We in America no longer lock away the mentally ill and retarded as routinely as we once did, unless their impairments are profound or they're adjudged a danger to themselves or others.
The schizophrenic, anxious, obsessed and severely depressed typically live in group homes, or with their parents, or sadly, in many cases, on the street. They are among us, and sometimes we find them unsettling, strange, even a little scary.
So the mentally challenged must struggle not only with their impairments and demons, but also with the stigma of being different. They're watched and studied and counseled. But rarely do they find a place, as other Americans can, to just be themselves -- to get together and hang out with friends, hear some tunes and share some laughs.
There is such a place in Lockport, Illinois. Each Wednesday and Saturday night at a most unusual nightclub called The Roxy, 60 or so people with mental illness who live in Trinity Services, Incorporated's, group homes can just "chill out," with friends and invited guests.
They drink sodas and sparkling grape juice at an old, wooden bar; eat snacks and watch live baseball on TV from cafe tables; listen to professional bands that come in, or grab a guitar themselves and take the stage. Couples can share romantic conversations, sometimes a kiss. A few counselors and social workers tend bar, calm fears, defuse squabbles.
It's been going on like this for 8 or 9 years. And social-service agencies in other towns are copying the idea. The Roxy is so comforting a haven that parents whose troubled children are not in Trinity's group homes beg the agency to let their kids in, too. That's starting to happen at The Roxy in Lockport, Illinois, where the mentally ill and developmentally disabled can relax and be themselves, just like everybody else.