Blog Archives

Depressing but not surprising: how the Magdalene Laundries got away with it


Depressing but not surprising: how the Magdalene Laundries got away with it

From the link: http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/07/depressing-not-surprising-how-magdalene-laundries-got-away-it

Inside a Magdalene Laundry. Photograph: Wikimedia/Magnus Manske

Inside a Magdalene Laundry. Photograph: Wikimedia/Magnus Manske

 

As a child, Anna Carey saw the dead-eyed women who had been forced to work for free in the laundries sit among the congregation at Mass, seen and yet ignored. Now, as the religious orders responsible refuse to contribute towards financial compensation, it’s not difficult to see how Irish society allowed these abuses to go on for so long.

I loved High Park when I was a kid. The rambling grounds of the convent were just across the road from the quiet Dublin housing estate where I grew up in the 1980s, and every Sunday my family went to Mass in the convent chapel. The chapel was a pretty little Victorian building; when I was very small, I used to jump slowly down the wooden steps of the choir stalls and pretend to be Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss.

Away from the cluster of convent buildings, the grounds were beautiful, with meadows full of wild flowers and a small herd of cows. We would go on nature walks, looking out for squirrels and gathering leaves and flowers. It was all rather idyllic, apart from the fact that we were playing in what had, for decades, essentially been a forced labour camp.

Run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, High Park Convent was the site of Ireland’s largest Magdalene Laundry. Until well into the twentieth century, girls deemed to be “difficult”  – because they were sexually active, or sexually abused, or simply poor – were sent to laundries by their families or the state. Despite having committed no crime, they were not allowed to leave the institutions and were forced to work for no pay, making them literally slaves. Many women spent their entire lives there, remaining long after the actual laundries closed down. They had nowhere else to go.

I used to see some of those women at Mass, the ones left behind, although I was almost grown up before I realised who they were. They’d shuffle in behind the nuns and sit quietly at the back. Their eyes were vacant, and they seemed completely institutionalised.  I’m sure they weren’t as old as they looked. There was a large, empty building near the chapel which was still referred to as “the laundry”; it wasn’t until my late teens that I realised it was where those dead-eyed women had been forced to slave. The adults around me must have known, but nobody ever talked about it.

Then, in 1993, High Park hit the news. The nuns sold some of the grounds to a property developer for IR£1.5m, but the sold land included a mass grave containing the remains of 155 women, many of whom were unnamed. The scandal forced Ireland to confront just what had happened in those laundries, and ask why we’d tolerated them for so long. It didn’t stop shameless religious orders continuing to sell land for vast amounts of money – thanks to further land sales, High Park made €61.7m between 1999 and 2009, and today the former grounds are covered in houses and apartments. But while nuns made millions, former Magdalenes began a long campaign for justice.

This year, they finally got results. Following a demand from the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in 2011, a government enquiry into the laundries was established. Released in February this year, the enquiry’s report has been widely criticised by UNCAT among others for being neither independent nor thorough enough. It did, however, officially confirm that not only did the state commit at least 2500 young women to the convents’ “care”, it took advantage of the slave labour, giving the laundries government contracts despite being aware that the institutions were breaking the state’s own labour laws. Taoiseach Enda Kenny offered Magdalene survivors an official state apology, and last month details were announced of a financial compensation scheme.

The scheme, which has also been criticised, will cost the state about €58m. You might think, what with the millions they earned from selling land, that the various religious orders would be paying for some of this. But yesterday it was announced that they are refusing to contribute. This is depressing but not surprising, as they’ve repeatedly failed to apologise for running their lucrative labour camps.

But that’s the thing about the Irish Catholic church – it never thinks it’s done anything wrong. Its officials always claim mitigating circumstances – things were different in the twentieth century! Nobody thought there was anything wrong with slavery, or raping children! This is nonsense, of course. But when I think of those old women at the back of the church, carefully ignored by the nice middle class families around them, I can see how Irish society allowed the Church to pretend it was true.

