Finally, living the life he chooses
In every possible way, Darrell is an example of what community-based care and an experienced and loving direct support staff can do for individuals with developmental disabilities. Served by Evergreen’s Oklahoma Division, Darrell lives in his own home, pays his own bills and manages his own schedule. And thanks to the supportive employment he receives from Evergreen, he recently celebrated 20 years of employment at Bass Memorial Baptist Hospital in Enid, Oklahoma. Darrell works in the central kitchen of the hospital and is a fundamental part of the team and their mission of ensuring each patient receives a safe and healthy diet.
It’s hard to believe that the smiling and hard-working Darrell, who is in his 50s, spent years living at the now notorious Hissom Memorial Center.
When Darrell was six years old he was sent to live at Hissom, a state-run institution for individuals with developmental disabilities. Hissom was one of very few options for Darrell and hundreds of others in the Tulsa area whose families or guardians simply could not provide the level of care they needed. When the institution opened in the 1960s, it was considered an ideal model for caring for individuals with developmental disabilities.
By the 1980s, stories of severe abuse and neglect began to surface. A class action lawsuit that represented hundreds of Hissom clients shed light on the institutions inhumane and prison-like conditions and challenged the state of Oklahoma to create community-based living for people with developmental disabilities. The class action led to the closing of Hissom Memorial Center. Its last patient left in 1994.
Darrell spent two years at Hissom before being sent to another state-run institution. In 1993, at the age of 30, Darrell chose Evergreen’s Oklahoma Division as his provider.
When he arrived at Evergreen, Darrell had not had contact with his family for many years. One of Evergreen’s first orders of business was to help Darrell find and reunite with his siblings. Darrell’s direct support team was able to find his brother and sister, both living an hour away in Tulsa. More than 20 years later, Darrell and his siblings remain close. His Evergreen caregivers drive him to see his brother and his brother’s family on the weekends.
Years of living secluded in an institution, away from the community, meant that Darrell was easy prey to people and companies with questionable intentions. Evergreen quickly realized that naïve Darrell lacked the street smarts that are essential to true independence. He was easily taken advantage of. If a person on the street asked him for money, he would happily hand them cash. If a bank or store pre-approved him for a credit card, he would apply. If a stranger knocked on his door, he would answer. His Evergreen caregivers worked tirelessly to teach Darrell how to stand up for himself and how to stay safe.
It’s been 25 years since Darrell arrived at Evergreen and was finally given the opportunity to learn, participate and contribute in his community. To see him now biking to visit his friends, taking the bus to the job that he loves, or treating himself to a dinner out a restaurant is to see a man who took that opportunity and turned it into the life that he wanted to live.