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I was transferred from the children's home in Chicago to Southern State School for theFeebleminded in downstate Illinois. I didn't know where I was going. No one told me, and Inever asked. I think my mind was totally shut down when I was in the children's home and whenI first arrived at Southern. I was so overwhelmed with what had happened and not knowingwhere I was that I stopped thinking. I just existed. I ate. I slept. I went to the bathroom. I operated on automatic. It was about a week before I found out the name of the place I was at. Ithought I was in a hospital, but when I realized all the people were retarded, I asked an attendantwhat kind of place I was at. She said I was in an institution - Southern State School for theFeebleminded. When I heard the word school, I thought I might have another chance at gettingan education. I asked where the school was. She laughed, and said there was no school. Mymomentary dream of getting an education was quickly squashed. When I became aware of thepeople at Southern, I was certain I was in a "nuthouse." I didn't understand what an institutionwas. I just thought I was in a jail with crazy people. I didn't differentiate retarded people frominsane people. To me, they were all the same. And to me, being locked up meant you were injail.

I traveled to Southern on a train with a matron who never spoke to me. I didn't pay anyattention to the people on the train. I cowered in my seat with my eyes shut tight. Once, thematron took me to the bathroom, and later she gave me a sandwich and milk. I had never beenon a train before, but I was too numb to appreciate this new experience. I could have been on aspaceship for all I cared. I had never been out of Chicago before, but I didn't look out thewindow. I was going from a crowded, squalid, inner city slum to an institution set in the middleof corn fields. There were more cows than people where I was going. I was as far away fromChicago as possible in both miles and environment. For me, it didn't matter because there was noone to visit me, but for the residents who had family in Chicago, it made visits almostimpossible, and that was the idea. Once placed in Southern, you were placed there forever. Inthose days, the belief was: out of sight, out of mind. No one wanted to see people who weredifferent so they were stored far away from population centers. It's like if you didn't see suchpeople, they didn't exist. Sure - what wishful thinking!I'm going to call the human beings who unwillingly lived at Southern - residents. It'ssuch a nice sounding word, but it's better than calling them by one of the many labels that havebeen used for such people. It's better than calling them inmates, like in a prison, even thoughthat's what they were because they were in prison. But their only crime was having been bornretarded.

I was placed in the hospital ward awaiting the birth of my baby - you. I think they putme there instead of a regular ward because I was undernourished and they wanted to fatten me up and also to monitor my pregnancy because I was so young. The hospital ward turned out to bea good placement because I was well fed. Not only did I not have enough food at home, I atejunk. I didn't eat meals; I just ate when I was hungry, usually a bag of chips and a candy bar.That's not a good diet for a baby or for a 12 year old girl. So from a nutritional point of view, mybeing in the hospital ward was good for me and you. And the hospital was clean, oh sowonderfully clean. I felt that at last I was being cleansed inside and out. And I also had restwhich was good, and even some moderate exercise. Probably the best reason for me being therewas I didn't have to have sex. I don't know how my continued hooking might have affected you,especially in the later stages of the pregnancy. I have a feeling that men would still want to havesex with me even though I was obviously pregnant. There are all kinds of perverts out there -even perverted perverts who like having sex with an emaciated, dirty pregnant child.After a week or so, I became aware of my surroundings. I walked the halls of the hospitaland found the day room. That was the room for recreation, but there wasn't much there, somepuzzles with missing pieces, decks of cards with missing cards, broken crayons with partiallyscribbled coloring books, and comic books with missing pages. I read every comic book overand over until I had them memorized. Remember how important reading was to me becausereading was something retarded people couldn't do. Every time I read something, I wasaffirming that I wasn't retarded. I know that some retarded people like to pass as normal bypretending to read stuff that they really can't read. Years later, I met a retarded woman whocarried around a thick copy of War and Peace so people would think that she was reading it. Ithink some people thought I was doing that, but I didn't care. I knew that I could read.And miraculously God put a Bible in that day room. It was old and battered. I don't knowhow it got there, or why it was there, but I do know there was divine intervention involved. Itwasn't as if people at Southern could read it, so why was it there? Maybe it was there for visitorsto the hospital to read while they were seeing a relative. But the whole time I was in the hospital,I never saw a visitor read anything. In fact, I didn't see any visitors. But that Bible was put therefor me. It was waiting for me. I really believe that. God put it there to lead me to Him.Slowly and laboriously, I read every chapter in the Old Testament from Genesis toMalachi and every chapter in the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. It took me severalyears to finish all the chapters, but I did it, and I have re-read them countless times since then. Of course, I had lots of trouble reading and understanding a lot of the words and the formal, old-fashioned language, but I got the main idea from most of the sections, especially Psalms, whichcomforted me then and comfort me now. Even now when I read the Bible every night, I stilllabor over the interpretation of certain passages. I think God made it hard for us to understandsome of the Bible so we would keep thinking about it. I've googled the meaning of some of thepassages that I find hard to understand and I've learned I'm not the only one. Over the ages lotsof people have pondered the meaning of parts of the Bible and have different interpretations ofthem. That's why we have so many different religions and sects. For example, the Bible teachesus to turn the other cheek or pacifism, but there's also the opposite in the Bible that tells us of aneye for an eye or vengeance. How do we reconcile these differences? Aren't thesecontradictions? What do we use to guide our behavior? In war, you need to be guided by an eyefor an eye, but in everyday life, if you were guided by an eye for an eye, everyone would beblind.

