#062 Joe Clayton’s Story: Institutionalization and Building Life Afterward

September 1, 2020

I’m honored to bring you this conversation I recorded with Joe Clayton; a vibrant photographer, artist, nature lover, and partner to Christina. Joe is a survivor of Rideau Regional Center; a closed institution in Smith Falls, Ontario.

We as the people, disabilities, we cry just like everybody else. We laugh like everybody else. We are human beings, just like everybody else. And like I said before, we just want the world to know we are not monsters who got out of institutions. We are human beings, and we need to be respected and to be loved. And we don’t need to be treated like babies. We need to be treated like a human being and we… Yeah, that’s it.” – Joe Clayton

Yes, Joe. That is it.

Click the play button below to listen to this conversation with Joe Clayton.

While being institutionalized as a child, Joe experienced several traumas and injustices and traumatic experiences which he shares with us in this podcast episode. Joe also shares his life after being institutionalized, and through his faith, he found forgiveness and the courage to live life. Joe is an indigenous man and a creative who expresses his creativity through photography and art. Joe now lives with his partner, Christina. Before you listen to this conversation with Joe, I want to warn you that Joe describes many of the horrific acts performed and forced on him. The description of these acts might be triggering for some listeners. Note: There is a full transcription of this podcast at the bottom of this post.

This conversation with Joe was recorded on April 16, 2020, and the time of this publication is September 1, 2020. A lot has changed in our world since I recorded this conversation with Joe Clayton. COVID-19 and its global impacts have been a significant stressor on our families, including mine. As well, there’s been an awakening to the social justice issues in our world for black people, indigenous people, and people of color. So at the beginning of this episode, I share my stance and Empowering Ability’s stance on antiracism, and what I’m doing to be an active antiracist. CLICK HERE for to read Empowering Ability’s Antiracism commitment on our homepage.

The Nature Natives Art Gallery is no longer at 18 Tom Thompson Lane, South River ON. Joe and Christina are currently looking for a new location. However, you can visit them and view their art online by clicking below.

Check out Joe Claytons Art and Photography on Facebook

If you would like to give a one time gift offering to help The Nature Natives Art Gallery on their move to their new home you can send the gift offering to 18 Tom Thomson Lane, South River, Ontario PO BOX 408 POA 1XO.

Contact Joe Clayton: [email protected]

Click the play button below to listen to this conversation with Joe Clayton

Below are some examples of Joe Clayton’s Artwork and Photography

The podcast transcription below was completed by Otter.ai. Please note that this transcription was completed word by word from the conversation and hasn’t been corrected for written grammar.

Eric Goll 00:22

Hi, I’m Eric Goll, and today I’m honored to bring you a conversation I recorded with Joe Clayton and Joe is a survivor of Rideau Regional Center, an institution that closed located in Smith Falls, Ontario. And this conversation with Joe was recorded on April 16 2020. Today being September 1 2020, at the time of this publication, and a lot has changed in our world since I publish or since I recorded rather this conversation with Joe Clayton. COVID-19 and its global impacts have been a major stressor on our families, including mine. as well. There’s been an awakening to the social justice issues in our world for black people, indigenous people, and people of color. So before I share this conversation with Joe Clayton with you, I’m going to share my stance and Empowering Ability’s stance on antiracism, and what I’m doing to be antiracist. We are committed to the work of anti racism. We are learning about anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and how white privilege and superiority impact the people and communities we serve and that I serve. I am aware of the intersection of disability, LGBTQ plus, and how that increases the societal devaluation of BIPOC. We must continue to have uncomfortable conversations to dismantle systematic racial barriers that have blocked social and economic progress for black and indigenous peoples for generations as well as people with disabilities. We know that the first step towards change is to speak up. And we want to be very clear, Black Lives Matter to Empowering Ability, and we commit to no longer being silent or neutral as we move towards tangible action and change. So for me as the founder of Empowering Ability, I’ve completed a six week antiracism training course, and I commit to ongoing learning on anti racism. As a sis gender white man, I’m doing the work to recognize my biases, you know, such as, I just want to share a few of these realizations that I’ve had with you around You know, my privilege and as a white cisgender man. I’m not worried or I don’t have the fear of being shot or killed when being pulled over in my car, by the police, or even, you know, being harassed for that matter. I can see my race and gender widely represented in roles and in spaces that I aspire to be in or I aspire to. I’m confident that I can reach out to organizations and to leaders and have them open my emails, or even share my content. I can be confident that families will be open to working with me because I feel familiar or I feel safe to them. I can speak to you without my race being put on trial. I can step away from the conversations of race if I wish to. So these are some examples that I’ve realized of my white privilege. And now, you know, I’m very aware of these things. Whereas six months ago, I wasn’t. So, you know, part of this learning was through completed through a six week anti racism course, and I’m continuing my learning and my journey to be an anti racist. And I’m listening, and I’m listening to diverse voices. And I encourage all of us to be doing this work of anti racism. So thank you for listening to me on this important issue. And today I’m bringing you this conversation with Joe Clayton. Joe is a survivor of the region rideau regional center an institution in Smith Falls, Ontario. That has closed and Joe experienced several traumas and injustices at a very young age, while being institutionalized, and Joe shares with us his experiences, and he also shares, you know his life after being institutionalized, and through his faith, faith, how he found forgiveness, and the courage to live life. Joe is an indigenous man, he is a creative. And he expresses that through photography and art, and he lives with his partner, Christina. So, before we roll this conversation with Joe, I just want to warn you that Joe describes many of the horrific acts performed and forced on him. And the description of these acts might be triggering for some listeners. So here is my conversation with Joe Clayton. Joe, welcome to the Empowering Ability podcast. So happy to have you on today.

