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Personal Stories

Robert D Ewbank

“I got to Clinic 3 in the morning and I was on the floor crying because I didn’t want to see anybody hurt. It was like a zoo. It was like a weird, toxic, horrible, blown-out nuclear plague that you couldn’t wake up from. It was unreal.”


15 May 1955

Contact info: Sprinigfield, Oregon,USA

Currently doing: Drake works part-time at SAFE in Springfield, Oregon, a peer-run center for consumers/survivors. In his spare time, Drake is “gainfully unemployed,” and enjoys golfing and writing.

Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Solitary Confinement

Psychiatric labels: Schizophrenia, Major Depression

Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Stelazine, Zyprexia, Moban, Trilafon, Nortriptyline, injected with something that made him sterile

Off psychiatric drugs since:


Recovery methods: Self-Help (believes he was never “mentally ill” so there was nothing to recover from)

Greatest obstacle: Unable to understand how to function in a world where its six parts are explained by a five part science

Brief History:

I had been having a series of weird experiences that caused me to want to leave Seattle when the King Tut exhibition came into town in the summer of 1978. I was not in too great a shape emotionally but I wasn’t psychotic or any of the categories of “mental illness” that they label people.

At that time, I decided to go hitchhiking and to work on writing my first book. I put a bunch of stuff in a bag and started out from Olympia Washington after getting a ride to there from a person I was actually trying to get away from or out of my life. I was 23 years old, and this was around the first week in July.

I continued south on Interstate 5, getting a ride through Portland from a guy that said he just beat up one of the city council members in Camas, Washington and threw all of his furniture in the river and was going to drive to Reno to become a card dealer in a casino. He was driving at about four zillion miles an hour and was all over the road. He was drunk out of his mind. I was scared shitless so I offered to drive. So I drove him almost to the Oregon border. Oddly, when he woke up near the California border, he had remarkably sobered, he turned the car around and went right back to Camas as if he had just gone that far to drop me off. I camped at a rest area and the next day, on the way out to the coast highway through Grants Pass, the rides began to get even more odd and people’s behavior even more inexplicably unsettling.

Further down the coast, as I was coming into San Francisco, I noticed a very large digital business clock near the place in the highway where you go over the bridge into San Francisco coming down the coast highway out of Sausalito. It had the wrong time on it. I’ll never forget it, it read 3:05 in the morning. It was 11:45 in the evening.

In Berkeley, two sleazy persons picked me up – one was named Bill and the other George. They said that they were ‘film producers’ – I had no clue what they were. I proceeded to get tricked into…what happened was I was basically homosexually assaulted in a hotel room [Room 117] at the Oakland Marriott Hotel. I left there upset, though seemed to have physically survived it, however it was going to have some telling emotional effects a little later in my journey.

Anyway, I ended up the next morning near the freeway in Oakland getting picked up by a scientologist on his way to Los Angeles. He kept stopping to take pictures along the way and the van we were in overheated just before we reached Grapevine Pass north of LA. I tried to stay awake on this drive and late that day we got into LA to his house that he shared with other scientologists. He said that he dealt in ‘Royal’ copiers. The scientologists seemed odd and futuristic, talking about the nature of reality as ‘postulated’ according to plans that their sect had made. All of it made me uncomfortable and uneasy, and, try as I might, after I arrived at the place in west LA, I was unable to stay awake until 3:05. There was something important about that time, somehow I felt that I had to stay alert, like things would happen then at night.

When I woke up, I left the scientologists house, and began to walk around LA, I began to see things that were just like a few of the premonitions that I had had in Seattle before I left.

The premonitions were progressively more frequent and more inexplicably real, happening in a number of different places in LA, and things continued to get weirder and worse and I was still afraid to fall asleep and stayed up drinking coffee and wandering about for a day and one half. I became exhausted and felt more and more anxious. I had so many things that happened that I did not believe possible, and I had seen intimations of much of it before in my premonitions, and what it was became more vivid, more impossible, and more extreme. I saw people that I had dreamed about, places and events that I had dreamed about, and what finally happened is the course of events of the dreams broke. Actually, I broke them on purpose and also realised that what had happened in Oakland had broken them. What happened to me in LA was in so vivid and so unlikely and when the those events really started happening, I could not deal with it – and after what had happened, I purposely changed parts of the courses of many of those premontory events. Eventually, though, I could not keep it together. I ended up in a cab headed to the Los Angeles airport – LAX – to try to get out of LA. And I was despondent after all that had happened to me. I thought I had really screwed something up and that what I had failed to do had put people in jeopardy. I felt too like I had let myself down. I got to the airport I was in tears, unable to stop crying, and extremely emotionally damaged. I tried to phone my parents from the airport and could not get the phone to make a long distance call or collect call, I tried several phones and they were all broken this way. It was terrifying, as if I was stuck there and would never get out. No one would believe it, except none of the phones would dial out. So I panicked.

