For the love of Joy
By Charles Griffith
The hardest part of God's forgiveness, is our ability to accept it. While I have accepted, with unbelievable gratitude, that forgiveness, forgiving myself is on a whole different level.
Now I am going to tell you my story.
The whole story.
I live a life of recovery now; the main principle is rigorous honesty.
This will definitely be that.
My story begins in 1984 when Joy was 2 yrs. old. Her mother and I were separated and Becky, Joy's mom, kept her during the week at her parent's home. Joy stayed with me on the week-ends when I didn't have to work.
I had gotten home from work one day in Oct. when I had a feeling that I should go back (I was a projectionist at my dad's theatre), even though I had just gotten off. I went to the corner pay phone and called my dad and asked if there was anything he needed. He replied 'No, just come in tomorrow as usual.'
I went back home and sat down to watch tv when a feeling WASHED over me (only way to describe it - like a bucket of water being poured over you - but it was a weird feeling, not water) 'GO BACK TO WORK!' So I drove back to the theatre and went up to my dad's office.
He was surprised to see me, and I told him I was bored at home and was just going to hang out for a while. As I sat down his phone rang. He answered it and a strange look came over his face. As he handed me the phone a feeling, this time a sick one, came to my stomach.
It was Becky, but I couldn't understand her. Finally a man came on the phone and told me he was a paramedic and that my daughter had gotten her head caught in the footrest mechanism of her grandfather's recliner chair and she wasn't breathing.
The nightmare had begun.
When I got to the hospital, a doctor (It would turn out to be Robert Cullen, head of pediatric neurology) came out and told me that Joy had been dead when found by her mother, but that the police and paramedics had been able to get her heart beating again. She still was not breathing on her own and she had suffered massive brain damage from the lack of oxygen. He then went back into the operating room.
After countless hours (I do remember homicide detectives questioning us because Joy was not suppose to make it, and then going to get the chair), we were allowed to see her.
My beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed daughter, who I had just spent the day laughing and playing with, YESTERDAY, lay unmoving on the bed. Joy was in a coma. A bolt had been drilled (drilled!) into her head to ease and monitor the swelling of her brain. Over the next few weeks a hole was cut into her throat and a tube inserted so a machine could breath for her and her stomach was cut open, a tube inserted and then stapled shut, so liquid food could be poured into her to feed her. After a couple of months, finally, Joy came out of the coma.
It would have been better if she'd stayed sleeping.
Joy was now in a vegetative state, blind, deaf and paralyzed as her body struggled with the signals it was getting from her brain. Dr. Cullen and 2 other neurosurgeons asked us to sign a no-code, allowing Joy to die. They said she had only erratic electrical signals coming from her brain stem and she could lay like that for 30 or 40 years.
At first Becky and I both disagreed, we were sure we could get her to 'wake up'.
I rubbed hot and cold wash clothes on her arms and legs, telling her "This is hot Joy" or "This is cold, honey". I dipped a q-tip in sugar water and lemon juice, rubbing it on her tongue. I took colored gels from a spotlight at work and shined different colored lights in her eyes, telling her what each color was. I read every medical book and journal on neurology I could; even finding an experimental drug that was being used on brain damaged patients in Europe, to open new neuro pathways. Her doctors agreed to try it, saying, "Why not?"
It didn't help.
Then, CAT scans showed that the parts of Joy's brain that had died from lack of oxygen were turning to liquid and being absorbed by her body. Her brain was shrinking.
To watch your child go through this and know there is NOTHING you can do –
Imagine your worst nightmare - then wishing it were only that.
It is indescribable. Words can't touch the pain.
After 6 months Joy started having seizures. She would be laying in bed and suddenly her arms and her legs (which had removable casts on them to try to prevent drop foot, and were extremely heavy), would shoot out to the sides shaking, hitting the steel railings. I lined her hospital bed with stuffed toys so she wouldn't hurt herself. Then I went to her doctors and agreed to sign the no-code.
But Joy's mom refused. A nurse told me she heard her say that she was suing the recliner chair company (we both had law suits with different lawyers) and her attorney had told her that the chair company would have to pay for 30 - 40 years of medical care after a settlement or trial. Since Joy was in a vegetative state she didn't think she was suffering and she was going to wait till the lawsuit was settled to make a decision.
This was in 1985 and without both parents signature there was nothing I could do (this was before you could go to court and get an order to discontinue life support).
The horror continued.
Joy started getting pneumonia. Her lungs had to be suctioned to clear them of mucus because she couldn't cough or sneeze. This involved inserting a tiny tube that was attached to a vacuum. You continuously twirled it between your fingers while it was in her lungs so it wouldn't stick to the lung's lining. The problem was Joy couldn't breathe while this was happening. So I would hold my breath as she was being suctioned and when it became uncomfortable for me I would tell (scream) at the respiratory therapist to bag her, give her air. They would reply, "She doesn't understand, she doesn't feel anything."
I started suctioning her after that.
When I was at home and saw children playing or a toy commercial on t.v. I would start crying. It hurt so bad. I finally went to the Miami Beach community mental health center, told them what I was going through and that I thought I was going crazy. The doctor told me it was a terrible situation and gave me a prescription for valium.
When Joy had been in the hospital for 8 1/2 months I got a call at home (Becky and I had separate visiting hours at this point) telling me that Joy's shoulder had been broken.
A nurse turned her too hard, or too quickly (she had to be turned every hour or so to prevent bedsores - but she was so stiff from her body fighting the erratic signals from her brain stem that turning her was sometimes unwieldy). I thanked the person, hung up, and sat there.
