07 September, 2015

Behind the gates of Gomorrah : a year with the criminally insane by Stephen B. Seager

Dr Stephen Seager wrote Behind the gates of Gomorrah not simply to cash in on his interesting experiences as a psychiatrist at a hospital for the criminally insane, or to entertain voyeurs, but to advocate for the staff and patients at Napa State Hospital and to ultimately change the way the criminally insane are treated in the United States.

Dr Seager communicates his experiences as a vulnerable and terrified human being exquisitely, and it is almost as an afterthought that he describes himself as a psychiatrist. In this way, we are dragged throat-first into his first hours, days and months of working at Napa: his is the learning curve of an innocent pushed into a lion cage.

By sharing his story with us, Dr Seager nails home the flaws in the current psychiatric and legal systems: that the criminally insane are treated as patients first and dangerous criminals second, and that they are always in danger of being released back into society.

I began to fear so much for Dr Seager’s safety that about half way through the book I stopped to check his credentials online so that I could relax a little, knowing that he really was a psychiatrist and was trained to deal with dangerous situations. And that he survived his ordeal largely intact, unlike others in the story.

I could not put down this book, and a whole new world has been opened to me, previously locked behind razor wire and steel doors: the world lived daily by the criminally insane, their families and those who have chosen to care for them. They have my attention, my empathy and my support.

Author: Stephen B. Seager

Reviewed by Monica F, Orewa Library

Monica F is happiest in gumboots and apron, attending to her animals, harvesting her crops and making stuff. Like all truly wholesome people, she has a dark side, and enjoys nothing better than well written true crime and forensic medicine.

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