I ended up calling the operator and saying I was in intense emotional distress and I needed either a priest or a doctor. So they sent airport security, who were a real bunch of goons, and otherwise, were horrific enough to be worse than the broken nightmare that I had just gone through. They locked me in a cell and tried to find out who my parents were, I think that they succeeded in reaching them.

I ended up going from there in a police car and then to Marina Mercy Hospital, which is now called Daniel Freeman Hospital. I was in holding area on a gurney and a male nurse with a the word ‘Royal’ embroidered on his hospital outfit came in. He went, ‘You know something, Johnny Rotten here [my hair was short, and was cut punk style], ain’t got nothin’ on Bill and George.’ The reference to what had happened in Oakland was unmistakeable, except that I was in Los Angeles – I had no way in any rational scheme that I knew of to explain this. I became more terrified at what had been done to me, and more fearful that it was not just a random occurence. I was also given some sort of injection there, though oddly it was not anything that was sedating – as I stayed awake a while longer.

I was transported to LA County hospital, given full body X-rays [for a behavioral issue no less] and was sent by armed guard to Clinic 3 [mentioned in Joseph Wambaugh’s book ‘The Choir Boys’ on page 240 paper edition] in the morning to supposedly be matrixed out to another outside mental health facility, mostly I waited all that day and my father, alerted by a call from the police at the airport, flew down to pick me up from there. While being questioned by one of the staff, I remember seeking the floor crying because I didn’t want to see anybody hurt. It was like a zoo. It was like a weird, toxic, horrible, polluted, blown-out nuclear landscape that you couldn’t wake up from. The staff working there were powerful, frightening and unreal, souless, angry, and consumptive – right on top of everyone who had the misfortune to be picked up and get locked up there. I was extremely scared but I was still starkly aware of what was going on around me. While in the triage room, I remember that I was close to physically trying to prevent them from putting others in restraints there, considering trying to throw myself on them to keep them from gagging a man and putting him in four-point restraints in front of me for simply trying to pull aside a chair near one of them so he could sit in it – it was just that it was not where he was supposed to sit – and for the annoyance they locked him in restraints in front of me – as a demonstration. My dad finally came and took me out of there via the same Los Angeles airport I was picked up at. Camera flashes were going off everywhere when I was in the airport – even my father thought it especially odd.

This was so startling, terrifying, and so unreal, that I did not say a word about it to anyone for 5 years – I was that scared of what happened as well as escaping the clutches and confrontations of those who staffed Clinic 3 – I felt like I would never get away from that experience or be far enough out of the reach of those people. I had started as pretty much simple and reasonably normal suburban youth, and after some weird dreams and an encounter with the cops and the nightmare that was happening in that psych ward, I was reduced to being a labelled and incapacitated individual.

I was released from the clinic and returned to Seattle under the condition that I see a psychiatrist. When I got back, my parents put me on the phone with the one that they knew – and, after seeing what I saw, I refused to go to an appointment the next morning at 7. He angrily insisted that I would be there – and the final words he said in the conversation phone was ‘I hope you can sleep tonight’ in a very annoyed and warning tone. The next morning I woke with my parents both in my room holding me down in my bed as I had been screaming and shaking in my sleep. It was so horrible a nightmare that I couldn’t even remember what it was. Out of abject fear, I went to the appointment. Immediately, he insisted on my taking psychiatric drugs. My experience with psych. drugs is that they are the most depleting, bleak thing imaginable. It is like somebody has carved out your insides and there is the most uncomfortable feeling. It is unimaginable. People who have not taken psych. drugs can’t even imagine the torture of it. It basically just vacuums out your soul and everything. You can’t feel anything. You can’t feel your emotions, you can’t feel anything around you, and you can’t sit still. And everything is meaningless. It is an unimaginable discomfort, helplessness, and is anything except tranquilizing.

