As part of National Recovery Month, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is highlighting the story of a 31-year-old man from Portland, Oregon who overcame substance abuse and homelessness with the help of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD®, program in Portland. We are only using his first name.
At nine years old, most children are getting settled into elementary school, establishing hobbies and forming new friendships.
Jayce remembers smoking marijuana for the first time at nine years old.
His first alcoholic beverage came when his stepfather handed him a beer.
“I thought I was an adult,” Jayce said. “I thought I could do whatever I wanted.”
He started skipping school. He would lie to his mother and go smoke pot while his fourth grade classmates devoted their time to math, writing, science and social studies.
“By the time I was 13, I had smoked my first bowl of meth with a friend at school,” Jayce recently said as he sat down with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office to talk about the LEAD® program as part of National Recovery Month.
Jayce, now 31, had what he calls a “traumatic” childhood. He witnessed, and was subjected to, repeated bouts of domestic violence. His mother struggled with addiction – something that would be passed down to Jayce as he grew older. The men in his life never offered any structure or guidance. They would beat his mom and take their drunken and often drug fueled rage out on him.
The men in Jayce’s life would come and go – each one bringing a new set of problems. He found himself in state custody for a short time because officials were so concerned about his wellbeing.
As a young teen, he wondered what a normal childhood was like. He never found the answers he was looking for.
“I really never knew what structure looked like as a child,” Jayce said. “My grades started slipping. I didn’t care. I got into fights.”
He needed an escape.
“The only thing I had that helped me [were] my books,” he said. “That was the only way I could feel any kind of peace.”
He’d read as much as he could. But he occasionally found himself unable to understand the mystery thrillers and true crime books because he had skipped so much school. He liked those genres because he “liked knowing that the bad guy got it in the end.”
Jayce would soon find himself as the bad guy in his own true crime story.
“I managed to avoid the police until I was in my late teens, early 20s,” he recalled.
He moved to Clackamas County and found himself hanging out with white supremacists. They would steal parking meters in downtown Oregon City. To get the coins inside, they would throw the meters at passing trains. It wasn’t a lucrative, but it passed the time.
“It’s me or the drugs,” he recalls telling her.
She got mad. He moved out. She ended up choosing drugs at that point.
“I had just had enough,” he said. “I was tired of doing it by myself. I wanted something better. I wanted to know what a normal life was.”
In his storybook world, Jayce planned to attend college. His last year in high school would be filled with normalcy with his mom – without any abusive boyfriends or consistent trips to the hospital.
His mom closed the book on him. She moved back in with another boyfriend even after he set her car on fire. Jayce decided that it was time he write his own chapter. He moved in with his girlfriend. Together they started selling drugs in Portland. She got pregnant. He quickly started preparing to be a father – vowing to be a better man than the ones he grew up with.
Jayce secured a job. He was taking two college courses and was studying to become a medical assistant.
“I was able to work and keep my head above the water,” he said.
He lost his job at age 18 and found out that another man was actually the father of his girlfriend’s soon-to-be born child.
“I went down hard,” he said.
The news devastated him. He ramped up his drug use and started selling narcotics to support his habit. There wasn’t much for Jayce to learn when it came to peddling drugs. As a child, he had a front row seat and learned everything without his mom “realizing that I was paying attention all those years,” he said.
Jayce’s 20s continued with ups and downs. Soon he would find himself living at the Royal Palm, a three-story building in Old Town that has traditionally served as transitional housing for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
Eventually, Jayce would be kicked out of the Royal Palm and found himself living on the streets of Portland, primarily in Old Town. He would set up his tent at the intersection of Northwest 3rd and Flanders and started selling drugs and stealing bikes. At the height of it all, Jayce was bringing in a substantial amount of money selling drugs and was boosting up to seven bikes a day.
The cat and mouse game with Portland Police ended. He found himself in the court system on various drug-related and property crime offenses. Selling – and making money – was more important, Jayce recalled, than going to court. He racked up numerous failure to appear warrants.
Officers with the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force finally caught up with Jayce and gave him a different kind of ultimatum. Go to jail or enroll in the LEAD® program.
LEAD® is a pre-booking diversion program that allows officers to redirect low level offenders engaged in drug activity to services and resources specific to the needs of the individual instead of jail and prosecution. Participants start working with case managers immediately to access services.
Reducing the harm a drug offender causes him or herself and to the surrounding community, reducing recidivism rates for low-level offenders and decreasing the number of persons of color prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance are some the top tier goals of LEAD®.
Jayce’s fiancée recalled the slew of problems that besieged Jayce prior to his enrollment with LEAD®.
“He got a little carried away in his habits and in his lifestyle,” his fiancée said.
On April 20, 2018, the couple made a pact to get clean and take control of their lives.
“If it wasn’t for the LEAD® team, he’d probably be in jail…,” his fiancée said with a pause. The gravity of Jayce being locked up started to hit.
“…Or be dead,” Jayce quickly interjected with a nervous laughter. “Because I was going hard at it.”
The couple wanted to have a family. The only consistent family they had was their street family. As Jayce toyed with the idea of participating in LEAD® he and his fiancée would lose a close friend. It was the final push he needed to admit he needed help.
Jayce’s LEAD® case manager was able to get him and his fiancée into transitional housing and treatment. He has goals of going back to school, getting a better paying job with Clean & Safe, and to find permanent housing. He wants to prove to himself and his family “that I’ve chosen a better way of life and that I’m not going to mess up any more,” he said.
It took 31 years, but Jayce finally found the structure he craved as a child.
“Thanks to the LEAD® team, I’m choosing to be one of the best for the first time in God knows how long,” he said.
His past is just that: his past. Jayce said he doesn’t mind sharing his story knowing that it could resonate with and help someone else. For as long as he can remember, people have looked down on him. That’s changed. Jayce’s story of overcoming so much adversity is inspiring others in the community to take a second look at their own lives. Jayce and his fiancée often share their story with others who are struggling with homelessness or addiction. It’s the couple’s hope that those who hear their experiences will see that there are people ready to help.
“It’s been an awesome journey,” Jayce said.
He and his fiancée are excited for their future. They recently adopted “Jazzy Bear,” a 13-month old puppy. As Jayce walks the streets of Old Town, he passes the corner where he sold drugs out of a tent. The sight now fuels his motivation for success in the future.
“I look at it and I remember what I don’t want to be,” he said. “Without LEAD® I would still be out there. The LEAD® team helped me find my way out of that dark, dangerous hole.”
Multnomah County 24/7 Crisis Line – 503.988-4888
- Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office Law Enforcement Assisted Division (LEAD®) program
- Multnomah County Addiction Services
- Multnomah County Mental Health and Addiction Services
- Central City Concern
- LEAD® King County, Washington
- National Recovery Month
Contact: Brent Weisberg, Communications Director