Not only did reading the Bible stimulate my brain, but more importantly the words of theBible stimulated my soul. In fact, my soul was born the first time I read that Bible, and withevery reading it has been molded and remolded. The Bible was responsible for my birth as amoral human being with free will. When I was living with my mother, I had no opportunity toexercise free will; I was a slave who couldn't make any choices. What I was forced to do wasimmoral, but I couldn't do anything about it. At Southern, for the first time I was in a situationwhere I could make choices, and the Bible led me to make the right ones. And even though thereare some parts of the Bible that are hard to understand, there are many more that are clear in theirmessage, especially the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."What more do you need to guide your actions?

I spent a lot of time thinking about God those four months in the hospital. I had neverthought about God before I picked up that Bible. If anything, I thought there was no Godbecause if there was, how could He let me live the life I was living with my mother. The wordGod was only mentioned when people swore. I heard, "God damn it," from everyone. I neverheard, "God bless it." But as I spent more time reading the Bible, I came to believe that there wasa God. I just didn't understand His plan for me.

I love all the Bible stories, but the ones about Jesus are my favorites. When I first readabout Mary having baby Jesus, I thought of myself being pregnant like Mary and that comfortedme. I learned to love Jesus. He was pure goodness. That was when I started thinking aboutwhether I could ever be good or would I be evil forever because of what I did. I prayed to Jesusand promised that I would be good if He forgave me my sins. I became obsessed with God'sforgiveness, and I eventually came to believe that there was salvation in my future. I becameobsessed with forgiving my mother even though I thought she was evil. I kept thinking abouthow I could find a way of dealing with her, and not just hate her. How could I ask forforgiveness from God, when I couldn't find it in my heart to forgive my own mother no matterwhat she did to me? And forgiveness is what led Dr. Warner and Charlie to me. So you can seewhy I've been obsessed with trying to understand forgiveness. It's been a centerpiece of my life.While I was in the hospital, I got to know a wonderful nurse named Cora Jensen. Ofcourse she turned out to be a real life saver for both of us. She brought us together. She was myfairy godmother. She was the first person at Southern who was nice to me, who treated me like ahuman being. Other than my kindergarten teacher Miss Ryan and my first grade teacher MissDawson, no one had ever been nice to me. Unbelievable, isn't it? In 13 years, only three peoplewere ever nice to me. Cora was this rolly-polly, redneck lady who wasn't really a nurse. I'm notsure she was even an LPN. I don't know if there were any RNs in the hospital. In this case, RNmeant real nurses. She had three little kids and her husband was a farm worker so she had towork to help support her family. The only jobs available in the area were on farms or atSouthern so the locals had all types of jobs there, even though they weren't qualified for them.Cora was very maternal and maybe that's what attracted me to her. She was a substitute motherfigure to me. I asked her to help me read some of the words in the Bible that I couldn't figureout and to explain the meanings of other words. Her reading wasn't much better than mine, butwe worked together and she helped me understand a lot. We talked about sin and forgiveness.She told me that if I accepted Jesus, I would be saved and I would go to heaven. I told her Idesperately wanted to accept Jesus, but I didn't know what to do. She told me that I would haveto go to church to get baptized. I asked her how I could get baptized and go to church when Iwas locked up in Southern. She said that she'd try to find out if arrangements could be made forme to go to church. I asked her about this three or four times, but she avoided answering me. Ithink the local preachers didn't think the residents of Southern were worthy of being baptized and saved. Little did they know, they didn't have to be baptized. God took them to heavenbecause of their purity. They had no sins in their souls.

