Pennhurst Then and Now

By Kate Jirik, Ph.D., PMPA Board Member

Expert on discrimination history, self-advocate



Human detritus inside the gleaming white walls with the pale green trim.
Incarcerated behind freshly varnished doors with bold black labels.
The dregs of society concealed behind beautiful gardens.
The lost souls seeking connections that were never meant to exist.

Passed through the tortuous schedule without sense or awareness,
Choice having no meaning, no purpose, no point,
Locked down on toilets, not for safety but for control.
Non-existent individuality, only number of activities completed, tallies recorded.

Whoever thought 3,350 inmates constituted a family?
But perhaps that was the point.
Removed from the world where they were deemed to serve no purpose,
Abuse abounded, but authority always championed over humanity.

These worthless bits of humanity, imitators of human beings,
Costing the upright, moral citizens increased tax dollars,
Human value determined by the lowest cost expended
Denied choice, denied hope, and finally, denied life.


The buildings lie in ruins, waiting for demolition.
The wrecking ball poised to annihilate the structure
Much like the structure annihilated the human beings remanded there.
The debris a fitting monument to the inhumanity perpetrated there.

The people are no longer encased within those walls,
Not inmates any longer, not part of an insensible horde.
But Mary and Jack and Tyrell and Latasha,
They have reclaimed their names, their humanity.

They are no longer sequestered behind fences to keep them in.
They are sons and daughters again, family members.
There are choices, what food to eat, what clothes to wear,
In stark contrast to the regimentation embodied in the now defunct structures.

But the Now demands that the Then be remembered.
The decaying structures symbolizing the desecration of human beings
And their rightful return to the social world.
A history demanding no repetition, no second redemption.