Rusk (Texas) State Penitentiary became Rusk State Hospital in 1919 when it was converted to a hospital for “Negro insane”. See Vanessa Jackson’s In Our Own Voice: African-American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in Mental Health Systems for an account of this hospital and more. I especially appreciated her account of a 1955 “rebellion” by African-American prisoners in the maximum-security unit led by nineteen-year-old Ben Riley, the spokesperson for demands for better counseling, organized exercise, and an end to beatings. During the event a group of patients hooked the hospital superintendent up to the electroconvulsive shock therapy apparatus and attempted to use it.
In searching for an image of Rusk State Hospital this morning, I found this photo in the collection of the John P. McGovern Library at the Texas (Houston) Medical Center. In a full-circle kind of synchronicity McGovern was my mother’s cousin.