Few human beings are subject to as much misunderstanding, cruelty, and neglect as the world’s mentally disabled. Those who have been classified mentally ill or mentally retarded are often abandoned or hidden away in psychiatric institutions, which are grossly overcrowded and unsanitary, and which offer little or nothing in the way of medical care, counseling or training. The mentally retarded are housed with the mentally ill, children with adults, those who are suffering physical illnesses with those who are not. Abuses such as beatings and rapes go unreported and unpunished. In many countries the homeless, the elderly who lack families, epileptics, and petty criminals are also placed into asylums, because they have nowhere else to go.
Confined in unheated, prison-like cells, utilizing filthy toilets, bathing in ice-cold water, heavily medicated, and wandering uncared for through the garage-like wards, these patients live out their lives in what can only be called the shadows, with little or no chance of ever leaving.
Working first as a journalist in 1999, subsequently as a volunteer for the human rights and advocacy organization, Mental Disability Rights International, Eugene Richards gained access to psychiatric institutions in Mexico, Armenia, Paraguay, Hungary, Kosovo, and Argentina. Working quickly and often without the approval of authorities, he made photographs that begin to reveal the personalities of the patients while chronicling the often-inhumane treatment suffered by them.
Published in fall 2008, Eugene Richards’s book, A Procession of Them, drives home the point that when it comes to the plight of the world’s mentally disabled, no one much cares. As Richards concluded, “It’s as if there’s a kind of worldwide agreement that once people are classified as mentally ill or mentally retarded, you’re free to do with them what you want.”