Digital Project

Many, if not all of the remaining mental institutions in the United States have some aura of controversy surrounding them. Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia isn’t unique in this aspect. Central State was the first mental institution in America opened specifically for African Americans. It’s safe to assume that many Americans cared little for such an institution historically, its records are spotty, incomplete and have been on the verge of destruction several times. What can be inferred, however, is that Central State is and was not a great place to be for the mentally unwell. Seclusion and restraint have been overused for decades with little recourse. In 2023, a black man, Irvo Otieno died at the hands of Central State staff as the result of excessive restraint, a painful reminder of the institution’s past. This fifteen minute documentary explores Central State Hospital’s painful past and alludes to how American mental institutions haven’t quite reformed enough. 

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