Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

Lost and Found: Tampa father battles addiction, heartbreak to reunite with children

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — Jean Roy Jr. didn't look like father material to social workers.

The 48-year-old had a long criminal history and was struggling with substance abuse. His infatuation with the mother of his twin children was an even more damaging addiction.

Seventeen years his junior, she was an addict who used crystal meth and heroin, said Wanda Lamar, Roy's case manger.

"My first impression was (the twins) wouldn't be unified with mom and dad," Lamar said. "Mom was still in the home. Dad was still engaged with mom and shouldn't have been."

Hunter and Isabella had been on the radar of child welfare workers since their mother ran into a neighbor's house claiming she feared for her life but was unaware of where her children were. They were infants at the time. She was allowed only supervised visits with them after that.

At the age of 3, the twins were taken into foster care in February 2015 because Roy let their mother stay over. She needed somewhere to stay until a bed opened up in a rehab clinic. He couldn't say no.

Even after that, Roy couldn't close the door on her and his hope that they could be a family.

In a last-ditch attempt to reunify the twins with their father, Lamar and the children's guardian ad litem laid out his choice in stark terms. He got the same message from a judge during a hearing.

The case is dragging on too long, they told him. He could have his children or he could stay with his girlfriend.

"He had to choose between her and them," Lamar said. "He had to understand that the kids needed him more than their mom."

• • •

Roy knew what it meant to need a dad.

Born in Tampa, he was only 4 when his mother died in her sleep from a blood clot. His father, Jean Louis Roy, was a wrestler who was born in Canada. He competed on the professional circuit as Corsica Jean and did not have time to raise a young boy.

So Roy stayed with his aunt for three years and was reunited with his father only when he remarried.

But his relationship with his new stepmother was fraught. Roy started acting out at school and getting into trouble.

"I felt that my father and stepmother were happier when I wasn't there," he said.

It was a spiral that saw him go to juvenile detention when he was just 9. Later, he had to stay in group homes and, at 13, was sent to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, a reform home in Marianna infamous for its mistreatment of children.

He remembers being beaten until he fell asleep. Fights with other boys and teachers came almost every day.

For most of his 20s, he was in and out of prison on a series of mostly drug-related charges, including sale and possession of cocaine for which he served five years of a 10-year sentence.

He was on a four-day bender on crack when he learned that his father, who had retired to run a bar on Nebraska Avenue, had been shot dead during a 1992 robbery.

"I had authority issues. It started with my stepmother," Roy said. "Once you get exposed to detention, it's time gone after that. You become hard."

The drug arrests stopped after the birth of his first son, Jean Louis Roy III, in 2002.

He was a father. Responsibility was unfamiliar but a welcome anchor. His son still lives with him.

"I haven't been to jail since he was born," Roy said. "He saved my life."

• • •

To hear Roy tell it, Lamar was the Muhammad Ali to his Joe Frazier, a case manager who busted his chops to try to get him straight.

Physically, it was a mismatch.

He was a loud, shaven-headed 5-foot-11 mass of muscle and tattoos.

She was a small black woman working as a case manager with Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services.

But she had his measure.

He was required to follow a twice-weekly drug testing regime. There were also mandatory parenting classes, substance abuse counseling and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

"It wasn't as sweet as everyone claimed it to be," Lamar said of the case. "He was trying to be devious with dealings with the kids' mom and I wasn't going to let him get away with it."

Being told how to live his life rubbed Roy the wrong way. Every condition felt like a barrier.

''If we had gloves, it might have been us in the boxing ring," he said.

Roy knew how to fight. He'd learned that at juvie. At Dozier, he had a reputation.

But not a fight like this.

His twins being removed was like a punch in the gut.

It took him back to grieving for his mother and missing his dad. That was where he feared his twins were heading, he said.

"I felt for them every night having to go to sleep and having to wonder where their parents are and why did I leave them," Roy said.

The warning from the judge was the turning point, Lamar said. He knuckled down.

"After that, his whole demeanor changed," she said.

His reward was unsupervised visits with the twins. At first for two hours and, later, for up to eight.

The condition of the visits was that he stay in public. He could not take them home or to visit anyone else. The three of them mostly spent long days at the water park at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.

In July, the twins finally came home although Roy still had to follow a raft of conditions.

He had to still be drug-tested and could not have the twins around other grown-ups unless they had submitted to a background check that included fingerprinting.

Good friends melted away when he explained what they would have to do just so he and the children could come over for dinner.

"It's like having handcuffs on or being in prison in a cell," he said. "You have no control. You just have to relinquish."

• • •

Hunter and Isabella, now 5, are there every morning now.