I thought of Joy going through the night in pain, screaming that it hurt, but only in her head, as she was turned off and on that broken shoulder for an hour at a time.
I sat there.
Thinking of Joy laying like that for 30 or 40 yrs. Never seeing. Never moving. Never laughing.
Thinking of Joy struggling to breathe as she was suctioned.
Thinking of unseen hands suddenly turning her without warning, scaring her because she couldn't see or hear them coming.
And I thought of her laying alone in a large, empty room. Alone and afraid.
We spend all of our lives on a ledge. As life thrusts things at us, sometimes we're pushed off.
I got the bottle of valium the mental health center had prescribed me and poured them out onto the kitchen table. Then I started crushing them. When I was finished, I put the bottle of valium, and a gun, into my jacket pocket.
It was raining as I got on my motorcycle. The rain mixed with my tears as I drove.
When I got to the pediatric intensive care unit, I sat with Joy, holding her and singing softly to her for 2 hours, and then I opened her feeding tube, poured the bottle of crushed valium into it, and recapped the tube. I walked up to the first nurse I saw, I pulled out my gun and I told her 'You are going to help me end Joy's suffering or I will kill you.
And at that moment I would have.
She went and stood with me at Joy's bedside as I waited for my daughter to die. I told the nurse to go call the police.
As she walked away I told my little girl, "I love you so much. It won't hurt any more, it's over."
I killed my daughter.
I remember it.
I remember a guy running over with a crash cart and I was up. "Don't touch her, leave her alone! Your not going to cut on her anymore. LEAVE HER ALONE!" I screamed. I might have been crazy. I was hysterical.
A nurse, The nurse from Joy's bed?, was there and told him to leave us alone.
I remember it, the way he looked at her.
She told him "There are other children here, leave them alone.' And he did.
A security guard came running up. I knew him, I'd have coffee and talked with him through many nights. He put his arms out and I fell into them. My legs gave out again, and we both started crying. A policeman came and I was put in a police car.
I'm at the homicide office. I remember all this in flashes. Like a strobe light going off in my mind.
I wish I could turn it off.
So many questions. All I wanted to do was sleep. I was so tired. I didn't want to think about what had happened.
They left me alone in an interrogation room and I climbed onto the desk and fell asleep.
I was awakened I don't know how much later and told I was being taken to the Dade County Jail where I was going to be booked for 1st degree murder. As we left the police station or when we were entering the jail ( These memories are like leaves falling off a tree, so many, yet so random. It's hard to put them in order), all of a sudden there were lights turned on everywhere and flashbulbs started to go off. I didn't understand. I had no idea who I was, where I was. or what was happening. I was lost. I think I was in shock.
I was brought into the jail and placed in a strip cell where my shoes and all my clothes were removed. It was so cold.
I remember the cold.
I wrapped myself in toilet paper. From my ankles up to my chest. It was so cold. People kept walking by and looking at me as I lay on a narrow wooden bench meant to be sat on, shivering. Guards, inmates, and people in regular clothes. Some said kind things (I don't remember what - just the tone), some said nothing.
But I remember one - this memory isn't like a strobe light - it's embedded in my soul. He came up to the bars and said "You killed your child. You'se a child killer." and walked away
THAT set off the train
The train is what I call THOSE thoughts. Those thoughts that can only come from hell itself, because I know of no worse torture. "Were her last thoughts why did Daddy do this?" And "Did you do it to end her suffering, or yours, Charles?" They flew around my head, like a child's train on a small oval track. Over and over again.
It doesn't pull into the station as much anymore, but when it does.
That night, sitting in that strip cell, all illusions were gone. I had killed my baby. My beautiful little girl. To end her suffering? Yes. To end mine? I'm so afraid of that answer, I can't face it, even today. That night was long and painful and lonely and so cold.
'Joy was at peace.' 'Joy was at peace.' 'Joy was at peace.' I told myself that over and over and over throughout the night.
The next day (I think), a guard came and brought me my clothes and told me to get dressed, as he stood there and watched. I was brought to a courthouse, for a bail hearing. All I could do was ask 'Please let me go and see my daughter, please, please, please. And the judge did! Judge Cowart (I will always remember that man) let me go to the funeral home to see Joy, to her funeral, and after I was convicted he had me taken to the cemetery so I could say good bye to her.
I wrote the following poem for Joy and put it in her casket at her funeral:
We were so lucky God gave you to us,
You gave us your love, you gave us your trust.
With your golden blonde hair and eyes shining bright,
God made you so beautiful, so perfect, so right.
Now you are gone and I'm so full of grief,
Only 3 years old, your time here so brief.
But now you can see, you can laugh and can play,
And I promise you honey, I'll be with you some day.
What love is, Joy was.
A day or two later after I had met with a shrink and started on I don't know what kind of meds (What I was given, I took gratefully), I was given my clothes, taken to an elevator, and transferred up stairs to a 'high profile' cell block. When I was taken to the funeral home and to her funeral, upon return I was always put back in that strip cell downstairs for a day or two, leaving me naked and shivering on that narrow bench, not understanding how the world had tilted so badly.
I went on trial six months later.
It was a media circus. I was on tv and in every major newspaper around the world. It was on every channel. I was being called the first mercy killer by a father of his child. Whenever I saw, or heard the words 'killed his daughter', it cut me deeply. Not sliced me, that's too easy a description, but cut me, tore at me inside. Like a punch to your stomach, only deeper. It was horrible.