 

Magdalene survivors to receive €11,500 to €100,000


Magdalene survivors to receive €11,500 to €100,000

By Joe Humphreys Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 20:24

From the link: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/magdalene-survivors-to-receive-11-500-to-100-000-1.1443375#.UcsskVXU5Fo.facebook

Government provides at least €34.5 million to compensate women held in laundries

Survivors of the Magdalene laundries are to receive lump sum payments of between €11,500 and €100,000 for their time spent in the institutions, the Government has announced.

Under a new compensation scheme, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said approximately 600 women were expected qualify for the ex gratia payments, and “crucially payment of these sums of money is not dependent on proof of any hardship, injury or abuse”.

Members of one group representing survivors have rejected the offer. Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 and one member has called on the Government to go back to the drawing board.

While Mr Shatter said it was impossible to give an accurate prediction of total costs as the number of validated applicants had yet to be established “my officials estimate the total cost of these lump sum payments would be in the range of €34.5 million to €58 million.

A woman who spent any time of three months or less would receive a lump sum of €11,500, and the amount then increases. For one year it will be €20,500 and for five years €68,500. The maximum payment is €100,000 for women were in a laundry for 10 years or more.

Women who are entitled to more than €50,000 through the scheme will receive a €50,000 lump sum, plus an annual payment calculated from the remaining sum, which would be paid weekly.

Allowing for this condition, “one off payments in the range would total €24 million to €40 million with total weekly payments amounting to €70,000 to €1.26 million annually.”

To minimise further legal costs, Mr Justice Quirke, president of Law Reform Commission, recommended that before accepting any payment, the woman should agree not to make any further claim against the State and should have access to independent legal advice.

Mr Shatter said it was in discussions with the Legal Aid Board on how to provide that advice.

Mr Shatter has met the four religious congregations which ran the laundries and told them they are expected to contribute to the compensation. “There will be great disappointment within Cabinet if the congregations fail to make a contribution,” he said. Mr Shatter would not put a figure on how much they are expected to pay. During talks with the orders, some nuns said they still care for more than 100 Magdalene survivors at their own expense. “They are making a contribution by providing them with accommodation and supports,” he said. “Of course they are going to incur expense and work has to be done in providing us with the verifying records that are necessary.”

Women who were held in one of the Magdalene laundries rejected the offer and called on the Government to go back to the drawing board. Members of

Magdalene Survivors Together want all the women detained to be given a basic payment of €50,000 for the emotional and psychological damage suffered, with additional compensation sought for work at the laundries. They also want all the money paid in one bulk, instead of an initial lump sum followed by weekly amounts making up the balance.

Maureen Sullivan, the youngest known survivor admitted to one of the laundries, said women were forced to work from morning till night — washing floors from 7.30am, in a laundry throughout the day, and then making rosary beads at night. “I think they totted it up all wrong,” she said. “They need to go back to the drawing board.”

But Sally Mulready of the Irish Women Survivors Network, which represents around 60 UK based survivors, said it welcomed the scheme as a “fair, fast and just settlement, without endless lawyers and legal costs”.

She particularly welcomed the provision for enhanced pension which was fitting recognition of the time women spent working in the laundries.

The Sisters of Mercy ran two laundries, one in Dun Laoghaire which closed in 1963 and one in Galway which closed in 1984. It said its archives will be open for women to check how long they spent in the institutions.

The congregation also said it supported the possibility of mediation between nuns and surviving women. “We will welcome the opportunity for such interaction mindful that all Sisters who held positions of responsibility and worked in Galway or Dun Laoghaire are now deceased,” they said.

Other recommendations made by Judge Quirke include:

* Magdalene women will be granted free access to services — including GP, hospital care, drugs and dental counselling — by way of an enhanced medical card.

* All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age will have income equivalent to the state contributory pension.

* Those who have not reached pensionable age will have income of 100 euro per week.

* All cash payments will be exempt from income tax and other taxes and will not be taken into account in means testing for social welfare or other benefits.

* A dedicated unit will be created to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with religious congregations and social opportunities to meet other such women.

