2016-12-28 / Book Review

Books In Review:

The Hospital Always Wins
By Jason D. Antos

The Hospital Always Wins by Issa Ibrahim; $26.99; from the Chicago Review Press, chicagoreviewpress.comThe Hospital Always Wins by Issa Ibrahim; $26.99; from the Chicago Review Press, chicagoreviewpress.comIssa Ibrahim's book The Hospital Always Wins explores the world of the mentally ill through the eyes of someone who has been trapped in that dark and crushing place.

It is the author himself.

Taking place at Creedmore Hospital in Queens Village, this powerful novel takes the reader through two decades of confinement as Ibrahim serves out an insanity plea. 

A heady brew of sex, drugs, painting and music fills this memoir by a man who spent nearly two decades in one of New York State’s best known mental hospitals.

An artist, musician, and writer, Ibrahim descended into paranoid schizophrenia in his early 20s; believing his mother was possessed; he killed her in an attempt to exorcise her. In this memoir, he weaves together two stories. One is the story of his life before his incarceration, including colorful portraits of a loving and enterprising marijuana-addicted mother and a much-absent jazz musician father as well as an account of his alarming hallucinations and his increasing paranoia. The second story is about his survival after incarceration. Briefly jailed in hellish Riker’s Island, Ibrahim was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity and spent most of his years at Creedmoor.

He writes scathingly of its violence, homosexual sex, staff unprofessionalism and administrative ineptitude. His talent for painting eventually got him to Creedmoor’s Living Museum, an art studio and sanctuary for patients, where he flourished.

The author regales readers with tales of his sexual escapades with female staff, his success as a painter and a musician, the intransigence of his psychiatrists, and the loyalty and diligence of his lawyer. The incarceration chapters show him as a mature man struggling for his freedom; the chapters switch back and forth through time showing him as a drug-addicted youth in the 1980s spiraling down into madness. The two interwoven narratives reach their climaxes with the older imprisoned Ibrahim achieving his freedom and the youthful Ibrahim killing his mother.

As one character tells Ibrahim "Issa, there are no secrets in Creedmore."

And just like the goliath mental institute off of Winchester Boulevard, Ibrahim's book does not keep any secrets from the reader. It is all here to be seen and read and experienced.  

This occasionally overwhelming torrent of words reveals both an irrepressible individual with a talent for survival and a mental health system in dire need of repair.

The Hospital Always Wins has received praise from many notable people in the psychiatric field and from Hollywood celebrities as well.

"Issa Ibrahim's memoir is a report from the inside," said actor John Turturro in his praise of the book. "[The novel is] a rare story of a patient making his way out of the labyrinth of mental illness. Written with immediacy and honesty, it's a captivating tale of survival against great odds, and a true original."

Ibrahim is an artist, writer, and musician and been featured on HBO, NPR and has directed an award winning documentary/musical film called Patient's Rites. He currently lives in Manhattan.

The Hospital Always Wins is published by Chicago Review Press, 288 pages; $26.99, and is available on amazon.com and at chicagoreviewpress.com.

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