From 1984 to 1987 Dr. Hew Len worked as a psychologist at Hawaii State Hospital in the psychiatric ward where heavily disturbed, criminal patients were living (serious crimes committed by psychopaths, schizophrenics, psychotics). When Dr. Hew Len began working there, the atmosphere was anything but pleasant. The patients were very aggressive (daily attacks between patients). Most patients were therefore put in seclusion. Many others were shackled.
Absenteeism and staff turnover was immense; the ward was chronically understaffed. Staff walked through the halls with their backs against the walls, afraid of being attacked. The plants wouldn’t stay alive and the buildings were in decay (paint peeling off, the pipes were clogged and regularly the plumbing or heating wasn’t working properly). The patients were so intractable that no activity could be offered. The relatives of the patients were almost never coming to visit them. In short: it was a place of hell on earth.
Dr Hew Len worked half time at the department. Unlike his predecessors he did not participate in multi-disciplinary consultation, he didn’t see patients in his office, he took no part in meetings. Most of the time he sat alone at his desk and read through the files of the patients. The rest of his time, he ambled around the ward, felt at ease, joked a little, talked to people in his own easygoing way and enjoyed his time there. And all that time he practiced the ancient Hawaiian healing method of Ho’oponopono in the back of his head.
Gradually the atmosphere in the department started to improve. There was more lightness, more joy, more peace, … Just a few months after his arrival at the department everything changed dramaticaly: no more shackles, nor more seclusion and people were allowed to leave to go to work or attend outdoor activities.The absenteeism of the staff decreased gradually and the even became overstaffed … Several employees became interested in what Dr Hew Len was doing and joined him.
The following months and years the building was refreshed, activities were organized for the patients (first indoors, later outdoors too), more and more families came to visit and patients took an active part in their process of reintegration into society.
When Dr. Hew Len in 1987 left the department, the department was closed due to few patients. All patients had left the department. Most appeared to be cured and retook their place in society. A few of them were referred to another department because they were not yet ready to be released. There was even at least one patient who has chosen to take full responsibility for his crime. He chose to no longer hide behind psychiatric diagnoses, but to admit guilt and express sincere regret to his victims.
Author, Veerle Wauters