Outtake: Mental Health Records, Patient #29109 (Appendix C)

Jennifer Semple's representation of Melanie Wilkes (from Gone with the Wind), painted during Occupational Therapy (O.T.) in the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. After she married Jeff Brown, she added "Brown" to her signature (It is possible that the painting was originally unsigned and that she simply signed it later).

May 2002. After rereading the letters between Jennifer and Jeffrey, Jennifer googled Cherokee Mental Health Institute and found a link for inquiries; she e-mailed, requesting how she could obtain a copy of her records. A few days later, some release forms from Health Information Services were sent to her. After signing the forms and releases, Jennifer wrote the following letter to the Release of Information Clerk:

May 17, 2002

Ms. ______________
Health Information Services
Cherokee Mental Health Institute
2151 W. Cedar Loop
Cherokee, IA 51012

Dear Ms. __________:

Thank you for forwarding the appropriate forms to me for my signature. I’m not quite sure how extensively my records were kept (I was a patient only from February through April 1969, and I was not on any drug protocol), so I’m not quite sure exactly what I need in terms of records. Of course, I would want to know my intake case history, diagnosis (beginning, on-going, and ending), specific tests performed (mental and physical) and their results, progress reports and plans, physical status, exit case history, etc.

I also have one question that has been unclear to me for the past 33 years: who signed me in? In other words, who decided that I should be admitted?

Dr. Favis was my main psychiatrist/psychologist (I don’t remember his first name); Mr. Benson was my social caseworker (again, I don’t remember a first name).

I understand the costs involved, and so I look forward to your e-mailing me at__________with this information.

Again, thank you for your help.


Jennifer Semple Siegel
The records totaled 12 pages; Jennifer sent the $1.00 per page fee, and her records arrived in late May, 2002.

As she read over her records, she was struck by two realities: (1) how much she has forgotten about that time and (2) how the records themselves seem trivial (at least from an outsider’s viewpoint) and repetitive, as if the hospital staff were somehow baffled by the girl’s presence. It was almost as if she did not fit into any of their prescribed slots. She wasn’t a psychopath, a manic-depressive, a depressive, a catatonic, a criminal, an incompetent; furthermore, her records suggest that if she were depressed, it was situational, not something innate within herself.

Jennifer’s doctor, in his assessment notes, says, “This patient was referred by the police matron in Sioux City because of use of drugs and paranoid feelings about family.”

Jennifer recalled why she felt paranoid about her family. Her grandparents, who had adopted when she was nine, lured her back to Sioux City, where they confiscated her mail, monitored her phone calls, and limited her contact with friends who did not pass their rigorous standards. The girl’s initial summary continues, “The patient is relatively free of hostility, except for the anger she feels toward her grandparents in response to their lack of understanding and sympathy, and their inclination to be over-directive and over-restrictive.”

In her psychological testing evaluation, her lack of diagnosis seems to be confirmed: Jennifer “is apparently not particularly subjectively uncomfortable, neither manifestly anxious nor depressed. She has a mild self image problem which is both derivative of and productive of construction of social relationships.” On the other hand, the evaluation from her WAIS, HTP, RIS, MMPI, and Rorschach tests reveals that she manifested some “mild acting out tendencies which is consistent with past behavior. It is probable that the inclination to conflict with social convention will persist but genuine anti-social behavior is contraindicated.”

While the psychological tests may have offered some insights to her personality traits, Jennifer did not reveal much information to her doctor at Cherokee. She remembers deciding that she would keep a low profile and reveal minimal information about her background. In the initial summary, under “Mental Trend and Content of Thought,” the report notes, “...she could not remember anything about her true parents.” Jennifer, however, did remember her parents, particularly her mother, an alcoholic who would get into violent fights with her stepfather.

It is true that she barely knew Robert C., her natural father, although, to this day, she has a letter from him to her grandparents, dated August 9, 1952, in which he explains why he and her mother should make their separation permanent. She almost feels sorry for him.

Jennifer may have revealed more than she recalled. Still, she felt that they could not keep her in the institution if she did not reveal too much about her past, for example, an incident with an older boy when she was eight. This was to be a secret to be kept inside until much later in life. However, the section under “Summary and Evaluation” hints that perhaps Jennifer did confide in Dr. Favis, her psychiatrist: “The patient had several traumatic experiences in her earlier life...” but Dr. Favis does not go into any specific detail, other than to reiterate her mother’s several marriages, divorces, and chronic alcoholism.

Her records do suggest a reticence to talk freely. She remembered babbling a lot during her therapy session, even enjoying them, but not saying much of substance. She would talk about Jeff (noted erroneously as “Don” in her records), her plans to head to the east coast, have some fun, perhaps get a job, get married, have children–pretty much live an ordinary life. She certainly didn’t accomplish much head work in those sessions.

Jennifer asked Dr. Favis not to put her on any medication. When he asked why, she said, “I’m in here because of drugs; why would you want to give me more drugs?”

Dr. Favis nodded. “I see your point.”

Jennifer knew then that at least one person in this godforsaken place listened to her, thought what she had to say was important. The truth was, she had seen how lethargic the other patients were and didn’t want to be logy like them; she wanted to stay up late at night to write letters, watch T.V., and think without having to deal with the other patients. Whatever drugs they prescribed knocked patients out by 8:00-8:30, and with the exception of the ward clerk, a girl about her own age, she had the ward to herself.

Perhaps Jennifer harbored a natural aversion to psychiatric drugs, given her own psychedelic experiences, some of which had been frightening. The research reveals that Jennifer had reason to be afraid, for mental institutions were still places were problematic people were warehoused and drugged. In 1954, the drug Thorazine, a drug she recalls being mentioned by other patients, was embraced by mental hospitals all over the world because of its profound tranquilizing effects (Psychiatric Drugs: Thorazine)

Other drugs prescribed then included antidepressants, such as iproniazid (an MAOI developed in 1956), imipramine (a tricylcic anti-depressant), valproic acid and carbamazepine (both mood stablizers), and ibogaine (for withdrawal symptoms). Lithium, of course, was an old standby (Psychiatric Drug).

