Agnes’s Jacket reading & book signing.

Agnes’s JacketOn Thursday March 26 at 7pm Gail Hornstein will read from her new work Agnes’s Jacket at the Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley.

In a Victorian-era German asylum, seamstress Agnes Richter painstakingly stitched a mysterious autobiographical text into every inch of the jacket she created from her institutional uniform. Despite every attempt to silence them, hundreds of other patients have managed to get their stories out, at least in disguised form. Today, in a vibrant underground network of “psychiatric survivor groups” all over the world, patients work together to unravel the mysteries of madness and help one another recover. Optimistic, courageous, and surprising, Agnes’s Jacket (on sale starting March 17; $25.95; Hardcover) takes us from a code-cracking bunker during World War II to the church basements and treatment centers where a whole new way of understanding the mind has begun to take form.

A vast gulf exists between the way medicine explains psychiatric illness and the experiences of those who suffer. Hornstein’s luminous work helps us bridge that gulf, guiding us through the inner lives of those diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, depression and paranoia, and emerging with nothing less than a new model for understanding one another and ourselves.

Northampton Decree

DMH Memorial Panel
DMH Memorial Panel

I had the pleasure of attending a Memorial put on by the Department of Mental Health (DMH) last week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1978 Brewster Consent Decree which began the process of closing Northampton State Hospital by stipulating that people with mental illness had the right to live and be treated in the least restrictive environment possible. I felt the speech given by Rebecca Macauley was especially apt and moving, and I have a recording made by WFCR (the local National Public Radio station) of the first half of the event. I will post the audio as soon as I get a chance to clean it up and cut it into sections.

Brewster Consent Decree at Washington University School of Law


  1. Full program and all speakers.
  2. Dedication by Rev. Peter Ives, First Churches of Northampton.
  3. Barbara Leadholm, DMH Commissioner.
  4. Rebecca Macauley, Ex-patient, Security Guard and Advocate.
  5. Elizabeth Cardona, Director, Western MA Office of the Governor.
  6. Robert Fleischner, Center for Public Representation.