I was in Time magazine. Even The Enquirer and The Weekly World News. I know this because I would get bundles of mail from everywhere. Europe, Canada, even Japan. I read them and they were either hate mail or people praying for me. I actually read through the hate mail. Anything starting with 'God forgives you' or 'I'm praying for you', I threw away. There was no God. How could there be?
My trial lasted a month. I was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. I remember Judge Cowart asking me if I had any last words before he passed sentence. I was crying as I asked him, begged him, to let me say good bye to Joy before I was sent to prison. I didn't think I'd ever be able to visit her again.
He explained he didn't know if the Dept of Corrections would pay for it. Then, a Sgt., the guard who was in charge of the detail that brought me to the courtroom and took me back to my cell each day for the last 6 months, said that he and fellow officers would do it. This was the same officer that had taken me to the funeral home to see Joy, and to her funeral. He said that they would do it on their own time! I wish I could remember his name. I've tried, it's just not there. He was a red headed Sgt. at the Dade County Jail and his picture was in the Herald taking me back to jail from the funeral home. If you should ever read this, "Thank You. I've never forgotten you. You gave me my last moments with my daughter for over a decade."
I said good bye to Joy on Christmas Eve. I prayed beside her grave in handcuffs. It was surreal.
I'm at my daughter's grave.
I'm at Joy's GRAVE.
Convicted of killing her.
It was surreal.
I entered prison at 25 years of age. It was like a dream, and I kept waiting to wake up. The first day in the yard I was standing around, not believing I was in a maximum security prison, a convicted first degree murderer. Three muscle bound guys walked toward me and hollered, "Hey you, come here." I figured I was going to be killed now and wasn't afraid - I looked forward to it actually. I walked over to them and asked, "Yes?"
One of them said, "We know why your here, we've seen you on tv and in the newspaper."
"Yes?" I asked again.
"We think you got screwed." They said, "Come on and hang out with us and you'll be ok."
And they taught me how to be a convict.
I had killed my daughter, I was serving life in prison, and I didn't care if I live or died. In the first 3 years I got 5 or 6 disciplinary reports. From disobeying verbal orders to verbal disrespect to poss. of contraband, spending 30 days in 'the box' each time.
The DC (disciplinary confinement) cell had 3 cement walls, a steel bunk, a steel toilet/sink combo, a steel door with a flap that could be opened to serve you your food, and a Bible.
I would throw the bible on the floor, and try to sleep as much as possible.
On the yard, I spent my mornings working out with the white guys, my afternoons playing Cuban poker with the Cubans and Columbians (A lot of 'cocaine cowboys' there, then), and the week-ends getting drunk on 'Buck' (homemade alcohol) with the black guys who ran the kitchen and cooked it there during the week. No one really bothered me.
This was to be the rest of my life and I was ok with it. Joy wasn't suffering and I was here. Fair trade.
A few years in, a cop came to see me. He told me he was the officer who had taken Joy out of the recliner chair and had given her CPR on the dining room table till fire rescue arrived.
He said he was sorry.
He said if he had known all this was going to happen he would have let her go because she was already gone when he got there. I told him I didn't blame him, that he had given me nine more months with her. Then HE thanked ME!, and left. It was the weirdest thing.
And because of this police officer coming to see me,
I met God
As I was walking back to my cell I thought about what he had said. I didn't believe in God, and if there was one I hated Him for what He had let Joy go through. What kind of God would let an innocent child suffer so? Joy had never hurt anybody, had never hated anyone. She knew only laughter and love.
As I sat on my bunk, I wondered about what the cop had told me. How could Joy have been dead and then be brought back? Even half way?
I started praying, asking God to show me a sign, SOMETHING, that would prove to me there was some reason for what had happened. That it wasn't just some cosmic joke. I did this for several weeks and I did it with a real, honest longing to know.
That cop had planted something in my head and it wouldn't leave me alone. At that point, all my defenses, all my walls, were down. My heart, and my soul, was laid bare.
One day we were locked in our cell block because of rain. I started reading the bible and for some reason I got mad. I prayed to a God I didn't believe in, but wanted so badly to. "God, I'm going to take a deck of cards now and cut it three times, if I turn up three kings I'll believe in you, if not, you won't fucking hear from me again (This is how I said it, sorry). As soon as I said it though, I thought, 'this is stupid, I'm not going to do this.'
I decided to take a shower. I got off my bunk and went to my locker to get shampoo and soap. I opened the locker and sitting there was a deck of cards.
I started laughing.
I took the cards out of the pack and looked at the bottom one. It was the king of spades.
I laughed again.
I held the deck of cards face down in one hand and held my other hand underneath them, palm up, and let some drop. I turned my hand holding the deck of cards over and looked. It was the king of clubs.
'Coincidence.' I thought.
But I was a little scared now. What if a third king did come? What if it didn't? I turned the cards face down over my open palm, and got ready to let some more drop for the final time.
My hand holding the cards was shaking a little. I squeezed it, trying to steady it, but I guess I squeezed too tightly. My hand...twitched, it spasmed, and a bunch of cards went flying across the cell.
'Shit' I thought to myself, as I jumped off my bunk to pick them up and try again. Then a thought (a voice?) came into my head, "why don't you look now?" I stopped, and slowly turned my hand over that was holding the remaining cards.
The king of hearts was there.
I stood there in shock, and this feeling, I don't know how to describe it, came over me. As I stood there a voice, as clearly as you would talk to someone next to you (not a booming voice as I imagined at all), a voice said, "You will see Joy again one day."
I cried for the first time since saying good bye to Joy at her grave. I walked over to the cell window and stared at the sky (Looking for Heaven?), it was still drizzling and overcast, completely covered with clouds. Except for one place.