Dr. Favis agreed not to prescribe drugs; perhaps he had already come to that conclusion himself, given that she was designated as a screening center patient (which she did not know at the time). Her records suggest a fairly normal 18-year-old girl with some self-image problems and anger issues, but not someone who would benefit from the psychiatric drugs of the day.

During O.T., she completed at least two oil paintings: a representation of Melanie Wilkes from Gone with the Wind, and an old man who looked somewhat like her grandfather. She kept the Melanie portrait–which she still has (see the photo at the beginning of this post)–a waif-like creature who resembled more of a flower child than a southern belle from a historical novel. She gave the old man, who featured some clown characteristics, to Dr. Favis as a thank-you present.

Other than his kindness, Jennifer doesn’t remember much about Dr. Favis, even his first name. According to her letters, he was Filipino. Perhaps he was Asian, but he may have been Latino–he spoke with an accent. He was short, thin, with horned-rimmed glasses, and a mass of straight shiny, thick hair, and a sallow complexion. She never saw him without his white coat. This memory may or may not be an accurate one, but this is what she remembers about him. In 2002, she learned from her records his full name: Mariano A. Favis, Jr., M.D.

When Jennifer Googled him by his full name, she found nothing. A current urban legend says that if a person does not appear on Google, he or she does not exist, but, surely, a man of Dr. Favis’ caliber would be everywhere. She tried his first initials, which is standard publication protocol in the sciences and found one relevant entry: a 1978 letter to the editor in the American Journal of Psychiatry, titled “Psychopathology of the Team Concept.” (135: 1117-1118). Of course, he must have done his most important work before the web.

As Jennifer delved deeper into the letters, she experienced an epiphany: Dr. Favis was probably one of the most important people of her life. He literally held her fate in his hands, and he could have abused that power. Jennifer was not an easy patient; she often acted up and out, sometimes playing annoying pranks, other times mouthing off to the staff. She often refused to get up in the morning, skipped O.T., and consistently challenged him, social workers, and nurses. She was often “written up” by the staff. Yet none of her records reveal any of those things. Perhaps he understood that she didn’t belong there, and he wasn’t about to prolong her stay just because she was acting “adolescent.”

She wonders where he might be now, and where he went after Cherokee, and, more important, why Cherokee in the first place. She would to think that it was providence that had sent him to this place. But, she knows better; even she isn’t that egocentric.

Does he even still remember her?



"Snippets Here and There" is copyright 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.


Outtake: The Politics of Paperwork (Appendix B)

The first page of my court papers (Click on photo for larger view.)

I expected barriers in getting the documents I needed for my work, but, in the end, the process was fairly painless, requiring some minor fees, and in the case of the court documents, showing my U.S. passport (which shows my full name) to the Sioux City courthouse to prove my identity, given the confidential nature of my records. The current clerks and officials at the Woodbury County Courthouse and Cherokee Mental Health Institute were extremely courteous and prompt in providing me with the documents that I needed. Given my experience 35 years ago, this was a pleasant surprise.

I assumed that the court documents and hospital records would offer “profound” formal descriptions and carefully prepared insights about my case and incarceration. In short, “cover your ass” stuff.

The reality: the court papers are harried intake sheets, sloppily handwritten and prepared, suggesting an impatience to dispose quickly of this problematic misbehaving, drugged-out, troubled child who was causing difficulty for the court system.

The court papers total 10 pages, the two “Mental Health Institute, Cherokee, Iowa, Subsequent History” pages essentially blank except for short notations regarding patient number, reason for commitment, and eventual discharge. The rest of the papers, thrown together willy nilly, were filled with Swiss cheese holes; a good lawyer, not available to me, could have taken the legal system to task and won “acquittal” for me.

The hospital records, covering two months, total 12 pages: initial summary, mental status examination, social history report, psychological testing, and final summary. Nothing profound at all, nothing bewildering to report–no evidence of my chronic bursts of anger, adolescent pranks, and unwillingness to follow hospital rules.

Why should I have been surprised at the routine tone of these documents? For were not their preponderance of importance only in my own mind? Wasn’t I just another quasi-juvenile case clogging the judicial system with the minutiae of growing up?

* * * * *

Jennifer, the girl, had been home from California about a month. She realized immediately that coming back to Sioux City (at her grandparents’ prodding) had been a colossal mistake, a trick to lure her back on their turf. They must have realized that controlling the girl would be more difficult in Hollywood, California, where the girl had friends and places to hide.

She decided to leave Sioux City and take the Greyhound bus to York, Pennsylvania, close to where Jeffrey Brown lived. She liked Jeff–he had been a good friend in the short time they had known each other–and she had been disappointed when he left L.A. to spend Christmas with his family. She could not understand the kind of loneliness that comes when a young man is close to his family and lives far away from them.

Before he left, he tried explaining his ties to his family, how their luring him back to Pennsylvania was not a trick, but a calling, a yearning–a worried, but profound love; he was a wanted, cherished child, not an afterthought. He was not a child to be taken in because one had no choice but to care for (for all intents and purposes) a motherless child. His mother Jeanette yearned for her oldest child in a way that Jennifer could never conceive. In later letters, Jeanette would reveal how Jeff’s absence had caused her terrible psychological and physical pain–an inability to eat or sleep until her son was safely home.

Jennifer wondered if her grandparents felt that way about her and if her anger and obsession with running away caused them great pain and agony because they felt a hole in their lives with her absence, or was it simply guilt that reached back to the girl’s mother’s generation, her problematic childhood, and current alcoholism? Jennifer would never know.

Still, Harley and Olive Semple did not want Jennifer to leave Sioux City; they wanted her to stay, get psychological counseling, train to become a dental hygienist, settle in Sioux City, get married in the Catholic Church, have children, attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, and not make waves or embarrass them in any way, especially in front of their friends and family.

Jennifer had no idea what she wanted, only that it didn’t exist in Sioux City and did not include dental hygienist training. Perhaps a new life in York, Pennsylvania, with Jeff Brown would satisfy that wanderlust, that obsession to somehow escape a mundane life in Sioux City. She had no idea what she would do in York–or even exactly where York was located on the map–or how Jeff Brown really felt about her invading Pennsylvania, but she would figure out details later.

