Feature

Alvin’s Story: Stepping Toward Independence

March 17, 2020, was a momentous day for Alvin, an easygoing 37-year-old who loves to talk and has an affinity for fashion, evidenced by his extensive collection of designer ball caps.

After nearly two decades of living in supportive housing, Alvin was moving into one of Sheppard Pratt’s independent living residential homes. This step toward self-sufficiency was something that he—supported by a team of Sheppard Pratt staff members—worked very hard to achieve.

Early Life

Life has not always been easy for Alvin, who grew up in a low-income section of Baltimore City. Alvin’s mother suffered from schizophrenia, and his father was involved with drugs and only occasionally around. As a result, his paternal grandparents raised him until his teen years, when they died within a year of each other. Following their deaths, Alvin moved in with his aunt, though tensions between his cousins made this situation less than ideal. Their drinking and frequent violent fights made Alvin’s home a traumatic place that he was eager to escape.

“It was definitely a stressful environment for me,” remembers Alvin. “I think some of these bad experiences have stuck with me. Some of the stuff in my life has been tough to overcome.”

By age 16, Alvin started smoking, drinking, and dabbling in Baltimore’s drug scene. One year later, he was dealing, too. A drug-related scuffle resulted in him getting robbed and shot in the shoulder. But this violent incident had a silver lining: As Alvin laid in a hospital room recovering, he decided to give up dealing and pursue a stable job. He found work in the kitchen at a local hospital. The work was good, and he even started some college classes.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Unfortunately, by his early 20s, the psychological trauma of Alvin’s early life started to catch up with him. He lost his job and served three different stints in prison during his 20s.

“At the time, I didn’t understand I had an illness,” says Alvin. “I was engaging in destructive behaviors for the stress relief it gave me. I didn’t realize that there were medications and therapies that could help me.”

Through Maryland’s correctional system, Alvin was introduced to services that helped him begin to understand his disorder. After being granted a conditional release, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a chronic mental health disorder characterized by abnormal thought processes and an unstable mood.

He was prescribed medication and began therapy to help him understand the psychological side of his disorder. He realized that the trauma he experienced as a child contributed to behavior he exhibited later in his life. He continued participating in various groups and programs to help him. During this time, he also gave up drinking and smoking. It looked like Alvin’s life was heading back in a positive direction.

Unfortunately, it was around this time that Alvin developed a new addiction: gambling. The very first time he gambled, he played $40, quickly won it all back, and was immediately hooked. Beginning in 2012, Alvin was in and out of several programs to  help him curb his compulsive gambling. By 2015, Alvin had largely recovered and joined a Gamblers Anonymous support group, which he continues to attend.

When I visited one of Sheppard Pratt’s PRPs, I knew I was really ready to make a positive change.

A Stepping Stone

In 2016, Alvin learned about Sheppard Pratt’s Psychiatric Rehabilitation Day Program (PRP); these intensive programs provide individualized services for adults, with the goal of help- ing them achieve independence.

“When I visited one of Sheppard Pratt’s PRPs, I knew I was really ready to make a positive change,” says Alvin. “I had developed some maturity by then. I had specific goals I wanted to work toward and knew Sheppard Pratt could help me achieve them.”

Alvin enrolled in Sheppard Pratt’s PRP in Timonium. These day program activities promote recovery through personalized assessment and rehabilitation planning. Patients attend up to five days per week, and engage in peer support, integrated care, symptom management, medication monitoring, coping strategies, independent living skills, social skills, and recreational and leisure activities.

Sheppard Pratt staff created a personalized plan for Alvin, which included moving him into one of Sheppard Pratt’sResidential Rehabilitation homes. Through Sheppard Pratt’s Vocational Services Program, he found a job working in the kitchen at a university near Baltimore. And he attends several support groups on Sheppard Pratt’s flagship campus and in Baltimore City to continue to help him manage his addictions.

Alvin’s case manager, Denorene Wright, is proud of his progress. “Before he came to Sheppard Pratt, he had a lot of failed attempts to live independently,” Denorene explains. “But he has made real progress. His medications are stable. His mood is always positive. He keeps all of his appointments. Everything in our program is designed to be a stepping stone to help patients achieve their goals. I think Alvin has made the most of the program’s support.”

Next Steps

Alvin is excited to be in a more independent living situation. He even has one of the larger rooms to accommodate his extensive wardrobe and ball cap collection! He hopes that eventually, he will own his own apartment and re-enroll in college.

“At Sheppard Pratt, they don’t give up on you,” says Alvin. “Some of my other programs got tired of me after a while. But here, they are with me every step of the way.”