“If we had a Most Gregarious Person Award, he’d win it hands down.” That’s what CTP staffer Cara Sperry says about Demetrius Henry, who will graduate from CTP in August. “He’s super enthusiastic and friendly; he always brings hot lunches and shares them with everyone.”
But it’s been a long hard road that brought Demetrius to this point.
One early morning in September, 2002, Demetrius was still sound asleep. Two men broke into his apartment, assaulted him with baseball bats, and robbed his home. They left him lying there with a battered head, no front teeth, a fractured forearm, and a swollen disc in his back. Somehow he managed to drag himself to the apartment building lobby where the property management people found him and called 911.
With Traumatic Brain Injury, Demetrius couldn’t concentrate, was unable to comprehend or follow instructions, and his speech was unintelligible—he had to write to communicate. He also had vertigo, seizures, migraines, chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Needless to say, he couldn’t work in such a condition, but neither did he have the wherewithall to pursue help. His friends and family turned their backs on him. And after his unemployment insurance ran out, he couldn’t pay his rent anymore and became homeless, living on the streets.
That was the lowest point of Demetrius’s life. “I thought I would die there, that that was the end. But, actually, it was the beginning of a new me.” Demetrius’s life was about to take another major turn.
He was sitting under a freeway bridge trying to stay dry in the rainy weather when a social worker with Operation Dignity–an agency that seeks out and helps homeless veterans–stopped to talk with Demetrius and decided to take on his case, even though he wasn’t a veteran. She got him off the street and into a shelter, found him a primary care doctor, and helped him through the process of applying for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). The doctor got him started on a comprehensive healing program for all the various ailments.
With the worst now behind him, and a glimmer of hope ahead, Demetrius dared to begin dreaming of a better future for himself. He wanted to be out of poverty, to be gainfully employed again, to marry and have children. He wanted to “get back into the mainstream and to be ‘normal’.” So, being a methodical person, Demetrius sat down and made a list of all the things he wanted to do, prioritized the list, and then set about doing them with some help from his case managers.
First on his list was to rent his own apartment. Once his SSDI started coming in, he decided to continue living in shelters for a while longer so that he could save his money towards first and last month’s rent, security deposit, etc. After 6 months of saving, he was able to move into his own place. “That was a major milestone after years of living on the streets and in shelters,” says Demetrius.
Around this time his case manager suggested vocational rehabilitation and helped him register with the appropriate state agencies. Prior to the burglary, he had worked as a mainframe computer operator for 18 years and had enjoyed it. He wanted to continue working with computers, but now he thought he’d rather work with PC’s.
So he enrolled in CTP’s Network and Technical Support Training program with the goal of eventually becoming a network administrator. “Each day I became even more interested in the PC environment,” says Demetrius. “I like the fact that it’s never completed; there’s always something more to analyze and go back and do better the next day. I enjoy coming here each day.”
As part of his training, Demetrius worked in CTP’s Computer ReUse Center (CRC), where students gain workplace experience by refurbishing used computers for resale. With a short deadline and 100 computers to overhaul, Demetrius worked alongside other students re-imaging hard drives and researching drivers and installing them. “I enjoyed CRC immensely–110%! It’s almost like I created something, even though I didn’t create something,” he says.
One of the computers he refurbished, while totally functional, was simply too old to meet the minimum requirements for CRC to resell it, so CRC gave it to him. He uses it at home to surf the web, listen to music, watch YouTube, shop, take tutorials, check emails, and to keep his list of personal goals up to date. “I love working on it. I wish I’d had a computer all those years I was alone.”
Demetrius has finished his course work and is now doing a 6-month paid internship at the Port of Oakland. “It’s great experience, excellent training, working with professionals.” He works on the help desk, fielding problems like, “I can’t log on,” or “I got this pop up message,” or “my computer won’t turn on,” or I forgot my password.” Demetrius loves it. “I’m happy , I’m enjoying myself, I’m learning, and I’m having fun.”
“Meshing my previous work experience with the new PC environment has increased my confidence that I can grow and overcome and succeed in my life. It gives me a sense of self-worth,” he says.
It’s been a long haul for Demetrius since that traumatic day in 2002, but he’s well on his way now and he is determined and optimistic about his future. He’s still got his list of prioritized goals and is still checking them off one at a time.