On Sundays, they wake him up at their home north of Sulphur Springs, shouting that it's time to go to church.

He's amazed at how in tune they are with each other.

Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County, closed his case in January.

There's no more drug testing, no more surprise visits from case managers.

He is a regular dad.

About 60 percent of parents whose children are removed get them back after taking some counseling or other action. Roy was one of roughly 780 parents reunified with their children in Hillsborough in 2016.

Eckerd Kids thought enough of Roy's turnaround that they chose him to speak at a recent reunification ceremony honoring the work done by parents and social workers.

He thanked Eckerd's family reunification team.

"If I couldn't do it they helped; if I wasn't good at it, they helped me get better," he said.

Lamar is satisfied for now that Roy is on the right track.

"When I see the kids they're happy and looking good," she said.

But Roy now lives with anxiety that at any moment there will be a knock at the door, that he could lose his kids again.

He knows he doesn't come across as a cuddly father.

His loud booming voice, a needed defense mechanism growing up, can now be a handicap.

"I've tried forever to gear that down because it's intimidating," he said.

As much as possible, he wants his children to have a normal childhood.

The thing that stuck with him the most from his parenting class is that it's not enough to tell his kids how to behave. He has to model that behavior for them.

"It stuck with me so much what kind of emotions you were taught as a child," he said. "I wasn't allowed to have emotions. I had to be hard as a rock."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

Comments
Hometown Pasco for Nov. 24

Hometown Pasco for Nov. 24

We want your news! Hometown Pasco is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well do...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Call Missouri jinxed, but Michael Porter Jr. injury is its own story

Please repeat after me: There is no such thing as jinxes, hexes, ghosts or cartoonish black clouds looming with personalized curses for select targets.Honest.But, boy, are there coincidences — even if some say there is no such thing as those, either....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Cambridge Christian’s Caleb Young makes up for lost season

Cambridge Christian’s Caleb Young makes up for lost season

TAMPA — For Cambridge Christian, last Friday’s Class 2A region final against Indian Rocks Christian represented a hurdle that the Lancers couldn’t quite clear a year ago. For one Lancer in particular, it was the Golden Eagles themselves that brought ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs journal: Defense struggling to get off the field on third and long

Bucs journal: Defense struggling to get off the field on third and long

TAMPA — Third and long, normally an ideal situation for an NFL defense, continues to be a problem as the Bucs try to get opposing offenses off the field.In the second half of Sunday’s game, the Dolphins converted six third downs when they needed 8 ya...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs-Falcons: Has this former Buc become a pass-rushing force?

Bucs-Falcons: Has this former Buc become a pass-rushing force?

TAMPA — The Bucs face the defending NFC champions twice in their final six games. As they prepare to go to Atlanta on Sunday, former Tampa Bay first-round pick Adrian Clayborn is enjoying quite a two-week run.Clayborn, 29, had six sacks Nov. 12 in a ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fennelly: USF-UCF rivalry needs more than directional disrespect

Fennelly: USF-UCF rivalry needs more than directional disrespect

TAMPA — It’s the biggest football game in USF history.It’s two days and 90 miles away. USF at UCF. The 9-1 Bulls against the 10-0 Knights. It’s USF coach Charlie Strong against UCF/Florida/Nebraska coach Scott Frost. It’s the best these two programs ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Chip Kelly is not the best candidate for Florida job

For the sake of a beleaguered and bedraggled fan base, here’s hoping Chip Kelly becomes the next head coach of the Florida Gators even though I think he’s not a great fit — culturally, geographically and philosophically — at UF.Gator Nation needs som...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Lane Kiffin knows speculation about his future grows with each victory

BOCA RATON — Lane Kiffin already knows what profession he will choose once his coaching career ends.Kiffin, in his first season at Florida Atlantic, thinks he is destined to join the sports-media ranks. It will provide him opportunity to switch roles...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Strong’s slip about UCF’s Griffin seen as motivation for Knights

Strong’s slip about UCF’s Griffin seen as motivation for Knights

TAMPA — While saying nothing to purposely fan the flames of the USF-UCF rivalry during his weekly news conference Tuesday, Bulls coach Charlie Strong provided fuel for the Knights’ best player.He used the H-word when discussing Knights senior outside...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Miami up to No. 2, behind Alabama, in College Football Playoff rankings

Miami up to No. 2, behind Alabama, in College Football Playoff rankings

Miami moved up to No. 2 behind Alabama in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night, with Clemson slipping one spot to three and Oklahoma holding at four. Wisconsin and Auburn remained next up behind the top four in a week when the...
Updated: 2 hours ago