Jennifer went to the downtown bus depot and bought a one-way ticket to York.

Cost: $43.00.

She carried a small travel bag with her, which held her diary from high school and a few letters from Jeff and other friends. If she had a change of clothes, she doesn’t remember–those items seemed minuscule, obtainable anywhere.

She does remember her grandfather following her around town to the bus depot, hiding behind department store columns, his raincoat and hat with feather in brim giving him an Inspector Clouseau look. Did he really believe that he remained unseen?

After Jennifer bought her ticket, Harley Semple confronted her, and, with surprising strength for a 68-year-old man, held her arms so that she couldn’t move without pushing him to the floor.

She often wondered how her life might have changed had she pushed her grandfather away and, without looking back, boarded that bus. Would he have been injured, or, worse yet, died from his fall (instead of dying five years later from an ailment resembling Lou Gehrig’s disease)? Would she have ended up in Cherokee anyway or in jail, perhaps, charged with murder?

Something in the girl–a form of love, maybe–stopped her from pushing her grandfather away and breaking for freedom.

Instead, she said, “Let’s see what the police have to say.” She had nothing to fear, after all; she was of age and, legally, had done nothing wrong. Surely, when she told the police that she was now grown up and quit using drugs, they would let her go. They had no reason to keep her, right?

As she stepped into the police station, walking distance from the bus depot, she immediately realized her mistake.

In 1969 Sioux City, there was no sympathy for an 18-year-old girl who had admitted to using LSD, uppers, and marijuana, then vaguely known as exotic, frightening drugs used only by beatniks and bums. She was simply viewed as incorrigible and disobedient, and, therefore, in the wrong. As Jennifer explained her situation to Opal Casey, the police matron in charge of Woodbury County juvenile delinquents, the girl felt that something unpleasant was about to transpire. The law would not be on her side.

The significant Supreme Court decisions limiting involuntary commitment would not be decided until Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504, 509 (1972), which ruled involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution as “a massive curtailment to liberty,” and O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 574 (1975), which ruled that there is “no Constitutional basis for confining such [mentally ill] persons involuntarily if they are dangerous to no one and can live safely in freedom” and that the presence of mental illness “does not disqualify a person from preferring his home to the comforts of an institution”--too late for the girl.

Her only protection, then, was Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 608 (1967), which offered legal protection at the mercy of the court system itself: “...involuntary commitment to a mental hospital, like involuntary confinement of an individual for any reason, is a deprivation of liberty which the State cannot accomplish without due process of law.” Even a neophyte can see how a lower court might interpret that Supreme Court decision to fit its agenda.

But, back then, the girl knew nothing of any Supreme Court decisions that tried to protect her rights.

At the police station and during the conversation with the police matron aligning against the girl’s constitutional right to freedom, the girl sunk into despair. After that, her actual memory betrays. A look at the girl’s court documents reveals that Opal Casey, with the help of Harley Semple, filled out an information sheet, requesting the court to commit Jennifer L. Semple to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. This form contained the basic information one would expect: name, address, phone number, employment, parents’ names, etc. and the following passage:

To the honorable Commissioners of Hospitalization, Woodbury County, Iowa. Request Commitment [of Jennifer L. Semple] to M.H.I. [Mental Health Institute]. Transportation by Sheriff. Your Informant respectfully represents that the above named person now in said County is afflicted with Mental Illness and a fit subject for custody and treatment in the Mental Health Institute at Cherokee as he/she therefore asks that the necessary steps be taken to investigate his/her condition as the law provides in such cases [signed] Opal Casey, Informant, State of Iowa, Woodbury County.

Tellingly, the information sheet continues,

I, the undersigned, do solemnly swear that the matters and things alleged in the above information to which my name is affixed, are true as stated, each and all, as I verily believe. [signed] Harley Semple Opal Casey, Informant [the grandparents’ address and phone number remain intact]. Subscribed and sworn to before me by Harley Semple Opal Casey, the affiant, this 19th day of Feb., 1969. WITNESS my hand and official seal the date last named. [signed] Maurice Flanagan, Clerk, By [Deputy clerk line left blank].
All of her life, the girl, now a middle-aged woman, wondered who was responsible for committing her. Her grandparents adamantly denied signing the paperwork, and she found out the truth, albeit still somewhat ambiguous, on August 23, 2004, when she received photocopies of her court records.

The crossed out name of her grandfather suggests that he desperately wanted help for his granddaughter but (1) did not want to be seen as “the bad guy” by acting as the official informant, or (2) he could not afford to pay the hospital bill.

Perhaps both reasons are valid.

Imagined conversation between Harley Semple and Opal Casey as she fills out the paperwork:

H.S. –Jennifer needs help, I’m afraid. I don’t know what to do.

O.C. –You could commit her to Cherokee for observation.

H.S. –Seems rather drastic, but what choice do I have? She’s so angry, and the drugs...she scares me.

O.C.(Sighing as she scribbles in his name on the information form.) –These kids today... (Shakes her head.) Don’t know what’s good for them, what with all these strange drugs and immoral ways. What is the world coming to, anyway?

H.S. (Scratching his forehead.) –If she gets wind of this, she’ll despise me...

O.C. –You’re doing the right thing.

H.S. –I don’t know if I can do this. (Pauses.) Who’s going to pay for this, anyway?

O.C. (Taps her pen.) –I’m afraid you’ll be financially responsible, Mr. Semple.

H.S. (Wringing his hands.) –I don’t know. We can’t afford hospital bills; my wife and I are on Social Security and barely making it now. This would kill us financially.

O.C. (Takes in a deep breath and sighs.) I can’t tell you what to do here. It’s your decision.

H.S. (Scratches his chin.) –Can’t you sign as informant?

O.C. (She sets down her pen and steeples her hands.) –I don’t know the girl. I see she needs help, but, to what extent, I can’t say for sure. It’s really your word against hers.

