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The Journal Gazette

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Tayvon Wendell looks at Trey Blanks as he talks about their struggles with Tayvon’s drug addiction and how it tore their family apart.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Tayvon Wendell found a home and a place to continue her recovery from drug addiction at Redemption House, a place she still calls home.

Sunday, September 04, 2016 10:16 pm

After losing everything, mom, kids reconnecting

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

It all started with prescription painkillers. 

Injured in a car crash in 1998 at the age of 14, Tayvon Wendell saw a family doctor for 10 years. When that doctor was unable to manage her pain, she was referred to a pain management specialist – Dr. William Hedrick. When Hedrick was disciplined by the state for his prescribing practices, things took a turn for the worse. 

"When Dr. Hedrick got in trouble, they didn’t do what they’re doing now when doctors get in trouble where they’re letting patients go to other doctors or referring them to the methadone clinic," Wendell, 32, said. "So that’s when I started using heroin."

Eventually, Wendell was using heroin and methamphetamine. The stay-at-home mom’s addiction quickly put a strain on the life she’d built with her longtime boyfriend, Trey Blanks, and their three young daughters.

"I had a really good life and I just spiraled out of control really, really fast," Wendell said. 

Blanks said he quickly realized something was amiss. People Blanks didn’t approve of were spending more time at their home and he began finding syringes and baggies around the house. Eventually, Blanks hired a private investigator to follow Wendell as she traveled from one pharmacy to another, to trailer parks and other places in towns like Avilla and Goshen.

Wendell was in denial about her addiction, Blanks said, but then Child Protective Services started showing up at the house.

Blanks, 39, eventually had Wendell evicted from the house and enrolled his children in child care. When Wendell was arrested, that’s when the children began to realize what was happening.   

Blanks said he faced new challenges at home. Wendell’s daughter Alexis, now 14, began to blame him for her mother’s incarceration.

"Alexis isn’t my biological daughter, but she calls me ‘Dad,’ so that was hard to deal with when I had to explain to her in kid-friendly terms why her mom was in prison and that it wasn’t because of me," Blanks said. "But she had this idea that I had evicted her mom and sent her to prison."

Wendell said she tries to explain to her daughters that none of it was Blanks’ fault. 

"Trey for a long time tried every option possible to get me to see what I was doing, to get me to change what I was doing, to protect the kids. When it came down to us going to court because of the house, it was never out of him trying to hurt me," Wendell said. "It was out of him trying to protect the kids, because it got to the point where my kids were unsafe."

Wendell was arrested in June 2014 and charged with possession of methamphetamine and was released on HOPE Probation, a one-year supervision program with four 90-day phases, which Wendell admits she didn’t take seriously.

Within 10 days, she was arrested again and sent to prison for violating her probation. After about a year, she was released and, with some prompting from her parole officer, Wendell became a resident of Redemption House, a transitional home for women. She graduated from the program on April 10. Wendell now volunteers for the house full time, working with residents, running errands and helping to cover shifts. It’s important, she said, to give back to the home that helped her get her life back. 

Wendell’s addiction cost her everything – her family, her driver’s license, her freedom – until she arrived at Redemption House "kicking and screaming."

Wendell eventually took to the house. She joined Liquid Church, a community church in south Fort Wayne, and immersed herself in the classes Redemption House offered. Eventually, Blanks began to let their children come to the house’s visitation days. 

Blanks said he knew it would be good for the children to re-engage with their mom. 

"It was a little bit of a process at first, getting them used to her again because they hadn’t physically seen her for months, maybe even close to a year," Blanks said. "We didn’t do visitation in the prison."

Reconnecting with her children has been difficult, Wendell said, noting that she has to re-learn how to be a mom. Her children are different from how they were two years ago. Hanna, 6, and Lyla, 7, are in school and Alexis is a teenager.

"Having to look at them and explain that life is always going to be disrupted because of your actions is hard," Wendell said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Alexis sometimes has issues with authority and respect, which Wendell said is reminiscent of her own behavior during her addiction.

"She saw me treat her dad poorly for a long time, so she thinks that’s acceptable. When she gets mad and doesn’t get her way, she can yell, scream, argue, name-call, and then in 5 minutes it’s going to be OK. She just assumes everyone’s going to forget and forgive, because that’s how I was for a long time."

Blanks said having Wendell back in their kids’ lives has been beneficial and thinks that they’re warming up to her again. His own relationship with Wendell is in a good place as well, Blanks said. 

"I’d help her any chance I could. I’d still do pretty much anything she asked me to do, within reason," he said with a chuckle. "We’re pretty good friends. We’re raising kids together, so that’s the main thing. That’s the important part. I think she’s focusing more on them and less on herself, so I think we’ve got a good relationship."

Wendell agreed. Blanks, she said, is – and has always been – her best friend. He’s helping her rebuild her life, something she said she’s infinitely grateful for.

"He’s a great guy, an amazing father. He still treats me like a human being and there’s no reason why he should," Wendell said.

Blanks’ advice to families of those struggling from addiction is to be as involved and supportive as possible. 

"Obviously, sometimes you have to draw a line, but other than that, I don’t think people who make bad decisions or make mistakes or use drugs are necessarily bad people, even though they’re hurting everybody in their lives," Blanks said. "So, I guess it’s about not giving up on people, being supportive and helping people get better."

Forgiveness is key, Wendell said, noting that in order for anyone else to forgive an addict, they first have to forgive themselves for the things they’ve done.

The hard work, she said, is worth it.

"To say it’s easy is a lie. It’s hard work, but it’s well worth it," Wendell said. "Being able to see my kids, to talk to them when I want, to pick them up, it’s priceless."