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Mon, Jan 31, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Escapees tell of Lungfatang life

MENTAL HEALTH Lack of money and the lack of beds in government facilities leave families little option but to turn to private care, despite allegations of abuse

By William Ide  /  STAFF REPORTER

A former Lungfatang patient demonstrates how he was treated at the institution during a recent news conference.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Liu Tung-cheng (柳東成) hardly slept the night he escaped from the nightmare of Lungfatang sanatorium (龍發堂) in early January this year.

But it was not from anticipation of what was to come that kept Liu awake. It was the haunting sounds of crying and screaming that punctuated the night, he said -- the same sounds that had kept him awake on every other night he had spent in the sanatorium.

He was ready even before the whistle which marks the beginning of a new day was blown at 4:15am.

Liu managed to complete his early morning chores of cleaning up the feces and urine of other patients who had relieved themselves during the night, tidying up, and feeding others without letting anyone know of his plan to escape.

The plan had been solidified the night before with three other patients, after the temple's founder, Hieh Kai-feng (釋開豐), and its' spokeswoman, Master Hsinhsien (心賢法師), left for a trip to China.

Once breakfast had been served to the patients and two truckloads of workers had headed off to the temple's massive chicken farm, the four made a break for it and jumped into a temple truck at 6:10am with only a 12-minute window of escape.

The task wasn't easy as Liu and another escapee, Chin Jung-tsai (金榮財), were connected to slower patients 24-hours-a-day by what the temple calls the "chains of compassion" (感情鍊). One-third of the sanatorium's 650 patients wear these chains which wrap around and link them from their waists.

"Let's go," said Chen Kwang-chao (陳光照) -- a "squad leader" and 13-year resident of the sanatorium -- as the four headed for one of the temple's trucks.

Chen not only had the keys needed to open steel gates inside the dormitory building next to the temple but, most importantly, was one of the few squad leaders who could drive and had keys to a truck.

Chen drove quickly out of the sanatorium and across the Kaohsiung County line to Tainan, roughly a half-hour drive away and left the truck alongside the road. The two slower patients linked to Chin and Liu were then chained to the truck and told to wait for their return.

They never came back.

Life after Lungfatang

Now, over two weeks later, sitting in an all-night cafe in Taipei, three of the four look relieved. Liu, Chen and Chin are all wearing slippers and keep their shorn heads covered in public.

As they talk, they glance around occasionally, monitoring their surroundings, alert and at peace for now but convinced that the temple will try anything to drag them back.

If you haven't experienced it, you wouldn't understand, they say.

Still, with haunting memories trailing behind them, it is good to be out, Liu said.

"To breathe fresh air again is something that makes me happy," said Liu, a 34 year-old alcoholic, who was dumped at Lungfatang over a year and half ago.

"I am still worried about those who are inside, they are in a pitiful state," he said.

One out of every 20 eggs in Taiwan comes from the farm and the laborers there get very little rest, Liu said.

"We work 365 days a year, even Chinese New Year," he said.

Liu and his cohorts were given more responsibility inside the temple because they were better off psychologically, they said. All of them had arrived at the temple because they could not be maintained at government-run facilities or they had violent tendencies.

Liu's mother says she grew tired of all the yelling, the violence, his constant drunkenness and unpredictability.

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