Joe Clayton 06:04 Oh, thank you.

Eric Goll 06:05

Yeah, right on. Well, it’s a pleasure to have you and Joe Clayton as a self advocate and a survivor of an institution, the Rideau regional center. I am honored to have you come on the podcast today and share your story and to share your experience with us. So I’m going to hand it over to you here, Joe. And, and we would be honored to hear your story.

Joe Clayton 06:39
I want to say thank you to everybody who’s listening to my story. And anyways, here we go. I was born in Pembroke, Ontario on February 9. I was eight pounds nine ounces. I was with my mom for five years. My mom was sick and she could not care for me. So my mum’s friend looked up to me after me until she died. On August 18 1958, at the age of five I went to the Childrens Aid Society. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. My mom say goodbye to me. And I got into the car and stood up on the backseat of the car watching out the back window. As mom got smaller and smaller, and then she was gone in my life. My life was like a game I’m I was always made to move one place to another, someone from the journey so they would throw my clothes in the trunk of the car, and they would take me to a new place. Upon arrival at the new place, I was told you have to stay here. I had no say in the matter. I felt like people were rejecting me all the time, and that no one really cared for me. Nobody seemed to understand my needs or my problems. And they never asked me to talk about them. My foster mom decided it would be better if I was institutionalized before I came too close or too dependent on my foster family on May 16 1966, at the age of 12, the journeys I put me into Rideau Regional Center at Smith falls. Let me tell you, being an institution was like living in hell. First of all, I was put in the mission ward where we were made, where we made us to take our clothes off and stand before them naked. The staff didn’t proceed to measure us to determine what size of clothes we need until our clothes arrive. About a week later, we had nothing else to wear as a nightgown. Once our clothes arrived, we had to put our names on every item to make sure no one stole them from us. During this day of the mission ward this staffs would take us for walks. And we were made two hands so that nobody would run away. This made me feel like a dog. The staff also line up like a herd of sheep. After two weeks in the mission Ward, I was transferred to tree D Ward, resident with 25 male patients remember that I was only 12 years old at the time. I can’t tell you how afraid I was looking up at these older men who look like giants to me. We had to stand in line for our meals and for our pills, which they call candies. If I move a inch while In this line, one of the patients would attacked me. Needless to say, I only moved once in the lineup, and never again. We also had to walk down the hallway in line to get your shirts with our towels wrapped around our waist. We have to shower in the same place with no privacy, which made me feel like I was in prison. I was terrified and scared seeing all these naked men around me. They hit me with wet roll up towels, and I end up cuts on my body. I was also gang-raped in the shower and pass out from this attack. There were there was lots of fighting and stealing in 3d. I fear for my life and my belongings. And older men attacked me with scissors. I was cut but nobody cared how I was treated. I was made to feel ashamed very lonely and afraid for my life. The doors to 3d were always locked and the only time I was allowed other staff members to go walks washroom, showers, meals or school. Once when I did not follow the rule is I was put in a dark room. They call this the side room where doors were a locked. I was made to sit naked on a cold floor. And when I was sitting on the cold floor, there is no toilets, there was no bathroom. So you would just bathroom on the floor, and then you when you leave the side room, you come back and you clean it. men would look in the windows and laugh at me. Another time when I did not follow the rules. They put my head in a toilet bowl and maybe kneel in a corner for two to three hours. Once when I swear they made me eat a bar of soap. I was sick to my stomach. There was never any privacy at Rideau. I did not understand why I was being treated so badly. I sat in the corner crying of fear and sadness. Not all the staffs are bad people, we had some good staffs as well. Every night I was attacked and raped by some of the patients who said, If I told the staff they would kill me, this went on for six years, and I was once told I would. I was being taken for a brain test, where they hook wires up to my head and put a piece of wood under my tongue. I was then shock. And my entire jaw shook. Nobody ever explained to me why they did this after running away or Rideau center. Several times I’ve been found and returned. I met a nice man\ Liel Nichols, at Rideau Reginal, who informed me that if I did not run away for a solid year, they will let me out. On May the 16th 1971 age of 18, I showed someone from that group came and picked me up, and I was happy and finally able to leave Rideau Regional center. Living there was like hell for me. It is great to talk about my story, but moving ahead in the future was