A perfect, cloudless circle was there, with sunbeams streaming through it like spotlights.
And three birds flying inside it.
They flew around and around in it, never leaving that perfect circle. It looked like the doorway to Heaven.
I remember it.
I will never forget it.
Soon after I wrote two children's book. I wrote one to keep Joy alive. So people wouldn't forget her. And the other, I guess, was cathartic for me. I wanted, yearned, to do something GOOD for children, not to just be known as the father who killed his child.
Joy's Beach bucket Adventure and Joy's Heavenly Adventure were the result.
Afterwards, I put them away. They would stay away for almost twenty years.
After 10 1/2 years I was released through a deal with Gov. Chiles, Katherine Rundle and the state attorney's office, and my new attorney- Ben Kuehne (who had also been General Noriega's attorney and the attorney hired by Al Gore and the democrats to oversee the presidential vote re-count in Florida), who was helping me pro bono.
After my release, I drank, swallowed, shot up, smoked and snorted anything I could get my hands on. I couldn't handle being free.
No one understood the guilt.
The grief I'd never had a chance to work through (I went from her grave site to a maximum security prison).
The day after I got out of prison I went to visit Joy's grave. It was the last time I would go there clean or sober for over 10 years. I couldn't.
I went to work in my Dad's club on South Beach . Club Madonna is an upscale 'gentlemen's club'. I started out DJing, and soon became manager. I got VIP treatment at any club I went to on Miami Beach , and gave the same to any club manager coming to mine. It was easy money, beautiful women, and drugs whenever I wanted.
I wanted a lot.
I married a dancer from Czechoslovakia so she would be able to get a green card from immigration. We spent the first year talking to each other through a Czech - English dictionary. And we ended up falling in love. She stopped dancing and started managing with me. Jessica dealt with any dancer problem (you can't con a conman), and I handled the customers and the money. We didn't apply for her green card for five years, and only then so we could build her credit to buy a house.
We started bringing her dancer friends over from Czechoslovakia , 5-6 at a time. We were renting a beautiful 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with a pool, and they would each pay sixty dollars a day, to stay with us and work at Madonna's. I had money rolling in, beautiful women running around the house thinking I'm some American player, and Jessica. It was an incredible time.
It wasn't enough.
Here was a woman that truly loved me.
Who I truly loved.
A big name around the Miami Beach club scene.
And it wasn't enough.
God had told me I would see Joy again one day, back in my cell so many years ago, and inside me I knew I He had forgiven me. But the hardest part of God's forgiveness, was my acceptance. I could not forgive myself
I went through six detoxes and a rehab trying to stop. But I did it for Jessica, not for me. Nothing worked.
I wrapped myself in my pain and guilt. It was always there to caress me when I toyed with the idea of getting clean.
They say time heals all wounds. It's not true. If you're lucky it just stops the bleeding. Scratch at the scab; it doesn't take much, and the wound bleeds again.
After 8 years, Jessica left me. "I'll always love you, but I'm not in love with you anymore. I can't take it.", she told me when she asked for a divorce.
I dove into drinking and drugs even more. I was being sucked down a drain and didn't know how to stop it. I thought of killing myself, but whenever I did a feeling flooded me, 'You won't see Joy again if you do'.
The final straw came when my little brother, Sean, who lived in Las Vegas , was out drinking with friends one night. He drank too much, passed out, got sick and suffocated on his own vomit before his friends noticed something was wrong. When they finally did, it was too late.
Sean was brain dead.
My Dad had to fly out to Vegas to sign the order turning off his life support.
At this point I was taking 20 - 30 pain killers a day, smoking crack cocaine and shooting up powdered cocaine (I didn't even LIKE cocaine, I liked the warm, fuzzy nothingness of painkillers, but I did it anyway), 4-5 xanax to take the edge off, and enough alcohol so that I'd been hospitalized 3 times for problems relating to it (pancreatitis once and colitis twice).
I finally hit bottom. I was desperate. I couldn't take the pain anymore.
I couldn't live like this and I couldn't die.
I sold my house and checked into Transitions, a live in treatment center here in Miami .
I met Eileen, who was in charge of the program. She took me under her wing until my assigned counselor came back from vacation. I spoke with Eileen that first day and said, "I'll do anything you tell me if it will stop the misery. I just want some peace. But I've taken a life, and maybe this is how I'm suppose to live the rest of my mine."
She was so nice to me. She told me I would find that peace. She told me to trust her.
My roommates were Tony, Lenny and Adrian. I was still detoxing and they were really nice to me, too. I couldn't take the kindness,
I felt I didn't deserve it. It made me extremely uncomfortable
I started going to groups and AA/NA meetings. Transitions has four sets of counseling; large groups, smaller groups that were your 'family within the family', peer groups (same sex), and one on one counseling. My counselor was a lady named Marian Bach. She was in charge of the clinical staff and specialized in grief counseling. She was so patient with me. She tried to get me to talk about Joy. She said it was the only way I'd ever have the peace I longed for.
I still didn't talk. I still didn't believe anyone could understand the depth of my guilt and my pain. But I did listen.
What I heard saved my life.
And I met God again.
I heard a girl tell how she was gang raped at 14 and her parents blamed her. I heard a guy (who I would become friends with) talk about getting high with his twin brother and while they were playing around his brother fell down a flight of stairs, hitting his head, He had to sign the no-code turning off his brother's life support.
And something happened.
I had an epiphany.
I realized my pain wasn't the worst,
Only a different kind.
Everybody's pain is the worst to them, no matter what causes it. I began to understand that God wasn't laughing at me as He pressed His heel against my throat.
