Documentary comes to terms with Patton Patients
By Margo Wilson
Sun Staff Writer
Kathryn is out of her mind. Yelling, swearing and exposing herself, she struggles with her Patton State Hospital captors.
“I’m the torturer. I am Patton. I own Patton,” she howls.
A Patton staff member gives her a shot. Within 30 minutes, Kathryn is able to state her name and talk lucidly,
Kathryn is one of the two-tenths of 1 percent of the criminal population whom a court has found not guilty by reason of insanity. Her crime: arson. She’s now committed to Patton for treatment.
Kathryn, along with James, Walter, Chris, Rebecca and Jesse, is the focus of an hourlong documentary about Patton called, “Asylum.”
Patton houses the greatest number of criminally insane patients of any California mental hospital. More the 50 percent of the patients in the 1,000-bed facility have been found not guilty for reason of insanity.
The documentary follows the above six patients as they go about their daily lives at Patton.
“We wanted to show that people with mental illnesses could be rehabilitated,” says producer Shari Cookson, who heads the documentary division at Dave Bell Associates, a Hollywood production company.
“We have some stereotypes of what goes on in a mental hospital … We didn’t know what we would find.”
What they found seems to be a compassionate place where patients struggle through intensive therapy to come to terms with the crimes they’ve committed.
The statistics in the film tell it all. Most of the patients who come to Patton are released within two to three years. Of those who leave, 88 percent never commit another crime.
The film is sympathetic to Patton’s purpose.
“I think the film does capture the individual skill and commitment of my staff,” says Patton executive director William Summers.
The cinema-verite-style documentary is not a glossy Hollywood-looking product. The handheld cameras make for a wobbly looking picture at time. The focus is sometimes off. Although the film opens with Kathryn raging, the documentary is not a spectacle of freaks, but an emotionally painful exploration of what it’s like to know you’re mentally ill and want to get better.
Cookson says she spent eight months research the documentary and made repeated trips to the hospital to get to know the staff and patients. By the time the crew moved to Patton for its monthlong shoot last July, they were accepted and able to film many intense, personal moments.
There’s James, who talks about killing a police officer in Texas. There’s Walter, who talks about torturing a dog named Buttons and whom we watch apologizing to a stuffed puppy during a therapy session.
There’s Chris who talks about how it seems someone else took over his body when he murdered his fiancée.
There’s Jesse, who murdered his wife and who says, “Getting out is not the hardest thing. They hardest thing is to somehow try to live with yourself with the knowledge of what you’ve done and how you’ve devastated people’s lives.
We see Jesse get turned down when he’s up for release. We see Chris, who does get released, tearfully bid adieu to the friends he’s made at Patton.
Patton’s Summers says people always ask him, “How can you work in a place like that?” He answers, “Well, people do get better.”
The San Bernardino County Sun
Transcribed By: S Cookson