difficulty because of the institution was blocking me. Many people offered to support me, but they could not get through to me. The institution was holding me back until I met Christina in 2014. And she helped me to see the way. The day I met Christina, I decided not to let the past take me down, but to live and be free from the past. First, I learned to love myself and to forgive anyone who hurt me. Then I learn to move, move on, and a balanced life after. After that I decided to share my story. Being able to share my story and experience of others has given me the knowledge and never ever let this happen to anyone again. I believe that sharing, such hardships in life are a big part of the healing process. I hope sharing my story will change the way people see others with disability. And I incourage those who have been abused to speak up and start the amazing healing process. My goal is to educate people about what happened in the institution is to do my best to ensure that this type of punishment and abuse doesn’t happen again to any human being. Sexual abuse is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Of the many others who where abused at Rideau Regional Centre some are dead, and their secrets lies with them. I’m still alive and I’m proud to be speaking for them. You just can’t take a shower and wash away the horrible memories. I’m glad I did not succesfully end in my life. Because then I would just be another victim of abuse in an institution who takes his story to the grave. I’m a survivor. I know that someday I will die but I will rest well, because I actually did something that help our community and our world by speaking up for what I believe. I’m very happy today to be successful in my new life running Art Gallery, enjoying the things around me going camping, fishing, bicycle, photographing wildlife. I even enjoy the winter times in Northern Ontario. Yes, winter. I love it. I love to go snowshoeing and skiing. Learning how to do art on the computer with my photos is something I never did before. When I start to believe in myself all the worthless was gone and new creative door open for me. When I go home after telling my story, I would relive it and I would become very grumpy. Yes, me, grumpy inside. But I but I now found a way to handle these feelings. Taking photos, recreating art, finding other ways to solve the problems that have brought me to a healing process with which also his humanity. My faith in God in the universe has helped my journey. One thing I do remember when I was in the institution, this prayer helped me a lot a lot. This prayer is for all the people who died in the institution. And our prayers are for the native people in the schools who that did not make it to. [And the ones who survived.] And did not get out to tell their story. The prayer insane is when I was in the institution I was there and I only remember one prayer that my foster mom taught me was the Lord is my shepherd. So every time I would get abused, I would never this prayer The Lord is my shepherd. And that’s all I knew, until later I now I can read the whole thing. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want He makes me lie down in green pastures needs me to say the still waters. He restores my soul. He leaves me in the past of the righteousness for his namesake. Yay do I walk through the valley of shadow of death of fear no evil for dow are with me thy rod and thy staff. they comfort me. Thou prepares the table before me, in the presence of enemies, dow anoints my head with my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I will do well, I will do well in the house of the Lord forever. Thank you, everyone for listen to my story. And thank you again.

Eric Goll 18:25

Joe, thank you so much for sharing your story. And it was really a difficult story for me to listen to, and I’m sure for the others that are going to listen to this podcast. I’m sure their stomach turned more than once, just like mine. And, you know, I could feel the emotion for the tragedy that happened to you and the terrible experience that you live through as a child from 12 to 18. And no child should ever have to go through what you went through Joe, sexual abuse and physical abuse and emotional mental abuse. It’s It’s terrible. One thing that comes through to me Joe was just your resiliency and how you were able to have that experience that terrible experience that traumatic experiences at young age and still become the man that you you are today and enjoying life. And there’s, you know, it’s so much for us to learn from from your stories, and thank you for sharing. And I think, you know, if anybody listened to your story, and you hadn’t mentioned that you were in an institution, for people with developmental disabilities, they would have assumed that you were in jail, and it’s just completely completely wrong. Thank heavens at that institution Rideau regional center is is closed, it probably took way too long to to close it. But thanks, heavens, it’s closed. And many other people I imagine had terrible traumatic experiences and abusive experiences, such of yourself as yourself, and thank you for helping to be the voice of those people that are no longer with us or don’t have a voice. So, there’s there’s a couple questions that I have for you, Joe, if that’s okay.

