Bittersweet story unfolds before our eyes of love, heroin

Posted1/11/2015 1:01 AM

It was heartbreakingly touching.

Jaida, 11, Mikayla, 9, and even 4-year-old Nevaeh were excited to see their picture on the front page of Friday's Daily Herald, in the arms of the grandparents who are raising them. Also on the page was a separate photo of their mother, discussing her heroin addiction from the Schaumburg home she intermittently visits, and, immediately adjacent, her mug shot taken just five days ago at Cook County jail.


"The girls were excited to see their picture in the paper and the older two to read the story (most of it) as well," said the girls' grandfather and legal guardian, Kent Perry. "The story and pictures make the girls feel special in a good way. God knows they have plenty to think about otherwise."

The story of Kent and Patty Perry, who are raising the girls while their daughter Tracy Perry-Belz slips in and out of heroin addiction, was our eighth in an ongoing series on the topic. It was prompted in part by news that heroin deaths in DuPage County had reached an all-time high of 45 in 2013. We've been telling different stories through the eyes of those struggling with heroin, those affected by it, and those fighting the battle to curb its use.

One irony is the Perrys' story was not on our to-do list; they asked us to do it. Kent emailed staff writer Marie Wilson Nov. 2, offering to discuss the impact 37-year-old Tracy's heroin addiction has had on the family. His motivation -- and I've been struck by how many people we've talked to who have been willing in this series to share what to many would be intensely personal, too-painful-to-discuss details -- was that it might help others and, of course, his grandkids.

"If it reinforced with them that they are special, not to blame and just because they live with their grandparents, they are not different, then it would all be worthwhile," he told Marie.

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Family members took turns sitting in the Perry study for their interview. "Jaida and Mikayla spoke to me together," Marie says. "Even little Nevaeh wanted her own turn at the end. (I asked her mainly about preschool and things like what's her favorite color.)"

This also was a story that unfolded before our eyes. After the mid-November interviews with the family, Tracy showed up at home a few days before Christmas. She talked candidly about her "selfishness" and absentee neglect of her children. Yet, two days later she was gone again, as was Kent's car and all the money in the house. A police report was filed, and on Jan 6, Tracy was jailed, accused of failing to show up in court for driving on a suspended license.

The result, I hope you'll agree, was an incredibly powerful, personal account of how heroin's grip can become more important than caring for one's children.

And do such stories do any good? As is the case with virtually anything provocative, reaction is widely varied.

After Marie profiled heroin user Jon Dennison on Sept. 29, the first email response read, "Read your piece with disgust ... featured tattooed addict Dennison has to be committing daily crimes to 'support.'"

On the other hand, Marie received this message Friday from former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Mark Hannon, "As a former DEA agent and now someone who works in a high school, I have seen heroin purity/usage rise and the horror stories reach the suburbs, middle class and affluent families. Your article was absolutely spot on and sad for the grandparents who have now stepped in to raise their grandchildren. It's a story that must be heard/read, and thanks for bringing it to the readers of the DH."

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