The whole affair started on January 3rd.
I was off duty that day, but my therapist, Dr. Sandra Helena, had asked me to accompany her on an errand of mercy. Dr. Helena informed me that the Hawthorn Lunatic Asylum had been ordered by the state government to close by December 31st, having released all of the inmates into community care. I was informed that all the inmates of the facility had in fact been relocated, except for one. A young woman who was kept by herself in the isolation wing. This young woman was a mystery, Dr. Helena informed me that no one knew exactly why she had been placed there. So far as she could tell this mystery woman had no criminal record nor a diagnosis. Yet the director of the asylum, Dr. Silverman, was continuing to keep her there even after all the other staff had left and the facility was officially closed down.
Dr. Helena was worried that Dr. Silverman was somehow abusing this woman, however, she had no proof of this. Rather than file a formal complaint against the venerable Dr. Silverman she thought she should confront him herself. However, she asked me to come along, in my police uniform, even though I was off duty. She said it was partly for moral support, but partly to intimidate Dr. Silverman into releasing this young woman whom Dr. Helena was certain was being held illegally.
We entered the facility at 10.04 am. It was deserted as we had expected; all the security checkpoints were unmanned and unlocked. We made it to the isolation ward without any impediments. Walking through the silent and empty corridors of the asylum had conditioned me so that when we found the sole inhabitant of the asylum I was taken aback. We found her sitting on the floor of a small white windowless room. She was in a straight jacket that was affixed to the wall behind her by a chain. She sat there so passively with her head tilted towards the floor that at first I thought she was unconscious. I couldn’t see her face as it was covered in a tangle of red hair. Dr. Helena tapped on the glass window of the door and the prisoner’s head popped up revealing two sparkling turquoise eyes set on a deathly pale face. Although she examined us both, her face betrayed no emotion.
Dr. Helena picked up a clipboard affixed to the door of the room and read through the notes on the medications the inmate had been given that past week. She noted that the prisoner hadn’t been given anything other than ordinary sedatives for the last month. I noted the name of the inmate as being “Ms. Scarlet Lillian Sapphire”. Dr. Helen finished reading the notes on the clipboard, and after looking around and seeing no sign of Dr. Silverman decided she should open the door and talk to Ms. Sapphire.
When we entered the cell, for it looked like many other cells I have seen in various police stations over the years, I noted that the prisoner seemed calm. Certainly, calmer than what I would expect for an inmate of an asylum. I waited at the doorway while Dr. Helena knelt down to talk with Ms. Sapphire.
The prisoner’s head bobbed up enthusiastically, presumably at the realisation it wasn’t Dr. Silverman kneeling beside her. Ms Sapphire was nonchalant, she even smiled and made a joke about how she was doing fine just chilling out in her room by herself. Dr. Helena asked her if she knew that the hospital had closed down and that she would be released into community care soon. The prisoner was surprised to hear this, but said that she had noticed the place seemed a lot more quieter of late. Dr. Helena asked her how long she had been held in captivity, but she couldn’t say because she hadn’t seen a calendar or a newspaper in a long time, possibly months. When asked if she had any family whom she could contact for support I noticed her shudder slightly and tense up. She answered ‘no’ adding that she didn’t have any family at all that she knew of, but I’d seen this look on many criminals’ faces before; I felt sure she was lying. She did have family, but she didn’t want us to know about them. However, other than this, there was nothing at all suspicious in her behaviour or her manner to suggest that she was mentally unstable or dangerous enough to keep tied up. Her family might be the cause of some past trauma, I speculated, so it made sense to me that she might not want to go back to them.
Dr. Helena examined her chains and straight jacket and asked the prisoner why she was confined like this.
“I think it amuses Dr. Silverman to see me like this,” she answered calmly.
Dr. Helena grimaced at this remark, she stood up and declared that she would go and find the keys to undo her chains. She left me alone with the prisoner. The physicality of Ms. Sapphire was remarkably in itself. She was a large woman, not overweight at all, but probably 6 feet tall and what appeared to be remarkably muscular build for a woman. Her looks were average, neither attractive nor ugly, just plain. The red hair, while a vibrant colour, was certainly natural, and she had several marks on her chin that looked scars from multiple injuries sustained there. If I were to guess at her occupation I would have thought weight lifter or body builder. The thought crossed my mind that despite her being a woman she might be very difficult to restrain if things got out of hand. I decided to ask her what she did for a living before coming to the asylum.
“Believe it or not, but I was an instructor at the academy. Basic fitness and preparedness training for the recruits.”
I started to ask her if she meant at the police academy, but was distracted by sounds of shouting from outside the cell. Dr. Silverman was muttering “no, no, no, no,” over and over again while Dr. Helena was emphatically telling him it was unethical for him to not have released Ms. Sapphire as the centre is supposed to have been shut down already. Dr. Silverman wasn’t looking at her as he spoke, but he was telling her to mind her own business and to leave the asylum immediately. When he noticed me there in my police uniform he instantly froze. I observed his eyes go wide with panic. I recognised the familiar expression of someone caught doing something they knew they weren’t supposed to be doing.
