Exploring Alabama’s Abandoned Institution for the Insane.
Much of Alabama’s hidden history still exists in many places.
The goal was to uncover the mysteries that surround this abandoned hospital that has a controversial and somewhat tainted past.
Most people don’t even know this place exists. The few that do often refer to it incorrectly.
I wanted to understand the history of this forgotten location that was built for the purpose of housing society’s misunderstood population of the mentally deranged.
This Neo-Colonial Style building sits on what was originally known as the Cherokee Plantation.
The plantation was owned by a wealthy southern industrialist, Robert Jemison.
The first Alabama Insane Hospital was built in 1861. The name was changed in 1900 after its first superintendent to Bryce Hospital.
With the end of the Civil War and the pressures of segregation looming, the number of African American patients increased dramatically at Bryce Hospital.
In the 1920s, Bryce Hospital became segregated and this building, the Jemison Mental Institution, was built to house the increasing numbers of African American mentally insane.
It is believed that many of the patients were not insane, but resided at this facility due to the impossible conditions brought on after the abolishment of slavery.
Many had nowhere to go. They became residents right along side of the mentally insane.
The souls of many of them are still here.
Today, the hospital is in terrible shape.
Due to fire damage from years ago, the structure is tremendously deteriorated. With the roof collapsed, access to the third floor is next to impossible.
Back then little was understood about treatment of the mentally ill.
The cruelty of treatments performed here can be really hard to imagine.
Electroshock — “electroconvulsive therapy” or ECT — was used on patients of all ages for every type of disorder including depression, mania, schizophrenia and even homosexuality and truancy.
Frontal and prefrontal lobotomies were common practice here.
The old boiler house to heat this tainted institution.
Due to constant underfunding by the state of Alabama, other means became necessary in order for the Hospital to function.
You see, the hospital became self-sufficient by having the patients do all the work in its fields.
The system seemed to benefit the health of the patients despite long, hard hours and little (or no) pay. The Alabama hospital expenses were paid for by the harvests produced.
Some of these poor residents/patients found themselves back in the same plantation environment they had previously tried to escape.
The overall environment continued to deteriorate at Jemison Mental Institution.
This facility became part of the longest running mental health lawsuit in U.S. history.
By 1970 conditions had become intolerable.
The 33-year long battle for the humane treatment of people with mental illness and mental retardation lead to sweeping reforms in the way this country acknowledges and treats mental illness.
Jemison Mental Institution was closed in the early 1970s and completely abandoned.
Reflecting on my visit to Jemison Mental Institution, I have to wonder what or who is actually still there.
That feeling of constantly being watched was always there.
While this old institution may be abandoned, it is by no means empty.