When the drunk man touched me I kicked him in the stomach and he collapsed. Security came rushing over.
“What’s the matter?”
“You better get me out of here right now!” I screamed. “Because if you don’t, I will kill him!”
I left the shelter on Wards Island because I decided it was safer on the streets than in the shelter. Eventually I was connected with the Department of Education, which wanted to put me into a shelter before enrolling me in high school.
“I don’t want to go back to a shelter.” I said to the caseworker who had been assigned to me. “Let me live my life how I want.”
“Shut up! I'll take care of this.”
I listened as she called a shelter.
“Hey what is your name?” She said. “Okay – who is your director? Jack? Okay transfer me to Jack.”
She sounded very powerful to me. They transferred her.
“Are you Jack? Look, Jack you don't know me and I don't know you, but I work for the Department of Education and I have a very talented young man and I don't know what to tell him. You have to find a place for him.”
She hung up. “Okay I found you a place, alright? You're not from New York, right?”
“I'm not from this galaxy.”
“Shut up! I don't want to hear any jokes. Get ready, I'll take you there.”
“You don't have to do that. Just give me the address and I'll find my way.”
We got on the train together and travelled to a shelter on 125th street in Harlem. The woman from the Department of Education spoke with the director of the shelter who said, “No worries – we got him.”
When the case worker left she gave me her business card with her contact information.
“Call me if you need anything. When you get settled next week we’ll start the process to get you into a school.”
“Thank you.” I said. “The world can use more people like you.”
“Is that the only phrase you know?” I joked.
The emergency shelter in Harlem wasn’t the best because you can't get in before 8:00 PM and you have to leave before 7:00 AM. After a week or two I was transferred to a crisis shelter, which gives you a bed for three or four months at a time. You still have to leave before 8:00 AM and cannot come back before 5:30 PM but you can leave your personal belongings there, which is a big deal because then you can go out for job interviews.
I had been looking for a job since coming to New York. I submitted my resume everywhere and in all different industries. Whenever I applied I didn’t mention my disability because I didn’t want people to make assumptions before they met me.
So I never mentioned my disability and when I showed up at the interview the hiring managers were always surprised at all I could do. Despite that I had 15 interviews with all different companies and all of them said, “We will let you know the status of your application shortly.” But I never heard back from any of them…
On this occasion I had an interview at Whole Foods. After a half hour I knew I wouldn’t get the job because the interview took too long. The person interviewing me didn't know what to say or what the follow up questions should be.
After the interview we shook hands and I turned to leave. When I was declined for the job I had planned on asking them why, but instead I decided to turn and face him at that moment. I relocated my voice and tried to look into his eyes (even though I couldn’t be sure I was looking in his eyes).
“I’m sorry to take another minute of your time.” I said. “But what skills am I lacking to not get a job like this?”
He said words I will never forget…