H.S. (Places his face in his hands.) –Oh, God, I’d rather die than betray her. (Pauses, as if he’s formulating a thought.) It’s not the money, really. If I thought committing Jennifer would help, I’d do it in a blink and worry about the money later. But she doesn’t trust me as it is; this would kill anything between us.

O.C. (Picks up her pen again and scratches out “Harley Semple,” and scribbles in her own name) –This is between us, Mr. Semple.

H.S. (Brushes his hair back with his hand.) –Thank you.

Thus, with the scratch of a pen, the girl’s grandfather acceded both financial and legal responsibility to Woodbury County, Iowa, a decision that probably dogged this decent man to the end of his days.

* * * * *

A hearing was held on February 19,1969, to determine the mental state of the girl. The court appointed one Clay H. Jensen, Esquire, as the attorney representing the girl’s interest. Dr. C.F. Berkstresser, “a Regular Practicing Physician,” was appointed/ordered to examine the girl to determine her mental state. The “Appointment of Physician–Mental Illness” form ordered the physician

to visit or see said person and to make a personal examination touching the truth of the allegations [of mental illness] of said information and touching her actual condition.

[The physician] will therefore proceed at once to make such examination and forthwith report thereon to said Commission at this office as the law requires in such cases...

The girl has no memory of a Sioux City physician examining her, but she can’t discount the possibility entirely. She does suspect that if an examination was done, it was cursory–that the paperwork was filled out without an extensive and fair examination.

But the form, signed by Dr. Berkstresser, states,

GENTLEMEN: In pursuance of your appointment and the accompanying instructions under date of 2/19/69, I have this day seen the person named in said paper as mentally ill, and have made a personal examination in her case, as required by law, and I hereby certify that in my judgment said person is mentally ill, and a fit subject for custody and treatment in the Mental Health Institute. I also certify that I have stated correctly the answers I have obtained from the best sources within my knowledge, and from my own observation, to the questions furnished, which questions, with answers thereto are hereby are hereto appended. WITNESS my hand this 19th day of Feb. 1969, [Signed] C.F. Berkstresser, M.D.

In a careless, sloppy hand, Dr. Berkstresser filled out a questionnaire, which included the following questions and answers:
Q. Relatives or ancestors mentally ill or afflicted?

A. No [Nothing about the girl’s alcoholic mother].

Q. Was patient ever addicted to intemperance in any form?

A. No.

Q. Alleged cause of mental illness?

A. Was in California; Past 6 months. 2-3 trys [sic] of Pot per week for 2-3 weeks, “Bennies,” has been here in Sioux City 6 weeks. Yesterday went to police & ask for help–to prove her adoption. Grandparents Father & Mother. That they no longer have anything to say about what she does.

Q. Number of attacks?

A. 7.

Q. Duration of attack?

A. 6 months.

Q. Previous attacks, date and duration?

A. & 2 months here.

Q. Treatment, if any, with PARTICULARS AND EFFECT?

A. No.

Q. When were the first symptoms of this attack manifested, and in what way?

A. When her grandparents brought her back at the rooming house request. [St. Francis DePaul]

Q. Does the disease appear to be increasing, decreasing, or stationary?

A. [None]

Q. Is the disease variable and are there rational intervals? If so, do they occur at regular periods?

A. [Scratched out and unintelligible]

Q. On what subjects and in what way is derangement now manifested? State Fully.

A. Incorrigible. Feels everyone except the hippies are against her.

Q. Has the patient shown a disposition to injure others?

A. No. [The O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 574 (1975) Supreme Court ruling would have stopped the commitment process here.]

Q. Has suicide ever been attempted?

A. No. [O’Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 574 (1975) applicable here, too.]

Q. If so, in what way? Is the propensity now active?

A. [Not applicable]

Q. Is there a disposition to filthy habits, destruction of clothing, breaking of glass, etc.?

A. No.

Q. Did the patient manifest any peculiarities of temper, habits, dispositions or pursuits before the accession of the disease?

A. No.

Q. Any predominant passion, religious impressions, etc.?

A. No.

Q. Has the patient been subject to any bodily disease, epilepsy, suppressed eruptions, discharges of sores, or ever had any injury of the head?

A. No.

Q. Has restraint or confinement been employed? If so, what kind and how long?

A. No.

Q. Previous hospital treatment?

A. No.

Q. Condition when discharged?

A. No.

Q. Character or type of mental illness?

A. Paranoid Reaction. Everyone is against her.

Q. Habits?

A. Poor. [Contradictory?]

Q. Physical condition?

A. Good.

Q. State any other matter supposed to have a bearing on the case.

A. No. [Could be just a scribble.]

Based on the profound information gleaned from the physician’s “examination,” the following order was entered:

Physician’s Designation of Authority

I, the undersigned Physician appointed in the within case, by authority of Section 229.11 of the code, do hereby designate and authorize Co. Sheriff to convey the within named patient to the Mental Health Institute at Cherokee and deliver him/her to the Superintendent thereof, securing his receipt for such delivery as required by Code Sec. 229.11. [Signed] C.F. Berkstresser, M.D.

The hearing. The girl knew immediately that the legal deck was stacked against her, her fate having been determined the minute Opal Casey scratched out her grandfather’s name and scribbled in her own.

Her memory is vague, but she does remember sitting in a dark room, around a mahogany or walnut conference table, at least a dozen pair of eyes on her, this incorrigible girl now overpowered by the system that has just accused her of being anti-establishment and disobedient.

“Why bother?” she thought as her so-called lawyer, Mr. Clay H. Jensen, stared at her with naked disapproval, his watery blue eyes disgusted with this incorrigible girl who would dare to question authority. An elderly man (as she recalls) with white hair and wrinkles, he belonged to a generation born in the previous century, so far removed from her carefree, swinging 1960's--his signed statement, then, was surely ironic:

I, CLAY H. JENSEN, attorney, appeared on behalf of subject patient [Signed] Clay H. Jensen.

Various people, including her lawyer, asked some silly geography questions, particularly interested in knowing what states one must travel through to get to Pennsylvania.

They also asked about past drug use; Jennifer answered truthfully. When they asked if she currently used, she answered “no,” also the truth.

