Mabel Cooper on the challenges that
faced her on the outside after 25 years in a long-stay
My name is Mabel Cooper. This is
part of a story about St Lawrence’s Hospital, in Surrey,
where I lived for 25 years. Because I cannot do my own letters I
asked my friend Jane to help me to write this.
I was born in 1944. When I was 11,
I went into the hospital because they said I needed a lot of care.
They said I could not learn to read or do anything, so nobody tried
to teach me. I think they misdiagnosed what I could learn and do
and they did not prepare me for the outside world. If they had
prepared me for the outside world I would not have found it so hard
when I came out in 1980. I think that if people were trained in the
long-stay hospitals they would be prepared for the outside
I learned hardly anything. When I
came out, I even had to learn how to speak. I could always speak,
but I did not in the hospital as a protest, because they always
told you to shut up. In the hospital I went to a centre with my
friend Eva, one of the nurses, to put ribbons on birthday cards
because that was all there was to do. You did not use your brain,
only your hands. In the hospital you did not get money like you do
outside. You only got coloured coins and they were only worth a
packet of sweets.
In the hospital the clothes were
horrible because you have to wear other people’s clothes.
There was a big cupboard. You went and helped yourself. The clothes
went to the laundry and when they came back someone else would wear
them. Now I only wear my own clothes but I still find it hard to
You didn’t do any cooking
because all the food was brought up from the big kitchen. It was
standing on the ward from 11 o’clock until half past 12 so it
was horrible. Since I’ve been out, I’ve learned how to
cook and I like doing chicken curries.
In the hospital I never saw
children as children are. They wore the same clothes as the adults
(with the bottoms cut off). So I thought the children outside were
midgets because I had never seen children running around and doing
the things they do.
I didn’t go out except when
my friend Eva invited me for the weekend. But where would I have
gone anyway? You couldn’t go into the shops or the pubs
because the hospital didn’t allow it. You did not have any
money, only those little coloured coins. I did not know anywhere
around the hospital until I went to a halfway house. It used to be
for people that went to work outside so Eva wrote for me to go
there. I had to learn how to use the buses and trains because in
the hospital I had never done it.
In the hospital men and women were
kept apart. They did not want the women in the hospitals to have
babies so they kept the men on one side and the women on the other
when they had dances or pictures or went to church. But people
still managed to have boy and girl friends and when they went to
church they used to pass letters under the seat because they could
not mix. Some of my friends from the hospital have got married
since they got out. Good for them!
Mabel Cooper is a service user with