Review: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah by Stephen Seager

 

Title: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah: Life inside of one of America’s largest hospitals for the criminally insane.

Author: Stephen Seager

Published: Allen & Unwin January 2015

Status: Read from January 07 to 08, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a fascinating insider’s view of life inside the Napa State Psychiatric Hospital in California by physician/psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Seager.

Napa State is a low to moderate security facility, housing around 1300 men and women committed to the hospital by both civil and forensic (court mandated) referral. The patients suffer from a range of serious mental health problems including mood, personality and anxiety disorders, a proportion of whom have been declared criminally insane.

Dr Seager spent a year working in ‘Unit C’ amongst some of the state’s most frightening men convicted of serious crimes including multiple murders and violent rapes of both women and children. This is the eye opening account of his time at the facility, the people he met and the lessons he learned.

“You can’t be a hospital and a prison at he same time.”

Treated like hospital patients instead of prison inmates, these violent criminals have frightening freedoms. The ‘Patients Right’s Charter’ means they cannot be compelled to take medication to treat their illness, they are free to roam the ward, and there are no guards on the unit despite the fact that serious assaults between patients occur on a regular basis. On his first day Seager witnessed a patient almost beat another man to death with a chair and received 10 stitches to his head when he tried to intervene. The offender, a high functioning sociopath with a tattoo reading HELL across his forehead, was never charged with either assault.

“I realized that the sickness of Gomorrah was violence but the symptom was denial.”

I have nothing but admiration for the staff who work in Unit C. Despite the high level of stress and very real risks to their safety – staff have been brutally injured, and even killed by patients- Seager portrays them as being committed to the care and well being of their charges. I share Seager’s contempt for the administration and bureaucracy that fails to protect them, I don’t understand how they can ignore the realities of dealing with violent offenders, essentially fostering an environment of “…overwhelming impotence”.

“And then nothing. Nothing ever changes.”

Seager wrote Behind the Gates of Gomorrah not only to expose the flaws of the facility, and the other 200 like it, but also as a plea for something to be done. His suggestions for dealing with forensic patients are sensible and practical – implementing mandated treatment, creating a housing environment that maintains safety and order, providing a law enforcement security presence on every ward/unit and encouraging staff to assert their right to safe working conditions. Something has to change.

Written with compassion, humour and purpose, Behind the Gates of Gomorrah is a compelling read of mental illness, monsters and madness.

 Available to purchase from

Allen & Unwin Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. notesoflifeuk
    Jan 11, 2015 @ 07:35:50

    This sounds like a book I enjoy. I often watch TV documentaries about such places, but rarely read books about them.

    Like

    Reply

  2. shrakkbookattack
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 02:51:58

    Wow! This is sounds like an insanely good book. No pun intended. Thanks so much for a tantalizing review!

    Like

    Reply

  3. DoingDewey
    Jan 19, 2015 @ 14:16:55

    Wow. This sounds like a fascinating but also terrifying story. I love how much you can learn by reading nonfiction🙂

    Like

    Reply

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