Every day since May 9, 26-year old Godly Mathew has been standing at the intersection of the Roosevelt Boulevard and Langdon Street holding a sign. It reads “I WAS ABUSED AT FRIENDS HOSPITAL.” Last Wednesday, after learning about Godly’s protest from my family (my brother and I attended the same high school as Godly) , I joined Mr. Mathew at the sidewalk across from Friends Hospital to learn more about why exactly he’s there and what he hopes to achieve.
Q: First of all, Godly, thanks for agreeing to give an interview to phillygrrl.com. Tell me, why did your parents name you Godly?
A: [Laughs.] I’m an only child and I was born late in my parents’ marriage. I guess they thought it was a miracle they had a kid.
Q: Where were you born and what is your family background?
A: I was born in South India, my family is Malyalee and my parents still primarily speak Malyalam. My mom can’t speak English at all. We came to America when I was nine and a half years old. I was raised Christian and Christianity’s been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Q: What was your family like? Did you have a happy childhood?
A: My childhood in India (I lived with my grandparents and mother) was very peaceful and happy. It was the only truly happy time in my life. After coming to America, it was a very dysfunctional dynamic, including emotional and physical abuse. My father was prone to periods of anger and he would take it out on me and my mother. My mother contributed her own part to the atmosphere of the house as far as verbal and emotional abuse.
Q: Tell me what happened after you graduated from high school?
A: Well, in high school I was very shy and socially awkward. I didn’t take my picture for the yearbook and I didn’t even go to graduation. You’ll remember me as that kid who always wore the same leather jacket every day. I never took that thing off! [Laughs.] I had very few friends. When it came time to go to college, I didn’t know if that was what I wanted to do in life. But college was always a given as far as my family was concerned. I didn’t think I had a choice, so I enrolled at Temple University.
Q: What happened after you began college?
A: I was miserable. I was burned out, emotionally. I was homesick, I wanted to go back to India. I felt my interests and talent lay in carpentry and the arts, not traditional schooling. So I told my mother I wanted to leave college and go back to India.
Q: How did your mother react when you told you wanted to drop out of college?
A: She freaked out on me. The next day she told all of her relatives (she had all four of her siblings living here). Her brother came over and grabbed me by the collar and started accusing me of getting involved in drugs or a gang. He tired to intimidate me into going back to college. Then another one of her brothers came, he was a social worker with the city and he mentioned the 302, involuntary commitment. That was the first time I heard that term, but it wasn’t the last.
[At this point there’s a red light and a black lady in a pink shirt leans out of her car. “Do you have a union?” she yells.
“No,” he yells back
“What happened to you?” she asks.
“They put tubes in my mouth and nose,” he yells back
The light turns green.]
Q: Why a 302? Your family thought you were crazy because you didn’t want to go to college?
A: Yes. And mentioning the 302 started out as a way to intimidate me. They also mentioned a foster home. My aunts and uncles started bullying me and throwing around the words ‘mental illness’ and ‘schizophrenia’. Soon, everyone started getting on the mental illness bandwagon, it look on a life of its own. My relatives would often say “You used to be such a bright kid at Central [high school].” They were trying to imply that I went from being very academic to someone unable to study, so that it must be a case of something having gone ‘wrong’ in my head.
Q: What was your reaction to all this?
A: At that point, I had started reaching the teachings of Gandhi. I was trying to find myself. I imagined a simple life where I could go back to India and start a spiritual movement. I thought I could talk to my family, rationally. I was trying to practice Satyagraha. I was very passive. I didn’t really take them seriously. I thought this was just a test of my beliefs, a test I could pass.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you were forced to go to Friends two times. Can you tell me about the first time?
A: Sure. At this point, my parents had been trying to use any means to get me to change my mind. They kept bringing in people from the Indian community to pressure me. One particular time, it got to be too much for me. I was so emotionally distraught, I dropped to the floor and rolled around pretty rigorously and got two carpet burns. My uncle called the police and tried to persuade them to take me to Friends but they wouldn’t. That night, my uncle took my dad to Friends Hospital (which is five minutes from my house) and had him get a 302. A 302 uses the testimony of two witnesses that see an individual as being a significant threat to themselves or others.
[A white man in a pickup leans out and gives him a thumbs up. “I believe that,” he yells, and nods.]
Q: Have you ever tried to hurt yourself or others?
A: There were instances where I had to physically fight with my father because he was either violent towards me or towards my mother. In particular, in tenth grade there was a very horrible incident involving a grass trimmer. My father was beating my mother up really bad, right in front of me. There was a trimmer in the living room that was still plugged in and I picked it up in an effort to make him back off from my mother. He kept hitting her and I turned on the trimmer hoping that would make him stop. Of course it did not and my mother kept on saying things to further enrage him so he was still hitting her. And then, in a movement fully unintended but consequential nonetheless, he came forward with his arm just as I came forward and there was contact. Screams followed. There was blood on his shoulder. Luckily, it did not touch his face and the wounds did not require stitches. He still has the physical scars and I still have the emotional ones. Just goes to show the consequences of a kid living in a violent household and how easily children get tangled in the mess of their parents. Not the kind of thing that people from ‘normal’ households can easily understand.
Q: How was your experience the first time you went to Friends Hospital?
A: The next morning, two policemen came to my door and told me I had to go to Friends Hospital with them, either voluntarily or involuntarily. I said “I can’t come voluntarily because of my philosophical convictions”. They said that it was going to be a ‘302’. I requested that I be handcuffed so it does not appear that I am going voluntarily. So they placed handcuffs on me.
Q: How did you feel at this point? Were you afraid?
A: No. The cops were really cool. They placed my trench coat over me and said that I look just like the ‘Godfather’. We kinda joked around. I didn’t think anything was going to happen.
Q: What happened after you got to Friends?
A: Well, by law a doctor has to examine you. I was seen by an Indian doctor. He asked me if I heard voices. I said no. He asked me if I hurt myself, he mentioned the scars on my hand. I explained they were from a bicycle accident I’d had years ago. At the end, the doctor told me I had to go to outpatient therapy. I told him I didn’t want to do that. He said if you don’t follow up with outpatient therapy, the next time you are here, we’ll are going to keep you overnight. Outside the room from where the interview is taking place, I can see a patient. He looks emaciated. All across his body, he is in a bed with restraints and he is tied down. I realize that this is not a good place to be.
Q: But they let you go, that first time?
A: Yes, they let me go. But when I left to walk home, my uncle followed me in his van. He kept telling me to get in. I refused. Before he left, he said to me in Malayalm, “Now you will see what I can really do.”
Q: Did you go to outpatient therapy?
A: I did once, but there was nobody my age. Everybody was medicated. It was a real scary environment. I really felt that this place was not going to do anything for me.
Q: And how did you feel after it all was over?
A: I thought that was it. I forgave everyone. I thought it was a good test of my commitment to Satyagraha.
Q: But that wasn’t the end, was it?
A: No, it all got worse.
[Continued in “What Ever Happened to Godly Matthew? Part II” ]