The Sibling Secret Project
Pecha Kucha: A presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each.
"The Sibling Secret" project is about a dark family secret, we NEVER spoken of when I was a child. The story of how, in the 50’s, Intellectually Challenged children were sent to institutions and pretty much “forgotten” about. This is what happened to my brother. I have told my story a handful of times publicly, and twice was approached by someone telling me about their brother or sister that they haven’t met, I learned that it is a very common shameful secret. This secret is not about blame, but more-so, circumstantial of the times.
My goal is to bring change from the lost past, breaking the silence and stigma. Most importantly, bringing a voice of advocacy to those unable to speak and so desperately in need.
Below will give you a feeling of my project…
Mansfield Training School and Hospital
I hated this place my whole life growing up.
I only went once when I was 17, and it scared me. I went to visit my brother... Mansfield Training School, an institute for the "Feebleminded", shut down in the 90's for all the right reasons. Overcrowding, abuse, neglect, sanitation, etc. The people living there were then placed in small home communities, my brother being one. Today he still lives in the same one he was transferred to and is extremely lucky. He is also one of my favorite people on this earth.
As for Mansfield... it was donated to Southern Connecticut State College and since abandoned. Overgrown, boarded up and left, actually left as it was. Strangely, just left. Papers everywhere, toilet paper rolls still full, patients files... it's eerie.
While I was in Boston in August, I went and photographed it. I really wanted to see and be in Andy’s history. I was ready to do a whole photo essay on how terrible it was — all in black and white. However, when I got there and started shooting, I keep seeing signs of effort. Signs that somebody did once care. I actually found it hard to hate the place. I am still sad for all those who were there, but there is no hate. Here is the photo that changed what my heart knew... it was the houses on the curtains.
Asking for the Senator’s help…
I am working on getting continuous access into Mansfield.
Below is a letter, hand delivered to Senator Murphy.
Dear Senator Murphy,
My name is Katie Settel and I am a life long resident of Connecticut.
I have been working on a very personal project and I believe if done correctly, can change a lot of lives. I have chosen to write to you, not only because I greatly appreciate all that you stand for, but also because you are paving a new path involving mental health. My goal is not about changing laws, but more so, helping the families that were affected by the large institutions in the 50's to reconnect with their 'lost" brother or sister.
In short, I have a brother who is intellectually challenged. When my mother was pregnant in the 50's, she and my dad went out to dinner with another couple and the woman had German Measles. My mom became infected, had identical twins, and both born with serve mental challenges. They were sent to an institution, as "suggested" (urged) by the doctors and pretty much "forgotten" about. This was no reflection on my parents, it was just how mental illness was handled back then. Danny died after a year there and Andy eventually, went onto Mansfield. I had never met Andy and was always haunted by that, he was the family secret we rarely spoke of. At 17, I convinced my mother to take me to visit Andy at The Mansfield Training School and the whole experience terrified me. Psychically, he was my two other brothers mixed in one and it was loud and it was crowded. I never went back and he remained there for another 15 years. Eventually, the large institutions were shut down due to neglect and overcrowding, and Andy was transferred to a group home in Monroe where he remains today. About eight years ago, I started to visit him regularly and today he is a vital part of our family. He is blind and doesn't speak, I know nothing of his yesterdays, but I am here for his tomorrows. I am his voice and his proud sister and I no longer hesitate when asked how many kids are in my family. Most importantly, I am his advocate.
I have shared about my brother publicly only a handful of times and twice was approached by someone telling me that they too have a brother or sister they never met. I began to realize that I was not the only one with this lost history. Even though times have changed, there are still a ton of brothers and sisters in group homes that are alone because this secret endures. I want to tell my story, show that there is no shame. I want to combine history with today's acceptance and unite families so that they may become advocates for siblings who cannot speak for themselves.
In order to tell my story, I need to be able to give people a better understanding of what institutionalization actually meant. The only way to do this I believe is to re-visit Mansfield and gather more images to accompany my story.
I am hoping that with your help, I can gain access to Mansfield and my project can move forward. Movies have been filmed there and articles written, but with a heartfelt mission like mine, and not a name behind it, I fear being shut down before it can begin. I believe with a special request from you, we can break down any remaining barriers and reunite families.
I know you are a huge advocate of Mental health and I am hoping to count on your support with this. I will follow up with an email next week to hear your thoughts.
I appreciate your time.