I was the only healthy patient in the hospital ward. Although there were many patients inthe ward, I had no one to talk to because most of the people were too sick or they had nolanguage or they were dying. So I was pretty lonely in the middle of a room with about 40people. I was glad that there was a separate room for people with contagious diseases because Ididn't want to catch anything and make you sick. Lots of Southern residents had serious healthproblems so every bed in the hospital was filled. As soon as someone got better or died andthere was an empty bed, it was filled. Today some of the serious medical problems, especiallyfor folks with Down Syndrome, can be avoided because surgery can be done for the congenitalheart and stomach defects they often have. There was no such surgery then, and even if therewas, it wouldn't be used on the retarded. People would look at that as a waste of good medicalcare. I saw a lot of patients die. I don't know how much medical help was given to these people.I think the minimum probably. Remember this was a storage facility where people were keptuntil they died, and society saw no reason to keep them alive longer than necessary.I keep talking about society as if there's a Mr. Society, or Mrs. Society, who makesdecisions for all of us. And there is. This Mr. Society is made up of millions and millions ofpeople who share certain beliefs, like it's right to lock retarded people up, and it's right to denyretarded people life-saving medical care, and it's right to sterilize women involuntarily. BecauseMr. Society is made up of so many people, it's hard for any one individual to make a difference,but not impossible. Beliefs can be changed starting with the actions of a brave few. Dr. Warnerwas driven by the need to change society single handedly by performing acts of kindness thatmade a difference in a few lives - his daughter's and mine. He believed that if enough people didthis, Mr. Society could be changed, and he was right. Retarded people are no longer locked up ininstitutions. Retarded people are no longer denied life-saving medical care. Women are no longersterilized against their will.

I remember the first time I comforted someone in the hospital. I had been there for aweek or so and I was awakened in the middle of the night. I had always been a light sleeper sowhen I heard moaning, I was startled awake. At first I was scared. I thought it was a ghost. Icowered in my bed and shut my eyes so I wouldn't see the ghost flying around in the air.

