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Breaking Free: My Journey from Institutionalization to Independence

A Personal Tale of Endurance and Advocacy

By Jensen Caraballo

October 31, 2005 - September 6, 2012: The Years of Confinement

As I reflect on my past, the years from 2005 to 2012 stand out starkly, marking a period of profound personal hardship and growth. At the young age of 15, I found myself confined within the walls of Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester, New York, a place that was to be my home, albeit an unwelcome one, for seven long years.

My life in the institution was defined by a lack of autonomy and independence. I lived on the Friendship 1 East unit, in the first room on the left side of the hallway. The room, which I shared with two different roommates over the years, both nonverbal, became a symbol of my restricted freedom.

Witnessing the Unspoken

The silence of my roommates was a stark contrast to the unspoken stories of abuse and violence that I witnessed against disabled people within the institution. These incidents, largely hidden from public view, were a grim reminder of the vulnerability and marginalization faced by many in similar situations.

A Life Regulated

Life in Monroe Community Hospital was governed by an unyielding set of rules, policies, and schedules. Every aspect of my daily routine, from waking hours to meal times, was dictated by the institution. This strict regimentation left no room for personal choice or freedom, making me feel trapped, like a prisoner within my own life.

The Cost of Nonconformity

The consequences of not adhering to these institutional rules were severe and instilled a sense of fear and helplessness. It was clear that any attempt to assert my individuality or challenge the status quo would be met with punitive measures, further reinforcing the oppressive environment.

A Journey Towards Advocacy

Despite these challenges, my time at Monroe Community Hospital was also a period of awakening. It was here that I began to understand the importance of disability rights and the need for advocacy. Witnessing firsthand the injustices and abuse faced by disabled individuals in institutional settings, I resolved to be a voice for change.

Embracing Freedom

My release from the institution in September 2012 marked the beginning of a new chapter. The experience fueled my passion for disability rights, justice, and activism. Today, as an independent living advocate, I am committed to ensuring that the horrors I witnessed and endured are not repeated for others.

A Call to Action

My story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of advocacy. It serves as a call to action for the dismantling of institutional biases and the promotion of independent living for all. We must work tirelessly to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to live a life defined by freedom, choice, and dignity.


Jensen Caraballo is a disability rights advocate based in Rochester, New York, passionately working towards a world where disability rights are recognized as fundamental human rights. His journey from institutionalization to independence serves as a powerful narrative for change and empowerment.

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