By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The unit became home for patients -- almost all of them women, usually about ten at a time -- who had been severely traumatized by physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Amy Smith wasn't sure she belonged there, because at times she doubted the truthfulness of her memories of sexual abuse. "Every day I would ask the doctor [not Peterson], are you sure I'm not making this up?" she recalls. By then, she, too, had been diagnosed as having multiple personalities, and she was scared. Her depression deepened when she considered the possibility that her memories of sexual abuse were real. Soon she became self-mutilating, cutting her arms with a razor.
Alison Roome, meanwhile, was living on the psychiatric intensive care unit. In the beginning, Roome says, she tried to deny she had multiple personality disorder, but her therapists at Spring Shadows told her that her resistance to the diagnosis was simply a symptom of the disorder.
In a deposition she gave for her lawsuit, Roome claims she was isolated from family and friends for several months. As a precaution against her hurting herself, she says, she was placed in restraints several times a day. To get out, she would have to designate several of her "alters," as alternate personalities are called in MPD jargon, to sign forms attesting that she wouldn't hurt herself.
Peterson, Roome has said, had explained to her that the procedure was something like a "safety patrol" among her alters, although Roome never quite understood the concept. Once, when she was placed in restraints for five days near her birthday, it was explained to her that satanic cults consider birthdays a "trigger" day when a member might try to harm herself. On another occasion, nurses were ordered to only address Roome as "Constance" -- one of the names of her alters -- for an entire week. Another time, Roome alleges, she was left in restraints for seven days.
Her doctors believed she was a danger to herself, and Roome agrees that she was self-destructive.
But it was a vicious circle, she says.
"The more they put me in restraints, the less ability I had to control myself and the more I had to be in them. The more I engaged in the treatment, the more suicidal I became."
After several months in isolation, Roome says she began to lose her identity. She was heavily medicated, kept in a perpetual haze with Thorazine, Restoril, Ativan and other drugs, according to her deposition. "I was living and sleeping in restraints, with visions of doctors circling over my head. It was hazy -- like being in a dream. Eventually I began to give them what they wanted, and I also began to believe it."
When she left isolation and was placed in the dissociative disorders unit, Roome seemed deeply troubled and wanted to die, according to Amy Smith. Another patient on the unit recalls that Roome had regressed from a charismatic, intelligent woman to a child who, with lipstick smeared across her face, looked as if she had gotten into her mother's makeup.
Roome says she remained on suicide watch, guarded by a staff member round-the-clock, while living in a walk-in size closet with a mattress on the floor. She was only allowed out for occasional 15-minute intervals during the day. Roome now had come to believe that she had been trained to kill for a ritual-abuse cult, and that she would be killed by the cult if she left Spring Shadows Glen. Smith and another former patient say they were told not to walk within five feet of Roome because she was capable of putting them in a trance.
In October 1990, Amy Smith was still self-destructive, confused and depressed, but her insurance coverage ran out. She begged Spring Shadows to commit her to a state hospital, and, around Halloween, she boarded a bus for San Antonio State Hospital.
A few months later, Alison Roome was put in a straitjacket and flown by air ambulance to Chicago, where she would be treated by Dr. Bennett Braun, a renowned expert on multiple personality disorder who was a chief consultant to Judith Peterson of Spring Shadows Glen.
Come to Spring Shadows Glen.
During the 1980s, the private psychiatric hospital in west Houston became something of a local household name, mostly through television advertisements that beckoned the dispirited and dysfunctional to come and be healed. One commercial featured a happy couple strolling through the green grounds, looking as if they'd been cured of whatever had brought them to Spring Shadows Glen.
If you drive past Spring Shadows Glen today, it appears that, at least from the outside, the TV commercials were not that misleading. A carpet of lush grass greets visitors to the hospital, which sits about three miles north of where I-10 slices over Gessner. From a distance, its low-slung brick buildings look like an elementary school. Well-manicured begonias dot the circular drive leading to the double-glass doors through which patients enter.
It was in that sedate suburban setting that Alison Roome and others came to believe that they had repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse. Under Judith Peterson's direction, Spring Shadows' dissociative disorders unit would be become a center for the treatment of multiple personality disorder, which Peterson was once overheard calling the "disorder of the decade."