In life, shit happens.
Bad things do happen to good people, and we can't begin to fathom why.
Some people might not like what I've come to know is true; The "Why" things happen to people? It is to get them to where they are suppose to be.
So simple, brutally easy if you think about it, yet so deeply profound when you get a glimpse of it.
I've begun to understand the 'why' for me. What God has planned for me.
We alcoholics and addicts drink and use not to feel good, but to not feel.
Not to feel the stuff that has hurt us. Shamed us. Embarrassed us. Angered us. Humiliated us.
We try push it down. We try ignore it. We try to go around it.
It never works.
It just builds in us, like simmering water roiling to a boil.
We are an oxymoron. We have a black hole inside our chest, an emptiness in our hearts, yet we are filled with pain and guilt.
We are so afraid of people knowing the real us.
And in that void inside us, that no amount of drugs or drink will ever fill, there is a longing.
A yearning for 'SOMETHING'
That something is our soul's homesickness for God.
Until we walk through whatever personal demons we've packed down inside ourselves, we block that contact.
In AA/NA you do this with the 4th & 5th steps of their 12 steps. At Transitions you do it through a 'life story', where you write about yourself, your life, leaving nothing out. Then you read it to your group. Afterwards, they give you feedback, telling you what they think, and how it compares to what happened to them. And you start to realize that you're not alone.
You start to walk through it.
And you start to come out the other side
Think of it as going to a really scary movie. In the beginning you're frozen in your seat, scared to death of what's to come. You want to run away, but you can't. Later, a friend asks you to go see it again with them. As it starts, your still scared, but not as much. You know what's coming. Still later another friend hears about it and wants you to take them. By now the fear is minimum. You know what's coming and you now know it can't hurt you. Parts that terrified you before, now have no power over you.
And if you do it thoroughly and HONESTLY, as your secrets become no longer secret, as you peel them away like layers of an onion, something happens.
In AA/NA the 12th step begins with; Having had a spiritual awakening...
You start to have an awareness of God and His spirit within you. When faced with a situation, you intuitively know right from wrong. What God wants of you.
It happened to me.
I told you I think I've begun to understand 'why' the things I've gone through have happened. Some examples of the God shots (more potent than any shot of whiskey), I've been given since I've walked through my personal demons, and came out the other side:
As my time was finishing in treatment, I started to look for a place to stay. Marian put me in touch with Judy, an alumni of Transitions with five years clean, who was now a real estate agent. As we drove around looking for a place to rent (With my credit, and criminal background I couldn't buy anymore), we talked. Judy told me about 'Harmony House', a recovery house she had opened for women. Where women just out of treatment and trying to turn their lives around, went to work but lived together for sober support and company.
I told her I wanted to open one for women and their children, so worrying about their kids staying with family members, instead of with them, wouldn't be an added stress. I wanted to call it Joy's House. Judy told me she had thought of doing one, too.
"That's great." I said, "Why don't we do one together?"
"Charles, easy does it." She laughed. "You're not even out of treatment yet. You have to build your foundation."
I looked at her, "Don't you think having a recovery house for women and their kids in Joy's name would help build my foundation?"
"Let God talk to you." She answered.
That night Jessica called me. She has remarried and had a child since our divorce, but she still calls once a month to check on me. She had called me when I'd gone into Transitions to tell me she hoped I'd make it this time. Now she called to tell me of an idea she'd had.
"Why don't you check with Tony? He owns that first house we rented when we got married and had the dancers from Czech staying with us. He knows you, so your credit or your record won't matter. And he'll let you keep your dogs."
It was a perfect idea. I called Judy and told her about Jessica's call. "It's perfect. A two story, three bedroom, three bathroom triplex with a swimming pool. It's right across the street from Holistic Center (another treatment center) and down the street from Back On Track( a clubhouse where AA and NA meetings were held), and Tony, the owner, knows me, so there's no problem with my record or credit. It's perfect!"
"Across from Holistic? What was that address Charles?" She asked me.
When I told her, I got my 1st God Shot since prison, when God told me I'd see Joy again.
"That's not for rent", Judy said. "I bought that house from Tony; it's my Harmony House for women!"
Think about that.
There are hundreds of thousands of houses in Miami and thousands of realtors. And the realtor I get, the one I'm telling I want to open a recovery house for women and their children in Joy's name, the one who told me to let God speak to me, over 20 years later this realtor has bought my first home and made it a recovery home for women!
So this house went from a place where women use to drink and get high just to go to work, to a house where women work to just not drink or get high.
Bartender, I'll take another shot of God, please.
I was going to visit Joy's grave for the first time clean and sober on Sunday; Father's Day. I was still at Transitions. They wanted me to stay till after my visit with Joy.
Still looking for a place to rent without a credit check or criminal background check.
On Saturday, Judy sent me to look at a duplex for rent. A realtor would meet me there. It was the day before Father's Day and I was not feeling good. I was nervous and scared and a little nauseous. Tomorrow I would face head on what I'd done, I would face my daughter without anything to numb me,
I got to the duplex and the realtor was not there. As I paced out front, my mood not getting any better, a lady carrying a little girl came out of the other duplex. The child was about two years old. The same age as Joy before she got hurt.
I thought about what I had to do tomorrow. My throat tightened. My nerves were frazzled. I thought I would cry.
"Are you moving in?" She asked me.
"I don't know," I said, "I'm waiting for the realtor now."
I looked at them. "What's her name?" I asked the woman.
"Faith." She said.
"Really? My daughter's name was Joy." I told her.
