Marcel Vervloesem and the amazing story of the Werkgroep Morkhoven

Isolatie.akties.pngIsolation cels action

In 1988, a man who came to visit Marcel for a cup of coffee was distressed. His son, placed in a psychiatric institute of the Social Services of Antwerp, was regularly locked up in isolation cell, sometimes for months, who he found inhuman. They went there together. Those cells where naked, without daylight but a violent lamp and the children would be left there alone. The law granted the hospital staff all the rights without least control, from where all freedom of abuse. The doctors would refuse to listen: locking a child in an isolation cells was normal.

Jan Boeykens, an intellectual from Antwerp, was one of the first men in Flanders to become activist of the patient's right in the area of those threatened by their internment in psychiatric institute. As he ran a radio program, he heard that the Werkgroep Morkhoven was making actions to sensitize people on the conditions of the children in psychiatry. He interviewed Marcel, then joined the movement and became the appointed writer of the pamphlets.

Their method was always the same: they drew the attention of people in the streets by making them laugh, and then made them realize the situation. The problematic of the isolation cells arrived at the Ministry for health. The minister Vervotte invited Marcel and Jan and heard them. She asked them to collaborate in the setting of a new law establishing a regulation on the use of isolation cells in the psychiatric institutes, with measures of control aiming at protecting the adults as well as children.

The Werkgroep Morkhoven carried on going to the institute to make sure the law was properly respected. The term "cell" had replaced by "room", and the term "isolation" had been replaced by "reflection”. As a child was previously locked into an isolation cell he was now sent to a reflection room.

The men returned in the streets of Antwerp, distributing their pamphlets. Strangely enough, the police reacted very violently. The men where arrested and interrogated and their houses where searched, as if suddenly the activists of child protection were terrorists. The Social Service carried a formal complaint for slandering against Jan. But the Werkgroep Morkhoven had collected approximately two hundred pages of testimonies and copies of police reports of complaints for ill-treatments, of which, a horrifying number of broken arms and a litle girl aged five years, who had died in a "reflection room".

Dressed in a priest robe, Marcel was followed by four men who carried a small empty coffin. As they arrived at the Law Courts of Antwerp, two other men had climbed on a crane not far from there, to call the crowd and to flood it with pamphlets. The Social Service gave up the proceedings against Jan.


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