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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"

 

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Voices from Colorado's Disability Community by Homer Page

Clarence Miller:  Making a Difference in the Corridors of Power

One cannot spend much time at the Capital without meeting Clarence Miller. The Colorado Quarterly sat down with Clarence in the basement cafeteria at the Capital for this interview. Even though it was not a busy day, the legislature was not in session, a number of people spoke to him, and stopped to say hello. It is obvious that Clarence is one of the best known persons at the Capital.

Mr. Miller, everyone calls him Clarence, is a person with a developmental disability. He is a living example of why Olmstead is so important. He was institutionalized for much of his early life; yet he now lives independently and provides a passionate voice on behalf of persons with disabilities in the corridors of power. Here is what he said.

TCQ: Tell us about your life. What were your early years like?

Clarence: I was born in Wray, Colorado on January 18, 1950. I have one brother who still lives in Wray. All the rest of my family are gone.

I went to Ridge Home when I was eight and lived there until I was 14. I didnít like it. There was nothing to do. I got no education. When I was 14, I was sent to the hospital in Pueblo. I didnít like it there either. If you said a word, you would be tied down with belts. The cops used four belts. If you said suicide, they would tie you down. I got tied down, but I never tried suicide. When I was 21, I got out of the state hospital. I came to Denver. I didnít have a place to live, so I went to a shelter but my money was stolen the first night. I had nothing. For a few days I lived on the street but then a priest named David Morgan got me a Section 8 [a federal housing program]. He wrote a check for me. Since then I have lived in a lot of places - hotels, apartments, sometimes roommates. Now I have three roommates. I have lived every way.

TCQ: Have you worked in a workshop? What was that like?
Clarence: Yes, I worked in three workshops. It was all piece work. I put things in plastic bags. Sometimes fish hooks, ten fish hooks in a bag, sometimes other things. I would get a penny a bag. They would check my work and if I made a mistake, no pay.

I didnít like it. One time after I quit at Bayoud, I went back with a camera to take pictures. They told me that I had one minute to get out. If I didnít leave they would call the police. Now I work with Bob Lawhead. We do workshops on employment. I talk about workshops. I tell people what it is like to work in a workshop. We explain why it is better for people to have jobs in the community. Last month we went to Nashville. I like talking to people and telling them what itís like to be in a workshop.

TCQ: You are at the Capital quite often. How did you get started?

Clarence: I got started working on the bill for a Martin Luther King holiday. Iím for freedom. Martin Luther King was a great man. He was for freedom. 

I go to the bill room and get the bills. Then I get someone to read them for me. I didnít have much education so I need help reading. I like to testify before the committees. I like to tell them about people with disabilities.

TCQ: What will you be working on this year?

Clarence: I will be working on education. Kids with disabilities need an education, or they canít do anything. 

Also Iíll be working on Medicaid. People are interested in Medicaid. It helps people be independent. Iíll be interested in other things too.

TCQ: What other things do you do?

Clarence: I help people run tables for private nonprofits at malls. Iím going to the mall when we finish to help pass out information. I like to help out whenever I can.

I serve on two boards. I am on the Developmental Disabilities Council and the ARC board. I like making rules that help persons with disabilities. 

When the Pope was here in í93, I volunteered to help. The Pope only gave one award to a volunteer and it was me. 

I do a lot of other things. I like to go to concerts and to the opera. I like football and baseball. I have tickets to the last Rockies game of the season. My life is busy. I have fun and I help people. Thatís what makes me happy.

TCQ: How do you describe your disability?

Clarence: Once they said at the Pueblo Hospital that I was mentally retarded with a mental health diagnosis and a low IQ. But I hate the word retarded. I donít think Iím retarded. I do too many things in my life to be retarded. I think Iím normal. 

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