"Really? My name is Joy." She said.
A warmth, a sense of peace, washed over me.
I felt God.
I met Faith and Joy the day before I was going to visit Joy for the first time clean and sober; when I needed something to give me the strength to make my amends with my daughter.
At the cemetery I made peace with Joy.
I buried my white chip with her (a way of denoting clean time in AA). I promised her I would live a life that would make her proud.
I've since given her my 30 day, 60 day, 90 day, 6 month chip, one year & two year medallions.
I do not intend to break that promise.
I finally found a house to rent. I had to put up six months rent in advance. As I was unpacking, I found the manuscript for 'Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure'. I looked at this story I had written so many years ago. I thought I'd show it Marian, my counselor, so I put it in my car.
A few days later I was at Back On Track, where a meeting is going on almost all the time. I was on the back balcony having a cigarette when I met Danny D., who was talking about a friend of his who had a children's book he wrote published.
I looked at him.
"I wrote a children's book years ago and just found it. It's in my car," I said.
He told me to let him borrow it and he would show his friend.
A few days later I got a phone call. It was Gerald S., the author of the children's book, 'What lies beneath the bed', I'd been told about.
"I heard about your story, and I read Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure, I'd like to talk to you sometime."
"When?" I asked.
He came over the following week. He had a contract with him. He not only wanted to publish 'Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure', he wanted me to write a series of Joy's Adventures!
I'm crying as I write this.
A story I wrote almost two decades ago while in prison, after God told me I would see Joy again one day, was going to be published. I wrote it so Joy would not be forgotten. Now there was going to be a series of books that would make Joy known to all children! Whenever Joy is mentioned it won't be, 'Oh that poor girl' or 'Can you believe what her father did?' It will be, 'Remember her adventure in this book? Or that one?
Bartender, I'll take a double!
I went to lunch with Gerald S. and Patricia M., his illustrator, to look at some of her ideas of how Joy and the characters would look. We agreed on Joy, Mary the Monkey, Tommy the Turtle, and Sheldon the Shark. I couldn't believe it was happening, as it was happening.
Gerald S.'s company, IJN Publishing, had a booth at the upcoming Miami International Book Fair and they were going to try to get the cover done in time to show it to the public there. As we were finishing, Gerald S. asked me if I'd had it copyrighted? I told him I remembered doing it years ago, but didn't remember when. He told me he needed it and to look it up on the internet. I did.
I copyrighted Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure on May 17, 1990.
My clean date, the last day I ever drank or used drugs, is May 17.
On Friday, Nov. 17, 2006 The Miami International Book Fair opened, and the cover of Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure was blown up and in my publisher's booth.
It was my six month anniversary.
There was a sign there saying Joy's Beach Bucket Adventure and two other new books would be coming out in April 2007. I asked him when in April would Joy's book be coming out?
"Early April." He said.
I then asked Gerald if it would be possible to have it come out on April 4th?
He said, "Sure."
April 4th is Joy's birthday.
The book was never published, Gerald ran out of money – but I know it is because it wasn't time yet. It will happen in God's time.
I had begun speaking at different AA/NA meetings and had been asked to speak at New Directions one Monday. New Directions was the first treatment center I had gone to for help, but had walked out of early.
At that meeting I told the guys there what had happened to me, what I'd gone through, and where I was today. That I had, literally, been sitting where they were now. I really connected with some of the guys that night. I know I gave some hope. When the meeting was open for sharing, so many said that if I could do it, after all that, they could do it, too.
After the meeting, Larry, the guy who was responsible for bringing people in to speak at this center, asked me if I wanted to take on an H&I (hospitals & institutions) commitment there. I would be responsible for bringing a speaker to New Directions every other Monday.
I was back at Club Madonna working one night a week. But I wasn't comfortable. I didn't think it was what God wanted me to do. On a Saturday night I quit.
As I walked to my car I thought to myself, 'Well THAT was a great idea!"
It was hard to find a job with a criminal record, and I would make $200 - $400 on that one night at M's.
As I started my car and got ready to pull out of the garage I turned on the radio.
It was Bon Jovi and they were singing; 'Oh your half way there...Oh, oh, living on a prayer.'
I laughed till I cried. For some reason it was so funny.
"O.K. God," I said sitting in my car, wiping tears from my eyes. "I'm praying. I'll rely on you."
The next day I was at the Hard Rock when I got a phone call. It was Marianne, who owned Summer House , a detox center I had gone through six times before.
"Hello Charles. You applied for a job here with R. a couple of months ago, would you like to come in on Monday?"
THAT Monday morning I went from being a patient at Summer House, to working there.
THAT Monday night I went from being a patient at New Directions to bringing my first AA meeting there.
At two different places I had gone to seeking help, I was now helping. I had come full circle.
At both of them.
On the same day.
Just a few more things that I look back at now and start to glimpse ..something.
The recliner chair that Joy was strangled in was manufactured in Mississippi , on a street called Child Street .
I was the first father convicted in a mercy killing of his child.
I was born on father's day.
It comes on the third Sunday of June, and it comes on the 19th, my birthday, every 6-7 years. It came on the day I was born.
Think about THAT.
And because of Joy, recliner chairs were redesigned. Now when you open the footrest, a cloth stretches across, or a pad comes up, to block the open space between the chair and the footrest, so a leg, or a child, can't get caught in it.
There is no telling how many children have been saved, because of what happened to Joy.
Some days I can even imagine that Joy was where she was suppose to be that day.
I never thought that I could imagine that, even with all the God Shots I have been given, until,
Umm..Bartender? I'd like to order the biggest God Shot you have!
