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Portraits - Sônia Maria Costa

Sônia is 57 years old, 37 of which she lived confined in the CHPB. She had two children in that hospital. Her elder son who is now 20 years old and her second child, a daughter who passed away right after she was born. This is a woman with a strong and sad look in her eyes and who exerted a strong leadership in the hospital. She would dress a variety of items: skirts, pants and more than one blouse.

Most of the time she was aggressive and extremely demanding with her companions with reference to behavior and attitudes. She would control and take care of her unit patients having established a mute agreement with hospital employees by paying them small favors. In this way she reached a special position becoming a mediator between the various parties, sometimes in the quality of protector, other times as a judge of her mates.

Since Sônia had special privileges she managed to survive all those years. It is painful to hear her tell how she was forced to go through electroshock sessions "on her feet", locked in cells, eat raw food served in hogs, look at piles of dead people. These tales of horror of psychiatric hospital life have become part of this woman’s body branded by madness.

Though she was an institutionalized victim, a mixture of submission and power, craving for recognition, she adopted a patient as a daughter and was able to take her out of her lethargy. She treated her with authority and took decisions for her in all her personal matters.

Voltando para casaThough she had a special status she still wanted to leave hospital and have a house of her own.The first chance she got she tried,but was rejected by the tenants of the psychosocial residence.They feared a woman who had spread so much terror.There was also the problem of those women she had always protected and had become dependent on her.So Sônia chose her housemates.With each one she had a different story.

Her past hard life is still reflected in her actual behavior and attitudes. She still shows a great leadership on the other women living in the Therapeutic Residence and she is able to influence them according to her interests.

However, Sônia can see now that she needs to create and learn new ways of dealing with people. She is no longer a resident of the hostile surroundings of the psychiatric hospital and is hesitant when in return for her hostility she received the equal change. She now feels she must dialogue with people and allow her "adoptive daughter" live her own life.

"I was confined in FHEMIG when I was 14 years old and hardly had breasts.I remember coming from Belo Horizonte and a crippled woman kept looking at me. I never knew my family. They tell me that my father’s name was Henrique and my mother Laura. I don’t know if I had brothers. As I was aggressive I underwent several electroshocks, I was beaten a lot, but I also hit back and many people feared me. In the FHEMIG I met a patient who was selling iron and he lured me into doing foolish things, and that’s when I had my first son who is today 20 years old. The family of the father of my son took him away from FHEMIG. When my son was borne he was sent to an orphanage and I used to visit him from time to time. When he grew older he was transferred to a Foster Home and then a FHEMIG employee adopted him and now I have no idea where he is."

Sônia remembers that when she run away from hospital she worked as a maid for a family. "I met my boss in the street and she let me stay in her house, but work was very heavy, so I quit and came back to hospital. That is how I learned how to cook" When asked how she feels living in the Therapeutic Residence (since February 2003) she says: "There at the hospital we were treated very badly. Here its quiet, nobody messes with you, but at times there are fights. We have good food that we ourselves prepare, we have freedom, we can use tableware utensils. We can go out for walks, we have money to buy what we want. It’s nice to talk to neighbors. Here we enjoy life. At hospital only bad things happened."