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A Portal to Pennhurst - share your story

Pennhurst has affected the lives of many people in many ways.  If you have a Pennhurst story or memory that you would like to share, please click the Add A Comment link below and post your story.  You may include up to 2 images.

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Terri Messina02/22/2014
My sister resided at pennhurst. Every couple of weeks my parents would pack the car and we would ride from northeast Philadelphia to pennhurst for a visit. My sister was bedridden and mentally handicapped. Usually the kids had to wait in the waiting room as my parents went to visit Maria. There were always people walking around and talking to themselves or hollering or sitting in a chair and rocking. But, I was never afraid. As I got a little bit older, I was allowed to visit Maria with my parents and l would be lucky enough to hold her hand and tell her I loved her. I was seven when she passed away. When all the horrible stories came out about pennhurst, I tried to talk to my mom about it. She just said my sister was taken care of and she did the best she could. I could see the guilt she felt for not keeping my sister at home. But, there was no way she and my dad could manage that and feed a family. I have named my daughter Maria after her aunt.
Kathleen Slagle09/01/2013
Twenty years ago I accidentally found out about a brother I didn't know existed. Sadly, I found out about him after he died. After much digging, learned that he spent his life at Pennhurst. When the facility closed, he was supposed to be in a group home within 5 minutes of a hospital because of severe asthma. Well he died from an asthma attack on night and he didn't live anywhere close to a hospital. My heart breaks to this day and probably always will for the horrors he must have suffered. RIP Patrick.
Dani Costa02/07/2012
My first introduction to Pennhurst was through Bob. He was a trainee of mine at a non-profit I worked for in south central PA. Bob was a resident at Pennhurst at one time and was abused there. I didn't know much about Pennhurst and never dared ask him about his time there. I've taken it upon myself to educate myself about Pennhurst, visited there the first time last fall. I left that non-profit back in 2009, due to many abuses I witnessed going on there at the hands of management. I've tried to do something about it, but have hit a brick wall. I think about those trainees there, including Bob, who has retired and attends a day program now, but I think of them all every day, trying to figure out a way to improve life for them from the outside. People just don't understand, don't care, and are too caught up in their own lives to get involved and it breaks my heart. I'm gearing my career path and academic path towards advocating for these guys. I love them all dearly.
Skriker02/03/2012
My paternal grandmother's brother Walter was an epileptic. Given how little was known about fits in the early 20th century he was locked away in Pennhurst so that family didn't have to care for him. By the time epilepsy was treatable and controllable, Walter had spent so many years in Pennhurst he had no ability to function in society so in Pennhurst he stayed. It wasn't until Pennhurst was finally shut down in the '80s that he was finally given a chance to really live his life. He lived in a group home for a number of years until he finally passed away. At least when he died he was free of that hellhole of Pennhurst.
Marc Reed10/13/2011
Mine is the story of an outsider. I was fortunate to grow up ignorant of places like Pennhurst. I knew nothing of the plight of the developmentally disabled - or of their hard-won achievements like Halderman v. Pennhurst. I finally learned the story 20 years after Pennhurst closed. Initially, it was Pennhurst's dramatic decay that got my interest. From there, Pennhurst's incredible true story began to unfold for me. In the winter of 2007/2008 I set out to make a little YouTube video that captured Pennhurst from my perspective - of an old, forgotten institution with this fascinating history. My video is called 'Abuse and Neglect' and I was very honored when the PMPA informed me they wanted to include it on their site. Now Pennhurst has been discovered. First the ghost shows, then the haunted house. But I encourage people to learn as much about it's real past as possible The people, their plight, and the reform that was born here. It's a powerful and important place.
Chris Peecho02/19/2010
Picture provided by Rebecca Fischer, grand niece of the young fellow on the left. His name is Martin New, and his dad Albert is on the right. He was dropped off at Pennhurst in 1944, got out in the 1980s under the Court Order, and went to a CLA with an agency named PATH - People Acting To Help.
Please take a moment to read Rebecca Fischer's touching commentary on Pennhurst and her great uncle Martin.
Simon S.07/29/2009
My Aunt Elizabeth. She was still young when she died there, and she was there most of her life. After my Grandmother died, I don't think she saw the outside world again. She's just a faint memory to me now. Almost a dream. But she was real and she deserved better than what she got - locked away up there. My Grandmother believed Pennhurst was a good place for her. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. We'll never know. We dont talk about her much anymore. But here she is at her First Holy Communion - in all her glory for the world to see...

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