American Snake Pit is a powerful title for your memoir-but the subtitle is even more intriguing: Hope, Grit, And Resilience In The Wake Of Willowbrook. Can you tell us where it came from?

The title came from Bobby Kennedy in 1965, after he toured an unannounced visit to Willowbrook, a large institution in Staten Island, New York. He stood shaken in front of the cameras and said: “We have a situation that borders on a snake pit.” That film clip really grabbed my interest and American Snake Pit was born. But in spite of this ominous image of a “snake pit,” this is a book about hope. The tremendous courage, bravery, and hidden skills of the people I helped move into the community by way of this experimental group home is astounding. It’s what’s possible when people are given the right opportunities.

ingmar-bergman-persona-1363700330_b

January is a month for beginnings. This isn’t a new concept, nor is it one that I’ve ever particularly subscribed to: calendar dates are mostly arbitrary, rarely aligning with actual historical events and watershed moments. The president was inaugurated, again; the trees remained bare and scrawny; winter quarter at the university commenced. For me, though, two very new sensations appeared: my arms and legs began to shake uncontrollably, vibrating as if by some odd, latent tic; and I became convinced that I didn’t exist.