What is the BizOMadness Blog?

This blog is devoted to raising critical awareness of psychiatry generally. It is likewise devoted to the antipsychiatry research projects, publications, and related activities of Dr. Bonnie Burstow. Especially foregrounded are The Psychiatry Project, The Madness Project, and "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness". Related to one another, The Psychiatry Project and The Madness Project involve hundreds of interviews, a dozen focus groups, analysis of several hundred documents and their activation, and dedicated periods of institutional observation. The culmination of both as well as of decades of related interviews and activities is "Psychiatry and the Business of Madness" (timely updates on its publication will be provided)--a cutting edge book in which psychiatry is investigated from multiple angles and which begins to tackle the inevitable question: So if we get rid of psychiatry, where do we go from there?

For the Events page to find events related to this research or this book, see

To check out reviews of Psychiatry and the Business of Madness and related publications, see http://bizomadnessreviews.blogspot.ca/

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tribute to a Prison Abolitionist and a Friend of the Antipsychiatry Movement--Liz Elliott

A couple of weeks ago I was on the sociology department website of Simon Fraser University trying to look up an old student and colleague I had lost touch with decades ago. I found  her listed as faculty under the special category "In Memoriam". After the initial shock, I made inquiries and discovered that Liz had died approximately three years ago--after a heroic battle with cancer--and that she remained active fighting the injustices of the penal system right to the end. A fitting recognition of the rent that happens in our communities when someone dies that SFU afforded her a special place in their list of faculty. Which leads me to a Liz Elliott story, which I would like to tell as my own tribute to this remarkable activist.

It was decades ago and Liz and I were co-directors of a halfway house in Toronto (called "My Brother's Place", which was abolitionist in philosophy and which catered only to men who had spent the majority of their adult lives going between regular jails and psychiatric prisons). One day in our second year of operations, we encountered a perplexing problem. Dissension had set in in the household. The men kept denouncing each other as "rats" (translation: people who squealed to authorities and the lowest of the low according to the prison code). Day in and day out, one or other would start yelling that so-and-so was a rat, and no one should talk to him. Now we had gatherings with the men three mornings out of seven, at which we would discuss whatever the men wished--whether it be psychiatric labeling or the ways in which measures that look benign typically extend institutional control.  While Liz almost never came to these meetings, on this occasion, she did. And lo and behold, she brought with her a giant round of cheese. "What's the cheese for?" everyone asked, knowing that there is never food at these morning meetings. "In a moment," she answered. Eventually all eyes were on her. She looked from one to other, and at long last answered, "I have been watching you all for months now, and as far as I can make out, every single one of you is 'a rat'. And so let's just acknowledge that we are all rats, and let's all eat the cheese together." There was a difficult moment, as a few of the men turned pale. Liz had just uttered the worst insult anyone could give another--and if it could be believed--she had accused every single one. One guy looked like he did just before he punched a wall and another guy, muscular and over 6 foot 4, just like he did before attacking someone--moments, alas, with which we were all too familiar. I could see additionally that one of the shorter guys--Z--was holding his breath. Then suddenly one of the men began to laugh. Soon everyone was laughing. And now H, a quiet chap, who tended to keep to himself, nodded, looked around, and proceeded to do the unthinkable--cut a piece of cheese and begin eating it. Another moment's hesitation. Then another man followed suit and then another. Soon everyone was enjoying the cheese and laughing with each other. And this was the last time that people at My Brother's Place ever heard that "so-and-so" was a "fucking rat".

Make of the story what you will. Meanwhile I tender it as my own belated tribute to the remarkable penal abolitionist Liz Elliott.

1 comment:

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