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The Orphan Zoo: The Rise and Fall of the Farm at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center

Thought Catalog Books, August 2014

In 2012 and 2013 I spent time at “The Farm,” a program for mental patients at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. Originally designed to teach its “members” confidence and skills by caring for animals and plants, the Farm long ago became a hoarder’s den. The patients sat idly on chairs in a grimy dayroom filled with the therapist’s “collectibles” and garbage. The room was crawling with roaches, and a neglected bunny lived in his own feces and urine under the couches. The farmland had been fallow for years, and at dawn drug dealers gathered around the nearby picnic tables. I interviewed the Farm members until the program finally collapsed in the summer of 2013. Augmented with audio snippets, photos and historic newspaper articles, The Orphan Zoo chronicles the repercussions of America’s deinstitutionalization, the center’s decades-long lack of constructive involvement and the tragic fall of a once promising program.

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Among Murderers: Life After Prison

University of California Press, March 2013

What is it like for a convicted murderer who has spent decades behind bars to suddenly find himself released into a world he barely recognizes? What is it like to start over from nothing? How does it feel to bear the shame of having killed someone?

Sabine Heinlein spent more than two years at the Fortune Society’s Castle, a prominent halfway house in West Harlem, shadowing her book’s three protagonists as they painstakingly learn how to master their freedom. Having lived most of their lives behind bars, the men struggle to cross the street, choose a dish at a restaurant, and withdraw money from an ATM. Heinlein’s empathetic first-person narrative gives a visceral sense of the men’s inner lives and of the institutions they encounter on their odyssey to redemption. Among Murderers asks what constitutes successful rehabilitation and how one faces the prospect of rejoining society with the guilt and shame of having taken taken another person’s life.

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