In the two years after this, I slowly assimilated what had happened to me. I tried to for a long time to get a job so I could get out of Seattle and I kept getting the door slammed in my face, again, again, again. There was a little mini-mart owned by an Asian guy up near my father’s house. I went in as there was a help wanted sign and the guy smiled at me and hands me an application. I go home and fill it out, and immediately walk right back up there. So the guy just looks at me and laughs. He just wads the thing up and throws it in the garbage, right in front of me. There wasn’t anything funny or unusual on my application. It was filled out completely, straightforward, and to the point. I thought, wow, I wasn’t even prepared for that.

I kept thinking this while cooking Asian food later that night. In frustration I broke the handle off a flimsy dinner knife and tossed it across my body, it then bounced off a kitchen counter and into the dining room and it shattered one layer of a two layer safety glass – it did not hit the window hard, it hit it just right in the corner to shatter the one pain of the glass door. The whole thing was safety glass so basically it looked terrible. Anyway, my father got home and said ‘You can’t live here anymore unless you get into treatment. “This is the last straw.” He did not even know what the system had done to me because I never told anyone. With no money in winter I decided to try to cooperate.

So to ‘get into treatment’ I went up to a community mental health clinic and talked to a mental health professional. He said that I could not ‘get into treatment’ without an evaluation. He said that I needed to go to Harborview Hospital’s emergency room to get evaluated so I could go back to the community mental health center the next day.

So not wishing to get kicked out of my fathers house [I was unemployed, broke, and it was winter] I went to Harborview Hospital to get “evaluated.” Little did I know that my father had phoned ahead and my mother had gone into fill out a statement about something I had said. She had taken a conversation we had out of context. I had been talking about the world, and people who are depressed [which I -wasn’t- at the time] and otherwise how bad it can get. I said ‘…when life gets so bad that you can’t even take pleasure in a glass of water – that was the example I used – and then said, ‘it’s probably time to get a gun’ She had taken that conversation and told the mental health professional that I had talked about getting a gun, which was part of the criteria they needed to say I was dangerous to myself or others. She filled out an affidavit and my father had filled out an affidavit about how I had broken his plate glass window. That, combined with a disdainful mental health professional named Tom Anderson assuming from this that I was dangerous, was enough to commit me.

When I got there, they said well ‘we have a small problem. ‘Unless you’re strapped to a gurney – like it is an emergency situation – our insurance will not allow us to treat you.’ So they strapped me to the gurney and I said okay, what now? They said I was going to Western State Hospital in Tacoma on the hold because Harborview had no room, ‘You’ve been put on a 72 hour hold,’ which actually ended up being five days because of the weekend. They just basically locked me up and forced me to take huge doses of Haldol for 5 days. I was pretty angry to be tricked like this at first and then was despondent when the Haldol took effect, it was so unjust to be lied to and about, just so that they could do this.

So I came back to the courtroom in one of Harborview’in Seattle for my commitment hearing and I was helpless, homeless, and alone. It was the middle of winter, I had no place to go. I guess that I didn’t need to recover because I wasn’t mentally ill beyond dealing with an irrational and oppressive system and society that could not account for or leave alone my experiences. I don’t know how else to characterize it. I wasn’t any different than I am now. I wasn’t a different person, no less rational, no more rational. I spent years out of the system, until I moved to Eugene – and got on SSI because I couldn’t finish college and could not find work and my counselor at the university told me that since I had a diagnosis I might as well try to get on disability. My memory for detailed texts was not good enough to memorize all of the textual stuff that I needed to know to get good grades. When I went in for my SSI interview for it I just told them what actually occurred, which was enough to get it approved. So now I am technically on disability, so technically I guess that I never recovered. I don’t consider myself to be a survivor because I don’t think that my sense of humanness actually survived the experience of the homosexual trauma, or survived the mind rending experience of what happened on the streets of L.A. What happened also, basically, ruined my ability to experience aesthetic things and musical things that were going on in my existence just before this happened, and that I will never get back, nor the friends that I had before I became a freak of nature and pharmacology.

So where do I go from here? Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, Taco Time? Anyway, that’s most of it. I should say since this is being recorded and archived and stuff that I’d appreciate it if once you transcribed it if you’d get rid of the tape…

Interviewer’s Comments: Along with being quite a golfer, Drake has quite a story – and he shared it with me in an engaging and thoughtful way. He is a colorful leader of the consumer/survivor movement.

Year told: