A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction, Part I

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is the story of a parolee and ex-offender who spent more than two decades battling addiction – from prescription medications to heavy narcotics – and his long journey to recovery.

A life saved after a 20-year battle against addiction

This is a special two-part story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

This is the story of a parolee and ex-offender who spent more than two decades battling addiction – from prescription medications to heavy narcotics – and his long journey to recovery.

Read Part I Read Part II Watch Video Help us raise funds

In 1995, Jody Robinson found himself on the corner of Brookpark Road and Rocky River Drive in Cleveland; a place they called “the rock.” This was a place that offered the allure of escape; a reprieve from the pain and challenges life so generously shared. Surrounded by cold, cracked masonry and abandoned homes that constituted the area’s public housing and strip clubs at what seemed like every corner, it was no surprise why it was coined “the rock.”

In the beckoning darkness of alleyways, where drugs could be acquired in private and with ease, Jody couldn’t help but relapse yet again.

This was about two years after his previous, and longest, stint of sobriety – a bit more than two years – occurred during the early ‘90s in Columbus, Ohio. He stayed clean then by clutching onto his one passion: working in the kitchen and food service industry.

“Like fish to water, I got back into the swing of things with drug activity and the wrong elements,” Robinson said with a slight sadness and somber tone. “I was so quick to gravitate to the negativity.”

A distinctive gene is adopted

Robinson was born in 1961 in Tarrytown, New York, a small village about 25 miles north of New York City – a quick stop on the Metro-North Hudson Line. His mother, Beverly, was 15 when she had Jody. She was consumed by the addiction of drugs herself. Her drug of choice was heroin.

Her bout with drugs ended when she died of a heroin overdose when Jody was 14. She left behind six other children from another father; now Jody was the oldest and the stepchild to a father he never knew.

“I had to be detoxed as an infant off of the heroin,” Robinson shared as he reminisced about the story his grandmother once told him about his birth. He said his grandmother told him that “The decision was from the doctors that I would suffer some type of deformity… either psychological or physical, or something… there’s just like no way – a mother shooting heroin through her pregnancy – that the child would come out unscarred or unscathed.”

The doctors were right. He would go on to suffer from the inability to use the restroom because his body is unable to process food and liquid in a normal manner. “… Mine [damage] was more like an internal damage to my bowels and colon,” added Robinson as he rehashed this painful history, while sharing the physical and mental struggles of his siblings due to his mother’s regular drug use during each pregnancy.

He said his sister is currently in a methadone program. She started using heroin to supplement her pain medications when they stopped working. His brother Butch died two years ago in July from sclerosis of the liver due to his addiction to heroin and opiates. Two of his uncles also died because of the extensive use of heroin and opiates. He was later told that his father was found dead in a ravine; dumped there after he overdosed.

His story continued with the deaths of nearly every member of his family due to opiate abuse and drug addiction – a tragic and heartbreaking story by any account.

As he leaned back into his dining room chair in his basement apartment with soft jazz music playing on his small off-brand flat screen TV, faded cream-color walls with no art or photos hanging, he sat in silence for a moment thinking. He then continued to tell his story, digressing to the years between being a boy in New York and his current life here in Cleveland.

A youth fostered by support

When Robinson entered the foster system, he was placed with a family kind and caring enough to take him in with their two biological children. This family was Seventh-Day Adventists (Christian-based organization) and truly cared about Robinson’s safety and future.

His foster father saw Robinson’s desire to be independent and allowed him to experience the hardships of the New York streets. He thought it would reveal the harsh reality of the world and set him straight.

In retrospect, Robinson felt that his foster father handled it all wrong. He believed that he had the hereditary traits of his parents. Traits that if exposed to the wrong elements, would lead him into a world of darkness and danger.

Robinson was right. Whether it was truly hereditary, or a manifestation of his past come to life, he found himself going down the same path his parents and the entire family had traveled at the young age of just 15. This was just one year after his biological mother died of a heroin overdose.

“They [foster family] didn’t treat me any different. I had to go to Adventist school all the way up to eighth grade,” Robinson added. “A lot of my stuff happened when my mother OD’d at 14 and I got put in high school at the same time… the combination of the two triggered some stuff that I had in me… so that’s where I ended up… in the streets.”

I had a whole lot of resentments…

“I was carrying around [a lot of shame] as a weight, and the way to cope with it was to medicate, was to use drugs… because you can suppress yourself, you can become numb this way and you won’t have to feel that you’re worthless.”

A future imprisoned by addiction

From the age of 15, Robinson walked the lonely road of addiction. No matter where he went – he spent time in California, Virginia and back in New York City before hopping into a car set for Cleveland – he couldn’t escape the prison of addiction.

“I went through a two-year period of sniffing heroin,” Robinson said as he mentioned how a chemical, called quinine, was removed from the heroin so it wouldn’t burn, making it more desirable to use during the ‘80s. “It was the thing to do. It was cool to sit up in the club and sniff. I ended up with addiction on that and powdered cocaine for about two years.”

After getting off both, he ended up on crack cocaine for approximately 15-20 years, suffering from its deadly effects and ultimately surviving. The words that shaped his long, arduous story were laced with periods of memory loss, aggression and anger, among the litany of other emotions he couldn’t control.

“I spent close to 40 years being in the streets, living by my wits and being alone… it’s not something I would wish on any child to go through,” Robinson added as he shook his head at the sheer amount of time he spent imprisoned by addiction.

He went on to share what someone who lives in the hood… the streets… the tough neighborhoods in America must have: strength. Robinson said that strength is a defense mechanism you need to have, especially being alone.

“You have to make people think you won’t take no junk, that you’re in control. Control is a trick that you put in your mind to make you feel like everything is ok. So, you’re not in control. You’re actually just reacting to every action that comes along,” he said.

This sense of false control and strength were nothing but an illusion. He wasn’t in control, as seen through his various incarcerations throughout those four decades – for everything from drug dealing and holding people hostage for money they owed him, to theft and violent crimes.

In Ohio alone, he was in and out of the prison system approximately eight times based on his recollection. While an inmate during one of his many stretches in the Ohio prison system, he was diagnosed by an Ohio State psychiatrist with schizoaffective disorder, which manifests itself as extreme depression and can transform into manic behavior and anxiety like a flick of a switch.

This was adding fuel to an already blazing hot fire.

“I needed mental help… I needed to get stabilized with mental health treatment,” Robinson said with a stern and thoughtful tone.

He was prescribed Elavil, a mood stabilizer, which is designed to assist in his emotional stability. This medication also helps with his neuropathy (pain and weakness from nerve damage).

Read Part II of the Jody Robinson story.


Help us raise funds to combat addiction


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