The Lives They Left Behind by Darby Penney
Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

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“The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad.  It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum--the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny's careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us.”—Oliver Sacks, M.D., Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University Artist, and author of Musicophilia

“The haunting thing about the suitcase owners is that it’s so easy to identify with them.”—Newsweek

“In their poignant detail the items helped rescue these individuals from the dark sprawl of anonymity.”—The New York Times

“[The authors] spent 10 years piecing together . . . the lives these patients lived before they were nightmarishly stripped of their identities.”—Newsday

More than four hundred abandoned suitcases filled with patients’ belongings were found when Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995 after 125 years of operation. They are skillfully examined here and compared to the written record to create a moving—and devastating—group portrait of twentieth-century American psychiatric care.


About Darby Penney

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Darby Penney is an accomplished poet, a national leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities and a former state mental health official who has experienced the mental health system inside and out. Peter Stastny, author of numerous publications, is a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker. Lisa Rinzler is a prize-winning cinematographer (Three Seasons, Menace II Society, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan) whose photographs illustrate the book alongside reproductions of excerpted medical records and images found among the suitcase contents. Robert Whitaker is the author of Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill.
Published January 1, 2009 by Bellevue Literary Press. 209 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Parenting & Relationships, History, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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When New York's 120-plus-year-old mental institution Willard State Hospital was closed down in 1995, New York Museum curator Craig Williams found a forgotten attic filled with suitcases belonging to former inmates.

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Before It's News

The novel alternates between chapters set in 1995 and 1929.This novel was inspired in large part by the 2008 work of nonfiction The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic (2008) by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny — a book which I also recently bought from Amazon after I saw ...

Mar 29 2014 | Read Full Review of The Lives They Left Behind: S...

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