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'You'll like it here'

DATE: Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TIME: 11:00 a.m.


HCC welcomes author Ed Orzechowski and HCC alum Donald Vitkus, the subject of Orzechowski's 2016 book.

Holyoke Community College alumnus Donald Vitkus, '05, the subject of a book examining the horrors of life inside the former Belchertown State School, will return to the HCC campus next week for a book discussion and signing.

HCC will welcome both Vitkus and his biographer, Northampton author Ed Orzechowski, Wed., April 12 at 11 a.m. in Room 301 of the HCC Kittredge Center.

Orzechowski is the author of "You'll like it here" - Donald Vitkus - Belchertown Patient #3394, a harrowing account of Vitkus's life inside the now-closed Belchertown State School.

Vitkus was committed to the Belchertown State School in 1949 at the age of 6 after being abandoned by his unwed mother and being misdiagnosed as a "moron." He was released at 17 after undergoing years of dehumanizing mistreatment.

"You'll Like it Here" details Vitkus's experience inside the institution and the years after as he tried to rebuild his life.

Vitkus, who now lives in Leeds, holds an associate degree in Human Services from HCC. During his time here he was a student of HCC professor Jackie Griswold, who organized next week's event.

As a 62-year-old student at HCC, Vitkus was president of the HCC Human Services Club, and met Orzechowski on campus during a book presentation by the late Benjamin Ricci, an advocate for the mentally disabled whose class action lawsuit led to the closing of the Belchertown State School in 1992.

Read the editorial about Donald Vitkus in Daily Hampshire Gazette/Gazettenet:

"A story of one man's triump over horrors at Belchertown State School" 

And more from the Daily Hampshire Gazette/Gazettenet:

"How Donald Vitkus of Leeds, abandoned at an institution for the mentally disabled as a child, made a life for himself (w/video)"

And in the Springfield Republican/MassLive:

"Local author Ed Orzechowski's book details life of man who lived at Belchertown State School"

About the book:

Through the eyes of young Donald Vitkus, You'll Like It Here exposes the de-humanizing environment of a Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation institution of the mid-1900's. Misdiagnosed and clinically labeled a "moron" with an I.Q. of 41, six-year-old Donald Vitkus is committed to Belchertown State School. In 1949, as patient #3394, he begins a lifelong battle to convince others  — and himself — that he is not a moron. This is a story of the resiliency of the human spirit.

Abandoned by his unwed mother during World War II, Donald is placed in foster care. He is 27 days old. At age six, Belchertown State School-a sprawling institution like hundreds across the country-becomes Donald's home for the next eleven years. Behind barred windows and locked doors he is subjected to beatings, mind-numbing medications, straitjackets, solitary confinement, and brutal regimentation. He "graduates" with a fourth grade education, and at 17 is paroled to see if he can make it on the outside. In 1964 he is drafted, serves a year in Vietnam, and returns to the challenges of marriage and children, holding a job, earning his high school diploma and an associate's degree, discovering his own roots, and becoming a caregiver and advocate in the system that once imprisoned him.

Donald wants his story told. "I never want us to return to those days," he says. Since it was shuttered in 1992 following a federal class action lawsuit, other more academic books have been published about Belchertown and places like it, but none has been told by a patient who lived there. In a series of interviews over eight years, Donald related his story to the author, Ed Orzechowski, a journalist whose articles, features, and columns have appeared in The Springfield Newspapers, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, and Early American Life magazine. A retired high school English teacher and radio newsperson, Ed lives with his wife Gail in Northampton, Massachusetts.