Della Raye: A Girl Who Grew Up in Hell and Emerged Whole

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9781565549449: Della Raye: A Girl Who Grew Up in Hell and Emerged Whole

The inspiring story of one woman's struggle to maintain her dignity and strength while confined to a mental institution in the Depression-era South. Eventually, she educated herself, married, raised a family, and managed her own business.

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From the Inside Flap:

"Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within." ]
--Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man

In the early days of the Great Depression, faced with the difficulty of feeding his family on his meager earnings as a sharecropper in Alabama, Richard Rogers took his sisters, Dovie and Ruby, and Ruby's son Frank and daughter Della Raye to the Partlow State Asylum for Mental Deficients and left them there.

Though Della was a perfectly normal, intelligent child of four, Richard lied to get her into the asylum, and his lies would be part of what kept her there for twenty years.

Had it been clear to officials that Della was not seven, the age required for admission, she might have had a chance for release. As it was, she was repeatedly told she would never amount to anything and that she was incapable of caring for herself. Little effort was made to teach her anything. The label placed on her merely by being there was all that mattered. Her unyielding defiance of maltreatment provoked further punishment, with guards using her own mother against her in acts of physical violence.

Della Raye grew up subjected to treatment that would rob most people of their dignity, faith, strength, and compassion. Without mother or father, with no formal education, but with tremendous strength to stand up against the daily indignities of life in an institution, Della Raye triumphed. Her triumph is not merely a personal one. It is an exceptional triumph of the human spirit: the victorious resilience against systematic assaults to the will not only to survive, but also to emerge whole.

Gary Penley had the idea to write Della Raye's story shortly after finishing his first novel, Rivers of Wind. He met Della Raye's son Donny Hughes. When Donny told him about his mother, they both knew that writing about her had to be his next project. Over the next year, he and Della met frequently as she told her entire story for the first time. Gary Penley is a petroleum geologist. He lives in Sugar Land, Texas with his wife, Karen.

Della Raye became a beautician and married Floyd Hughes, a widower with five daughters, in 1951. Together they also had two boys, Donny and Butch. She has visited a number of the people who worked at Partlow in nursing homes and hospitals and has remained in contact with many of the people she met during her confinement.

From the Back Cover:

Imagine that you are a normal, intelligent child of four. During the darkest period in the history of the American mental health care system, and in the midst of the Great Depression, you are taken, with no warning, to live in a mental institution. Your mother, aunt, and older brother, who are mentally disabled, are taken also. You will see none of them for a long time, but when you do, your mother will beat you at the insistence of the guards. How will you survive for twenty years? What will you be like when you leave?

This is one of the lost stories of the Great Depression. Faced with the tremendous pressures of feeding his family on a sharecropper's wages, Della Raye's uncle took her to the Partlow State Asylum for Mental Deficients in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she would remain for twenty years. Della Raye: A Girl Who Grew Up in Hell and Emerged Whole will touch you with its horrors, its despair, but ultimately and most important of all, with its tremendous message of faith, compassion, and forgiveness.

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