Six years after taking a 9 mm bullet to the abdomen and getting left for dead in a hold-up attempt, New Haven’s Henry Green is ready for his close-up as he tells the story leading up to that fateful night and the ensuing events that would alter the course of the life he nearly lost.
Documenting Green’s story is award-winning New Haven Independent filmmaker Stephen Dest. Not long after completing his successful My Brother Jack feature movie (2013), a psychological thriller filmed in New Haven, Dest began to consider Green’s compelling story for his next independent film. It was a story he knew well and into which he figured as Green’s former drama teacher and mentor years before the shooting. Dest has now begun filming the Green story.
A star in the theater program at Co-op Arts and Humanities High School, Green had a role as Tybalt in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare in the Park, the summer after high school graduation. Soon afterward, he encountered a vacuum in theatrical work that he said “left room to get involved in stupid stuff.”
With a lack of engagement in positive activities, Green said he began to enter a period of depression and anger: “All the applause that I’d ever gotten had meant nothing, when I had to get back onto the D bus back to the ‘Ville. None of my talent mattered in that world. So I stopped valuing it.” His capacity for commanding audiences from the stage, however, became an asset on the streets as he turned to gang life and the period he describes as “being in the dark.” Without revealing too much in advance of the film, Green admits to being “a stained individual.” “I’m not innocent,” he said with respect to the time leading up to his shooting.
Green’s ability to read people and his capacity for empathy extended to the young person who looked into his eyes seconds before firing what should have been, by all accounts, a fatal shot were it not for Green’s resilience and strong support systems that included teams of doctors, his mother, the church, and now wife, Daviya Green. In the eyes of the would-be killer, Green said he recognized someone not unlike himself: “I didn’t see a perpetrator. I didn’t see a criminal. I didn’t see a juvenile delinquent. I saw a lost kid — and I was a lost kid.”
Green’s slim chance for living ended with a protracted recovery that would qualify him as a medical wonder with a comeback story worthy of a dramatic, Hollywood-style film. Director Dest, with some help from a private foundation, will be telling Green’s story (entitled I am Shakespeare — the Henry Green Story) through Green’s own eyes, in the form of a documentary film. Dest said that after prolonged consultation with Green, he realized that no one could play or tell Green’s story better than Green himself.
For Dest, the founder and director of the drama department at Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, the usual process of writing a script in advance of filming has been turned around: “The biggest difference in making a documentary thus far is the script, which is written in post, not pre-production.” The challenge in making the documentary, according to Dest, will be in fleshing out Green’s complex personality: “Henry is such a multifaceted individual and the shooting has brought all of his personalities to light, so weaving the story and balancing all of his personalities is the key to the success of the story.”
Sitting on the other side of the interview lens, Green said he has found the interview process and the 12-hour film sessions to be “Like therapy as I come to realizations about myself.” He credited Dest with the prompts that elicited focused introspection: “Stephen is good at drawing out authentic conversation, asking questions I have never spoken to before.”
Green’s physical healing continues to be a work in progress. Though he has one more major post-transplant surgery ahead, perhaps nothing is more emblematic of his dramatic physical rehabilitation than the occasional 365 pounds he dead-lifts during exercise and weight training sessions.
Though the demons of PTSD that followed in the aftermath of the shooting have been quelled, Green occasionally feels “ghost pains” — the sensation of being shot and the accompanying pain of sciatica when it rains. After a long period of survivor’s guilt when thinking about all the young men and acquaintances who haven’t survived gun violence, Green said he no longer feels paranoid or in danger. “I feel like I deserve to be alive.”
In making the film, Green said, he hopes his story empowers other people to “climb out of the valley they may have slid down.” His work as a mentor and motivational speaker for young people in schools, churches, performance venues and at his day job as a teen outreach facilitator at New Haven’s Family Centered Services are all part of the Henry Green story still being written.
Click on or download the above sound file to hear an interview with Stephen Dest on Tom Breen’s WNHH radio program “Deep Focus.”
Tax deductible donations for Dest’s film project via Neighborhood Music School (the film’s fiscal sponsor) are being accepted. Checks can be made payable to: I Am Shakespeare c/o NMS, 100 Audubon St, New Haven, CT 06510.