting a state-run madhouse—the maximum-security ward, where all the most violent inmates were kept.

I’d been asked to visit a short-term inmate named Billy, who’d been committed to the mental institution for a month as punishment for a petty crime. My purpose was to hopefully raise his spirits, but my one visit there provided me with insight that I couldn’t have gained otherwise and has stayed with me for life.

I was taken through several layers of security before being led through a series of heavy steel doors into a large room. There were tables and chairs in the middle and beds along the walls. About fifteen men were talking congenially in small groupings.

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