A darker twist on Orange is the New Black, this true insider's account delivers an eye-opening look into the nation’s largest state-run forensic hospital, a facility that houses the real-life Hannibal Lecters of the world.
Psychiatrist Stephen Seager was no stranger to locked psych wards when he accepted a job at California’s Gorman State hospital, known locally as “Gomorrah,” but nothing could have prepared him for what he encountered when he stepped through its gates, a triple sally port behind the twenty-foot walls topped with shining coils of razor wire. Gorman State is one of the nation’s largest forensic mental hospitals, dedicated to treating the criminally insane. Unit C, where Seager was assigned, was reserved for the “bad actors,” the mass murderers, serial killers, and the real-life Hannibal Lecters of the world.
Against a backdrop of surreal beauty—a verdant campus-like setting where peacocks strolled the grounds—is a place of remarkable violence, a place where a small staff of clinicians are expected to manage a volatile population of prison-hardened ex-cons, where lone therapists lead sharing circles with sociopaths, where an illicit underground economy flourishes, and where patients and physicians often measure their lives according to how fast they can run. To cross through the gates of Gomorrah is to enter a looking-glass world, where the trappings of the normal calendar year exist—Halloween dances and Christmas parties (complete with visits from Santa), springtime softball teams and basketball leagues, but marked with paroxysms of brutality (Santa goes berserk), and peopled by figures from our nightmares.
Behind the Gates of Gomorrah affords an eye-opening look inside a facility to which few people have ever had access. Honest, rueful, and at times darkly funny, Seager’s gripping account of his rookie year blends memoir with a narrative science, explaining both the aberrant mind and his own, at times incomprehensible, determination to remain in a job with a perilously steep learning curve.
When psychiatrist Seager (Street Crazy : America's Mental Health Tragedy) accepted a job at Gordon State Hospital, he was no stranger to chaos he'd already worked as an ER doctor for 11 years but nothing could prepare him for the levels of violence and discord he'd soon encounter at this California facility dedicated to serving a motley crew of psychopaths, sexual predators, vicious convicts, and the mentally ill. In this riveting account, he chronicles his year on the job, which begins with a horrific assault on his first day, slowly uncovering a twisted ecosystem in which inmates extort money from staff and patients alike, in which a vicious convict will attempt to kill a fellow patient one day, only to administer CPR to save the life of another, and Santa bellows obscenities and is dragged kicking and screaming from a Christmas party. This day-to-day tedium coupled with the ever-present threat of violence adds tension to Seager's story, but when the author attempts to tie in a critique of the state and local government's approach to dealing with mental illness, the narrative falls flat. Seager's attempt to tell so many stories his own, his patients, and the system's only dilutes his tale.