Praise for The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic
By Darby Penney and Peter Stastny Photographs by Lisa Rinzler


"Darby Penney and Peter Stastny, in reconstructing the lives of ten ordinary people who spent years at Willard State Hospital, have performed an important service, reclaiming these individuals from the nameless, faceless fate of being only "mental patients." By going behind the label to find the both the beauty and the horror of their lives, Penney and Stastny have reclaimed the humanity, not only of these individuals, but of everyone who shared their fate--having their individuality stripped away by supposedly medical labels that became life sentences to the grimness of institutional life. Now, with their stories revealed, they can call out to us from beyond their graves, to confront us with their humanity and their tragedy."
--Judi Chamberlin author of On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System

"When the things they carried are all that's left of the lives they left behind, a special archival stewardship is called for. In unpacking the prior lives stored in these suitcases, Darby Penney and Peter Stastny turn remembrance into an act of alchemy: first, by reversing the process that "separated patients from their quotidian human identities," and then by seeking in these partly rebuilt narratives clues to "possible healing paths." Attending to people's stories won't reverse confusion or neutralize pain, but it might help stem gratuitous suffering. Unlike those to whom this book bears witness, the mistakes of the past are neither dead nor past."
--Kim Hopper, author of Reckoning with Homelessness, Research Scientist, Nathan Kline Institute, and Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health

"The Lives They Left Behind is a unique and mesmerizing evocation of lives erased: an extraordinary portrait of ten of the many thousands of people incarcerated for decades in mental institutions. Forcibly removed (often on only the barest pretext) from their families and occupations - nun, nurse, teacher, photographer, seamstress- they disappeared behind asylum walls, never to be seen again. With only scattered bits of each patient's former life to work with- whatever happened to be in the suitcases they brought with them to the asylum- Penney and Stastny have, after years of brilliant and compassionate effort, given us stories that are at once unnerving, heartbreaking, and a bitter testament to an era in psychiatric history whose legacy is all too present today."
--Gail A. Hornstein, Ph.D., Author of To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

"The Lives They Left Behind is a tour de force, a must-read for anyone concerned with social justice, human rights and historical reclamation. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny brilliantly rescue ten people who spent time at Willard State Hospital from certain historical anonymity and silence by giving them voice to speak for themselves. Their riveting accounts invite us to explore the turmoil and strengths of their inner terrain while mourning the erosion of hope after years of captivity and inhumane treatment in the name "help" and under the guise of "best interest." The Lives They Left Behind is more than a testament to the past, it is a wake up call to our collective conscience, to uphold the spirit and dignity of all human beings."
--Laura Prescott, President and Founder, Sister Witness International Inc.

"What a remarkable feat - Darby Penney and Peter Stastny provide tender and poignant portraits of people who were forced to submit to spirit-crushing confinement and harmful physical treatments. Like archeological digs, the authors assemble artifacts and photos that breathe life into the stories of these once forgotten lives who by dint of circumstance were forced to spend their years as mental patients. No reader will walk away untouched by these compelling stories of people who share more similarity to all of us than difference."
--Ronald Bassman, Ph.D., author of A Fight to Be: A Psychologist's Experience from Both Sides of the Locked Door