Joe Clayton 20:34 Yep.

Eric Goll 20:38

So, you mentioned that you were you ran away a couple of times. And, it sounds like the third, eventually you were you were set free. Can you tell us about those experiences of trying to escape and get out.

Joe Clayton 20:59
When I ran away from the institution. You know, like I said, there was an electric fence that time. I was in very big, it was just enough, you can just probably jump over. But the train was usually stops. And but they would say, the staffs would tell everybody say, if you ran away three weeks or four weeks, or you didn’t get caught, you’d be free. And it was like a game or to me now I think about it was like a game. So but I didn’t run away because of what they said I ran away is because I wanted to get away from what happened to me in there. The abuse and the things I was afraid for my life. I mean, I was raped no and treated like a criminal, well, I didn’t. I was treated. I was put in an institution because I had a disability. And to me, I was a normal child. There was so many people who did not have a developed disability who were normal people. I never just throwing them in there and locking them up and making names for them saying they had this or that or whatever.

Eric Goll 22:30
Right to your point, there’s nothing that you did, you were born you and because of how

other people viewed you, they stuck you in this terrible institution or jail.

Joe Clayton 22:45
Well, they just thought this would be like I read my story, institutionalize me, it would be better for me. But that’s what they thought that these places were good people to go in. And when I ran away, that’s what you do when you’re treated bad. You run away, you know yourself and in The Great Escape, they ran away. In prisons, they ran away. But let’s go, I think we’ll cut that one. But maybe The Great Escape, we saw the movie, how they ran away because the way they were treated. And so I just, I didn’t run away because it was a contest or a game. I heard about it. But I was scared for my life. And I and I wanted to just to get out of there. So by running away, I did draw attention to somebody and came to me and says, I tell you what, if you stopped running away for a year, you’ll be out and his word came true, and I was out. So I’m glad I did run away. Because if I didn’t, who knows where I would be right to this day, so thanks to that person. And I’m very happy that staff did that, you know, for me,

Eric Goll 24:16
Right. If that hadn’t happened, Joe, how long do you think you would have been forced to

stay in that institution or, you know, jailed in that institution?

Joe Clayton 24:28
Some people have spent their whole life in the institution. So we don’t know. I could have been worse, you know, I mean, they were doing a lot of treatments. They’re redoing a lot of things. Experiments. There’s a lot of things that I don’t even talk about it. I just don’t know how to talk about it because it’s inside of me what I saw, but, you know, it’s like it’s unbelievable. The things that I seen and saw, the treatments that they give people I probably would be in there for a long time. You know, I because you have to understand in those days the Children’s Aid Society that’s what they were doing because there isn’t, there is no room for a lot of people. So they figured institutions would be the best place. They would get care and love and support.

Eric Goll 25:31
But you got the exact opposite. Neglect, abuse and torture.

Joe Clayton 25:36
When the workers would bring people myself in the institution. They look around and go Wow, it looks very nice here. They were making the place look lovely. So people would think the place was nice, nice chandaleirs in the dinning rooms. Let’s say all bowling alleys, swiming pools, auditorium, movies, you know, you know, like the theater, we had our own theater. We had, we had our own doctors in there. We had our own food in there. So what they did they made it look like it was a wonderful place to be. Disney Land. Yeah, Disney Land. So then people go in there and they they look around and they go, wow, this is a good place for this, you know, whoever. And so we got I think it was I think there’s a word for it. I’m trying to remember the word to make people think in their mind that this is what do you call that word when the government; conspiracy. Because a lot of people walk in there and they bring their kids in and they thought it was a wonderful place. They would try to make things look good. But the inside no. And and if you if you saw my pictures, I

think I sent them to you when I was in the institution, those smile in my face, they get you to smile. They ask you to smile, to show people that you’re happy. So yeah, so there was a lot of things going on there. But the thing is that happened a long time ago. And today is reality and today’s a new life. And today, I want people to hear my story and to realize that we’re not monsters that came out of the institution. We were human beings, and we we just want to be love and be respectful. And we are we are here now. And we just want to be happy. That’s right.

Eric Goll 26:36

And you’re a living example of that. So there was a lot of trauma you experienced, that you shared with us. And you said you’ve gone through a process of forgiveness and learning to love and learning to love yourself. I would think that forgiveness would be a really hard thing for those people that abused you and sexually abused you. What was what was helpful for you to work through that forgiveness?