Magdalene Laundries: Women who have lost their way


Magdalene Laundries: Women who have lost their way

By Rachael Romero – posted Thursday, 20 June 2013

From the link: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15148

The Washington Times article: “A Magdalene Laundry survivor speaks out,” reminds us that Magdalene Laundries were not only in Ireland but replicated all over the world.

Was the Irish State’s recent apology for their complicity with the church in the enslavement of young women for years inside the notorious Magdalene Laundries, (or workhouses for girls, many of which were run by Good Shepherd nuns) – and subsequent calls for restorative justice for survivors – the impetus for the Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia putting a new spin on the history they share with Irish nuns?

By recasting themselves online as seekers of justice they hope you don’t know of their role in more than a century of hidden imprisonment of vulnerable girls in Australia’s infamous Magdalene Laundries. When they say their doctrines promote freedom, do we infer that hypocrisy is their policy as a means to deceive and deflect criticism? Their new website says they’ve commissioned Anti-Slavery Australia to route out “hidden exploitation.” The Australian Good Shepherd’s historical perpetration of “hidden exploitation” in Magdalene Laundries no doubt informs their expertise. Disclosure: As a recipient of ‘hidden exploitation’ in their hands, so does mine!

In 1967, inside the dark-walled Dickensian world they ruled supreme, the Good Shepherd nuns suggested that I might just as well give up school. I was just fourteen. It occurred to me that school was mandatory till age fifteen so I claimed it not only as my right, but also as a way to get a few hours out of forced labor in their thundering, antiquated laundry. How had I come to this dreadful place?

Like so many others I’d run away from home following a particularly brutal and life threatening attack by my father, (who had abused me physically, psychologically and sexually for years). Having turned myself into the Welfare I was subsequently dispatched (under the signature of my parents) to endure extra-judicial imprisonment and forced labor in a Magdalene Laundry run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in suburban North Plympton, South Australia (1941-74.)

There, I was treated as defiled and forced to work in the laundry under the blind eye of the State of South Australia and the noses of god-fearing South Australian citizens. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

I was just one of tens of thousands of vulnerable girls stigmatized as “fallen,” herded like sheep to the slaughterhouse that was the Catholic solution. Those in charge of the Convent of the Good Shepherd were carrying out a mandate to get wanton, lost girls and women off the streets where they might contaminate society. The nuns’ constant vilification branded us-as livestock are branded-by fire. We were treated as mere objects of contempt, there to earn our wretched keep in Magdalene Infernos around the world.

The advocacy group, Justice for Magdalenes, brought the issue to the attention of the United Nations Committee Against Torture eventually resulting in the Irish State’s recognition of culpability this year. (Australia has yet to address this, other than the 2009-sweeping apology to all of those mistreated in care during the last century.) Imagine my disbelief when I find the Good Shepherds using words like: Hope, Action, Justice to obscure their unpardonable history as slave-drivers of the most vulnerable girls society could serve up to them, presumably hoping to gain cred by awarding the writer Sushi Das (well placed as the Opinion Editor of The Age,) an award-on International Woman’s Day.

Have the Good Shepherds Nuns “lost their way?” Their idea of themselves as altruistic shepherds saving young “fallen” girls from themselves by herding them into hard labor was and is condescending, antiquated, disingenuous and the results have been horrific and gravely injurious. Why don’t they come clean about their dirty laundry? I believe the church is afraid that survivors seeking restorative justice will cause the revelation of hard facts resulting in potential donors to beginning to see their current Anti Slavery crusade as same old sanitized with PC language.

On their newly branded Good Shepherd website, Noelene White writes: “…the work of Good Shepherd Sisters and mission partners […], isn’t that different to what Good Shepherd has done since the Order began in France in 1835.” [Italics mine]

I suggest that the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Good Shepherd nuns’ arrival in Australia be seized as a time for the Good Shepherd Sisters to explore how they lost their way and an opportunity to taste the penitence and humility they so zealously forced upon those in their care. Let their archives be opened and those pitiful records studied. Let there be restorative justice for all those who suffered in the Good Shepherds’ Magdalene Laundries worldwide!

