By Chintal Shah
A 17-year-old Kevin Hines packed his school bag on Sept. 25, 1998, at 6 a.m. with nothing but a suicide note. He walked over to his father’s bed, startled him awake and said, “I just wanted to tell you that I love you, Dad” for what Hines thought was the last time.
As his father fell back to sleep, Hines sat on the floor in a cross-legged position, rocking himself back and forth, trying to face what he had to do.
Hines went back into his room at 6:30 a.m. and described what felt like bugs crawling up his body. After he rejected his father’s offer to spend the day with him, Hines walked into the City College of San Francisco at 7 a.m. and dropped 9.5 of his 12.5 credits — no questions asked from the counselor.
He then proceeded to his one English class to see his “gorgeous” teacher one more time and finish writing his note.
Hines went onto the bus after class and sat at the window. He looked at his reflection and thought, “This man hates me and is telling me what I must to do.” What started as a trickle of tears down his face soon turned into sobs as the bus finally stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Hines lived to tell his story, and he came to the College on March 27 to talk to students about mental health in the Decker Social Space. Hosted by Counseling and Psychological Services, Hines addressed his own issues as well as those of many victims of suicide.
“Are you OK?” “Is something wrong?” “Can I help you?” Hines promised himself that if someone asked him those questions, he would not have jumped.
When the time came, however, all the bus driver had to say to the sobbing young man was “C’mon kid, get off the bus, I gotta go.”
So, Hines got off at “what others call the most beautiful man-made structure ever created, the ninth wonder of the world,” but what he calls “the harbinger of death.”
Hines’s problems stemmed from trauma faced in his infancy. His birth parents battled substance abuse and were diagnosed with manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder. They would leave him and his brother in hotel rooms to buy, sell and consume drugs.
After a couple months, Hines — then Giovanni Gabriel Pasad Ferales — and his brother were passed from one foster home to another, contracting mental and physical illnesses from malnourishment and lack of love. His brother died from the mistreatment and Ferales was placed in a transitional home.
At nine months, Debra Hines walked into the home and fell in love with a little red-haired, freckle-faced Ferales playing horseshoes on the carpet. She adopted him and named him Kevin.
Because of the trauma he faced and his family’s history with mental illness, Hines always struggled with his mental health. At 17 years old, he started experiencing waves of paranoia, thinking that everyone in the room was out to kill him, but the most haunting person was himself.
“The vision in my mind was clear,” Hines said. “I am a horrible person. I am a burden to everyone who loves me. I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t hear it, but the voice was overwhelming.”
After getting off that bus, Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. The moment he began free falling from 220 feet at 75 mph, he felt an “instant regret for my actions and a 100 percent recognition that I made the greatest mistake of my life.”
The moment he hit the ocean, something happened that he didn’t plan for — he began to drown. He said to himself, “Kevin, you can’t die here. No one will know you didn’t want to.”
Hines does not label those who commit suicide as “selfish.” To be selfish, he said, you have to want to inflict pain on someone else, but selfish people don’t jump off bridges — those in insurmountable mental and emotional pain do.
After spending what felt like ages in the ocean, Hines was lifted by the Coast Guard and became the lucky one, as roughly one in 57 bodies survive the fall. Even more miraculously, despite the one in five odds, he fully regained physical mobility.
Hines’s lecture left an impact on the audience.
“It was so inspirational to hear him talk about topics that we do not mention very often,” said Diego Ramirez, a junior public health major. “It breaks down barriers for those who are struggling with their mental health.”
Unfortunately, the College community is readily familiar with the pain of suicide. In a recent Signal article, College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said the College is a survivor campus. In the past four years, there were five suicides committed by students and faculty.
In 2013, senior and tennis captain Paige Aiello jumped into the Hudson River just months before graduating from the College.
Michael Menakis, a member of the men’s basketball team, died by suicide in May 2014 after serious brain injury and a coma.
In October that same year, freshman Sarah Sutherland committed suicide in her hometown of Scotch Plains, N.J., where she was a member of her high school’s color guard.
Pat Donohue, retired assistant provost for the community engaged learning program, was confirmed dead shortly after jumping off the George Washington Bridge in July 2015.
In September 2015, junior computer science major Daniel Thielke died by suicide.
Junior biology major Bhakti Moradia recalled what it was like after Sutherland, who lived a floor above her during freshman year, committed suicide.
“It was very surreal,” she said, “I know people who had the same FSP as them and thought, ‘Oh, class is over, see you Monday.’… No one expected it, and it’s hard to know when someone is battling so many inner demons.”
Moradia added that in the end, “all we get is an email. There needs to be more of a campus outreach.”
Senior psychology major Emily Maragni recalled that during Mental Health Awareness Week in her first two years at the College, “they put out backpacks outside the Social Sciences Building representing the victims of suicide, but still, nobody really talks about it — it’s just shown.”
At the end of his talk, Hines said people have to watch out for eachother.
“We are nothing if not our brother’s and sister’s keepers on this planet,” Hines said. “We are not here for our own betterment or gain, we are here to give back.”
Simple actions like smiling or saying “hello” could change a person’s life. Hines stressed how he constantly battled his inner voice, but he reminded the audience that tomorrow is always a new day. He left the audience with a quote from the film “Kung Fu-Panda.”
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift — that’s why they call it the present,” he said.