What Ever Happened to Godly Mathew? Part I


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” ]

24 responses to “What Ever Happened to Godly Mathew? Part I

  1. Emil Bogdan

    Excellent interview–keep up the good work.

  2. I appreciate the story you are doing here. There is a lot of abuse and malpractice out there. Psychiatry is coercive and not patient-centered, but unfortunately it also is sometimes the only viable alternative out there.

  3. sad…

  4. I second Cyril. I have nothing else to say but “sad.”

  5. Dante Moore

    I just saw Godly yesterday with that sign on the boulevard…..dear God we need to pray for his situation. This is what happens and everything is kept swept under the rug in the community. I can’t stand it, when will someone stand up. The abuse, the intense pressure on studies and social status, come on!

  6. I just want to thank phillygrrl for doing this post and everyone who read it, especially those who took the time to comment. This protest has been the most difficult but also the most worthwhile and satisfying endeavor of my life. Each time I get up there, it is like walking to the edge of a precipice; there is a sense of the unknown. The deep abyss of doubts and fears lay at my feet and I am almost afraid to open my eyes. But there is also the beautiful view of a hope filled horizon – of a change that might take years or decades to achieve, but one that is still within the reach of humanity and one that I must strive for with all my heart and soul. I am a believer in the viability (and superiority) of consumer run / consumer centered alternatives to mainstream mental health and I hope to devote a substantial part of my life towards realizing that goal with the help of others. Yes there are doubts that lay ahead, but there is also hope and great beauty for those willing to look and I cannot help but to open my eyes and go forward. One day at a time.

  7. suresh cherian

    godly, i know your family members who did this to you.. all these dumb indians think if your not a doctor or pharmasict or some bullshit like that you are nothing in life. reading this made me really mad because godly was my bol since childhood we grew up in olney together, played football together, he do would anything for me and his friends. and to the doctors and the people at friends hospital and those family members who hurt you godly, all i can say is i hope they burn in hell..and F U.

  8. Suresh Cherian is a long time friend of mine. Ever since 3rd grade, I\’ve known him. We attended the same elementary school (Olney El.) and high school (Central H.S.) For many years we lived just a few blocks apart in Olney. I also went to his church for almost 2 years. I noticed his post yesterday and was at first going to ask him if he will request that it be deleted. But then I thought about it more in depth and here is how I feel: I am first of all very appreciative that he is so passionate about his support for me. He expressed with such efficiency and candor the very same feelings I had struggled with for almost four years. My family did something so unthinkable, so unconscionable, and yes – so unforgivable. I could have died as a result of their actions or I could have been reduced to a life of being labeled as a \’schizophrenic\’ and being put on a dangerous regimen of anti psychotic drugs against my will. It would have destroyed all my potential, all my hopes, and all my chances to make a difference in this world. There is no defense for their actions. It was nothing short of a grave and morbid sin and I hope that they will have the courage and self reflection to see it as such.

    For almost four years I struggled with the greatest hate and the desire to see my family suffer what I had to suffer. I forgave some members sooner but others I grew in hatred towards depending on \’who did what\’ and the portion of the blame for what happened I appropriated to each member. I singled out certain individuals from others. It took me a long while, but I finally realized that I could not forgive one unless I forgave the other and I cannot truly love one unless I loved the other also. How can I love my cousin and yet hate his dad or love one person and hate his own brother or sister?. Each day the last few months, I learned to let go of a bit more of that hate and saw that it can then be replaced by love – something much more powerful. Hatred only destroys; but with love one can conquer. I am returning to my faith and my commitment to Satyagraha – both of which I left behind four years ago. I find that I can now not only forgive, but love the very people that once I had the most intense hatred towards.

    Thanks to all my friends from Olney, especially Suresh. I know you always got my back. I wish I had your number when I was at the hospital. I know you would have been there in a flash and done all you could have for me. I hope you can forgive my family and the hospital staff just as I have and pray for them just as I now do. There is much work that needs to be done, but it cannot be done in anger or hate. We have to consider not merely our actions or words, but even our thoughts must be pure and filled with love. Our actions must flow from our hearts. Anything impure in our hearts taints our work, no matter how good the deed is. If any friends or family read this, I want you guys to post your support for me at the comment section below. I so desperately need your support to do this! But please, we must do this in the spirit of love and forgiveness and not bitterness. It cannot be accomplished any other way.

