Thirty-Three With a Bright Life Ahead
Glenn Forde traces the beginning of his struggles with mental illness to his early teenage years. “I was first hospitalized at age 13. I had been very irritable, yelling at my parents and making threats. They called the security guard for the apartment complex, worried that I might hurt myself or somebody else.” Glenn’s parents, working class African-American immigrants, feared American culture was leading him astray and had him attend regular therapy. But Glenn wasn’t interested in help. He wasn’t listening to his therapist and began using marijuana. After enrolling in college in 1988, he began using cocaine as well. “I started at John Jay College but just couldn’t keep up with my studies. My mind was clouded from all the cocaine.”
Quitting college, Glenn turned instead to a low-paying part-time security job. Spending much of his meager earnings to support his drug habit, Glenn lived at home through his twenties. Though he hid his drug use as best he could, as the years passed his parents increasingly grew critical of his lifestyle and concerned for his well being. Glenn, meanwhile, was becoming paranoid and sinking into longer and longer periods of depression.
“It seemed to me that friends who were trying to help me wanted to hurt me and that the people who were trying to hurt me actually wanted to help me. I thought my own parents were against me.”
Things finally came to a head in 1998. “It was October 17th. My parents were going off to play bingo but I stopped them and told then that I was fed up, that I wanted my privacy, that I was tired of this crap, and this and that. Finally my mother just said, ‘Get the fuck out!’ and I got enraged. I just lost it. My father started to say something and I just hit him. The security guard came and took me to the Brooklyn Detention House for processing. “Though charges were ultimately dropped, Glenn spent two months detained in Rikers Island and received a restraining order forbidding him to set foot in his parents apartment.
After release, Glenn didn’t know where to go. “I just wandered around. I had bought a duffel bag for my stuff and spent a couple nights in different motels but I realized fast I didn’t have the money to keep doing that. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere to go.” In desperation, Glenn made his way to a shelter run by the Volunteers of America located at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital where he had heard might be able to get some help.
Glenn stayed at the Volunteers of America shelter for over six months. He now realizes that this was what he needed to get his life back together again. “When I came there I was really beat, really drained. They gave me a locker, let me take a shower, introduced me to a caseworker. They enrolled me on social security, had me meet a psychiatrist, and gave me medication. I was able to reconnect with my family and I even did some artwork in a class they had there.” Volunteers of America staff helped Glenn set up an interview to move into a supported residence in Brooklyn near his family.
In August of 1999, Glenn was accepted to Fulton House, a two-year transitional residence run by the Bowery Residents Committee located in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The first requirement upon entry was graduation from a substance abuse day treatment program. “It was what I needed. I was attending groups, getting acquainted with people, and working to change the way I did things. I got a lot out of it.”
Since graduating from his substance abuse program, Glenn has been making the most of the counseling and case management available on-site as well as the supportive environment of staff and tenants. He’s active in various support groups and has turned his energies towards helping some people still working to overcome addiction and coming to terms with their mental illness. “I talk to people here when they’re feeling down, I take them to meetings. I do secretary work in the meetings and try to set an example for the other tenants, to be a role model. A lot of the residents get very frustrated because of the things they bring in with them from the outside.”
Today at age thirty-three, Glenn talks of going back to school, of increasing his hours from part- to full-time at a security job, and of spending more time with his girlfriend.
“Things are ok today. I’ve got a job. I’ve got a girl in my life who I can be honest with. And these people here at BRC, they’re in my corner.”
Glenn is also in a particularly good mood because he’s found out that he’s been accepted to live in an independent apartment also managed by the Bowery Residents Committee. He’ll still receive support services as needed but he’ll be living in his own permanent apartment. And it’s not far away where he is now, so he figures he’ll still be able to keep in touch with the folks at Fulton House.
Glenn accepts his recent success with a newfound humility. “I’ve come to realize that people are much more understanding than I used to think. When I tried to change my life, a lot of people helped me to do that. I have a lot of gratitude.”