The Oregon State Hospital, a mental institution in Salem, Oregon and featured in our book, Slaying in Salem, has a dark history. There are stories of abuse, but not just of mentally ill adults. There are stories of children, housed there because they had no other place to go, and under terrible conditions.
One of the worst parts of the story involves the “Library of Dust” or the “Room of Forgotten Souls.” Both refer to a room discovered through an investigation of the institution by The Oregonian. The room contained over 300 copper urns containing the ashes of unclaimed residents who had passed away there. But there was more. Some of those who were buried in a nearby cemetery were moved, and their grave markers removed and discarded.
The abuse of both the living and the dead sparked outrage in the legislature, and the Oregon government began the demolition of some buildings, the renovation of others, and the creation of an entirely new hospital.
The atrocities are not forgotten though. A part of the hospital is now a museum, dedicated to showing the history of the building and the issues with the care for the mentally ill in Oregon and beyond. It highlights a problem:
There are more mentally ill patients in jails than in institutions nationwide.
The institutions are often very jail like, even maintained by the state Departments of Correction, and offer little in the way of actual treatment.
Funding for public mental health has been slashed again and again and again, both at Federal and state levels.
Often, a jail sentence either makes a mental illness worse, or it causes one in someone who previously was not ill. Sometimes, mental illness directly or indirectly caused the offense the prisoner is locked up for.
It isn’t right. We have two choices. Either we as people can step up to encourage our government to increase funding for public health, or we can take care of it on a private basis.
Either way, something needs to be done, and what happened at the Oregon State Hospital is just one illustration of what can be done when the public takes action.
What happens in Slaying in Salem is tragic. But what happened in real life, the back story? That is much more tragic.
Have you ever heard that the truth is stranger than fiction? That is often the case. We can’t even use some of the best true crime cases to model our fiction stories after. Why? No one would believe things happened that way.
However, there are facts behind the fiction we write. When we talk about guns and shooting them, we need to be accurate. Because readers, at least some of them, know how these things work. We must also be careful with things like how people die, what they look like, and how we find the clues and solve the mysteries we create.
Did you ever wonder about some of the research, and why your favorite thriller and mystery author is being watched by the government? This blog will explore some of those themes and ideas.
The Police and Law Enforcement
Even though sometimes it might not seem like it in real life or on TV dramas, the police and law enforcement officers have rules they need to follow. Most of the time, they do follow those rules. The exceptions are rare. Those exceptions make TV and fiction fun to read, but they are not really consistent with how the real world works.
That is why we, as authors, are careful about what we put in our books and what we say. We want to respect those who protect us, and we want you to understand that they are people just like you and me. Most of them are honest and good at what they do. Like any other profession, there are bad examples though.
For the sake of fiction, we often process evidence quickly. But it doesn’t happen that way in real life. Most smaller cities do not have a forensics department and often have to wait for help. DNA labs are extremely busy and backed up, and if the person’s DNA is not on file, police have to wait until they can match it to a potential suspect. To do that, they need enough evidence for a warrant to collect it.
It’s all rather challenging, and now juries, thanks to fiction, expect this kind of concrete evidence in most cases. It is problematic for both police and attorneys. When we try to be more realistic in fiction, it often makes our books seem slow or dull. So we have to bend the rules just a little.
We’ll talk more about this stuff in upcoming posts, at least once a week, where we deal with the reality behind fiction.
Murder, Serial Killers, and More
Crime is rare, kinda. And violent crime even more so. But many murders every year go unsolved. Want to know why? There are actually a whole host of reasons, and soon we will talk about some of them here, some related to today’s headlines, others related to cases in the past. You won’t believe some of what you will read.
Want to Contribute?
Want to be part of the discussion and share your knowledge in this area? Contact us at [email protected]. We can talk about your story, and even get you published here. For authors and others, this is a great opportunity to promote your books and reach a new audience.
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