  9. Godly,

    I went to Olney El with you and I just wanted to voice my support. I just graduated from law school and while I can not give out legal advice until I am admitted to the bar, I can point to to some legal resources.

    Have you contacted the Legal Aid Society? The statute of limitations may have run on your claim, but I’m sure they can point you to the right direction for other recourses or other organizations that can help you advance your cause.

    Also, have you tried to contact the major news outlets in the city? We all know how wrongdoers try to step up to correct things when the media spot light is on them.

    One last thing, while support is a great thing. Sometimes negative comments can be helpful because it makes you area of what is stopping someone from helping your cause. Once you are aware of something you can try to fix it.
    Good luck!

  10. Holy typos on my part!


  11. I see you everyday on Roosevelte. I finally did a google search on you and found this. I have called the media over and over about you. But they refuse to come out. If there is any comfort in this, Friends is already under investigation, and has been taken off the city referrel list for the suicide of a inpatient under “remote survielance”. The patient hung hisself while he was under suicide watch. To find out the camera and equipment were not even working. I hope you have sought out a lawyer for this abuse.

    You have my total support and I tell everyone I know about you. I hope you overcome this and are able to seek justice and peace.


  12. I see this guy almost everyday after work. I always wondered what happened but never got the chance to ask.
    I hope good comes from what he’s doing.

  13. Suresh uncle

    Very touching interview. A eye opener for all malayali parents who are trying to pressure their children to be a doctor, engineer or a pharmacist. May be some good will come out of this. Our prayers are with you Godly.
    suresh & susan

  14. Pingback: What Ever Happened to Godly Mathew? Part II « My Philadelphia Story

  15. Thanks for all the comments, folks. You can find the second part of the interview here.


  16. I notice you’re not spelling Matthew consistently with two t’s. Could that have anything to do with your trouble finding him? Also, I suspect, from your “phillygrrl” name, that this all takes place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Is that right?

  17. Hi Marshall,

    His name is spelled “Mathew” with one ‘t.’ And you’re correct, this all takes place in Philadelphia, PA. As for finding him, well he’s always at the same place every day. And he updates when he’s going to protest on his blog.


  18. Pingback: What Ever Happened to Godly Mathew? Part III « My Philadelphia Story

  19. I am confused as to where the ‘abuse’ is. You pretended to be asleep right? So Friends hospital did as it should and call the medical hospital to care for you. So the EMTs cathed you, gave you a breathing tube, later they charcoaled your stomach. You were ‘pretending’ to be asleep this whole time? They were doing their job, which is to save your life, had you said ‘wait a minute, i’m awake’ they would have stopped. Also, the staff repeating your name multiple times is a way for them to verify that you are getting the correct care prescribed for you, not abuse. Please clarify if you could, i’m a bit confused. I’m not putting you down, i say protest til your heart’s content. But standing on the Blvd telling people that friends hospital put tubes down your nose and throat is false information.

  20. Pingback: Gaydar: My Life in the Ghost of Bush « My Philadelphia Story

  21. Pingback: Psychiatric Abuse Protest in Philly « My Philadelphia Story

  22. First, thanks phillygrrl…great job with this article and interview.

    Second, unfortunately I know a 2 other Indian kid who were in the same shoes Godly was in thanks to someone close to me and both the kid’s parents. Both due to abusive fathers/parents and people encouraging the idea. I didn’t know enough to do anything about it even while I drove parents to friends hospital so they’d ‘visit’. I finally realized; who was responsible for this, that 1 guy had nothing wrong with him except for the abuse at home taking a toll on him physically, the other kid had a panic attack due to the years of abuse and that eventually both their families sent them back to India at the suggestion of a ‘psychologist’ and family members. One of them thankfully came back but it’s still such a shame. Thanks for sharing your story Godly, it really is eye opening and yet very sad that you’re not the only one that has to go through such a horid experience.

  23. Major typo’s and grammatical errors on my part…sorry!!

  24. How come there are no medical records from Friends Hospital posted? Only the records from Frankford Hospital!

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