Rae Unzicker had been a member of the National Council on Disability since 1995, until her untimely death March 22, 2001. She is largely responsible for the groundbreaking NCD report From Priveleges to Rights: Psychiatric Survivors Speak for Themselves.



Society is confusing crazy with dangerous.



Photo of Shirley and Kenneth Newman.

A photo of Rae and her dear friend Justin Dart. Rae Unzicker died March 22, 2001, losing her long fight to cancer.



an interview with Rae Unzicker
by Lucy Gwin

This interview first appeared in Mouth magazine #30 in March 1995

Rae Unzicker, former coordinator of the National Association of Psychiatric Survivors, says that we are all fighting for the same things: for personal choice, autonomy, dignity, respect. Rae is a long-term advocate against the use of force and coercion of any kind. She says she sees that as the single framing issue in our struggle. In the summer of 1994, Rae was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the National Council on Disability. That appointment awaits Senate confirmation.[That appointment was confirmed and she went on to serve with distinction.] She is the first person with a psychiatric label to be named to serve on that Council.

Since that appointment last summer, I have spent I can't tell you how many hours with the FBI, going through security clearance. I asked the agent who interviews me, "How much does it cost to do one of these?" He said, "The average cost is $10,000 to $15,000. Yours will be more." On this 37-page form there's the question, "Have you ever received help for psychiatric or psychological problems?" I just wrote Yes. The FBI computer must have kicked out the message: DANGER! JOHN HINKLEY... DANGER! JOHN HINKLEY...

1956, at age 15, sterilized.

I didn’t know how to read and write at that time and no one read nothing to me. They said, ‘Well, sign these papers and you’ll get out. These are your release papers.’ That’s what they told me. Okay. No one read to me and I didn’t know how to read or write. That’s trickery, entrapment and fraud. I signed the papers and where I ended up was the sterilization table.

That’s the gateway to hell. Each and every one of us, when we got out we had plans to meet a nice girl, settle down, get married, and have children.

I took off then and I tried to find my parents. My escape route was through the barn section where they have cows, and then I hit the field. On the other side of the field is a whole bunch of trees and brush. I lay down and the state cars couldn't see me.

I hid, got my second wind and ran again. A state car caught me, took me over to where the barns were, to the silo. They were pushing and shoving me.

They said, ‘Do you know what that water is? All that fluid that comes down from the grain? That develops into acid and I'm going to shove you into it!’

I fought him back and took off again. They tried to shove me in there! Then they took me back to the cottage.

I was capable to wash my own face, but they took that washrag to my face and if it was any harder, I swear it would rub the skin off my face.

Making friends at Fairview.

‘The kid’

Mr. White, he’d give the kids a beating out there. There was this kid, I didn’t know his name. He got beat up and he went through the gateway to hell, too.

Then he got out, came back with a car and left the motor running. He waited for Mr. White.

Mr. White crossed the street, finally. This kid tromped on the gas pedal and Mr. White dove over the car, did a flip.

Then the kid took off immediately. I sure would like to know who he was.


We had a friend out there named Connie. Dr. Bolt did the sterilization to me and to others. He took girls and sometimes boys into a room for a checkup. He was in there all by himself. He had Connie in the room, shut off the lights and had sexual intercourse with her.

Now, Mrs. Piles was the head supervisor there. She opened up the door and what she saw was Dr. Bolt and Connie. Connie was crying.

Connie is dead and gone now. You know the dying confession, that's powerful, it'll hold up in any court in the land. I got it on tape.


There was a nice friend at Fairview named Bernie. He got pneumonia. I turned around, I didn't see Bernie no more. I don't know where he got to.

Later, people said, "did you hear about Bernie? He died. He had a high temperature."

Now, if you've got money, Fairview gives you what you need. If you don't have the money, forget about it. Park it. They could have saved him, but they didn't. Money talks. If you don't have it, you're screwed and tattooed.


Some of the people they took to the Oregon State Hospital. Do you know what shock treatments are? They gave a darn good friend of mine shock treatments.

He's a nice colored guy, his name was Jimmy. They gave him so much shock treatment that it fried his brain.

When he went home for the weekend, he lost it. He lost his cool with his parents and became violent. He tried to choke his mother.


I met my wife out at Fairview. Her name was Shirley A. Barnes. I was at Hohman Cottage and she was at Kaye cottage. She was out in her playground and I was out in mine. She was sitting by a fence and had a lap full of candy.

I was little at the time. I reached my little hand through the fence and got a piece of candy. From that time on we looked at each other.

A first community placement, circa 1969.

They tried to separate me and Shirley. They put her up in Pendleton, Oregon, to work at a nursing home. They stuck me down in Coos Bay where I worked on an assembly line and didn't have any chance at seeing Shirley at all.

She wrote a letter to me that another guy was fooling around with her and I said I'll be right on up.

I withdrew all my money from the bank and bought me a car and I was on my way up. I conked out of gas, the police caught me and took me back to Fairview.

Fairview put me on a locked ward and on a punishment block. Do you know what a punishment block is? It's a great big huge block, it's heavy and they put leg shackles on you and shackle you to the block and you push it. They won't let you off of the block. If you stop pushing it they add double time to you. It's heavy.

A second community placement.

Later they transferred me down to Salem and I worked at Samples, a restaurant, as a dishwasher. After I got the job at Samples, I lived at the Tioga Hotel. Every payday I called Shirley up in Pendleton. Then I called Mr. Stella up at Fairview. He said, ‘How would you like me to go into your bank account?’

I said, ‘What for?’

He said so he could send Shirley a Greyhound ticket to come down to live with me. So he reached into my bank account and got the money.

Then I talked to Jim, my manager. I said my girlfriend's coming down. Anything she wants, can you deduct it from my paycheck? He says sure and when she came down, he took it out of his own paycheck, not mine.

1970, the wedding.

The next day I got wheels turning in my head and Shirley's wheels were turning in her head. We got in a taxicab, went to see a doctor, got a blood test and our marriage packet.

Our caseworkers said we could get anyone off the street as a witness. I said no, I'd like to have you, you are our caseworkers. We'll have your names on our marriage license.

Then I called Mr. Stella, and Ralph Stephens picked up the phone.

I said I'd like to have you talk to someone.

'Talk to who?' he says.

'Talk to my wife. Remember Shirley A. Barnes? Now she's Mrs. Kenneth Richard Newman. She's married to me now.'

He says, 'You're married?' He stuttered and he stammered for a while. He was surprised.

He said, 'Hang on, I'm going to go get Mr. Stella. Don't you hang up on me now.' He came back and said, ‘Don't you hang up, you stay right there, I'm going to go get him.'

Now on Ward 26, that's the maximum security ward, what I was on when they caught me before, I had leg shackles and irons on my feet to stop me from running away. So when Mr. Stella came to the phone and he says, 'Kenny, stay right there, I'm going to send a car down to you,' immediately my thought was, they're going to send a car down and they're going to haul me back.

So I said, ‘We're going to be gone, we're going to California.’ They believed that, so they went to California, and we went back towards Salem. We hid out under their noses.

I got my old job back and I got a place to live in Salem. I proved that I could make it.

On my birthday that year, May 28, 1971, I got a letter [from the state.] I thought, oh hell, how in the heck did they find me?

But I was glad I opened it up because that was my release papers and Shirley's release papers, from Fairview. That's how we got out.



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