Mental Cases

Philip Grantham counts on his meds and his MHMRA doctor to stay straight. Too bad Texas is slashing funding.

Twenty years ago, of course, Grantham couldn't imagine living homeless.

He was born and grew up in Beverly Hills, California. His father, a World War II veteran, wanted to capitalize on money being poured into the GI Bill, so he started a small engineering college, the Grantham School of Electronics. By the time Philip was born, the school was focusing much of its efforts in the "distance learning" niche, offering education by mail and pulling in a nice revenue doing it.

Grantham first started dabbling in alcohol and drugs — mainly pot — in his early teens, and by the time he was 17, he says, he realized he was a full-blown addict and alcoholic. The drug use escalated, primarily centering around cocaine, and he spent his 21st birthday in rehab and much of his twenties bouncing in and out of chemical dependency facilities. But in 1990, when Grantham was 28, he vowed to clean up and stay sober.

MHMRA allows Philip Grantham to get his pysch meds mostly for free.
Austin Miller
MHMRA allows Philip Grantham to get his pysch meds mostly for free.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia took over a jail in 2008 that was already the largest provider of mental health services in the state.
Austin Miller
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia took over a jail in 2008 that was already the largest provider of mental health services in the state.

"I lost so much because of drugs and alcohol. My family, my friends, my car, my home," Grantham says. "When someone goes that low, you can do two years sober standing on your head, and I hit bottom harder than ever before."

That same year, Grantham's father relocated the business, which would eventually be called Grantham University, to Slidell, Louisiana. Grantham, clean and sober for the first time in more than ten years, moved along to work for his father.

Two years later, Grantham slit his wrists. Diagnosed with clinical depression for the first time, despite seeing private psychiatrists since his early teens, Grantham was hospitalized, and during a period of three months was placed on 20 different psych drugs. Lithium ended up being the med that stuck, and while it wasn't perfect, Grantham says it was the first time in his adult life that his mind was stable without his using illicit drugs.

By the spring of 1995, Grantham had been promoted to vice president and director of Student Services at his father's college, and more important, was running on six years sober, a stretch he credits to his psych meds.

In fact, business was going so well that Grantham was nominated for the 1995 edition of Marquis Who's Who Among Rising Young Americans.

"Granted, there are a lot of 'who's who' lists, so I don't know how much it matters, and I didn't get in anyways," Grantham says. "But I was arrogant."

On a night in December of 1995, Grantham agreed to go have a few after-work drinks with a woman he liked, along with his secretary and her husband.

"I ended up doing cocaine," Grantham says.

During the next three years, Grantham, who left the job with his father, all but quit taking his psych meds, instead relying on a steady diet of Xanax, Valium, hydrocodone and coke, which he started shooting in his arm. He lived in different houses in Slidell, and about the only work he did was out of crack houses to support his own habits.

When Grantham talks about this period in his life, he tells the stories with a combination of embarrassment and nostalgia, and during the stories that seem to be his favorites, he can't contain his excitement.

Like during the "Fuck the Police" story. He prefaces that one by saying, "No matter the situation, if the thought going in is 'Fuck the police,' run. The guy thinking that can get out and do what he wants, but there's really no way it can end well."

The story centers around an area of Slidell known as The Hole, a cul-de-sac of dilapidated houses that served, more or less, as an open-air drug market. When Grantham and his friends showed up in The Hole to buy a night's supply, there was a dealer standing outside whom the men didn't recognize. They didn't buy, and, talking it over later, they decided there was probably some kind of police operation going down. But maybe not, and they really needed drugs, so with a "Fuck the police," the group set back out for The Hole.

All of a sudden, when Grantham pulled in front of the houses, an undercover police car darted out of the dark and headed straight for Grantham's car. For whatever reason, Grantham says, the cops turned away at the last second.

"God, who knows how long we'd have gone to jail if we got pulled over that night," Grantham says. "We all had crack pipes, beers between our legs, who knows how many warrants between us, guns in the car..."

When the words really start flowing, like they were in this telling, Grantham knows he's hanging on the edge of a manic episode. During his last visit at MHMRA, which came about a week after he became homeless, Grantham's psychiatrist recognized that and tweaked his meds and dosage. It took about three days — quicker than normal — for Grantham to stabilize.

Not long after the near-miss in The Hole, Grantham was arrested in Memphis and served just over three years in a Tennessee state prison. After getting out, he returned to Slidell and lived with his brother for a while, yet his father's health was all but gone, along with his position at Grantham University.

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