Remember I was a 13 year old with 40 sick and dying people in a strange, scary place, and I alsowasn't in the best mental health. There were only two night nurses on duty, and they were rarelyaround. They just sat at their work station and smoked so they were no protection against theghosts. Then I clearly heard the word, "help," and I realized that the moaning wasn't from aghost, but from a person. I opened my eyes and located the source. It was coming from a man ina bed down from mine. I lay there listening to him moaning and calling for help. No one came.Finally, I got out of bed and went to him. I just wanted to get him to stop moaning so I could goback to sleep. His eyes were shut. I said, "What can I do to help you? Can I get the nurse?"He didn't respond. He just kept saying "help" and moaning. Then I touched his arm, putmy mouth near his ear so he could hear me better, and asked again "What can I do to help you?"His eyes opened and he looked at me. I saw a change come over his face; it softened. I don'tknow how else to describe the change. It was as if he saw someone coming to his rescue. As Igently stroked his arm, I felt his muscles relax. I stayed with him until he quieted and fell asleep.I went back to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I was so confused about the emotions I wasexperiencing. For the first time, I had comforted someone who needed comforting. I felt goodabout what I had done and I felt good about myself. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.On other nights when people needed comforting, I was there for them. Most of them werein pain or scared. They needed to know that they weren't alone. I held people's hands, strokedtheir brows, hummed to them, and whispered that things would be better in the morning. I toldthem that Jesus loved them. Most of them couldn't understand my words, but they understoodmy soft tone of voice and they felt the warmth of my touch. I would patiently wait for thetransformation on their faces, when they realized someone was caring for them and someone washelping them get through the terrors of the night. It was gratifying to know that I could help otherpeople. I was the one who needed help, but it never came. I found that there was a part of me thatwas good. This was the first time I realized that I had kindness in me. I was doing something forthese people just to make them feel better, and not for any selfish reasons.Before my time in the hospital ward, the only person I had seen dead was my mother,and that was brutal. Her face was black and blue and bloody, and she had this look of horrorfrozen onto her features. Maybe she saw the entrance to hell as she died. But in the hospital Isaw people pass away from illnesses. There was no brutality in their deaths. There was a natural transition from life here to life elsewhere. The first time I saw someone die was when I was witha person who had been moaning. I went to this woman's bed and saw a look on her face that Ihad never seen before. It was the look of life draining from a person's body. I felt that her soulwas moving on. I held her hand and told her that Jesus loved her in a special way. I recited the23rd psalm, or as much of it as I could remember. Then I saw a shaft of light going from thiswoman's body through the ceiling and then the roof and soaring to the sky until it reachedheaven. I was in that shaft of light looking up at the face of God. At night in that hospital wardthere was a spirituality that I've never experienced again. It was a place to commune with God.Since then, I've been to many churches, but I've never found the same holiness that I found inthat hospital ward. God doesn't just dwell in churches. He dwells where He's needed most. AndHe was desperately needed in the hospital ward at Southern State School for the Feebleminded.That's where God commanded me to be good to others and that my kindness to others wouldatone for the sins I had been forced to commit. I've believed that all my life. That by being kindto others I am taking myself closer to heaven and eternal life with Jesus.I came to view death as a part of being human. It was not something to be feared, but atransition stage from the material to the spiritual. The fact that I was pregnant made death evenmore meaningful to me. I was experiencing the two opposite ends of being human - birth anddeath. When I was sitting with a dying person, sometimes I would take the person's hand andplace it on my stomach so they could greet you. I know that sounds dumb, but I felt that it was away of showing God that I understood the progression from birth to death.The staff found out what I was doing at night when I was alone with the patients in theward. They were amazed at how I was able to calm people just by touching them. I had nospecial magic. All I had was the human touch, a caring touch, something these poor people hadrarely if ever experienced. They needed to be comforted and I was comforting them. Maybebecause they had so little comforting in their lives, they welcomed it, they treasured it, especiallybecause they were sick or dying. Some of the staff thought that my comforting people savedlives. I got this reputation as a special person who did good deeds. I couldn't believe how thestaff looked at me - with respect. Something I had never seen in someone else's eyes before. Butthey also looked at me with curiosity. How could a retarded child have such nurturing feelings?How could a retarded child believe in God?

Once when we were reading the Bible together, Cora asked me, "Mary, why do you helpthe sick and dying?"

"Because I believe that retarded people are special to God. He made them with purity intheir hearts, and we should respect that."

Then Cora found a passage in Matthew and read, "I tell you the truth. Whatever you didfor one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." She looked into my eyes and said,"Mary, you're doing God's work."

I can still remember the goose bumps I felt. Here was confirmation that I was a goodperson. That I was loved by God. Southern was a terrible prison, but it was a place where Godand I found each other.

Then Cora asked me, "Why are you at Southern if you can read and think and act like anormal person."

"I'm at Southern because I have a 65 IQ and I'm emotionally disturbed and I'mpregnant."

Her face saddened, and she said, "The only thing you said that's true is that you'repregnant."

From then on, everyone knew the truth. I wasn't mentally retarded or crazy. I was anormal who lived in an institution for non-normals. And later I learned that I wasn't the onlyone.

During my time in the hospital, I put on weight, not only from you, but from eating well.And I became aware of your movements. I probably felt some movement before I was in thehospital, but I didn't know what it was. I probably thought it was gas or a cramp. I can still recallthe first time you kicked me hard. I thought I was going into labor and it scared me because Iknew it was too early. I was totally ignorant of what was involved in having a baby. I asked Coraif the movement I felt meant there was a problem. She laughed, and said that it was good when ababy moved. It showed that the baby was healthy. After that, I eagerly awaited your everymovement. I got into the habit of caressing my belly as I told you how much I loved you. Maybe

you sensed my love for you. Maybe you sensed the good person I was becoming. Maybewhatever transformation that took place in me while I was pregnant with you also transformedyou into the wonderful person you eventually became.

