Deaf and Damned

If Artie Martinez weren't deaf, he might have talked his way out of the Arizona State Hospital. Instead, he was locked up there for nearly 40 years.

But Artie Martinez didn't have to worry about that. He had become a fixture at the State Hospital, where substandard treatment diminished any chances at a meaningful recovery.

In the book Mental Health Assessment of Deaf Clients: Special Conditions, the author describes the problems faced by institutionalized, mentally ill deaf people.

* "Unable to summon help or readily identify attackers, the deaf patient is an easy target for the more aggressive patient."

* "A temper tantrum may not always be a symptom of emotional disorder, but rather communicative frustration."

* "Nowhere is the glaring lack of counseling more apparent than in the treatment of deaf persons who suffer from emotional or mental disorders."

The book quotes an appellate judge's ruling in a case involving a mentally ill deaf man: "Any lengthy hospitalization, particularly where it is involuntary, may greatly increase the symptoms of mental illness and make adjustment to society more difficult."

The judge could have been talking about Artie Martinez.

In 1980, State Hospital officials asked private psychologist Daniel Overbeck to evaluate Artie Martinez. They did so because no one at the hospital was trained to communicate adequately with a deaf person.

"Artie Martinez is an intelligent deaf man who has withstood the rigors and pressures of long-term institutionalization with remarkable resilience . . . ," Overbeck concluded.

"This examiner feels strongly that community placement--both residential and vocationally--for Mr. Martinez could, if properly developed and sustained, result in a rapid healthy adjustment to non-hospital living."

Largely because of Overbeck's report, hospital officials released Martinez in August 1980. He was 51.

The challenges he faced were staggering: He wasn't "normal" by society's standards. He was deaf. He had no family in Arizona. Treatment services for the deaf and the mentally ill were spotty. He hadn't been on his own for a quarter-century.

Martinez returned to the Valley after a short stay in a Tucson halfway house for the deaf. He rented an apartment in west Phoenix, and tried to reacquaint himself with life on the outside.

Helen Young had served as an interpreter for Martinez at the State Hospital shortly before his release. After, she steered him to a church that catered to deaf people.

"He was a nice, quiet man who really wanted to do good on the 'outside,'" Young recalls. "He was very intelligent, but wary of people--with good reason after what he'd been through. I also remember that he fell for a lady."

The pair became inseparable.
"My girlfriend's name is Beulah," Martinez wrote to his brother Ed in the fall of 1980. "She is from Louisiana. She has traveled widely in the East and West as an evangelist or a pastor. She is deaf like me and has a good understanding for me and people too. She is very quiet and 53, but shows no wrinkles. I'm more than ever blessed even if I'm not working. Yes, I'm still drawing sometimes. Also doing well. Many say I look fine. I'm tired and too calm to write more. Love, Arthur."

Little is known about Martinez's day-to-day life during that time. Asked by New Times about it, he replied poignantly, almost poetically:

"That's a long time ago. I was out and then I was back in. I had some love and then I didn't."

Martinez returned to the State Hospital in April 1981 after he had a tantrum and he destroyed some furniture. Several months later, in January 1982, he was given another chance. This time, he lasted almost a year on the outside.

In November 1982, he showed up at Maricopa County's outpatient clinic for an appointment with a doctor. He said he and Beulah had broken up, and that he'd wandered the streets for days, not eating, sleeping or taking his medications.

Martinez became violent at the clinic, breaking a window, and attacking someone from behind (without inflicting injury). He was placed in restraints and sedated.

By the next morning, records show, Martinez was cooperating with doctors. That he had regained some of his senses became apparent when, still restrained at the hospital, he directed staffers to his apartment. His rent was due, and he said he had money stashed there to pay the landlord.

The money was where Martinez said it would be. But any notion that he'd be returning to the apartment soon vanished.

Martinez told doctors he needed a rest from society, and that he preferred to be at the State Hospital. By the end of November, officials used an affidavit signed by Martinez to support their petition for his readmission to the hospital.

"I feel unfit to live in the world right now until I have money," it said in part.

The following month, psychiatrist Bela Matty issued a quixotic report about Martinez.

"Earlier," Matty wrote, "he was considered to be paranoid, due to some persecutory feelings--which actually was realistic in that [maximum-security] setting, along with his irrational violent outbursts and demand for punishment. Presently, there is no evidence of psychosis and considering the fantastic progress in his functioning, I would question its existence before."

In January 1983, Martinez again was freed, this time into a Phoenix supervisory care home. But he wasn't ready. Within two hours after he arrived at his new home, Martinez ran naked into the street, was aggressive toward staff, and threatened suicide. He was back at the State Hospital before sundown.

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