San Diego The first thing you notice about Bob Guthrie's appearance is his hands. They're huge -- the hands of a man who's worked hard using them. His physique is unusually hard and lean for a 59-year-old man. Guthrie doesn't spend much time resting. He seems to be making up for all of the years he lost living in institutions and facilities.
Guthrie grew up when compassion and sensitivity were more the exception than the rule in treating retardation. "I was born and raised back in Philadelphia. I was moved around from place to place. Later, my dad was stationed at a navy base in Bremerton, Washington. I was taken away from my family because my dad was abusive. I have a sister two years older than I am and a brother who's two years younger. My dad was more abusive toward me, and he was most abusive towards my mom. My brother had ways to get away from it, but I wasn't able to get away from it. I lived in a home near Bremerton, and then I came out here to San Diego when my dad was transferred in the '50s. I stayed with him for a while until the court sent me to the Porterville State Hospital in 1953. I was up there from '53 to '59. In '59 I was sent to Fairview State Hospital. It was a lot closer to San Diego."
The state hospitals Guthrie refers to were mental hospitals. "Most of those places at that time were very abusive to most of the patients. I got hit by an employee one time up at Porterville, and I never reported it 'cause I've seen a lot of patients get in trouble for it. The employees would take it out on the patients who talked about it or got them fired. They were very strict and had a lot of runaways from that place. Back in the '40s and '50s, a person who had this type of thing had to deal with that because they would just put them in the state hospital. There were several other state hospitals in California that I was in.
"[The employees] would take advantage of most of the patients. They'd steal their clothing and other belongings. Finally, they started searching some of the employees' cars. They found clothing and other things stolen from patients."
"Special education" as we know it today did not exist for Guthrie when he was a boy. "I went to school for a while when I was in Bremerton. I was close to 12 years old at the time. That's when I realized I was different from the other kids. There were a lot of them that were either makin' fun of me or callin' me 'M.R.' and stuff like that. I still see it today. People will use that word, 'M.R.' or 'retarded.' They don't understand it. They don't realize that it's another person. At the time, I was very sensitive about it. I've finally woken up and realized that I can't change it, because it's always goin' to be there. It's still there with some of the younger generation. I used to feel like I stood out in a crowd, but I learned that I can adjust. I'm learnin' not to be shy, and I come in contact with a lot of people.
"When I finally came out of that environment, the state hospitals, I had to learn to adjust and make goals for myself. I know I've made mistakes. I've learned that in these board-and-care homes they think of the person they're takin' care of as their own child.
"When I was at this board-and-care in Alpine I got involved with gambling. They took me to Laughlin. Then I thought that if I could win in Laughlin, I could do the same thing at Viejas. I lost a lot of money, but I've paid all my debts. The people at the casino saw that I had a problem and told me I should get some help. I started goin' to Gamblers Anonymous. I carry a token to remind me what gambling can do. I started makin' a goal for myself and thinking positive. It's been a year now since I've stopped gambling."
Guthrie lives in a trailer in Lakeside and bicycles to work in El Cajon five days a week, one hour each way. "I've been on my own for a year. It's something I wanted to do for a long, long time. The family I lived with before in Alpine didn't want me to do it. They said I wasn't ready. When I moved out to move into another home in El Cajon, Kelly, the house manager at the new home, helped me out. She said, 'You do it when you're ready.' I was in a lot of debt, and I had to wait until my bills were paid off.
"I don't get lonely because I'm always on the go, always doing something to stay active. I've made goals for myself. At home I'll make TV dinners and then go out and visit with somebody I know. I have a lot of friends in the trailer park. I also do work in the park to help out with the rent. I keep myself on a budget. I have a checking and savings account, and I keep them up to date. I keep up on my cable and telephone bills. I always find work to do. I do a lot of lawns and garden jobs."
Guthrie has worked for Doetsch Enterprises for 11 years. "My bosses, Candy and Rick, they're like family to me. They've really helped me out. [Rick] told me, 'You'll never have to worry about losin' your job. You'll always have a job here.' And I don't even have an education! But I've picked up on learnin' things. I work in shipping and receiving, packaging, organizin' the warehouse. I'm not good at math, but I've learned a lot just stayin' on my path.