Elizabeth A.'s Reviews > The White Room

The White Room by John Tomaino
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Oct 05, 2011

Read from October 05 to 07, 2011

Newly minted PhD in Psychology in-hand, Jodie Sykes is thrilled when she’s offered a chance to participate in research with Professor David Byrne, a man whose psychology textbook she used during the process of obtaining her postgraduate degrees.

Her enthusiasm is quickly tempered, however, when she learns that Byrne wants her to gather research on the treatment of institutionalized mental patients… by going undercover in an institution as a patient.

Despite her misgivings, she convinces herself that it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. After all, since she’ll be signing in as a voluntary patient if things get too intense she’ll just sign herself out.

Professor Byrne, of course, has other plans. Unbeknownst to Jodie, it’s Byrne’s intention to use her as the test subject in a study of near total sensory deprivation.

With the help of a few complicit staff members Byrne manipulates Jodie’s behavior to the point she is acting out and able to be classified as a threat to herself and others. For the “safety” of everyone involved Jodie is placed in lockdown. Except this isn’t any ordinary solitary confinement, it’s the White Room.

Placed in a solid white room barely bigger than a prison cell, Jodie is deprived of all sound, natural light, and any human contact. She is monitored 24 hours a day via closed circuit cameras, her food and basic necessities delivered via a dumbwaiter controlled by the faceless person(s) observing her. With no external stimulus of any kind Jodie quickly loses track of time, forced to exist solely in her own mind. Because she holds a doctorate in psychology she is able, to a certain extent, to clinically evaluate her own mental unraveling. Yet despite her knowledge of the mind and what to expect from such conditions, Jodie is unable to stop herself from slowly slipping into madness.

Author John Tomaino’s The White Room is highly disturbing, especially when you consider that it is based loosely on the case of a researcher who did exactly what Jodie did; she checked herself into a psychiatric institution as a patient, only to find getting out again wasn’t as easy as anticipated. And while the real life case didn’t involve a deliberate, organized plot to keep her against her will, both her experience and The White Room nevertheless address some very intriguing – and disturbing – questions about how we treat people labeled as mentally ill.

The White Room is an extremely fascinating read, in which author John Tomaino challenges the reader to step outside their initial “that could never happen” disbelief at Jodie’s predicament and ask themselves, is it really that hard to believe someone could get sucked down the institutional rabbit hole?
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