Photo: Penetangont by Squad546
In March 1967, Joan Hollobon checked herself in at the Oakridge maximum security division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre (formerly known as the Hospital for the Criminally Insane) in Penetanguishene, Ontario, where she worked and slept from a cell among the 38 inmates for four days. Joan went to see for herself firsthand how Dr. Barry Boyd and Dr. Elliott Barker were trying to revolutionise psychiatric treatment working with these 38 incarcerated patients by experimenting with an intensive type of milieu therapy. Locked into her cell at night for her own protection, she was afforded the opportunity to interview each of the patients who agreed to meet with her during the day. One of the patients, a teenage pyromaniac, thought himself a hero for rescuing his victims (eventually) from the fires he set. Many of the patients, despite their criminal records, demonstrated what would be labeled sociopathic tendencies today.
Joan Hollobon’s article, “Behind the Bars on G Ward” appeared in The Globe and Mail’s April 1968 weekend magazine supplement to the daily newspaper. It unlocked the doors to a world few Canadians were aware of, and explored a completely new and different side of healthcare that would have startled many people. Later, reflecting on her career as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, Joan stated, “The assignment that left the most lasting impression was the 4 days I spent locked in the Oakridge Maximum Security Division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre with those 38 patients. Perhaps it was unforgettable because it provided insight into people whose life experiences and lifestyle most of us rarely encounter, or because of the insight into oneself through encounters in an intense programme that stripped away the usual social superficialities.”
Perhaps that was the key to Joan Hollobon’s success as a medical reporter – not only was she able to capture the attention of her readers by her thorough hands-on medical research and reporting, but she was empathetic when it came to dealing with and recognising the human condition.
By Andy F. Visser-de Vries