My friend Kelly asked me to speak at a treatment center last Monday night. I went and I told my story.
About Joy getting her head caught and strangling in her grandfather's recliner chair.
About the 9 months in a vegetative state in the hospital.
About my decision that she shouldn't exist like that anymore.
About her death.
About my feelings of guilt.
About my feelings of pain.
About 10 1/2 years of drinking, snorting, shooting and swallowing anything I could get my hands on to try to not feel that guilt and pain.
About 6 detoxes and 2 rehabs trying, TRYING, to find some inner peace. Not even asking for relief from the pain - just a bottom to it.
About a brother who went out drinking with friends, passed out, and suffocated on his own vomit before his 'friends' noticed.
About going into treatment the final time finally ready to do whatever it took.
About listening to other people's pain and realizing something HUGE: My pain wasn't the worse, only a different kind. Everybody's pain is the worst...to them.
About finally talking.
About finally getting a sponsor and working the steps.
About meeting God.
About things happening to get us to where we are suppose to be.
About the recliner chair being manufactured in Mississippi , on a street called Child Street .
About being a father put in the position of deciding whether your child should live or die and being born on father's day.
About finding a children's book you wrote in your child's memory 20 years later, and it's going to be published - on her birthday.
About catching a glimpse of God's plan for us
About how many unknown children have been saved because of Joy. Recliners were redesigned so there is no space between the footrest & chair after Joy's accident.
"My counselor at my final treatment center told me that last one." I said to them as I was finishing. "That may have been God's plan for Joy."
Then a girl, no more than twenty or so, raised her hand.
I pointed to her and she said, "My little sister's name is Joy Rochelle. I used to take care of her growing up because our parents were never home. She got caught in our recliner one day. And she was wedged in there good, too. It took work for me to get her out."
I waited, so scared of what I was about to hear.
"But she was OK," The girl said, "because there was a thing that came up and kept the footrest from closing on her completely."
She looked at me and said, "So I just wanted you to know, that I know, that your little Joy saved my little Joy. I just wanted you to know that."
I started crying in front of all of them. I'm crying now. I thanked her. Profusely. I told her I always assumed Joy had saved children because of what she had gone through.
But to actually know. To know a little girl was saved from serious injury, suffering, even death, because of Joy. And her name was JOY!!
It was one of the best things God has given me, next to telling me I will see Joy again one day.
I went to speak at this treatment center hoping my story would help someone there.
Someone's story there helped me. Beyond..... I can't think of a word big enough to describe it.
I wrote this poem after that meeting:
What comes out from my hand, is what's inside of my head;
Because then it's over, forgotten, I've put it to bed.
But some things don't stay in bed, they've been pushed in so deep;
They won't come out of your head, they will not go to sleep.
Mine started with fireworks, and the crowd they went wild;
With the birth of Joy, my beautiful child.
From the first time I held her, she then owned my heart;
And I thought, 'This is forever, we will never part'.
But life is a bitch, it will throw you for loops;
Though you do the right thing, you jump through the hoops.
Joy made it pass infant, was just into 'tot';
God, 3 years old, you didn't give me alot..
Please take me instead! I made all kinds of deals;
But I never was heard, in God's court of appeals
I thought' 'This happened to me?! It was all just a ploy?;
To get me to love, then POOF, there's no Joy?.
And not just to lose her, but in a recliner chair?
How could you do that? How could you dare?
Then came the pain. The anger, and hate;
Who is this God? That we think He's so great?
I don't know who You are, and I don't give a damn!;
I was screaming at Heaven, when He said just, "I AM."
I needed more from that voice, looking for where it came from;
Now down on my knees begging.. just like a bum.
When He spoke to me again, it was straight to my heart;
"Joy may not be with you, but your never apart."
He said "You'll see her again. One day. It's so soon;
Till then she's watching, from the stars & the moon.
Now listen to Me, this will help you to mourn;
"Joy picked YOU as her father, before she was born".
"She's done her job, and now it's your turn;
"Your going to help people, from your pain they will learn."
"They'll come angry and hurt, with no idea, 'what to do'";
"Because you've been there, you'll help them. You'll guide them through."
"And one final thing, call it a hint, or a clue,"
"By helping out them, you'll be helping out you!"
So when things happen, don't wonder, "How can this be?"
"Just know it's to get you to where I need you to be."
Have faith! Trust in Me. Believe that " I AM."
"And I'll show you glimpses of you, in my Heavenly plan."
Then He parted the curtains, and allowed me to see;
Why I lost Joy to a chair, and He allowed it to be.
I met a woman one day, while talking to groups;
About why things happen to us, though we jump through the hoops.
She 'just' happened to be there, the same day as me;
And now she knew who to thank, and I was set free.
She had a little sister, named Joy, who'd been caught in a chair!
But hers got out safely, because of something put there.
You see recliners aren't the same as once they had been;
They were changed after Joy, so that wouldn't happen again.
And at that moment I knew it, my path had been paved;
How cool is it knowing a Joy, that your Joy has saved?
In May 2007 I was close to getting my 1 yr medallion. I was asked to speak at an AA meeting a few weeks after Transitions had its annual alumni picnic for its' graduates who had stayed clean.
After I had finished speaking, a girl raised her hand. She said she was not going to stay for this meeting, but was glad she had. She had lost a child a year or so ago, and she had a real problem with God.
Now? She knew there had to be some kind of plan, and she felt better.
After the meeting she came up and I thought she was going to thank me for speaking.
She spoke first, "I wasn't going to stay till I saw it was you. Then I had to see what the hell you had to say!"