Another time when I was talking with Cora, I asked her the question that I had tried notto deal with. "What will happen to my baby after it's born?"

She took my hand and told me the brutal truth. "The baby will be taken away foradoption and you'll never see it. This is for the best because it wouldn't be a good idea if thebaby was raised at Southern and you can't be released with a baby. You're too young and youhave no way of supporting yourself. "

I cried bitterly. I had fallen in love with you even though I didn't know anything aboutyou. You were a life growing inside me. You were a part of me. I knew adoption was best, but itwas painful, oh so overwhelmingly painful. At last, I loved another human being and that humanbeing was going to be taken away from me.

Then I asked another question I probably shouldn't have asked, especially in my state ofmind then. "How long will I be at Southern?"

She tried to avoid the question. "It depends on a lot of things. I can't really tell you."I kept pushing for specifics. "Like what?"

"I don't know. You might be released when you turn 21 if they could find a situationwhere you would be taken care of. Or, you might live at Southern for the rest of your life.""Does that mean that someday I'll die here and there'll be no one to comfort me? They'llbe no Mary stroking me and humming to me in the middle of the night?"She sobbed, and quickly walked away unable to continue our conversation. I wasstunned to think that someday I might be one of the patients who would die in the hospital, butthere would be no Mary Reilly to lead me to heaven. And I wasn't sure I was going to heavenbecause of the life I had led. I wasn't sure that God would forgive me for all my sins by the timeI died. He didn't have to forgive the retarded people at Southern who died because they weresinless. I am not one of these people who believe that humans are born with original sin. I do not believe that we have the sins of Adam and Eve on our heads. Everyone is born sinless, but weare also born with the potential to commit sins and the sins that we commit willfully are whatGod looks at to decide if we go to heaven or hell. God gave us free will and judges us based onthe decisions we make. Years later, Dr. Warner and I talked about this a lot especially in relationto evil and whether some people are born evil. Was my mother born evil? Was Jack Miller bornevil? Were they condemned to hell when they were born? Or could they have fought the evil inthem and gotten to heaven? If you're born with evil in your heart, can you overcome it? I have tobelieve that. I have to believe that everyone is capable of living an honorable, good life.The next time we had a chat, I again did something I shouldn't have, I told Cora aboutmy life as a prostitute. "Will this affect my baby in any way? Will the baby have a terribledisease or health problems because of my past?"

"If your past affected the baby, it would have come out already. We would have seensomething by now."

Although that wasn't true, I chose to believe it. I couldn't spend the rest of my pregnancyplagued with guilt about my past and how it might harm you. After I told her about my past, shelooked at me differently. Her look of respect was mixed with a look of disgust. I hated to tell her,but I had to know if my sins as a prostitute would be on your head. Over the years, I've read andre-read Exodus in the Old Testament where the concept of the sins of the father being carried onfor three and four generations is written, but I can't accept that. If that was the case, all theGermans whose fathers were Nazis would have their sins on their heads, and I don't believe theydo.

After I finished telling her about my life, she told me about Mary Magdalene and howshe was a prostitute and Jesus cleansed her of her sins and she became His disciple. We got outthe Bible and found sections about her in Luke and Mark. I've re-read these sections for manyyears sure that Jesus would cleanse me as He cleansed Mary Magdalene of seven demons. Andthen I realized I was fated to be named Mary because I was like Mary Magdalene and the VirginMary. I had never thought much about my name before, but now I treasured it. My name tied meto the two great women of the Bible.

