I started my college education with a declared major in Psychology because the treatment of mental illness has always interested me. (I subscribed to Psychology Today as a teenager! How nerdy is that?!?)
A field trip to Bryce Institute and Partlow Developmental Center in one of my classes (plus my inability to understand the required math at that level) quickly forced a change in majors. However, I will never-ever forget the emotional trauma of seeing the patients in Bryce Institute. Nor will I ever forget the smell. And I’m absolutely sure that we were only shown the relatively mild wards. It was a severe shock to my sheltered existence. I quickly realized that the treatment of mental illness was not for the faint of heart and definitely not for me.
Enter my love of photography and my passion to photograph old, abandoned places.
An excursion to Bryce Institute – now being demolished by the University of Alabama – was out of the question, but a quick day trip to the Jemison Center in Northport AL seemed possible. I think most of what is posted on the Internet about the Jemison Center is misinformation, but there is apparently some connection with the center and the treatment of mental illness. I certainly left with more questions than answers: Why were some of the rooms yellow and some blue? Why were some of the door frames on one floor painted a bright yellow? Why were there so many windows? How many patients were actually housed there? Does a floor plan exist anywhere that would tell how the floors and rooms were divided for use? Which floor had the administrative offices? How were the patients fed (I didn’t see anything that looked like a kitchen/dining area and the building that was supposed to be the cafeteria was quite far away)? Where was the medicine kept? How were the patients treated?
So many questions… I’m definitely making a trip to the Alabama Department of Archives and History tomorrow to see what I can learn about the place. Hopefully, a follow-up post will be in order.
Here are my captures from the day. There are a few infrared shots of the exterior taken with my Sony F828. Also a few shots taken with a Lensbaby on the Canon 5D Mark III. These were quickly relegated to the backpack after we entered the building because it was too difficult to navigate the debris with them. Most were taken with the ever-functional Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 on the Canon 5D Mark III. They were post-processed with Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 so they portray as much of what I felt in the building as what I saw. I apologize in advance if some of the graffiti is offensive. While a few pieces were quite artistic, most were irreverent and small-minded.
**Please note: I have, since posting, learned that the Northport Police and the Alabama Department of Mental Health are aggressive in prosecuting trespassing on the grounds for safety reason. So, although there is not a gate or “no trespassing” signs posted at the time I was there, please be forewarned.**
Mark 5 1-7 So they arrived on the other side of the lake in the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man in the grip of an evil spirit rushed to meet him from among the tombs where he was living. It was no longer possible for any human being to restrain him even with a chain. Indeed he had frequently been secured with fetters and lengths of chain, but he had simply snapped the chains and broken the fetters in pieces. No one could do anything with him. All through the night as well as in the day-time he screamed among the tombs and on the hill-side, and cut himself with stones. Now, as soon as he saw Jesus in the distance, he ran and knelt before him, yelling at the top of his voice, “What have you got to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”
8 For Jesus had already said, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
9 Then he asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is legion,” he replied, “for there are many of us.”
10 Then he begged and prayed him not to send “them” out of the country.
11-12 A large herd of pigs was grazing there on the hill-side, and the evil spirits implored him, “Send us over to the pigs and we’ll get into them!”
13-19 So Jesus allowed them to do this, and they came out of the man, and made off and went into the pigs. The whole herd of about two thousand stampeded down the cliff into the lake and was drowned. The swineherds took to their heels and spread their story in the city and all over the countryside. Then the people came to see what had happened. As they approached Jesus, they saw the man who had been devil-possessed sitting there properly clothed and perfectly sane—the same man who had been possessed by “legion”—and they were really frightened. Those who had seen the incident told them what had happened to the devil-possessed man and about the disaster to the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave their district. As he was embarking on the small boat, the man who had been possessed begged that he might go with him. But Jesus would not allow this. “Go home to your own people,” he told him, “And tell them what the Lord has done for you, and how kind he has been to you!”
20 So the man went off and began to spread throughout the Ten Towns the story of what Jesus had done for him. And they were all simply amazed.
–J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins
DiAnna Paulk is an award-winning Certified Professional Photographer specializing in weddings and portraiture in Montgomery, Alabama and the River Region (Montgomery, Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook).
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