However, “no” did not fit the parameters of the paperwork.

The court determined that the girl should go to Cherokee Mental Health Institute for screening. Diagnosis: Mental Illness.

So what might one surmise from the legal paperwork?

Perhaps if the girl had competent legal representation, her counsel would have blasted holes through the paperwork, and Jennifer would have avoided two months of involuntary confinement.

But she was young, and even as she rebelled on one level, she still believed in absolutes, the power of the establishment and her own helplessness against it.

The system and its workers were older and more experienced than she, so they were able to impose on her their will by manipulating the law to fit what they believed what was right for the girl and all young people who would buck social norms.

The commitment laws of the time could not protect her; once a court deemed a person unfit, she could essentially be held hostage in a mental institution indefinitely. Moreover, the doctors, psychologists, and social workers could take their own sweet time conducting their tests on the patient.

The 1972 and 1975 Supreme Court decisions came too late for her.


"The Politics of Paperwork" is copyright 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

This text may not be republished or reposted without permission.


Outtake: More Snippets


(East Berlin, Pennsylvania)

January 28, 2005

Visiting Jeanette my ex mother-in-law, I give a Jeff a first-draft copy, on CD. I have read horror stories about writers publishing memoirs and not even revealing to the major players that such a book was in the works and then are shocked when the repercussions roll over them like swift flows of boiling lava.

I don’t conduct my life that way; I try to do unto others as I would wish for me. Besides, there’s too much at stake here: our friendly relationship, our current spouses, our son, and our granddaughter. It’s only fair that Jeff knows how his life might be changed by what I have revealed about him and our past together. I am, perhaps, harder on myself than I am on him, but I chose to reveal my past.

He has not.

I usually don’t allow people to read my first drafts, but, in this case, I need to know now if (1) I have to make major changes, or (2) If I have to abandon the project entirely. I hope I don’t have to do the latter. A lot of sweat and a few tears have gone into this memoir.

I’m nervous--how will he read this book? Will he cringe in utter horror? Will he yell and scream? Will he threaten to sue me?

These are worst case scenarios; I suspect his reactions about having a part of his past laid bare will fall somewhere in the middle of total horror and utter ecstasy.

(York, Pennsylvania)

January 31, 2005

Jeff calls; we talk for three hours. Over the weekend, he read the book and has reacted as I had hoped: as a trip back to another time, a nostalgic glimpse into a past long gone.

“I couldn’t put it down,” he says. But he is quick to point out that he might not be a good judge of the book’s readability--he is, after all, a major supporting character, so, of course, he would find the events compelling and interesting.

Later, I will need a more dispassionate reader to offer content and stylistic feedback.

Jeff does feel some unease about what I have revealed about both of us, mainly our drug use; he’s slightly uncomfortable at having that chapter opened at this late date.

“But it’s a necessary part of the book,” he says. “It has to be in there. So I have been overruled.”

One writer respecting the needs of another, even at some personal cost. I owe him. Maybe this is my reward for not writing this book twenty years ago when our son was only 14.

For me, the unease has always been about the opening of my past sexual experiences, but, again, it’s a necessary part of the book.

I, too, have been overruled.

(Skopje, Macedonia)

February 4-July 7, 2005

To leave Cherokee behind, once and for all, I had to journey, via Skopje, Macedonia, through those eight months between October 1968 through May 1969–revisit 18-year-old Jennifer, and attempt to make sense of my grandparents’ and the state of Iowa’s actions.

Memoir titles that were ultimately rejected:

  • Via Cherokee Way: memoir of a detoured life

  • The Road to Cherokee

  • Byway to Cherokee: a Detoured Life

  • By the Way, Cherokee: memoir of a detoured life


"More Snippets" is copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

This text may not be republished or reposted without permission.


Outtakes: Snippets Here and There

Skopje, Macedonia: Rainbow Over Mt. Vodno

September 22, 2004-January 19, 2005

(Skopje, Macedonia)

I’m in a foreign land, looking back at what has become a foreign landscape.

How do I explain my writing time here in Skopje?

In a sense, I have embarked on two journeys: the actual journey across the ocean, and my return journey into the past. Ironically, the journey to Skopje is also a journey into the past because Jerry and I were here 16 years ago when Macedonia was still a republic of Yugoslavia.

Yes, we have reconnected with many of the same people, but it's as if they have all moved to somewhere else and we have come to visit them.

Skopje, with all its new buildings and changed landscape, feels like a new place with a renewed energy.

For me, the idea of a journey is both metaphorical and actual, and sometimes both.


Letters versus e-mails, instant messaging, and cell phones.

I don’t think e-mails, cells, and instant messaging would have yielded the same kind of Cherokee story.

In 1969, there was something intense about waiting in a mental institution for an answer to a question via the postal service; from postmark date, letters took 2-3 days to complete their journey. Daily, anticipation electrified the air as Jeff (in Pennsylvania) and I (in Iowa) waited for the postman to arrive, disappointment palpable if nothing arrived that day. Often, we, at any given time, were at different emotional stages as our letters cris-crossed across the country.

Electronic devices would have given us instant access to each others’ feelings, and, perhaps, our responses would have been more impulsive and heated. The act of physically writing a letter with pen and paper seems to have had a more equalizing effect on the psyche than an instant message or phone call, an opportunity to “consider” or even “reconsider” a reaction, which is not to say that we weren’t impulsive--a few letters got sent that should have been iced, but, for the most part, we “censored” ourselves. I suspect that many romances conducted through the web fizzle rather quickly.

Letters, even as they age and turn yellow, are tangible relics from the past. More people, I suspect, saved old love letters than will have save old love e-mails, but time will prove or disprove that theory. Even if old lovers do save their e-mails, the words will look the same on the electronic page 10, 20, 30, 100 years from now.

Also, handwritten letters are especially revealing about their authors, disclosing mood, personality, intelligence, and education--in e-mails, one does not get the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of handwriting.

But the truth is, had the electronic age been upon us 35 years ago, Jeff and I would have used any device that would have put us in quick contact, just like young people do now.

