The following report and photo was sent to It’s Going Down anonymously which we reprint below.
Last week, some friends redecorated a monument built by enslaved labor – the Retreat Tower in Brattleboro Vermont.
The Tower was built by lifelong inmates of the Vermont Asylum, now renamed the Brattleboro Retreat. Its inmates, labeled insane for any reason from being epileptic to having gay relationships or being Native Abenakis who didn’t assimilate, spent their lives doing labor for which they never paid. Besides construction work on the Tower and elsewhere, they generated huge profits for their jailers by running a dairy farm that the Asylum owned.
Popular culture in this liberal state paints this as a history of ‘defective’ people being given refuge in a pastoral life. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the violence of incarceration and exploitation is alluded to at all, it is through ‘ghost stories’ – maybe, the tower is ‘haunted’, they say, by the ghosts of some inmates who committed suicide by jumping from its roof.
Here is a horror story for our times – the Mad man/woman telling the audience desperately, “I don’t belong here!” And one day, we realize that every single one of them has been right. And one day, we realize that the legal, medical, and economic authorities who did this to them, want us all caged and made docile just the same, through school, work, and precarity.
We are not ghosts, and this is not a ghost story. This is a labor and civil rights issue. Our creative-power has been stolen and used against us by waged and unwaged work alike. Take it back. Tear them all down.