Joe's Woes & First AA Hospital Group

Rockland State Hospital - First AA Meeting in Medical Institution
“’The medical profession has nothing for you. The clergy has nothing for you. There’s nobody in God’s world can help you. You’re a chronic alcoholic, period!’ Then he says, ‘Maybe these men and this book can help you.’”

That’s how Joe remembers the encounter which led to the first AA group in a medical institution. The year was 1939, and Bill and Lois, whose Brooklyn Heights apartment was being foreclosed on, had gone to stay temporarily with friends Mag and Bob V., in Monsey, NY.

Bill relates how he, Bob, and three others had met with Dr. Russell E. Blaisdell, head of the nearby Rockland State Hospital, who welcomed them enthusiastically, introduced them to Joe as his last remaining hope, and allowed them to start a meeting.  

As Joe recounts, he had been hospitalized at Bellevue’s alcoholic ward 35 times and been imprisoned “sixty-five or seventy-five times.” He had committed a serious felony in a blackout and was facing up to 15 years at Sing-Sing. Instead, he was committed to Rockland, a mental institution.

Joe was truly a man of many woes, as we read in his story, appropriately titled "Joe's Woes."  It appeared in the 2nd edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is one of its most poignant. It can now be read in the book Experience, Strength, and Hope.

Three AA and other 12-Step groups now meet at the site, at what is now the Russell E. Blaisdell Addiction Treatment Center, in Orangeburg.

[Image: Memorial plaque at former Rockland State Hospital. Photo is courtesy of Tommy O., whose talk there 01/11/15 inspired this post. For Big Book Q&A about Joe's story, please click on link.]

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