I introduced myself as Detective Sergeant Keane and asked him if there was any danger to public if Ms. Sapphire was released. At first he avoided the question babbling incoherently, then when I pushed him on it he stated simply that she was dangerous, but when pressed to explain why she was dangerous he couldn’t articulate one reason for it. She wasn’t physically violent, she wasn’t threatening to anyone, she wasn’t schizophrenic or sociopathic, she wasn’t even rude to the staff, in fact he eventually admitted to me that she didn’t have any diagnosis whatsoever. When I asked him why she was even in there at all he went completely silent and refused to speak at all. This troubled me greatly, I started to wonder if he was some kind of human trafficker so I asked Ms. Sapphire, who had been observing the whole exchange in silent amusement, if he had mistreated her.
Ms. Sapphire remarked, “You mean other than locking me up in here and keeping me in a straight jacket for half the day for his sick amusement?”
On hearing this Dr. Helena announced that she was going to release the prisoner immediately. Dr. Silverman broke his silence screeching “No!” so energetically I raise a hand to prevent him from getting closer to Dr. Helena. Stopped by my hand and almost frothing at the mouth, that was the moment when Dr. Silverman delivered his magnus opus of a performance. His delivery was enhanced by the dramatic gestures of his hands. Hands that shook violently as he spoke. He was baring them palm towards the ceiling gesticulating emphatically all while he spoke.
“You don’t understand! You don’t see how dangerous she is! She’s not a woman! She isn’t even a person, she’s a bacillus, a plague, a typhoid Mary if you will. She hasn’t committed any crimes, but all the same she is a menace, a threat to public safety. She must be kept locked up, secure, and far away from other people. She’s an influencer, a conniving manipulative control freak. She gets insight your head and twists your thinking. If she is allowed out of here, and roams freely, she will cause chaos and unrest everywhere she goes. I don’t care that she doesn’t have a criminal record, I don’t care that she doesn’t have a diagnosis, she’s still criminally insane and for the good of all I am keeping her here!”
After this dramatic performance Ms. Sapphire cleared her throat and calmly asked Dr. Silverman if he had taken his medication today. At this Dr. Silverman’s face turned bright red and he started screaming and threatening us if we didn’t leave immediately. Dr. Helena stood her ground under his angry tirade and I just folded my arms and stared sternly at him. I reminded him that holding a person without just cause was an extremely serious offence. My telling him this cooled his blood and he went quite pale. He reluctantly handed over the keys and Dr. Helena immediately got started undoing Ms. Sapphire’s bonds. Defeated, Dr. Silverman left the room.
I readied myself to pounce, unsure what to expect from the prisoner once she was free. However, she just calmly thanked us and started stretching her limbs. She asked for her belongings back. We found her belongings in a canvas bag in an adjacent room, and she politely asked to be excused while she got changed. Dr. Helena and I waited for almost 20 minutes, in that time we discussed how irregular this whole affair was. I suggested to Dr. Helena that perhaps criminal charges should be laid against Dr. Silverman, but Dr. Helena was against doing so, unless Ms. Sapphire wanted to. She was wary that Dr. Silverman’s influence in her professional sphere could ruin her chances for career advancement if she was the one seen rocking the boat too much.
When Ms. Sapphire reappeared I couldn’t recognise her. She’d obviously had a brush among her belongings because she had successfully removed the tangles from her hair. She was wearing what looked like a khaki military uniform, however, I didn’t recognise the service. Australian flags were clearly emblazoned on it, and the material it was made out of looked exceptionally high quality and tailored. The only distinguishing markings I could make out were the letters A.I.C.I.S.. The uniform included a neck tie, a small cap, and khaki boots. Over her shoulder was slung a brown leather handbag, and in her hands was a black purse; the contents of which she was examining, presumably to make sure nothing was missing from it. Satisfied she placed the purse back into her handbag and smiled warmly at us both.
I could tell that Dr. Helena was as perplexed as I was, nothing about this mystery woman made sense. She didn’t appear in the slightest bit mentally unstable, yet here she was wearing a uniform, presumably of her own invention, acting like it was completely normal. I expected her to protest and demand I lay charges against Dr. Silverman. I asked her if she would like to come down to the police station with me to do so, but she smiled at me serenely and said, “No, I don’t think that would do any good. The important thing is that I’m free now, and thanks to you two fine people!’
Dr. Helena gave her a business card and asked her where she was going and if she had anywhere to stay. Again, that unnervingly serene smile, “I have some friends in Richmond, I will just catch a tram to theirs.”
Outside the building Dr. Helena and I bid our farewells to Ms. Sapphire and watched her march off around the corner and out of sight. I walked Dr. Helena to her car and I bid her farewell. As I was making my way back to my car I looked back at the Asylum and I could just make out the silhouette of Dr. Silverman glaring down on me from the window.