Give the laundry girls their compo


Give the laundry girls their compo

Rights watchdog: State acted wrongfully

SURVIVORS of the Magdalene Laundries should get compensation including unpaid wages, pensions and rehab, a watchdog has insisted.

In yesterday’s follow-up report to Martin McAleese’s laundries probe, the Irish Human Rights Commission said the State failed to protect women and girls sent to the institutions.

And IHRC commissioner Professor Siobhan Mullally said the McAleese inquiry fell short of drawing conclusions on the State’s obligations.

She added: “The State acted wrongfully in failing to protect these women by not putting in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such violations, and by failing to respond to their allegations over a protracted period.”

Prof Mullally said compensation must now match the human rights violations and their ongoing impact.She called for lost wages, pensions and social welfare benefits to be taken into account — as well as rehabilitation supports such as housing, education, health, welfare and help to deal with the psychological scars. Sinead Lucey, senior inquiry and legal officer of the IHRC, said women were subjected to a form of forced labour — and that the State profited from this.She said: “Not only did successive Irish governments not outlaw and suppress such practices, as they were required to do, but the State itself availed and benefited from such forced or compulsory labour when it entered into commercial contracts with the laundries on the basis of being the cheapest.

“But the crucial factor here was the workers were unpaid.

“The State must never be complacent in the way it treats those at risk of discrimination.”

Good Shepherd Sisters denying history


Good Shepherd Sisters denying history

By Adele Chynoweth – posted Wednesday, 19 June 2013

From the link: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15140

The recent claims, by lawyer and lobbyist Bryan Keon-Cohen, that the Catholic Church is a law unto itself in its resistance of governmental responses to child abuse, could be applied to Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.

On the 22nd of this month, Good Shepherd, an organisation established by the Good Shepherd Sisters has scheduled a Festival at Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne in order to celebrate 150 years since the Good Shepherd Sisters arrived in Australia. The problem is that the summary, by Trish Carroll, Good Shepherd Mission Leader, of the history of the organisation, conveniently excludes the work of the Sisters in the twentieth century. So allow me to fill in the resounding gap.

There are no precise figures for the number of girls who slaved in the eight Magdalene laundries, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, in twentieth century Australia because Good Shepherd has not released their records. We do know, as a result of the Federal Senate reportForgotten Australians (2004) that the Good Shepherd laundries in Australia acted as prisons for the girls who were forced to labour in workhouses laundering linen for local hospitals or commercial premises. The report alsodescribed the conditions as characterised by inedible food, unhygienic living conditions and little or no education. In 2008, in Federal Parliament, Senator Andrew Murray likened the Convent of the Good Shepherd ‘The Pines’, Adelaide to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Post-war Australia was categorised by a new era of nation building led by the conservative Robert Menzies as Prime Minister. There was a perceived need for strict discipline for juveniles. Children could be placed in juvenile detention centres despite not having committed a criminal offence. Further, during this period there was a concern that ‘sexually depraved girls’ could be a cause of delinquency and therefore needed to be separated from the mainstream. As a result of these attitudes, many vulnerable children were criminalised.

Rachael Romero, at the age of 14 in 1967, was incarcerated in ‘The Pines’ for running away from her violent father who had sexually abused her. Rachael could not speak about it publicly for forty years because the Good Shepherd Sisters had branded her as ‘fallen’ and so Rachael had felt besmirched as a result of the abuse that she had endured. Wendy Sutton was admitted to ‘The Pines’ at the age of 13 having suffered physical abuse at the hands of her stepfather and having been sexually molested by a friend of the family.

Janice Konstantinidis was sent, by whom she describes as her ‘sadistic alcoholic father’ at the age of 12 to work in the laundry at Mount Saint Canice, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Tasmania. Janice remembers the girl who broke her back in an escape attempt by jumping through a window. The girls were told later that after being discharged from hospital that she was sent to Lachlan Park Hospital, a secure mental asylum.