I must have shown my surprise.
"You don't remember me?"
"Ah..no." I told her.
"Your dog attacked my dog at the Transitions picnic & you had to leave."
And just like that – a God Shot.
Think about this – my dog Flop gets into a fight with this girl's dog (there were a lot of dogs there), who has lost a child like I did, she sees I am speaking at a meeting she was not going to stay for, but does because of my dog attacking hers.
If Flop hadn't fought with this girl's dog, she would not have stayed at that meeting to see "What the hell you had to say"-
Because Flop did,
And moved closer to God.
A friend I played tournament poker with at the Hard Rock here in Miami called me on the day I'd decided to go into treatment. He was going to Costa Rica to play in a big tournament and invited me, his treat.
Tournament poker was one of the few things I found any pleasure in - You think only about your hand, the odds of a card turning up, and if the other guy is bluffing. Nothing else. For hours. It was an escape. I was good at it.
I wanted to go to the tournament.
I needed to go to treatment.
I told myself I would enter a tournament at the Hard Rock that night and if I won, I would go with my friend to Costa Rica . If I lost I would go into treatment.
The tournament started with about 200 people.
On the first hand I was dealt A,K. A strong hand. I bet 500 of the 1500 chips each player was given to play the tournament with. Everybody else at my table folded, except for one guy.
The dealer turned 'the flop', the first three cards. It was 6,K,4. I had the top pair with the king, and the top 'kicker', or tie breaker, with the ace. I bet 500 more. The other guy called.
The 'turn', or fourth card, was a 9. Couldn't hurt me. I pushed my final 500 chips into the pile. The other guy calls.
Since we have no more chips to bet, we turn our cards face up and wait for 'the river', or final card.
The other guy had a pair of jacks.
My kings are way out in front. If the dealer turns up anything that matches the board, I'll win with that pair and a pair of kings. The other guy will have that pair and a pair of jacks. If the dealer turns up no matches, my pair of kings beat his pair of jacks. The only way I could lose is if the last card is a jack, which would give him three of a kind. There were only two more in the deck. As the dealer turned over the last card, I started reaching for the chips.
It was a jack. I was out of the tournament after the first hand.
I looked at the ceiling and laughed.
The next day I entered Transitions treatment center.
We end up where we are suppose to be.
Because when we finally face whatever it is we've so long tried to ignore; we start to have a conscious contact with God.
Inside of us,
That no amount of drinking or drugging ever fills,
And we start to see glimpses of God's plan for us.
People cross our path who have no idea how to deal with their pain,
Until they meet us.
And you listen to this person with no hope,
And see yourself.
Then you tell them your story,
And they see themselves.
And have hope;
That they are not alone. They are not the only one.
You set that person back on the path they are suppose to be on,
So they can set the person who will cross their path, back on the path they are suppose to be on.
It is like a cosmic pinball game,
But so much cooler.
I have found that peace I was so desperately looking for. I even found something I never expected.
I am happy today. And when I help someone, when I see that gleam of hope in their eyes, and I know that I helped do that, the feeling is indescribable. The way words couldn't describe the pain I felt after Joy was hurt. Today they can't describe the feeling I get when I know I'm doing something meaningful for someone else.
As far as my life's pendulum had swung one way, it's swung that far back to the other side.
Now I believe I know the 'what' is to become of my life, since I've had a glimpse of the 'why'.
The 'What', I believe is to open 'Joy's House'. A recovery home for women and their children. The how, I believe, is going to be through Joy's Adventures.
And Joy's Adventures is going to be through 'It's all in the JOURNEY.'
Kinda like that cosmic pinball game, huh?
Your probably wondering what 'It's all in the JOURNEY' is. This is where God has led me:
While working at that detox center I'd gone through 6 times in 9 years? I had an opportunity to buy a laptop and decided to get it. I worked the night shift and figured I could play poker while the patients slept.
I stumbled across blogging and started to write.
I wrote about loss, grief, a father's love, death, prison, freedom, guilt, addiction,
And a promise.
About the climb back to, and fighting to stay in, sobriety.
One day a lady called me. She told me she was starting a real recovery magazine (not a newsletter).
I told her I thought that was a great idea, there were none.
She told me she was glad that I liked the idea because she had been reading my blog,
And wanted me to be the editor of it!
I am now the editor of 'It's all in the JOURNEY', the only high gloss, mainstream magazine that is written by, for and about the recovery community!
We started with 10,000 copies going to every AA/NA clubhouse, detox center and treatment center in Florida . It is also available at TV's Miami Ink, Hollywood Choppers@ the Hard Rock, and select Starbucks in Miami .
After 12 issues It's all in the JOURNEY is now a 40 page magazine, printing 20,000 copies a month, and is now distributed to every AA/NA clubhouse, detox center & treatment facility in Florida AND California !
Hazelden, one of the premiere treatment centers in the world, has made us a permanent part of their addictions library, and when we started adding subscription cards to the magazine? The AA Grapevine was our first subscriber (I've got that one taped to my office wall!).
Our on-line issues has been downloaded and read from our website by over 32,000 people.
You can read our premiere issue and our latest issue (with the cover by Grammy winning artist Jim Warren, and a pioneer in addiction treatment; Terence T. Gorski's first regular column) at: www.itsallinthejourney.com
I want to write a book about my life.
I want to give people who have lost a loved one, hope.
I want to let someone who doesn't believe in God, know that there is a God.
And that He has a plan for each of us.
I want to show someone who thinks there is no way out from addiction or alcoholism,
That there is.
And I want to keep my promise to Joy.