Joe

… The thing that influenced me most in shaping my thinking in the matter of psychotherapy. I was living on a farm in Wisconsin in an area where an eighth grade graduation was the ultimate in education. High school was not approved of. Any boy or girl that went to high school, they were on their way to be educated fools. And that was not approved of. When I was about ten years old my father sent me to the neighboring village about a mile away on an errand. And, of course, as I came into the village, my schoolmates this one summer came rushing to meet me and they told me the exciting news—’Joe is back!’ I had never heard of Joe, but they soon informed me of who Joe was. Joe, at the age of twelve, a farmer’s son and only child, had been expelled from school because of brutality and beating up the other children, his vandalism, his incorrigible behavior. . . and he had stabbed his father’s hogs, and calves and cows and horses with pitch forks. And he several times tried to set the barn to fire and the house afire. Well, at the age of twelve his parents took him to court, had him committed to the Industrial School for boys. At the age of fifteen the Industrial School paroled him. On the way home Joe committed some burglaries and was picked up by the police and promptly returned to the Industrial School, where he had to stay until he was twenty-one years old. By that time his parents were dead and they disposed of their property leaving Joe without any inheritance. And when he was discharged at age twenty-one he was given a suit and $10, and he headed for Milwaukee . . . was shortly arrested for burglary and sent to the Young Men’s Reformatory in Green Bay. He served every day of that sentence—in other words, no time off for good behavior. He was released from the reformatory, he went into the town of Green Bay, and committed some more burglaries. The police picked him up and he was sent to state prison. And when he completed every day of that sentence he was released, went into the village and committed some more burglaries and was arrested by another policeman and given a second term in the state prison. After serving every day of that term, he returned to the village. That day I arrived in the village it was his fourth day in town. Each of the three previous days he had spent standing beside the cash register estimating the day’s take of the merchants at three different stores. And all of them knew that Joe had broken into their store and stolen a lot of things. A man who owned a motor boat had found his motor boat was missing. And the morning I arrived Joe was sitting on a bench under the store awning staring into the distance. Now it happened that there was a farmer about three miles from the village. A farmer who had three hundred acres of company land. He was a very rich man, had beautiful buildings, and to work three hundred acres it requires a hired man. And his daughter Susie had graduated from eighth grade, she was about five feet ten, and she could work alongside any man in the community. She could pitch hay, plow fields, help with the butchering . . . any task she could handle. The entire community felt bad about Susie. She was a good looking girl, she was famous for her housekeeping, her dressmaking and for her cooking, and she was an old maid at twenty-three years. And that should not be. Everybody thought Susie was too choosy. On that particular day when I went to the village on the errand, Susie’s father’s hired hand quit because of a death in the family and said he would not be back. And Susie’s father sent her into the village on an errand. Susie arrived, tied up the horse and buggy, came walking down the street. And Joe stood up and blocked her pathway. And Joe looked her up and down very thoroughly, quietly . . . and Susie with equal poise looked him up and down very thoroughly. Finally Joe said, “Can I take you to the dance next Friday?” Now the village always had a weekly dance on Friday nights for all the young people. And Susie was very much in demand at those dances and she regularly drove in and attended the dance. And when Joe said, “Can I take you to the dance next Friday?” Susie said coolly, “You can if you’re a gentleman.” Joe stepped out of her way. She performed her errand, went back. And the next morning the merchants were very glad to find boxes full of stolen goods at their front doors. And the motor boat had returned. And Joe was seen walking down the highway towards Susie’s father’s farm. Word soon got around that he had asked Susie’s father for the job of hired hand, and he was hired. And made a magnificent wage of $15 per month. He was allowed to have his meals in the kitchen with the family. And Susie’s father said, “We’ll fix a room for you in the barn.” In Wisconsin when the temperatures are down to 35° below zero you really need a well insulated room in the barn. Joe turned out to be the best hired hand that community had ever seen. Joe worked from sun up to long past sun down, seven days a week. Joe was six feet three, a very able bodied man and, of course, Joe always walked to the village on Friday nights to attend the dance. Susie drove in to attend the dance. And much to the ire of the other young men Susie usually danced with Joe every dance. And Joe’s size made them wary of pointing out to Joe the error of his way by appropriating Susie. In just about a year the community was buzzing with gossip because Susie and Joe were seen going out Saturday evening for a drive, or ‘sparking’, as the term was used. And there was even more gossip the next day—on Sunday—Susie and Joe went to church together. And there after for some months Joe and Susie went for a drive every Saturday evening and to church on Sunday. And after some months of this Susie and Joe were married. And Joe moved from the barn into the house. He was still the best hired man imaginable and Joe and his father-in-law, with some aid of Susie, ran the farm. And Joe was such a good worker that when a neighbor got sick, Joe was the first one to show up to help with the chores. And they soon forgot all about Joe’s history of being an ex-convict. Now when I decided to go to high school a lot of the neighbors were displeased. But Joe encouraged me to go to high school and encouraged a lot of other kids to go to high school. I decided to go to the University—the neighbors groaned about that Erickson kid becoming an educated fool and Joe encouraged me to go to college. He thought it was a very excellent idea for all young people to go to college. And Joe’s popularity in the neighborhood was such that he was elected to the school board. And at the first meeting of the school board all the parents were there. And Joe opened the meeting by saying, “You folks have elected me president of the school board. You gave me the most votes and that means president. Now I don’t know much about school, I know all of you want your kids to grow up decent kids with an education so they can live better lives than working from sun up to long after sun down seven days a week … And when you educate your children FORGET about taxes— hire the BEST teachers and get the BEST school supplies, the BEST books.” And Joe was elected to the school board repeatedly. And Joe’s reputation literally blossomed anew from the day he hired out for $15 a month, which was later raised to $30 a month. Eventually Susie’s parents died and Susie inherited the farm. Joe and Susie had no children but Joe had no trouble getting hired men. He went to the state reformatory for young men and asked for any young, promising ex-convict from the reformatory. The reformatory was for first time offenders. Some of those men lasted a day, a week, a month, and some for months. As long as they worked Joe kept them around and treated them well. And he served to rehabilitate quite a number of ex-convicts. When I got my job as state psychologist for Wisconsin to examine all inmates in penal and correctional institutions, Joe was very happy for me, and Joe told me, “There’s an old record at the Industrial School that you ought to read, an old record at the reformatory that you ought to read, there’s an old record at the state prison that you ought to read.” I knew what Joe meant and so I read the Industrial School record. It was very, very violent, Joe had been incorrigible, destructive and brutal in relationship to the other boys there and he had been kept in solitary confinement most of the time from the age of twelve to twenty-one. And his record at Green Bay reformatory was equally black. Joe had been very combative, aggressive. He was kept in solitary, took his meals in solitary. The guards were afraid of him. And when Joe was allowed out of his cell to exercise, two husky guards his size or larger walked through the exercise yard with him … one guard ten feet to the right, the other guard ten feet to the left. If Joe were to jump on one of them the second guard would have the chance to jump to the rescue of his fellow guard. The record at the State prison was very, very black. Joe displayed his combativeness, his aggressiveness, his capacity to beat up fellow convicts and he served most of the time in the dungeon. The dungeon was eight feet by eight feet by eight feet, the floor sloped toward the door. It was a very thick, heavy wooden door with a small slot in the door at the base of the door and once a day, usually at one or two A.M. a tray of food would slip quietly through that slot. And once a week the cell was hosed out for sanitation purposes. Now I’ve been in that dungeon … it IS sound proof and light proof. And living in that darkness and silence practically all of his two terms in state prison is pretty severe punishment. And Joe never got a day off. When they did take him out of the dungeon they locked him in a solitary cell. He was exercised by two guards accompaning him, all alone in the exercise yard. Now after the first sentence had been served at the prison, he went to the village and committed robberies and was sent back to the prison and they were all afraid of Joe. And the fellow convicts who I interviewed who knew Joe told me very earnestly, “That Joe is a bad one!” And they were all afraid of him. And all the psychotherapy Joe received was; ‘You can if you’re a gentleman’. He didn’t need psychoanalysis for several years. He didn’t need Carl Rogers indirect psychotherapy, he didn’t need five years of Gestalt therapy, all he needed was a simple statement . . . ‘You can if you’re a gentleman’. Psychotherapy has to occur within the patient, everything has to be done by the patient, and the patient has to have a motivation. And so when I became interested in psychiatry Joe’s history had a very strong influence on me. You really have to leave the problem of psychotherapy to the patient. You try to understand what your patient is telling you. Your patient has an experiential language all his own and it is different from yours.

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