JUNE 19TH, 1954
AFTER BEING DECLARED “incompetent” by a Jackson County court, a 15 year-old boy is transferred into the custody of the Florida State hospital; Within 48 hours of his arrival, he is pronounced dead. But Cause of death? Well that would depend on which page of the boy’s file that you’re looking at. Only one of many questionable things that could be found within the roughly 200 pages that I was handed back in August of 2018. By the time I read through the content, I would be so confused that I would have to go back & read through the pages two more times, spending considerable time on each individual page taking notes; So many things failed to make sense, reminding me just how evil what we were dealing with was.
THOMAS HERBERT WIGGINS
BORN TO OLLIE & Jeffie Wiggins in March of 1937, Thomas Herbert Wiggins was the youngest of 2 boys. His life would begin in Opp, Alabama but the Wiggins family would eventually relocate to the Florida Panhandle to continue raising their boys. At 1st they would report only seeing subtle differences between their oldest & youngest sons. Where Thomas’s big brother was very social & outgoing, Thomas was extremely introverted, preferring to be by himself. He showed no interest in playing sports OR becoming involved in other activities, unlike his sibling who excelled in both sports & academics & was also popular amongst his peers. While this may have been reason to give pause for a moment Mr. & Mrs. Wiggins didn’t panic initially, however, by age 11, Thomas began showing signs of extreme paranoia. He started to fixate on his food being poisoned. His course of action would be to refuse food, often go days without eating.
WHEN THOMAS’S “SPELLS” became violent, his parents would finally seek help for their son. He would 1st be evaluated at Oshner Clinic in New Orleans, Louisiana.
WHILE HE WAS there, Dr. C. Harrison Snyder & staff would perform extensive testing before issuing their findings & recommendations to the Wiggins family. Dr. Snyder reported that ALL tests were normal, including his cognitive functioning & intelligence. He recommended that Thomas be kept at home & receive plenty of love & positive attention from his family as well as be returned to his previous school where he was thriving & happy. In a nutshell, Dr. Snyder stated that being loved & cared for by his family within the security of his home would be key to Thomas being successful in life.
IN HIS FINAL statement, the doctor requested to be notified within a month’s time of Thomas’s progress. I can say with confidence that they didn’t follow up with the Oshner Clinic as specified. I’m also positive that the Wiggins’ decided that keeping their family intact would not be an option as a little over 2 years later, he would be committed to the Florida State Hospital & when removed by his father, just 3 months after admission, they would send a letter to the medical director reporting that they were looking at boarding schools.
OTHER THAN THAT letter there is nothing else recorded about how Thomas was doing OR his whereabouts for over a year until he was sentenced to the Dozier School for Boys in September of 1953. It’s easy to wonder:
WHERE THE HELL WAS THOMAS WIGGINS FOR THE YEAR IN BETWEEN??
PAGE BY EXCRUTIATING PAGE
IT WOULD BE an impossible task to list out every page of Thomas’s file in detail BUT what I am going to do is list out some of the more interesting & questionable items that I’ve seen. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m only going to talk about some of the more questionable details leading to his 1952 commitment to the State Hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida through when he would become an inmate at Dozier in September of 1953. Everything after will be covered in the next couple of posts.
Anyone interested in reading it in its entirety can click here:
SO LET’S START with the basics….
WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS THE DIAGNOSIS??
I COUNTED NOTHING short of half a dozen different reasons for Thomas’s commitment to the Florida State Hospital in 1952. That’s right SIX different diagnoses, ALL independent of one another, each listed on separate areas of a form OR on a completely different form altogether. Though most were pretty common by today’s standards, one REALLY stuck out like a sore thumb. See if Y’all can figure out which one I’m talking about…
2) Agressive Psychosis
3) Dementia Praecox
5) Vivid Hallucinations
6) Mental Incompetency
DOES ANYTHING ON the list jump out at you?? If you said number 4, you’re definitely NOT alone! When I saw “Homosexuality” listed as a diagnosis, I was stunned…At least initially. It didn’t take long for the shock to wear off & everything started to make sense. I’ll cop to the possibility that Tommy may have had some serious mental health issues BUT it was all too clear that the family’s major concern was that he may be gay.
THIS PARTICULAR “ISSUE” had got me thinking; Was Thomas gay & the fact that he was unable to express this the reason for some of these other issues that he was having OR did these other mental issues exist within him already, only to be exasperated by the frustration that he must have felt not being able to be his true self?
UNFORTUNATELY, WE WILL probably never know the answer & even if we did, it’s far too late to help Thomas now.
THE PROOF LIES IN THE INCONSISTENCIES
OFFICIALLY LABELING THOMAS’S “problem” would NOT be the only inconsistency. I have to bring up one of the most careless, idiotic mistakes that someone in an official capacity can make; Getting a patient’s date of birth/age incorrect on forms inside of their chart. I wish I could say that this was just a one time deal that was due to a typo BUT it wasn’t.
THIS PARTICULAR INDISCRETION became a common occurrence over a number of Thomas’s documents. His year of birth was changed from 1937 to 1938, even at one point listing his birth month as May instead of March. His age often fluctuated. For example, one form would list Thomas as being 14, however, another would show his age at 15, even though the completion date on both matched.
IN ALL ACTUALITY, the entire file was so chaotic that it took forever to get through. Every time I’d begin scanning a page, I’d notice something odd & have to stop to make a note about it. For instance, I’d read a doctor’s comment about how Thomas was only apt to self harm & then the next page would have that same physician noting that his “Propensity was to harm others.” My personal favorite was when the attending physician reported that there was really nothing outstanding about Tommy but immediately goes on to state that “Tommy is extremely ill.” Did this educated physician, who was the Medical Director of the Florida State Hospital, realize that he contradicted himself on a regular basis? If he DIDN’T, he’s an idiot & if he DID than he’s a jackass…Either scenario made poor Tommy up shit’s creek when it came to receiving ANY type of reliable treatment.
IN SPITE OF Thomas’s illness being described as dire, it ultimately didn’t prevent his father from discharging him only a few months into his treatment. Though we have no record of what happened during his year away from FSH, we can assume that he continued to decline…OR as I see it, he wouldn’t stop being gay. Thomas would resurface again BUT this time he wouldn’t be receiving hospital care, he would be sent to a brutal reform school located in Marianna, Florida where he would live out the remaining days of his way too short life.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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