In Jeff’s home, the family would have had a computer, hooked up to the internet, and the mental institution would have had some stations available for patient use.

No doubt, I would have had a cell phone--I’m not sure about Jeff.


I have no pics of that era. [Most of the illustrations on this blog are symbolic representations of that other time.] I e-mailed Nancy Seaman of Hollywood Hangover about posting The Mission section, and when she asked if I had any pictures, I realized I had none. I also have no pics of my time in the institution.

Cameras, I suspect, were not allowed there. It never occurred to me to “sneak” pictures--

I wonder why?


Jeff, 1970

Even though our marriage did not work out, this is what I have learned from Jeff:

  • To look at the world from different angles--there is no one right way to see and do things.

  • In the darkest of day, humor always uplifts the spirit.

  • To read, read, read. One does not have to be a college graduate to be well-read and educated; in fact, some college graduates are quite ignorant because they don’t look beyond the mundane and the ordinary and they don’t read great literature.

  • To embrace abstract thought--I’ll never be a great philosopher, but I can appreciate their ideas and open my mind to ideas not my own.

  • Closely related to the above: not to take life so literally--to think in terms of similes and metaphors.

  • That living life should not be a linear journey--that backtracks, tangents, switchbacks, and side landings are not only okay but vital.

  • That having a “big career” does not necessarily make one happy; it is better to take life slow and enjoy the small pleasures: a gorgeous day, a flower at peak, ordinary rocks, lackadaisical moments (preferably with coffee or a beer, depending on mood and moment).

  • To play--of all the adults I know, Jeff plays the most like a child. He likes doing kid things. When I was a young wife, it kind of embarrassed me, but now I think it’s great to witness such exuberance.

  • To look at life through a prism instead of just a window. Through a window, you will see what is; through a prism you see what could be, many times over, the permutation of possibility.

  • That art isn’t necessarily about execution, but, rather, about the concept behind the work. Great artists employ both technique and concept--which is why they are great--but if I had to choose, I would choose a well thought-out concept over lifeless perfection (For example, Adolf Hitler’s perfect, yet soulless, city-scape watercolors).

One of Jeff’s early paintings comes to mind. It was rather crudely done, almost in a primitive style, but the idea behind it imparted a somewhat gloomy, existential outlook on the human condition, the repetitiveness of human tasks, many of which are quite pointless.

The perspective:

An observer (unseen) is (presumably) sitting high up in a tree, looking down, between two or three leaves, in various fall colors, at a middle-aged man, balding, working hard at raking leaves into a huge pile.

No title or caption needed.


Rhia Alden Brown (above), our new granddaughter, born December 3, 2004, at 1:22 p.m EST (7:22 p.m. Skopje time). She came into this world while I was writing a draft of this memoir.

It felt strange writing this book as I awaited, from afar in a foreign land, the birth of a grandchild that Jeff and I share; on the one hand, our romance probably should have never evolved into a full-blown relationship and our eventual marriage, and, yet, as I look at the pictures of the lovely Rhia Alden Brown, our path back then was exactly right.

A coincidence:

Jeff and I had planned on naming Eric “Eric Alden Brown,” but, at the last minute, decided on “Nicholas” instead--we thought the name sounded “too old” for a baby. We were so young that we couldn’t quite grasp that our baby would grow up and into the name. Eric and Priscilla chose the name because she’s a direct descendant of John Alden (of Mayflower fame), and, in her family, at least one child of each generation assumes “Alden,” usually as a middle name.


A note on the first page of the first draft of my memoir:

"Current events, September 1968 to May 1969."

I had decided that this would be part memoir, part history.

To that end, I spent three months surfing the internet, searching for interesting historical events to weave throughout the book .

What I found: too much of a good thing--it was the 1960's, after all--swelling the first draft of the book to almost 800 pages.

Lovely material that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Perhaps I'll post some of those historical snippets on this blog.

No promises, though.


"Snippets Here and There" is copyright 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.


Outtake: And be One Reluctant Traveler...


(September 3, 2004 - September 21, 2004)

(York, Pennsylvania)

The Road Not Taken

--------------------Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
--------------------And sorry I could not travel both
--------------------And be one traveler, long I stood
--------------------And looked down one as far as I could
--------------------To where it bent in the undergrowth;

--------------------Then took the other, as just as fair,
--------------------And having perhaps the better claim,
--------------------Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
--------------------Though as for that the passing there
--------------------Had worn them really about the same,

--------------------And both that morning equally lay
--------------------In leaves no step had trodden black.
--------------------Oh, I kept the first for another day!
--------------------Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
--------------------I doubted if I should ever come back.

--------------------I shall be telling this with a sigh
--------------------Somewhere ages and ages hence:
--------------------Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
--------------------I took the one less traveled by,
--------------------And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost

Source: Bartleby


I moved to York on May 6, 1969. Except for a few years abroad and one year in Gainesville, Florida, I have lived in York ever since, longer than anywhere else, including Sioux City.

In 1969, I had but one road in mind: to Jeff. If not for Jeff, I might have stayed in Sioux City or tried California again, but York simply would not have been a place on my map.

But here I am, the course of my life determined by a single-minded decision by a young woman determined to escape her grandparents, to live with a young man she barely knew.

Do I ever wonder how my life might have turned had I not borrowed Eleanor’s transistor radio and sat down next to Jeff Brown on the wall outside of Wallich’s Music City in Hollywood?

Every day.

But without regrets.

Times have not always been easy, but I would have had hard times, no matter where I eventually settled.

Actually, I feel fortunate; via circuitous and often dead-end roads, I found Jerry Siegel, my life companion.

Certainly, throughout the York years, I have experienced minor detours–-though not enough to base entire books–detours of my own making.

The road to Cherokee was different, somehow; I was lost, alienated–-I had not chosen that detour for myself. Traveling to York was totally my decision.

In York, positive events came to pass: I bore my son, married Jeff, discovered higher education–-met and married Jerry, far outweighing the negative aspects: divorce from Jeff, some wrong educational and career choices, years of poverty.

Eleanor and her transistor radio has made my life with Jerry possible.