Maureen Cuskelly was sent to Abbotsford Convent at the age of three because her mother was suffering from a mental illness. Later at the age of 13, in 1968, she was sent to work in the laundry at St Aidan’s Bendigo, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. When she left, at the age of 17, her hands were damaged from years of repetitive sheet folding, in the afternoons, and her being forced to clean floors with an industrial polisher every morning.

The Good Shepherd Festival at Abbotsford this month also includes a ‘ReunionAfternoon Tea for all former residents of Good Shepherd institutions’.

I asked Maureen if she would be going, “I don’t know about that. There is not one plaque at Abbotsford about us. It’s all about them. They make me so mad. There has been no apology. No acknowledgement”.

“I went to a reunion before and they say ‘The nuns did their best at the time’. But they didn’t do their best. They were cruel. We were always hungry and cold. Girls were beaten or locked on their own in dark cells. But the worse thing they did was not let me see my brother and sister in the other section of the Convent. I got punished for waving at them”.

The Senate Inquiry into Forgotten Australians (2004) revealed that the abuse of children continued throughout institutions because a nation espoused an uncritical admiration of the work of charities and churches. Who was watching those charged with the care of Australia’s vulnerable children? We can take account now. Many Forgotten Australians have fought emotional adversity and physical scars or injuries to participate in a society that abandoned them as children. Our history needs to acknowledge the causal factors that produced such adversity so as to deflect the shame and stigma from survivors. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, whose slogan is “Justice, Compassion, Reconciliation, Respect, Dignity” can assist this reparation by focusing less on their public relations campaign, more on writing an authentic record and through the initiation of a genuine reconciliation process with former child slaves of their twentieth century laundries.

Maureen reminds us the significance of the current Good Shepherd’s edited history, “They’re burying what they did. They’re burying our history. They’re burying the truth”.

A Survivor of the Magdalene Laundries speaks out: Bonnie’s story


A Survivor of the Magdalene Laundries speaks out: Bonnie’s story

From the link: http://c.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/heart-without-compromise-children-and-children-wit/2013/may/1/survivor-magdalene-laundries-speaks-out-bonnies-st/

Photo: Bonnie Armijo

Photo: Bonnie Armijo

 

DALLAS, May 1, 2013 – Bonnie Armijo awoke from the warm embrace of a dream and grimaced as she realized she was back in her bed on the third floor of St. Anne’s Institute in Albany, New York.

 

St. Anne’s was a Magdalene asylum for girls who had been labeled by either the courts or their families as having “fallen” from moral virtue.

 

Established by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages to provide a place where reformed prostitutes would cleanse their sins in preparation for marriage, these institutions proliferated across Europe into Ireland, Scotland and across the ocean to Australia, Canada and the United States. They took a dark turn during the industrial revolution in the 1800’s and became workhouses where girls as young as fourteen worked in laundries and were subject to a cruel and abusive form of penance to “restore their virtue.”

 

As a young girl of fifteen, the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor spent eighteen months in a Magdalene Laundry. Her Saturday Night Live appearance that sparked huge controversy when she ripped up a picture of the Pope was motivated by the sexual and physical abuse she had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Various religious orders ran the Magdalene Asylums, and St. Anne’s was one of many asylums operated by Sisters from the Order of the Good Shepherd in the United States.

 

The few who witnessed the institutions saw prisons with towering stone walls topped with barbed wire, where once inside all hope was stolen from the very depths of your soul.

 

Back from her dream, Bonnie stirred beneath the shallow blankets that seemed only to invite the cold rather than banish it. Her eyes struggled to focus in the darkness as she rubbed her arms trying to keep warm. The large open room she was in was populated with iron-framed beds and worn cotton sheets, filled with other young girls who soundly slept in the serenity of the darkness.

 

Bonnie could feel the cool breeze of an early morning wind as her long dark hair danced in its grasp, and December 1966 arrived with a grand entrance across the landscape of the city of Albany.