I knew that by sharing my past with Cora, everyone at Southern would find out. Andsure enough they did. The male attendants changed how they looked at me. Now they leered atme as if they wanted to screw me - this 13 year old very pregnant child. I really didn't thinkCora would tell everyone, but there was no privacy at Southern. But I'm just talking about thestaff and the other normals like me. The retarded people didn't understand and they accepted mefor what I had to offer - kindness and comfort. Maybe that was another reason that God acceptedthem into heaven. They didn't judge others; they left that up to God.Cora said something that caused me to think that probably the best thing to happen wasme being at Southern to have you. She said that it was a good thing that I wasn't pregnant when Iwas at home. She was right. What if my mother hadn't gotten sick and I became a prostituteanyhow. I would have been hooking until I became too pregnant to work. What would I havedone then? Where would I have had you? Would she have taken me to the hospital? What kindof health would you have had if I lived at home not eating an adequate diet and living in filth andpossibly having a sexually-transmitted disease that you would have gotten? So Cora wasprobably right. My mother dying and my being taken care of at Southern probably made itpossible for you to be healthy and for me to have a normal birth. You would have been takenaway from me anyhow. There was no way I could go to a hospital and have you and take youhome. Who knows what your future would have been like if I hadn't gone to Southern? I knowyou wouldn't have had a blessed life like you've had. When I think about Southern, I can't helpbut think about some of the good things that happened because I was there. And your healthybirth and being adopted by marvelous parents were certainly among the best.Everything went well during the last four months of my pregnancy and then I went intolabor. I recall that first labor pain. It hurt more than anything I had ever experienced - even myfirst sexual experience. I hadn't been prepared for what would happen to me. I was totallyignorant of labor and the birth process. I screamed wildly as I was taken to an operating roomand a gas mask was placed over my face. That's the last memory I have - that gas mask beinglowered to my face. I was asleep during the delivery, and when I woke up and asked if I had aboy or a girl, I was told I would never know and that you were taken away for adoption and that Ishould forget I ever had a baby. I sobbed uncontrollably. I wanted to say good-bye to you beforeyou were taken from me. I wanted to see if you were a girl or a boy. I wanted to see if you had red hair. I was sure I would never find out, but God looked down on me and 46 years later gaveme the answers to all these questions. I don't know where God was the first 13 years of my life,but once He entered my life when I went to Southern, good things started to happen to me.There was something that happened during the delivery that I didn't learn about until Ihad a physical exam years later. I had my tubes tied; I was sterilized. No one told me and no oneasked my permission, although legally they didn't have to get my permission since I was a wardof the state who had been ruled incompetent when I was admitted to Southern. That hatefuldoctor who examined me at the children's home knew what was going to happen to me. He said,"We'll make sure you don't have any more bastards in the future." I had no idea what he waspredicting. He knew. Oh, he knew. He knew that I was in for a much harsher punishment than aslap in the face. I was going to get the worst punishment a woman can have - being preventedfrom having a baby, being prevented from being part of the miracle of life.When I did find out, I had Dr. Warner there to help me understand the significance ofbeing sterilized. He wanted me to lodge a law suit against the state for involuntary sterilization.But I didn't want the world to know about my past, and I especially didn't want the world toknow I'd been sterilized. I felt shame which I shouldn't have. I should have felt outrage at beingviolated, but that took a while to develop. I was always more concerned about hiding my pastthan doing anything that would make me stand out and let the world know I had been a childprostitute who was really an unwilling sex slave.

They kept me in the hospital for two weeks to recuperate. Again, they didn't prepare mefor the aftermath of having a baby. I didn't understand why I was bleeding so heavily and whymy breasts were leaking milk and why they became painful when the milk dried up. Cora knewthe sorrow I was experiencing at having my baby taken away from me. She told me that she hadthree children, and she knew how much a woman grows to love her baby while she's pregnant.She said that a mother's love starts as soon as she first feels the baby move, and not when thebaby is born. She returned some of the kindness to me that she had seen me give to the people inthe hospital ward. She even kissed me on the forehead when I was transferred to the ward for thehigher functioning young women. That was my first affectionate kiss from another human being.My skin tingled with warmth.

I had hoped that after I was moved to a ward, Cora would visit me, but she didn't.Maybe she didn't really see me as a friend, or maybe she couldn't get over the fact that I hadbeen a prostitute, or maybe it was too difficult for her to see me lost in the wards of aninstitution, possibly for the rest of my life. She didn't want to know what happened to me. WouldI become violent? Would I become a mute vegetable? But then in 2004, I came back into herlife when I returned to Seymour and tracked her down. And then later she was the link thatbrought us together. When Wendy tried to find me, she talked to people who had worked atSouthern and found that Cora Jensen knew me and was still alive and living in Seymour. Coragave her all the information about me that I had shared with her six years earlier when I visitedher. Cora Jensen turned out to be one of my guardian angels. I thank God for how she saved mylife when I had you and for how she brought us together.