| Oct 02, 2008

Oct 2/08 - You go Joe!

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Feature Article - October 2, 2008 You go Joe!By Julie Druker

Things are very different today then back when Joe Clayton was 12 years old. Today our government requires tobacco manufacturers to decorate their packaging with pictures of children and the caption: “Don’t poison us.”

When Joe was 12 he was institutionalized. What he experienced in his six years in an institution poisoned him and continues to poison him to this day. “Sometimes at night I can still hear people screaming and crying and moaning in pain. That’s the hardest part.” .

Deep wounds heal slowly, and always tend to leave their mark. But scars need not define a man. Man is made of flesh, mind and feelings, all of which can be newly created every day, but only with the determined will of the person to do so and with the help of professionals.

Joe Clayton is redefining himself and is proof that scars need not define a man, though they will always remain a part of him.

With support from Community Living-North Frontenac, doctors, friends and family, Joe has realized that telling his story is now the most important way to heal himself, to pay tribute to other victims of institutional abuse who have not survived to tell their own stories, and to raise support for the community services to which he feels so greatly indebted for helping him to turn his life around.

Through these services he has, ”learned to laugh again”. He has become reacquainted with the positive parts of himself that love to talk and laugh and enjoy a good joke. “For me it’s an honour now to let people know what really happened.”

In a document he wrote titled “Raising the Standard”, he referred to the six years from age12 to 18 that he spent in an institution, (which he prefers at this time to leave unnamed), as “living in hell“.

He endured physical, sexual and mental abuse by staff and other patients. He was humiliated, and attacked, once cut with scissors. He was sexually assaulted, received shock treatments and death threats and was often stripped naked and locked alone in a dark, cold room. He worked in the laundry room cleaning sheets covered in human feces. “I was always asking myself, ‘What did I do to end up in a place as terrible as this?”

Born in Pembrooke in 1953 to a very sick mother, Joe was cared for by his aunt until she died in 1958. At the age of five he was made a ward of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) and was placed in consecutive foster homes. He remembers that time: “My life was a game. It seems that people kept rejecting me and I felt that nobody really cared about me.”

Joe recalled one nice man at one of his foster homes, a Polish man who treated him like a son. He sadly remembers watching this man from a window cutting down trees and witnessing his accidental death from a falling tree. A short time later, in 1966 at the age of 12, the CAS placed Joe in an institution for six long years.

Joe ran away twice from the institution. Both times he was returned there. On his last return, a staff member whom he trusted told him that if he didn’t try to run away again, he’d be free to go in a year. A year later, at the age of 18, Joe was discharged and received a diploma saying that he had “graduated”.

Joe spent his young adult years trying to live his life but was always haunted by his past.The 1980s were especially hard for him and he tried to drown his pain in alcohol and drugs.

In 1997, his life took a positive turn. He was invited to a “Promise Keepers” meeting, a support group for men in Ottawa. It was then that he decided he “would not let the past take me down”.

Joe moved to the Sharbot Lake area in 1996 and was introduced to “Community Living- North Frontenac“. The staff there supported him for eight years and this support has had a huge impact on the life he now leads, the work he has accomplished and his continued goal of independence.

“Workers (at CLNF) play an important part in improving someone’s life. I started growing and felt cared for…I was allowed to express my opinions.”

Joe has been married to his wife Lillian for 10 years. He creates the sculptural art that decorates the grounds around their home near Maberly and he grows a large vegetable garden in his yard. He is also an active member of the Sharbot Lake Pentecostal Church.

He has been elected for the second consecutive year as Representative for the People Served on the board of Community Living-North Frontenac.

In the last year he has attended various conferences and has spoken as a guest speaker at schools, including Loyalist College in Belleville for their Developmental Service Worker Program, People First of Carleton Place, and Community Living Ontario’s Annual Conference in Toronto. His name has been put forward by the Carleton Place People First as a possible speaker for the provincial conference to be held in October of this year.

He has written a book that he hopes to get published in Perth.

Joe is living proof and a testament to the fact that, with community support, understanding and awareness, individuals can overcome obstacles and attain the quality of life that so many of us take for granted.

He tells his story honestly and holds firmly to his belief that in doing so he will both heal himself and raise people’s awareness of the importance of accepting others.

Joe’s life has been a challenge indeed. And continues to be. But many of his current challenges are of an altogether different nature; they are challenges that he has chosen for himself by himself.

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