October 18th, 2016
Recently, Paton Blough has been working towards ending Halloween attractions that include portrayals of mentally ill individuals in asylums or prisons. Paton recently wrote an open letter to the Harvest of Horror at Denver Downs–an Upstate SC horror theme attraction for Halloween. This year’s Harvest of Horror had stereotypical depictions of mentally ill prison inmates and asylum wards that are offensive and disturbing to mentally ill people and their loved ones. Paton’s letter, which you can read here, requested that the Harvest of Horror change their attraction and apologize to mentally ill individuals who live in the area. The director of Denver Downs did agree to make some modifications to the attraction to compromise with Paton.
Paton was also featured on a news segment for WYFF News 4, which followed up on Paton after writing his letter, and he was able to state his mind on the situation. Paton was also able to write an op-ed piece for the Greenville News.
The time is now for mental health advocates and the general public to call for an end to Halloween attractions that include images of the mentally ill in asylums or prison infirmaries.
A lot of effort has been made here in South Carolina and around the country in recent years to lessen the stigma and improve the lives of those living with a mental illness. However, there is much more left to do and Halloween attractions that exploit the mistreatment of the mentally ill in straight jackets, strapped to chairs or in prison infirmaries are all too real and add to the existing stigma.
One of the attractions here in the Upstate has a prison theme complete with live actors in straight jackets and a room that depicts torturing the mentally ill. If this were fictional it may be OK, unfortunately we know here in South Carolina this is not the case.
Mental Health Advocates around the state fought for and won a landmark case known as the Judge Baxley order that has forced the S.C. Department of Corrections to change its unconstitutional conditions for the mentally ill. The case outlined that inmates with bipolar and schizophrenia in some cases were spending more than five years in solitary confinement. The case graphically detailed how one inmate named Jerome Laudman died from lack of care surrounded by his rotting food trays and other things too disturbing to describe in this article. Thankfully the SC DOC has made many positive steps to the point of actually receiving an award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness for its positive response to this case. Unfortunately this case does not apply to county jails.
Now, mental health advocates and the general public need this same leadership to openly denounce these stigmatizing Halloween attractions that take us backward, not forward.
This is a civil rights injustice! Would you pay to entertain and “scare” yourself by seeing African American people being enslaved and tortured? Would you pay to entertain yourself by visiting an attraction that scared you by taking you through the Auschwitz concentration camp or that depicted the Trail of Tears? People do not choose to be mentally ill any more than someone chooses to have heart disease or cancer.
Please stand up for the family of Jerome Laudman, others that have died and people like myself who have been in a straight jacket cuffed to a chair with a bag over my head, and demand public apologies from these attractions.
There are other ways to scare people without exploiting and capitalizing on the civil injustices to a group of individuals.
The writer is the founder of Rehinge and is a SC National Alliance on Mental Illness Board Member.
Paton was also featured in an article by the Washington Post on the issue as well, along side other mental health advocates throughout the nation. You can read the full article for this on the Washington Post’s website. Paton and Rehinge gives a big thanks to Colby Itkowitz for writing this fantastic article.
Paton Blough has been arrested during bipolar episodes. An activist for mental-health awareness, Blough sent an impassioned letter to the owner of Denver Downs Farm in Anderson, S.C., after hearing about a Halloween attraction
that showed a prisoner handcuffed and in a straitjacket.
“Unfortunately, this is very real to me,” he said. “I’ve been strapped to beds and chairs in jails and hospitals.”
Blough’s letter persuaded Ron Smith, director of operations for the farm’s entertainment venues, to remove that aspect of the attraction.
“It really bothered him, so it wasn’t a big deal,” Smith said. “Some people thought it was silly, but regardless of what they thought, we didn’t even give it a second thought. We have 25 to 30 different scenes that’s part of the overall haunt, so removing one small aspect wasn’t a big deal.”