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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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'It's only by the grace of God'
John Roy credits God and Pastor Faith Jackson for helping him turn his life around.
By GAIL HOLLENBECK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - When he sits down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner next week, John Roy will have much for which to be thankful. This is his fifth year of being drug-free.
Roy, 45, recently shared the story of how his life had spiraled downward into the dark abyss of drug use and then how his family, pastor, employer and God helped him back into the light.
Roy was born in Harrisburg, Pa., a junior to his father. His parents' marriage didn't last, and they had divorced by the time he was 3. Life became difficult. His mother was using alcohol and prescription drugs. She moved Roy and his two siblings several times.
"Just the rigors of moving in bad areas and not being settled helped to facilitate some of the environmental things that changed my life," Roy said.
Air Force hitch brief
When he was about 14, Roy began smoking marijuana and drinking. After he graduated from high school in 1980, he decided to get a fresh start in the armed forces.
"I went into the Air Force to get away and start a whole new life - get some discipline."
It didn't work.
"I got kicked out because of a lot of anger issues and the marijuana they discovered in my room," he explained.
Roy traveled to New Jersey and moved in with his mother and sister, telling them he was on vacation. After realizing he had been discharged from the Air Force and finding drugs under his bed, his mother told him to leave. He rented a room in New Brunswick.
"I just couldn't get my life together. I went from job to job. It got worse," Roy said. "Where I was renting there were drug dealers, so I started selling drugs."
Roy sold mescaline, crank and cocaine. He would travel to New York to buy it wholesale.
"I was using it more than I was selling it," he said. "I found out how to cook it, like crack cocaine, so that made it even worse."
In 1983, Roy met Janice, whom he describes as a "church-going lady." He was able to hide his addiction from her, and in 1988 they married and he became a father to her daughter, Daisha. By October, Janice discovered that her husband and her brother were both using drugs. She took Daisha, and the couple's newborn daughter, Jessica, and left.
Roy was distraught. In an effort to win Janice and his daughters back, he began attending church. She returned but would later separate from him again several times as Roy continued his drug habit.
In February 1989, Roy says, he "came to the Lord, but probably didn't really mean it."
"I really started pouring myself into Bible study and didn't miss church. Then I started having some problems because what you do in the past can come back to haunt you. It was hard to find work. Money became an issue, so there was stress. I thought I could start hanging back with the old people because I was having problems in my marriage, but I wasn't totally strong and delivered at the time."
Roy was disgusted with his life. He remembers walking around at night looking for cigarette butts to use in smoking crack. He began to ask himself what he was doing with his life.
"I couldn't believe my life and couldn't get where I needed to be," he said. "I had a wife and two children whom I loved, and I was wrecking their lives. The only thing I had a desire for was to get high. It's a helpless feeling, and all you want to do is get that horrific high and then go out and get it again."
When he would come down from his high, Roy would ask God to take his life - and considered ending it himself. He believed he had hit bottom. But it turned out to be the way up.
"I think if I did not hit bottom, even now I could play it in my mind that I could still handle the double life," he said. "I guess I was playing games with my mind that I could still do it socially sometimes and still be a great father and a great husband, but I never really was. Even after I got saved and backslid a couple times, I every now and then would do that. So I think when I hit that far down that I knew it was either my wife and my girls or the drugs. It's only by the grace of God they're still with me today. I just didn't want (the drugs) anymore. So I really gave my life to Christ, and it seemed almost immediately God took it away from me."
Roy said he finally was sincere and repentant.
"The Bible says to taste and see that (God) is good, and I had a taste of both worlds, and I just didn't want that other taste any longer."
Drugs were not the only trial in Roy's life.
In 1997, he moved his family to Florida, using his prior work experience to get a management job at a fast-food restaurant in Hillsborough County.
One day, a bank deposit was missing, and Roy was held accountable for it. Even though he'd used and sold drugs, Roy said he had never been arrested and had no criminal record.
"All I can remember is that it was deposited," he said. "I don't know what happened to it. Even though I did drugs and was in the criminal life, I never stole anything or had any record. Because I hadn't stolen it, I took it to court, but they found me guilty."
Roy spent 17 days in jail, received three years of probation and was ordered to make restitution, according to court records.
In 2001, Roy met a special man in his life, Faith Jackson, the pastor of Proceeding Word Ministries Church in Brooksville.
"He helped me tremendously and even came down to visit me in jail and brought my wife, watched over her and took care of her and prayed with me over the phone," Roy said. "He is one of the greatest men of God that I know. I cannot say enough good things about him."
Roy thought his career in store management was over. For a time, he took jobs as a cook. Then he began working in the factory at Sun Fiberglass Pools in Brooksville. That's when, he says, God opened another door for him.
"I explained to my boss, Curt Prystupa, what had happened in my past life, and he said, 'I don't care what you did in your past. All I care is what you do now for me.' He made me a sales rep. That was such a blessing. I know it was God."
Roy says he has been drug-free since 2002. He serves as a minister in his church, Proceeding Word, and looks forward to being a part of the programs the church has planned that will help the community. He says he is thankful for his wife, who stood by him these many years, and for his pastor and employer, who have believed in him. It is God, he says, who made it all possible.
"God helped me change my thinking and my image about myself," Roy said. "That helped me to care about other people.
"I'm thankful that God still has purpose for me and that I'm still here for a reason. I just thank him that he never gave up on me."