Leonard R Frank
“We have to be witnesses for those millions who are not speaking up now for whatever reason. That’s the role that I feel our movement needs to play right now in society–to speak up, tell the truth about what we have known, what we have experienced in our own lives.”
Contact info: San Francisco, California,USA
Currently doing: An accomplished author (read his story below for information about his publications), Leonard is currently working on several projects. He also travels internationally as a speaker and antipsychiatry activist. Leonard is a member of Support Coalition International and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP).
Mental health experience: Insulin Shock, Electroshock, Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Solitary Confinement
Psychiatric labels: Paranoid Schizophrenia
Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Prolixin, Thorazine, and other drugs that were forced upon him
Off psychiatric drugs since:
Recovery methods: Social Activism, Self-Help, Literature, Spirituality, Meditation, Diet, Writing, Keeping extensive journals and notebooks
Greatest obstacle: The power of the courts, police, and government in maintaining psychiatry’s oppression.
I was raised in Brooklyn, New York. I went to a private high school, and then went on to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, where I graduated with a major in marketing in 1954. I then went on to serve in the Army, stationed at Fort Myers in Virginia in a presidential honor guard. Following that, I returned to New York City, where I obtained a real estate license and was in real estate sales for two or three years in that area and in Florida. In 1959, I came out to San Francisco. I had in mind at that time that I would continue my career as a real estate salesman.
I was working for a real estate firm in downtown San Francisco. During that period, I became interested in reading, particularly in subjects that previously had not interested me all that much: politics, history, religion, psychology and philosophy. Suddenly these things seemed just illuminating. I remember the book that really turned me around was Mohandas Gandhi’s autobiography, subtitled “My Experiment With the Truth.” That book led me to become a vegetarian and to get interested in religion, spirituality, and nonviolence.
My whole outlook and attitude changed. Previously I had been very business oriented and materialistic. I had now become much more idealistic and much more interested in spirituality. I became more and more interested in reading and studying, and less and less interested in real estate. I soon lost my job; I had lost all interest in brick and mortar. I was determined to get at the core of these new ideas and to put them into practice in my own life.
My parents did not appreciate the changes that I was going through. While I saw these changes as an indication of progress, they saw these changes as a step backward for me. They were very, very concerned, urging me to see a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist to get some help. I proceeded to tell them that I didn’t need that kind of help.
Well, that went on for about two years and my parents became increasingly worried about the situation. I was running out of money. I had been living on my savings up to that point. I was getting near the end of my resources.
Then, in October of 1962, they insisted that I see a psychiatrist. And when I wouldn’t, they had the psychiatrist visit me by sending the psychiatric police and arresting me. I was removed from my apartment, and taken to a local hospital – Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco. I was kept there for a few days and then sent on to Napa State Hospital. I was there for about a month and a half and then I was sent to a private sanitarium called Twin Pines in Belmont, California, which is just south of San Francisco.
I was able to obtain a large part of my psychiatric records nine or ten years after I was released from the hospital. There was the medical examiner’s report – just a paragraph – with a provisional diagnosis of schizophrenia. This report read in part that I had become asocial, had grown a beard, was not working, had become a vegetarian, and to use their exact phrase, “was living the life of a beatnik to a certain extent.”
On that flimsy evidence, I was committed. I was put into a psychiatric prison, in effect, and kept for a period of 7 to 7 ½ months.
They urged me to shave off my beard and be “normal,” according to the records. I just wasn’t cooperating with them at all. I felt that I was a prisoner. But I imagine they sincerely believed that I was a mentally ill person in need of treatment—shock treatment.
According to the records, there were 85 shock treatments – 50 insulin coma treatments and 35 electrode convulsive treatments. And, while I was in a coma from the insulin, they shaved off my beard. So it was not only the shock treatment that was administered to me at this particular hospital, but beard shaving therapy as well!
It was while I was in the comatose state, at least in 35 of those insulin comas, that they administered the electroconvulsive treatments. And that was like a double hit–if the insulin wasn’t going to get you, they’d get you with the electric shock. That was really the heavy artillery of psychiatry. There was nothing worse that they could have done to me, short of a lobotomy.
There were also psychiatric drugs which were administered to me at that time. One of them was Prolixin. The records indicate that I had a terrible reaction to it.
In the end, I got out of the mental health facility because they were done with the treatment. I also got out because I made a real effort to play along and be passive, answer their questions, etc.
It was a task to rebuild my mind after coming out of the hospital. I immediately knew that I was going to have to do a lot of studying to get back to where I’d been. So I returned to the books that I vaguely remembered reading during the period preceding the last shock treatment. I started reeducating myself. I also kept lists of words on 3×5 cards, usually pairs of words or triads of words derived from books. That was a wonderful exercise, because it reestablished my ability to associate one word with another.
Anyway, I pretty much stayed in my apartment and studied. I started attending a morning Bible reading class in downtown San Francisco. There I became friends with an arts dealer. I eventually went to work for him as an art salesman in his gallery. After about a year, I had a small measure of success doing that, which led me to think that I actually could do something on my own. So I opened up my own art gallery. I didn’t do too badly and I kept it open for five years.
In 1971, I met David Richman and Sherry Hirsch who had just started a publication called “Madness Network News.” The first issue was an 18 or 20 page mimeographed newsletter on alternative ways of looking at psychiatry, which I related to very well.
I really got a taste of anti-psychiatry through my work with Madness Network News. However, we felt that having a journal like that wasn’t really enough to do the job. We needed to take political action.
So we decided to form another organization, and called it the Network Against Psychiatric Assault or NAPA. NAPA focused on the use of forced electroshock at a hospital which is now a part of the UC Medical Center in San Francisco. We mounted a campaign with protests, demonstrations, press releases, and television and radio interviews against their use of electroshock at this hospital. At the same time, we found out about a legislator who might be sympathetic to introducing a bill that would regulate and restrict the use of electroshock and psycho-surgery. Through his good efforts, there was a law passed in California, and I think it was the first one in the country, that did restrict and regulate electroshock to some degree. We also campaigned against psychosurgery as well, conducting a sleep-in in the office of Governor Brown in Sacramento to protest the questionable deaths of psychiatric inmates at state hospitals, mostly because of drugging.
I’ve also worked on editing several publications. In 1978, I produced a compilation called The History of Shock Treatment. I’ve had three books published since 1996. The first was called Influencing Minds. My second book, the Random House Webster’s Quotationary, consists of more than 20,000 quotations organized into a thousand categories arranged alphabetically. Then in November 2000, Random House published another book of mine, Random House Webster’s Wit and Humor Quotationery.
Today, I see psychiatry as an enormously powerful force in American and western society generally–essentially a repressive force that is destructive of human values. This is one that we need to fight against and battle against, and I think it is our responsibility as survivors to do that. We need to be the voice of the untold numbers of past and present victims of psychiatry. We have to be witnesses for those millions who are not speaking up now for whatever reason. That’s the role that I feel our movement needs to play right now in society–to speak up, tell the truth about what we have known, what we have experienced in our own lives. We must emphasize the need to change human attitudes, so that we can rid society of psychiatry as a force that is able to impose itself on individuals who for whatever reason do not, will not and cannot fit in, cannot play a role that has been assigned to them by the rest of society.
Interviewer’s Comments: Leonard is known to many as one of the founding fathers of the modern consumer/survivor movement. He is a wonderfully articulate, knowledgeable and passionate speaker. Even after all that he has been through and witnessed, Leonard still expresses great hope that people will unite, and that someday, we will overcome.