Now, at 53, I stand at the beginning of a new road, although it, too, will lead back to York: to Skopje, Macedonia.

This will be a reluctant journey, one that I would not take on my own; still, I choose to go because it’s important to Jerry. Since 1969, I have come to understand that life often involves a series of compromises–-sometimes, we have to accompany others on their journeys.

We rush around, getting ready. So much to do, to remember, to pack.

I have photocopied 90-plus letters, my hospital and court records, a booklet about Cherokee, and a newspaper, items I will need for my memoir.

I will write a book about Cherokee.

Two weeks before our departure, we encounter a minor detour: Auto Europe informs us that our car lease deal has fallen apart, something to do with the European Union not allowing its cars in Eastern Europe. This snag involves changing, at significant expense, our itinerary, our final Continental Airlines destination Skopje instead of Rome. This also means that we won’t have a car, which bothers Jerry more than me.

Driving in Eastern Europe holds no great charms for me.

By September 21, we have worked out the itinerary problem; Mark, Jerry’s brother, and Missy take us to Baltimore-Washington International, where we catch the first leg to Skopje, via Zurich.

Tucked safely in my carry-on are my photocopies and a Dell laptop--in my head, a lot questions.


Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel

"And be One Reluctant Traveler..." may not be re-posted or republished without permission.


Read more: Index/Table of Contents

Outtake: The Politics of Memoir

Jubilant Jennifer and Jeff together, Spring 1970
Article moved to Why I Write.

Outtake: United Airlines Flight #266


Flight Transcript


First Officer: Ah, we've had a fire warning on Number One engine we shut down. We'd like to come back.

LOS ANGELES DEPARTURE CONTROL: United 266, roger. What is your present altitude?



SECOND OFFICER: We're gonna get screwed up. I don't know [what's going on]

FIRST OFFICER: Keep it going up, Arnie. You're a thousand feet...pull it up...


Breaking News:

18 January 1969; United Airlines 727, Flight #266; Los Angeles, CA: The aircraft crashed into Santa Monica Bay shortly after a night takeoff in poor weather. The crew reported an engine one fire warning, shut down the engine, and initiated an air turn back before crashing into the water at high speed and an unusual attitude. Electrical failure was suspected. All six crew members and 32 passengers were killed.
This is an important fact; two days earlier, on January 16, my grandfather and I had flown this very flight.

I had begged my grandfather for two extra days in Hollywood, to tie up some loose ends.

"No," he said. "You've had enough time."


I Believe in Destiny

Enigma's "Return to Innocence" (1984)


More details about the crash of United Flight 266

United Airlines Flight 266 was a scheduled flight from Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California, to General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, via Stapleton International Airport, Denver, Colorado, with 38 on board. On January 18, 1969, at approximately 18:21 PST it crashed into Santa Monica Bay, Pacific Ocean, approximately 11.5 miles west of Los Angeles International Airport four minutes after takeoff.

Two minutes into its flight, the pilots reported a fire warning in the No. 1 engine and shut it down. The aircraft had departed LAX with one of its three generators inoperable, and shutting down the suspect engine took a second generator offline. The remaining generator became overloaded and shut down, resulting in the loss of all electrical power.

The pilots began flying in total darkness with less than 3 miles visibility due to fog and rain, with no lights or instruments, and consequently lost complete control of the aircraft due to disorientation and crashed killing all 38.

At the time, a battery powered back-up source for instruments was not required on commercial aircraft. The accident prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to require all transport category aircraft to have new backup instrumentation installed, and powered by a source independent of the generators.



What is Memoir? (Wikipedia Definition)


As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning "memory"), or a reminiscence, forms a subclass of autobiography--although the terms 'memoir' and 'autobiography' are today almost interchangeable. The author of a memoir may be referred to as a memoirist.

Nature of memoirs

Memoirs may appear less structured and less encompassing than formal autobiographical works as they are usually about part of a life rather than the chronological telling of a life from childhood to adulthood/old age. Traditionally, memoirs usually dealt with public matters, rather than personal, and many older memoirs contain little or no information about the writer, and are almost entirely concerned with other people. They tended to be written by politicians or people in court society, later joined by military leaders and businessmen, and often dealt exclusively with the writer's careers rather than their private life. Modern expectations have changed this, even for heads of government. Like most autobiographies, memoirs are generally written from the first person point of view.

Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." It is more about what can be gleaned from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.

Contemporary practices of writing memoirs for recreational, family or therapeutic purposes are sometimes referred to as legacy writing or personal history. Such products may be assisted by professional or amateur genealogists, or by ghostwriters.

Types of memoir

Memoirs have often been written by politicians or military leaders as a way to record and publish an account of their public exploits. In the eighteenth century, "scandalous memoirs," allegedly factual but largely invented, were written (mostly anonymously) by prostitutes or libertines: these were widely read in France for their vulgar details and gossip. In another vein, the pagan rhetor Libanius framed his life memoir as one of his orations, not the public kind, but the literary kind that would be read aloud in the privacy of one's study. This kind of memoir refers to the idea in ancient Greece and Rome, that memoirs were like "memos," pieces of unfinished and unpublished writing which a writer might use as a memory aid to make a more finished document later on.

Women writers have been prominent amongst those combining the memoir form with historical non-fiction writing. Examples include Helen Epstein's Czech-based Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for her Mother's History and Jung Chang's Wild Swans. Maxine Hong Kingston's book The Woman Warrior is an example of a memoir that combines factual material with fictional material as it tells the author's story and the story of her family.

Some professional contemporary writers such as David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs have specialised in writing amusing essays in the form of memoirs. To some extent this is an extension of the tradition of newspaper columnists' regular accounts of their lives. (Cf. the work of James Thurber which often has a strong memoir-like content).

Another category of memoir is the eyewitness account of history by onlookers to major events or particular eras; Slave narratives fall into this category as do those by Primo Levi, Heda Kovaly, and Elie Wiesel.

See also


----------List of autobiographies


----------Fake memoirs

----------Category: Memoirists


Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memoir

Outtake: "Preparations" (Essay)


by Jennifer Semple Siegel

(August 18, 2004-September 2, 2004)

(Sioux City, Iowa)

Summer 2004 has been extremely busy; getting ready for a year in Eastern Europe has been daunting and confusing. Many changes have taken place in Macedonia since Jerry’s last Fulbright there 16 years ago, including its independence from Yugoslavia, but we don’t know exactly what that means, so we’re not quite sure how to prepare or what to bring with us. Our good friend Liljiana Ordev and past Fulbrighters have assured us that most goods are available and that internet connection, while expensive, is up and running, but we keep thinking back all those years when the communists were still in power and about the stark socialist gray of the urban landscape–-when many goods were scarce and inflation 100% a month. So, in our minds, we carry this history.

In late May, after a difficult school year, we went to Daytona Beach for two weeks to read AP essays; in June and July, nearly every day spent doing a task connected with this trip; in mid-July, the Fulbright orientation; in late July, Jerry’s surgery and two weeks for recovery. I have spent January through July getting my short story collection ready for publication, finally released in late July.

“I don’t know if we’ll have time for Sioux City this year,” Jerry said, just before the orientation.

“We’ll have to find time,” I said, slightly pissed off; after all, we have devoted most of the summer to this Fulbright, his Fulbright. I just wanted these two weeks for me.

“Okay, I’ll try to schedule some time in August,” he says, a note of exasperation in his voice.

“I could always go alone.”

“I’ll make the time.”

Don’t do me any favors.

I feel slightly resentful toward Jerry anyway; I need to promote my book, but I can’t really do so until we return from Macedonia, and, by that time, it may be too late. Europe isn’t exactly a hot marketing spot for a collection of short stories about a fat woman.

Also, I will miss the late November birth of Rhia Alden Brown, my granddaughter–that, more than anything else, makes this year away feel all wrong.

But I knew that this Fulbright was a possibility before embarking on publication and certainly before Priscilla, my daughter-in-law, became pregnant.

Jerry does make the time for Iowa–-his concession for dragging me off to Macedonia.

As much as I wanted to escape Iowa in 1969, I need her now, especially since I soon will be living halfway around the world.

On many levels, this trip to Iowa has been important. Aside from the obvious visiting of family, going to casinos and races, antiquing and shopping, and just plain lounging around, this year’s visit feels slightly different. First, I wanted to show off Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories) to family-–perhaps set up some readings at local bookstores.

The family is only slightly impressed and the bookstores not at all.

Such is the self-publishing life.

I also needed to get my court records; I don’t even know if this memoir is possible at all, but I know it won’t be if I don’t have those records–-I need to know who committed me to Cherokee. For the past 35 years, this has been an unsettling mystery. Mo and Dee Dee would never talk about that time, except, perhaps, in fits of anger, when Mo would flat out say that I needed to be committed and suggested that, perhaps, I had signed myself in.

No way.

Fortunately, the letters, which I have photocopied and brought with me, offer a specific date-–February 19, 1969–-that I was committed, the same day the court papers would have been filed. We arrive in Iowa on the 18th; on the 20th, Jerry and I go to the courthouse, but the records office is closed because of a state budget holiday. We go again on Monday, August 23; now I have to wait a day while they retrieve my records from a vault. I also have to show my passport, proving my identity–-these are not criminal records, and, therefore, are not covered under the sunshine laws. The clerks simply want to make sure that Jennifer L. Semple’s privacy is protected and that I’m really Ms. Semple, who does have the right to see her commitment records. They photocopy my passport front page.

The next day, they call, and I return to the courthouse, have the pages photocopied, and pay a small fee.

What I find in those records regarding my commitment is a complete surprise.

We’re staying with Lyle and Colleen Baker–legally, she’s my sister, but, in actuality, she’s my aunt, my natural mother’s sister–-and they were close.

I have broached the subject of this book with Colleen; I get the sense that she’s uneasy about the possibility. In 1969, we had a falling out because Colleen took Mo and Dee Dee’s side, and I’m not anxious to have a falling out in 2004. But she and other family members need to understand that I must write this book and that I will be harsh in my treatment of Mo and Dee Dee, especially Mo. I will not be kind to my mother, either.

Colleen doesn’t remember much about the events leading up to my commitment. She was overwhelmed with raising her five kids, the oldest five years younger than me; while I was in the hospital, we had no contact, and I don’t remember seeing her during my trial visits home. Lyle didn’t even know about my commitment until I told him, on August 20, why I needed to visit the courthouse.

“This family keeps a lot of secrets,” he said, shaking his head.

“I pretty much kept this one to myself,” I said. “But I thought you knew.”

Lyle shook his head. “No one tells me anything.”

All these years, I have kept my commitment a secret–-I had very good reason to do so. No matter the reason for being committed to a mental institution, it was a black mark, both professionally and socially. In the late sixties and early seventies, every employment application asked, “Have you ever been committed to a mental institution? Explain.”

To answer “yes” would have ended any possibilities for employment–-no one wanted to hire a potential wacko. And to explain would have meant that they could have access to my hospital records, and I had no idea what those records would reveal. At that time, I had no idea that I, too, had the right to a copy of “Mental Health Records: Patient #29109.”

So I always answered, “No,” and kept my fingers crossed, hoping that no one would find out.

Now I tell complete strangers my story–-the short version, of course. If they want the long version, they can read my book.

As we leave for York, Pennsylvania, I feel a pang for Sioux City, a place I will soon eviscerate cruelly with my computer keyboard.


Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel. "Preparations" may not be republished or reposted without permission of author.

Outtake: "Cherokee, Iowa--Three Challenges in Search of a Triumph" (Essay)


by Jennifer Semple Siegel

February 1969: Woodbury County, Iowa, committed me, an 18-year-old hippie chick, to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. At a competency hearing in Sioux City, I admitted to using LSD–evidently enough testimony to force an involuntary commitment.

I had not been convicted of a crime.

Post moved to Memoir Madness.

"Jennifer Juniper," Donovan Leitch, 1968 (YouTube)

Jefferson Airplane


Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love"

Jefferson Airplane performing live both "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love" on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. More