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.
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.
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.
And 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 your 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. "Your 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 would 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, this realtor has bought my first home and made it a recovery home for women!
So this house went from a place where women drank and got 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, and one year medallion.
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. I did.
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!
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?
God shots. 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 is May 17, 2006
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.T
here 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.
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. One 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 there.
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 usAbout 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. Then, She continued.
"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, She did,
And moved closer to God.
A year later when my time was up in the house I was renting, a friend told me he knew of someone going to NY for the summer, and,
That the guy would rent me his house, on two acres, for 600 a month, until he came back in November.
I went by to see him.
The house is small, but clean. The land,
Is a compound.
Two acres, fenced in, a wooden fence, not a chain link.
With about 400 palms in pots, on ½ of one acre.
The dogs are saying, “We’re not moved in yet?”
I meet the man & everything seems great,
I will watch his place, & he will only charge me 600 a month.
“Only one problem,” He told me.
He is letting a girl stay in a trailer on the back of the property. She had been living on the streets & got clean in that trailer about a month ago.
“Was that a problem?”
I said I was not comfortable with a newly clean, street person, without a sponsor & doing the steps, living there.
I told him the story of Joy & I; the hospital, her death, 21 years of drinking & drugs & finally clean, the God Shots, & how I was living a life now to make Joy proud.
When I finished, he told me he wanted me to meet her.
I looked at him, but followed as he walked back to the trailer.
He introduced me to her, "This is Charlie."
Then he introduced her to me,
"Charlie, this is Joy!"
I gave this Joy her first AA big book.
Finally, 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 f