In an interview with The Washington Times Communities, an American shared her story of surviving the Magdalene Laundries operated in the United States.
The Good Shepherd Sisters, a Roman Catholic religious institute for women, is one of the orders being charged with the enslavement and abuse of thousands of women in what are called "Magdalene Laundries."
Diana O'Hara, who describes herself as a "Big Mouthed Irish Girl," was born in Buffalo, New York, to an alcoholic mother. she was placed into foster care at the age of four months. At the age of ten, she was returned to Social Services and placed back into the foster care system. For the next two years, she passed through no fewer than 11 different foster homes.
When she was 12, Diana returned to live with her mother, a lounge singer who was rarely home and who spend most of her time in nightclubs with different men.
A man in his twenties, who found out Diana was home alone, began forcing his way into the apartment and molesting her. Despite her efforts to stop him, he returned time after time. She tried to tell her family, but her grandmother punished her for having sex by hanging her out of a second story window by her ankles.
Read more: Magdalene Laundries survivors to tell Enda Kenny they want a full state apology
Soon Diana returned to foster care, drifting from family to family. One set of foster parents dismissed her as "difficult" and sent her to a "Protestant Home" which happened to be located across the street from the club where her mother worked.
One night, Diana tried to sneak out and confront her mother, who would have nothing to do with her. When Diana returned to the “Protestant Home” her mother followed her screaming that the Protestants were not monitoring Diana closely and demanded they send her to the “nuns.”
At the age of fourteen, Diana entered the gates of the Good Shepherd Laundry in Buffalo, New York.
Run by Irish Catholic nuns and priests, The Laundry was where girls aged fourteen to eighteen came to do penance for their sins.
“I could feel the evil as it descended and began to wrap its arms around me as the scraping sound of the steel gates opening shook the very core of my soul,” Diana says. “My mind just stopped and I could feel myself shift into survival mode.”
When she entered the laundry, a nun escorted her through endless stone tunnels, bringing her into a small room with a doctor.
She says the man stared at her and said "Well, what do you think, is she a virgin?"
The nun only laughed and left the room. Diana says the doctor overpowered her and raped her.
Within the walls of the Laundry, talking was only allowed when the nuns clapped their hands. Violating this rule led to harsh punishment. When any of the girls misbehaved, she was locked inside a narrow broom closet, sometimes for days.
“If you pulled your knees into your chest and placed your back against the wall you could sit down and maybe sleep but you were in severe pain when you finally stood up,” Diana says. “The nuns would shove a bucket into the room so you could go to the bathroom.”
Read more: New York Irish woman shares her story of being adopted out of a Magdalene Laundry
There was also what was known as the “Dungeon Room,” an old shower room with stone benches.
“You were in total darkness in the Dungeon Room,” Diana recalls. “As you sat in silence you could hear a high pitched squeal begin to grow louder and louder. Then your body would shake in fear as you felt the rats begin to crawl over your body.”
Diane said they spent many hours doing "penance" for their sins, spending hours kneeling on the hard cobblestone floors. Beatings were a routine occurrence.
She said that the Laundries supported themselves with a slave labor force. She also says illegal adoptions were a common occurrence, with unwed and pregnant young women given no choice but to give their children up for adoption.
Diana eventually left Buffalo’s Good Shepherd Laundry, only to be thrown back into the system that swept her from one place to the next. Within a year of leaving the Laundry in Buffalo, she found herself at the gates of another Good Shepherd Laundry, this one in Albany, New York, where she stayed until she was seventeen.
Diana O'Hara now offers support for others who have suffered within the walls of the Laundries, though her Facebook page.
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