A Note from Harvey
Back in the 1980s, before Harvey Ronglien spearheaded the State School restoration, he was a "Press Contributor" for the Owatonna People's Press. One of his favorite subjects was writing about State School history. Below is a column Harvey wrote on May 10, 1988, yet remains insightful today...more than 25 years later.
Treated as One
Article by Harvey Ronglien
I have a picture in front of me taken about 1937 on the steps of C-11 at the State School. There are 26 children in this picture. I only know what happened to 11 of them and it's tragic. Two prison suicides, one murdered, one shot by police after prison escape, one serving a life sentence for murder, two alcoholics, two have mental problems, one insane, and one who refuses to talk about the past. Why should this small group turn out so tragically? Were they born bad? Of course not! We're all born with the capacity for strong self-esteem, but somewhere along the line it's programmed out of us. The school was an institution of 500 children from babies to 18 years of age. Let's just focus in real close on these 11 boys. What made them tick? What got inside of them to so affect their later lives? The circumstances varied and through no fault of their own, each must have gone through a traumatic experience to even end up at the school. Every one of these boys was at the school at least six years, most up to 11-12 years. Consequently, everyone in this group was institutionalized. I know, I'M ONE OF THEM. Webster's definition of institutionalized: "To accustom so firmly to the care and supervised routine of an institution as to make incapable of managing a life outside."
Let's be realistic. Life itself and the unwritten rules were very similar to prison life. We didn't snitch, show weakness, think for ourselves, or cross authority. You knew your place in the pecking order, the strong ruled. If we could get away with it, it wasn't wrong. No individual identity; we even dressed alike. We worked, played, slept, ate, fought, laughed, and cried shoulder-to-shoulder. Privacy? Come on now; apologize for even thinking it! Rather, these boys were continually reminded that they should be thankful to be fed, clothed and sheltered. Lack of emotional nourishment gave them an orphan's sensibility. Justice to them was spelled, "Just us!"
Children aren't meant to be warehoused. They are human beings, each with their own identity. Yes, we were all unique, yet in the institution we did not enjoy that luxury. We were all treated as one. A value system that is quite different from a normal family.
Without question, this institutional mentality had a profound effect on these 11 boys' future. Studies show that when there is no mother or mother substitute, there is no possibility of a normal child. In the forgotten mists of childhood, events that are long-forgotten have a tendency to leave scars.
When these 11 left the confines of the school and entered the mainstream of society, they had to play the cards they were dealt. In their formative years, their characters were not built on the foundation of love, patience, and understanding. Rather, they were forged on the bedrock of cunning, conning, and fists.
You don't have to have a degree in child psychology to realize that LOVE and all it entails was the number one ingredient missing in these boys' lives. Psychologist Alfred Adler, an authority on child behavior in the '30s made this remark: "Even in a model orphanage, the children live like inmates. Emotional starvation is inseparable from institutional life." He warned, "There is danger ahead."
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be loved and appreciated. Love is a simple and beautiful word; probably the most significant word in the history of mankind. Unfortunately these boys never received love. When they left the school they were physically strong, but unbeknownst to them, emotionally handicapped. Therein lies the tragedy of these 11 boys.
Certainly there were success stories, too, but we have focused on all 11 boys who grew up together in C-11.
And speaking on the positive side, in a study on the behavior of orphans as adults, I found it interesting that in the final analysis, orphans in general have a striking lack of self-pity, anger or bitterness. Rather, they have strong feelings of compassion for others and gratitude for their own good fortune. In that spirit, I share these thoughts with you.