Joe Clayton 28:58
That’s a good question. My God, and my faith help me to learn to forgive. And, it wasn’t easy it was very hard at times. I had to see a PhD doctor because I didn’t love myselfand so I had to learn to say that word. So I had some people there helping, to say this word love, I love myself and to forgive all the people that hurt me. It took a lot of healing inside. But what what when I asked God and my faith and God to help me. And when I cried out to God and say, Please help me. I think that faith helped me and we all have different ways to express that to go different ways to be healed, but that healing for me it’s amazing how I don’t feel as angry anymore. I said this happen a long time ago. And and now here I am. But it was hard. Yes, it was really hard but with with the great supports that I had, and the great people that around me who cared about me, who helped me through this, and all the churches that I’ve been and the ministers who helped me in this and prayed with me. I think that my faith has helped me a lot. I had to find something and I found something, and I don’t go and preach to anybody, I just live it every day and try to do my best.

Eric Goll 31:18

Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. Joe. What are your thoughts on what should happen with the institutions that are still operational Today. Many have been closed, but there are still institutions or institution like settings that people with developmental disabilities are being put in where it’s not their choice. And I think even when I think about it, you know, group homes for example, where there might be four or six or eight people with a developmental disability being told that they all need to live in the same house and not really having a choice in that is still an institutional model. What are your thoughts on that? What do you think should happen with that in those institutions that do exist are institutionalized models such as group homes.

Joe Clayton 32:20
I think what I’m trying to say is, the reason why I’m reading my story institutions that are here today and group homes, they will hear my story, and they’ll learn something from it. And they, and it will maybe help them to grow or maybe it’ll help them to just do something that maybe we’ll help them through my story. So yeah, and choose better staffs. Maybe or whatever. Yeah, it’s just just Yeah.

Eric Goll 33:06
What Joe, what’s your, your message for the world in terms of how people with developmental disabilities need to be treated.

Joe Clayton 33:17
We as the people, disabilities, we cry just like everybody else. We laugh like everybody else. We are human beings just like everybody else. And like I said before, we just want the world to know we are not monsters who got out of institutions. We are human beings, and we need to be respected and to be loved. And we don’t need to be treated like babies. We need to be treated and treated like a human being and we… Yeah, that’s that’s it.

Eric Goll 34:04

Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more Joe and, you know, everybody’s rights, people with developmental disabilities included, need to be recognized and honored and people disability to be treated just like everybody else. So I completely agree with what you’re what you’re saying and I and that goes for having choice in their life and being able to choose where they’re going to live, what they’re going to do, and, and you’re a great example, Joe and from you sharing your story in terms of what’s possible when somebody is given the right support and somebody’s given, you know, tools and resources and you know, you’ve been able to create a wonderful life with yourself, even though you’ve gone through those very traumatic experiences. So moving forward just into today, Joe, can you share us with us a little bit more? You mentioned your art gallery if you could share a little bit more about your art gallery, your art and maybe where people could find you either online or getting get in touch with you to learn more.

Joe Clayton 35:22
Yes, we’re good. It’s quick because I’m going out. I’m going out on my phone. So we’ll do it fast. Yeah, people can contact me. Log on Facebook, the Nature Natives’s Art Gallery, and they can see Christina and my artwork. In the notes of the podcast episode all include your details. https://www.facebook.com/NatureNativesArtGallery And I have a business card. It’s called Joe Clayton motive motive. Motor motivational and advocate speaker, a voice to the nation and I’ve been passing these cards out everywhere too so if people want to hire me to come out and speak I can and I don’t know if I get my email out.

Eric Goll 36:26

all include it in the in the show notes in the blog for you. Joe’s Email: [email protected] So I want to respect your your time here. And yes, I’m super grateful that you came on and shared your story with us and I, you know, I’ve learned a lot from you and I really admire your resiliency and your strength and your courage to share your very important story with us. So thank you so much for for sharing with me and and the rest of theworld.

Joe Clayton 37:00
Thank you. And I just want to thank you very much for inviting me to speak and give me the privilege to speak about my story and opportunity and and just say keep safe and everybody, and we’ll be back to normal soon.

Eric Goll 37:25

Thanks, Joe. So a big thank you today to Joe Clayton for sharing his story and experiences with us. The acts forced upon Joe are horrible and no human should ever have to endure those experiences again. By Joe sharing his story hopefully it pushes us to continue to be better, to do better, to value all people. To value people with disabilities. To value indigenous people. To value black people. To value people of color. To value LGBTQ plus people. The social and injustices we’re seeing today might look a little bit different than what we heard from Joe, but they still exist. They exist in our systems. They’re programmed into our societies and they’re programmed into us. We have to do better. I’m Eric Goll. Thank you for listening.

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