California Memorial Project (CMP)

California Memorial Project (CMP)

Disability Rights California’s Peer Self-Advocacy (PSA) Program advocates for and oversees the California Memorial Project (CMP). The CMP’s mission is to honor and restore dignity to individuals with mental health and developmental disabilities who lived and died in California state institutions.

DRC Program

California Memorial Project: Remembering Those Who Were Forgotten

Disability Rights California’s Peer Self-Advocacy (PSA) Program advocates for and oversees the California Memorial Project (CMP). The CMP’s mission is to honor and restore dignity to individuals with mental health and developmental disabilities who lived and died in California state institutions.

We help fight the mental health stigma and discrimination
we experience as peers by remembering those
who came before us.

The CMP continues to recognize our peers from the past. Now we are adding a new and valuable focus, to acknowledge residents who presently live in those same institutions for mental health “treatment.” We decided to talk with residents who have lived most of their adult lives inside a state hospital in honor of our peers who have gone before us.

View their stories here.

CMP Annual Remembrance Ceremonies

We celebrate the 3rd Monday of each September as California Memorial Project (CMP) Remembrance Day. On this day, the CMP holds remembrance ceremonies throughout California at state institutions and local cemetery gravesites where these individuals were buried. Leading a statewide moment of silence, we honor and celebrate the lives of all our peers.

If anyone wants to share their personal story of having lived in a California institution, email : californiamemorialproject@gmail.com

In Honor of Darby Penney - CMP Ceremony Presenter
The Life She Left Behind

Darby Penny, a fierce peer advocate who spoke at our 19th annual California Memorial Project (CMP) ceremony this year, passed away yesterday. She had shared her experience and information about a project and exhibit she worked on with Peter Stastny, called “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.

When Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995, suitcases belonging to deceased patients were found in an attic. The luggage was filled with old photographs, clothes, letters and other belongings dating back to the 1890’s. Here, Darby realized, was material to commemorate those forgotten and marginalized lives.

In 2003, Darby produced a video and exhibit at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, entitled “Here Lies: Abandoned Asylum Cemeteries.” With Peter Stastny, she was Guest Curator for the New York State Museum’s 2004 exhibit “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.

Over the next few years, Penney, photographer Lisa Rinzler, and Peter Stastny, M.D., researched the lives of the suitcase owners. In January 2004, an exhibit of photographs, artifacts and letters – “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives” – opened at the State Museum in Albany. With foundation funding, the exhibit is now being re-created in a traveling version. For more information about the project, go to: http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/index.php?section=about&subsection=suitc…

Most of Darby’s work focused on the history of psychiatry from the perspective of patients. Prior to the suitcase exhibit, she had collected 200 oral histories from psychiatric patients to document their experiences with the mental health system. The project was the first to document the history of people with mental health disabilities from the perspective of the patients themselves.

She and her colleague Steven Periard received the New York State Board of Regents’ 2003 Archives Award for Excellence in Historical Documentation for this project.

Darby never thought her own psychiatric history would guide her work. In addition to being the quintessential historian, she was a life-long and vocal activist in the movement to protect the human rights of people with psychiatric disabilities. She established and promoted self-help and peer advocacy programs to increase opportunities for self-determination.

To advocate for the use of non-medical, non-coercive healing approaches, Darby, along with other ex-patients and allies, founded the International Network for Treatment Alternatives to Recovery (INTAR). They held its first meeting of alternative practitioners and psychiatric survivors in 2004. She was honored for her work by being named a 2005 Fellow by the Petra Foundation.

For several months, I really enjoyed working with Darby and learning about her work and invited her to speak at our ceremony. She was delighted and excited to share information about the suitcase exhibit and her discoveries from the personal possessions of peers from the past. Her presentation exemplified the meaning and purpose of our California Memorial Project, revealing and remembering the lives of people who might otherwise be forgotten.

Even though I didn’t get a chance to know her very well, she touched me with her passion, curiosity and kindness. I could tell people listening to her speak were intrigued and moved by her stories. We are all very thankful she spoke at our ceremony.

I am sure there is a lot more we don’t know about Darby and the life she left behind. We will remember her and honor her - she was our peer and will not be forgotten.

2021 Online Remembrance Ceremony  

The 19th Annual California Remembrance Day ceremony was held on Monday, September 20, 2021. We had a virtual ceremony via a Zoom webinar instead of in-person ceremonies to take precautions during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since we presented the ceremony virtually, more people from throughout the state was able to attend since they didn't have to travel to a physical location. Our CMP Remembrance Ceremony has now become a well-known event throughout California and across the nation! 

View the Event Here

Monday September 20, 2021: We will hold a moment of silence at 1:55 pm will honor and restore dignity to people with mental health and developmental disabilities who lived and died in state institutions.

Gone, But no Longer Forgotten:
The California Memorial Project (Video)

CMP History

From the 1880’s to the 1960’s, over 45,000 people with mental health and developmental disabilities lived and died at California state institutions.

Various stone markers at hospital burial sites.
Caption: (Left Photo) A numbered marker. (Right Photo) Numbered stone markers at Patton State Hospital.

Most were buried anonymously in unmarked or mass graves, identified only by numbers that disappeared long ago. They died without the recognition and acknowledgment they deserved as human beings, in life or in death.

Peer Advocacy Efforts

Peer advocates worked together for laws to bring back dignity to our peers. They fought the mistreatment and neglect of our peers.

In 2002, Senate Bill 1448 (Chesbro) addressed the terrible conditions of the state institution gravesites. This law provided valuable support for the disability community.

In 2002, three peer-led organizations - Disability Rights California’s Peer Self-Advocacy Program, People First® of California and The California Network of Mental Health Clients started the California Memorial Project.

CMP Accomplishments

In 2002, we held our first California Annual Remembrance Day Ceremony. With Senator Chesbro’s support, the State Assembly declared the 3rd Monday of each September as California Memorial Project Remembrance Day.

We collected 21 oral histories from different people who have lived in state institutions to hear about their experiences from their own point of view.  By preserving their stories, we are reclaiming our past. We are also conducting research about the disability rights movement to document the history of our peers’ advocacy efforts that now benefit us today.

Establishing Monuments

In addition, we place memorial monuments and hold dedication ceremonies at burial sites at California state hospitals and developmental centers to honor those who were lost.

Some monuments state: "Let no person ever again be removed from the community by reason of disability... Let us honor their memory by reclaiming and healing our past... Let no person ever be laid to rest without recognition."

Various memorials at Mental Health sites

Caption: These two separate monuments rest at the Stockton Facility.

Various memorials at Mental Health sites

Caption: (Left Photo) Monument on cemetery grounds of Patton State Hospital. (Middle Photo) Monument at Russian River Cemetery in Ukiah. (Right Photo) Monument at former grounds of Camarillo State Hospital (closed in 2002) which is now the campus of the California State University - Channel Islands.

For more information about CMP,
send an email to: californiamemorialproject@gmail.com

Find out more about our
Peer Self-Advocacy (PSA) Program.