 

As she looked around, Bonnie saw a silhouette bathed in the moonlight, and as she looked closer, she made out the figure of a young girl standing with her feet perched upon the windowsill on the precipice of a three story drop, poised to jump.

 

Bonnie walked slowly toward the window, still unsure whether her dream had ended or if it had morphed into a bottomless nightmare. As she drew closer she recognized the girl standing on the edge of her own demise as someone she had nicknamed “Daffy” referring to the Walt Disney character Daffy Duck. The two had made the journey from the Children and Family Shelter in Long Island to St. Anne’s Institute.

 

Bonnie cried out, “Daffy don’t do it!” just as her friend began to throw herself into a descent from her third story perch. Bonnie reacted without thinking and grbbed Daffy’s nightgown, pulling her back into the room and on top of her.

 

Suddenly the atmosphere of the room exploded as the ‘Solidarity Sisters” rushed in to grab “Daffy,” pushing Bonnie aside. The Solidarity Sisters were young girls who believed their sins to be so great they handed their lives over to the Order of the Good Shepherd. Never able to become nuns, they instead became the “enforcers” of the Mother Superior, carrying out punishments that were handed down for violations of an ever-changing rulebook.

 

The Solidarity Sisters grabbed “Daffy” and began handling her so roughly that one of her teeth was knocked out and blood spread across the white tile floors like a river of fear. The nun in charge of the night shift at St. Anne’s rushed in, awakened from her deep sleep and not wearing the distinctive veil of the order.

 

The nun began barking orders to the Solidarity Sisters, “Grab her feet!” and then turned to Bonnie “You grab her arms and all of you follow me!” The nun removed a set of large keys hooked together on an enormous iron ring as she headed for the dark stairwell leading to the basement.

 

At the bottom of the stairs, Bonnie found cells with hard wooden doors with small windows that were closed tightly separating the occupants not only from the world but also from all sense of hope.

 

‘Daffy” was dropped onto the cold stone floor by the Solidarity Sisters. As Bonnie was pulled from the room the nun slammed the door and inserted the iron key into the lock, and as it turned, it swept away the last memory of Daffy, as she was never seen again.

 

Bonnie stood stunned as her ears filled with the rising sound of screaming that seemed to come from all around her. It was then that she realized that she had not descended into a basement but into hell where the tortured souls of young girls writhed in agony in a pocket of suffering as the outside world marked time, ignorant of the suffering a stone’s throw away.

 

Back in her bed, Bonnie sobbed. It seemed only a short time ago that Bonnie was a schoolgirl and life had not yet shown its darker side.

 

Bonnie’s father was a Sergeant in the Air Force and a full-blooded Navajo, and she had lived the early years of her life traveling from one military base to another. Then her mother and father separated and Bonnie returned with her mother to live with her strict Irish Catholic family in Long Island, New York.

 

It was during this time that her life began to change for the worse. At the age of nine a friend’s older brother molested Bonnie, and her efforts to speak out about this were dismissed as an overactive imagination. In 1965 at the age of fourteen, Bonnie was kidnapped by a security guard, thrown into his car and driven to his house. Held against her will, Bonnie fought with all of her strength and pushed him off the bed.

 

Finally free of her attacker Bonnie fled back to her home, but the scars of her abuse at the age of nine made her a hostage of silence.

 

In an attempt to speak out about the trauma, Bonnie wrote of her experience in a letter to one of her classmates. Bonnie was then called into the principal’s office and admonished her for lying.  She was then expelled.

 

Bonnie fought depression and thoughts of suicide as her mother remained unsympathetic. Bonnie ran away after hearing a conversation between her mother and her aunt, but police soon found her and took her to the children and family shelter in Long Island.

 

The next morning, Bonnie appeared before a judge. She was confident that once she told her story, the judge would release her and jail her abuser. Instead, the judge sentenced Bonnie to St. Anne’s Institute until her graduation, which was several years away. Her crime was listed as being incorrigible.

