About this project
Committed: The Story of Belchertown State School for the Feeble Minded will be a beautiful hardcover book complete with both full color and historic photographs. Told from the point of view of the enigmatic attorney and his tireless client, Committed tells the story of the lawsuit that changed the face of special education and mental health.
Built in 1922, the Belchertown State School for the Feeble Minded was a unique institution meant to care for physically and developmentally disabled children. Until the Great Depression the school functioned as a model of care, working closely with the community to provide the best for its charges, but by the 1950's the atmosphere had changed drastically.
In 1972 the school's fate would be sealed. Ben Ricci, whose young son was a patient at Belchertown, was horrified when his son would come home for visits with his head shaved, covered with bruises and and scabs. Ben announced to his attorney that he wanted to sue the state of Massachusetts. Attorney Beryl Cohen agreed to take the case and in a matter of months they would take on the most corrupt department of mental health in history.
Committed will take its readers on a roller coaster ride as it follows the rise and fall of a state institution that evolved into a living nightmare, brought to life by first hand accounts of the legal battle that rocked the state of Massachusetts.
Risks and challenges
Gaining access to those who witnessed the decline of the state school is the greatest hurdle. For many, their time at Belchertown was far from pleasant and certainly not one they care to speak about. Gathering enough information to produce an accurate accounting of historical events is sometimes an issue that is conquered only by time and patience, as well as perseverance. At times this requires traveling to find those who have relocated.
Another hurdle is often tracking down information that has been redacted from public record which can also cause a time delay. Getting permission to view historical documents also generally takes a good amount of time. Thankfully much of the research needed for this particular project has already been set aside.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
In 1988 Attorney Beryl Cohen was indeed sanctioned by the Supreme Judicial Court for not returning a client's retainer after the client terminated Cohen's services. The sanction cited Cohen for not communicating effectively with his client, including not returning phone calls. He was barred from practicing law for one full year. Cohen was 53 years old at the time and had already fought and won the Ricci vs. Greenblatt et. al. suit.
This picture of Cohen certainly contradicts the image portrayed in accounts of the Ricci case, and it seems that Ricci vs. Greenblatt was certainly his finest hour. His sanction should not, however, take away from what he accomplished on the Ricci case, though it does lead readers to wonder what prompted this change in practice a mere 14 years after his greatest win.
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