Richard Prangley part 1

Uploaded by awiderworld on 09.08.2010


Richard Prangley loves ducks, the Lugnuts and the night sky.
He loves his Charlene and is a treasured friend of many including a Lansing State
Journal columnist, the family who owns his favorite restaurant, Clara's and 4
Michigan Governors.
Richard is an avid collector and keeps a pristine home.
He has known the heartbreak of rejection by his own family for having a disability.
He survived the bitter legacy of 15 years of childhood spent in a state institution called
Coldwater, labeled 'retarded' and a 'low grade moron'.
And when Richard came to the proverbial fork in the road, instead of clinging to the
victimization he knew well, Richard chose independence, relishing his role as
taxpayer, homeowner and employee.
Richard also possesses a sense of destiny.
My birth date is Dec 1, 1949. I was born in St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI.
I am always the curiosity person.
They label him because he was in a state institution which he shouldn't have been in.
He was premature, slower in learning and he has a hearing problem. So someone to take
the time to have patience to work with him ...he's normal as everyone else.
In Coldwater for those 15 years he received no academic training whatsoever.
That's really hard to imagine.
But it was determined early in his life that he was incapable of learning.
The actual phrase used was, "he is incapable of learning"...Imagine that!
When you compare that with what he's made of his life it is just astonishing!
Life in an institution in the mid 20th century was indeed a lonely and loveless existence
for a young child.
Children like Richard developed skills to cope with abusive staff and residents
who would hit or molest them.
Staff tended to ignore what the victims reported.
These were throw away lives...children not even worthy of an education.
It's amazing how well I do not able to be like everyone else.
I never got the chance to learn to read and write growing up.
This could have been a story that ends with a 21 year old who can neither read nor
write, possessing no marketable skills, and no family support, struggling to
subsist in a world for which he is unprepared.
Instead, the remarkable Richard Prangley felt compelled to rise above his
horrific childhood and dedicate his experiences to ensure that no more children
would have to endure what he did, that those with disabilities also had the
right to an education and a job, and of course, a loving family.
When Richard was released from Coldwater at age 21, he worked a series of low paying
unskilled jobs, always giving an honest day's labor for his pay.
But Richard wanted more out of life.
I knew what I was after and then I got it.
I came up with the idea trying to save the old administrative building, making it into a
That's how I became an advocate.
I was blessed...a guardian angel was with me to carry this job out.
He refers to his guardian angel as this force that sort of allowed him to get past his
history at every juncture.
Not just when he got out of Coldwater but that wasn't the end of his setbacks.
He got into financial trouble---he got into trouble with people not wanting him in
the neighborhood-he had problems at work.
So it's not like his life has been easy.
Yet at every step of the way he's used that inner strength or whatever that is to get
past these points.
He talks about junctures in his life when things could have gone terribly wrong and
every time the guardian angel taps him on the shoulder and says, 'you should go this
way', That's really been his salvation.
Richard never had a civics lesson or a class in strategy, but instinctively knew he had
to go to the top to get results.
It's who I know that helped me.
When you know the right people you get a bigger impact.
That's why I always been successful!
One of his great gifts is that he doesn't anticipate the answer, "No".
Although Richard couldn't read, he knew that the key to change was hidden in the
records that documented his life in Coldwater.
He arranged a meeting with his State Representative, showed him the documentation and
convinced that legislator to introduce him to Michigan's governor.
I went after them big time.
'Cause I went after the top start at the top cause they had no idea as to what went
on. They need a wake-up call.
And they got that wake up call.
When I went and told Governor Miliken about what happened in this place, oh boy.
He went right down there, man.
I went along.
We had a hearing down there.
The whole administrating staff right there in the conference room.
I was scared in my shoes.
I wanted to go visit with my friends and Gov Miliken wanted me there on the right hand
side with him to make sure nothing will happen to me. They know I'd taken on the
system big time trying to seek change. And there was change!
Michigan's Governor Miliken became a friend of Richard's and together they began to
work with the Department of Mental Health to reform the system.
He also provided Richard with another opportunity...a job with the state of Michigan.
Although Richard's job had him mopping floors and eventually delivering mail, he also
became a unique consultant to the State, the voice of the recipient of service.
Richard's ongoing advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities would also lead
him to become a good friend of the next three Michigan Governors: James Blanchard,
John Engler and Jennifer Granholm.
It would also get programs into the community.
To serve people in their own homes closer to family.
Become productive citizens, not warehoused and discarded.
Not out of mind out of sight.
So that what happened to me won't happen to someone else.
Despite Richard's success in living independently, being self supporting and his
amazing track record as an instrument of societal change, his family still persisted in
believing that the advice received long ago to "institutionalize" him was
Most of his 10 siblings were not even born when he was put in Coldwater.
Richard struggled with both the lack of family acceptance and his parents' tendency to
discount his allegations of abuse at the hands of staff and residents.
I tried to tell my parents that but they didn't want to believe that .
They take the supervisor's word over that.
The most bitter part of all was that I couldn't get my Dad to believe me-abuse and sexual
abuse I grew up with.
Beatings from the staff all the time.
Doing what the staff tell me what to do.
They sort of "owned me".
I didn't have the right to say 'yes or no'".
You can't be bitter about what happened to you.
You got to turn the other cheek---try to go on.
Once he got that out of the way, given his personality, he was able to get a job and work
30 years for the State of Michigan, a good job with good benefits and good pay.
Go on to buy a house, all the friends he has made.
But the key was overcoming the bitterness that could have kept him down over his life.