 

As Bonnie and the three girls handcuffed with her approached the prison that would steal every waking moment of their happiness for the next two and half years, Bonnie felt her heart sink to its lowest depths. Stone walls towered before them topped with barbed wire, and the entrance to this hell was framed by an impenetrable wrought iron gate. The gate swung slowly open, as its motion seemed to rob time away from the four frightened girls. As the van pulled into the ancient courtyard it came to an abrupt stop and the four were led toward the entrance to their new prison. What loomed before them could only be described as an ominous and dark castle, its brick structure cemented together with the silent cries of young girls, desperate and hopeless, trapped in the grip of evil.

 

Once inside, the girls were greeted by the nun charged with processing new “inmates” as the girls who were sent to St. Anne’s were called. She coldly told the girls they would refer to all the Sisters of the Good Shepherd there as “Mother.” Talking was not allowed unless permission was given. The girls were allowed access to books but only on a limited basis during the basic classes offered.

 

In the dormitories the girls were not allowed to talk or read and were forced to sit with their hands in their laps. Smoking was allowed and many girls adopted this habit, as it was the only chance for limited conversation without supervision.

 

As the nun finished her orientation speech, Bonnie and the other girls were led through the dark and damp hallways of the evil castle and into a room. It was here that they were subjected to a rough medical exam that included a full cavity search.

 

In the dormitory where inmate’s awaited assignment to their “unit”, Bonnie was indoctrinated to the vacuum of compassion that would permeate her stay.

 

The girls were forced perform cruel forms of penance to atone for their “sins,” and on many occasions were made to kneel and place their hands in front of them with their fingers spread facing inwards. The girls were then made to place their knees on top of their fingers and raise their buttocks as high in the air as possible.

 

They were forced to scrub uneven brick floors until their knees bled. Sexual attacks could not be avoided by many of the girls.

 

Bonnie was frequently stricken by asthma attacks but not allowed an inhaler. Girls who tried to help her during these life threatening episodes were told to “leave her alone because she was just trying to get attention,” and were punished for extending a hand to help.

 

Bonnie also experienced severe physical abuse at the hands of both the Solidarity Sisters and the Sisters themselves. She remembers being struck on the back of the head so hard by one of the sisters that her vision was blurred for days.

 

Bonnie’s days at St. Anne’s Institute were an unrelenting wave of despair and humiliation. Visitations were limited by the Sisters, and Bonnie had only rare visits from her family totaling three times in the two and a half years she was imprisoned at Anne’s Institute.

 

Lifelong friendships are often forged within the depths of a struggle against the tide of evil that seeks to consume your soul and banish your self-esteem to oblivion. For Bonnie Armijo that lifelong friend has been with Diana O’Hara and the two have shared the tears and the laughter of true friendship over the years, but they continue to be haunted by the memories that are the ghosts of St. Anne’s

 

These ghosts follow them to this day and the memories of the abuse they suffered flavors their life with a desperate sense that even though decades have passed, there is a part of them that remains trapped in that prison of stone walls and barbed wire hearts where their innocence was stolen as young girls.

 

The struggle to free that part of these victims is one that has become one I have become committed to being a part of.  Bonnie Armijo continues to fight for an acknowledgement of what happened to her as she struggles with Multiple Sclerosis and is a passionate and committed advocate to finding a cure for this disease.

 

If you want to learn more about the fight for justice for the survivors of the American Magdalene Laundries you can join the cause on Facebook at American Victims of Magdalenes and Good Shepherd, and Survivors of Good Shepherd/Magdalene Laundries in North America and on Google +: Survivors of Magdalene/Good Shepherd Laundries.

 

To understand the Magdalene/Good Shepherd Laundries and the suffering that took place there, it is important to see through the eyes of a survivor. Director Peter Mullan’s 2002 film, “The Magdalene Sisters.” Many survivors say he captures the experience so well that they cannot watch without reliving their own worst nightmare.  Please watch and think of these young girls who have been sentenced to a lifetime of pain and suffering.