Two years after heroin took her only child, Jacqueline Perrine is emerging as one of the state’s most passionate advocates for prevention and recovery.
Fifteen minutes after police told Jacqueline Perrine her son had died of a heroin overdose, the shaken woman walked toward her 9-year-old grandson.
Ryder, the boy her son left behind, glared at his laptop screen. He cut off his grandmother as she started to speak.
“I know, my dad’s dead,” he said, eyes forward.
Perrine’s eyes filled with tears. When she leaned toward the boy, he lashed out.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t talk to me!”
But then he softened.
“It was drugs, wasn’t it?”
“We think it was,” his grandmother said.
A few minutes later, the boy asked her not to leave him, and he slept that night in the same bed as Perrine in their home in Spring Hill.
Two years later, though, the boy still hasn’t cried for his daddy, and rarely talks about the death.
Perrine, too, didn’t speak much about her son’s death for nine months.
But then, with help from a nationwide parent support group, she started talking about it.
Talking with other parents at vigils for overdose victims.
Talking to drug offenders about what parents go through.
Talking to jail officials about getting anti-opiate nasal spray to combat inmate overdoses, talking to schools about starting drug prevention programs.
Perrine has turned her pain and guilt into waging war against addiction — and opening her heart for healing for family members of those who died using drugs.
The more she strives to help others, the more Perrine finds she’s helping herself.
“It’s very healing for me.”
She showed up for labor in stiletto heels
Adam Richardson was Perrine’s only child.
The day she gave birth to him 32 years ago, Perrine took a shower, shaved her legs, did her hair and put on makeup, a cute outfit and black stilettos. A nurse, she was delivering at Southern Hills hospital, where she worked.
Perrine was dying to have her co-workers say, “Oh my God, you don’t look like you’re in labor! You’re looking good, girl!”
Perrine and her husband named the baby Adam Lee Richardson and called him a miracle. Born four weeks premature, the baby came after four miscarriages.
Within three years after Adam was born, Perrine’s marriage crumbled. Mother and son were inseparable until he went to kindergarten.
Adam started playing drums, playing basketball and riding dirt bikes with his friends. His father rarely visited, breaking promises to the boy to come get him for visits, often leaving him sitting on his suitcase outside the house.
Perrine sent the boy to counseling in seventh grade, but he remained sad and resentful about his dad.
Perrine remarried when her son was 13, and the boy and his new stepdad clashed constantly, she said. That marriage fell apart after three years in large part because the husband and his stepson couldn’t get along.
Soon, he stopped playing basketball, wanted to quit band and — two times in the summer before high school — snuck out of the house overnight. He sometimes smelled like marijuana, and when the boy hit ninth grade, he sometimes smelled like he’d been drinking alcohol.
‘Basically, he’d gotten away from me’
Frustrated and scared, Perrine cashed out a big chunk of her retirement savings, and she home-schooled her son for a year.
Adam eventually started arguing with his mother, shutting down with his counselor and hanging out with friends Perrine didn’t know.
She got a call during that time from another parent: Adam was using drugs and hanging out on the street in areas where drugs were sold.
That’s when the arrests started. Adam was in and out of juvenile court, openly rebelling against his mom.
“Basically, he’d gotten away from me,” Perrine said, eyes brimming with tears. “It was horrible.”
During one juvenile court appearance, a judge ordered him into a state-run drug treatment program for teens. At first, Adam cried and begged the judge to let him stay with his mom. Moments later, he said, “Fine, I don’t want to be around her anyway.”
“It just broke my heart.”
His son is born
That started a 15-year period of foster homes, treatment, incarceration, some stays with his mother, never-ending drug use — and endless arguing and anger between mother and son.
At 21, Adam got his girlfriend pregnant, and they had a son, Ryder. A judge eventually granted joint custody to Adam and Perrine.
More jail, more treatment, more relapses, more arguing. Hundreds of dollars of cash and most of her jewelry disappeared from Perrine’s house and bank accounts.
That culminated with a confrontation where his mother called the police, and Adam, some marijuana in his pocket, went to jail. Again.
Still, Perrine had moments of total love and acceptance for her son. She could easily conjure joyful moments from his moments of sobriety.
The police brought the chaplain
Through his disease, Adam often was compassionate toward others and formed many lasting friendships. Because of the disease, Adam rarely felt the love so many showed him.
The police pounded on her door Nov. 30, 2015. When she saw a chaplain with them, Perrine sunk down to the floor and screamed:
“It’s my son, isn’t it?”
“Yes, ma’am, he died today.”
Perrine still calls his crowded funeral a “celebration of life,” which sounds less final to her.
“I know he’s gone, but in the back of my mind, I’m waiting for his call from jail, I’m waiting for that letter.”
Perrine joined a national advocacy group called Moms United, and about nine months after Adam’s death, she put on an event for International Overdose Awareness Day in Spring Hill.
A mother on a mission
Perrine gave a clinical recounting of her son’s life, and she kept it together — until she saw eight other parents clutching pictures of their dead children.
The emotion nearly overwhelmed her.
“It was a real eye opener that I’m not alone. Who knew how many people in this town lost kids to overdoses?” she said.
“That started my journey in healing and feeling like I need to get out and get the word out.”
Her first opportunity: becoming a trainer to show law enforcement and citizens how to use the anti-opiate nasal spray Narcan for those overdosing on pain pills or heroin.
That led to more:
- Speaking to inmates at Williamson County drug court;
- Doing group counseling work for addicts and families of addicts;
- Starting treatment programs for inmates with substance use disorder in Williamson County jail;
- Coaching for addicts’ parents through the Partnership for Drug Free Kids;
- Looking into drug use prevention education for elementary and middle school students.
Her efforts are very personal.
What if another mom had taught her how to love and support her son — with boundaries — without constantly arguing with him? What if Adam had been exposed to a drug prevention program when he was a kid?
If she can stop one teenager from getting hooked on drugs, well, Perrine said, “Then I’m reaching out to help my son.”
“And that’s very healing for me.”
Adam Richardson celebrating his 26th birthday with his son, Ryder, and their dog, Buddy, at his mother’s house in Thompson Station, Tenn. (Photo: Jacqueline Perrine)
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Reach Brad Schmitt at email@example.com or 615-259-8384 and on Twitter @bradschmitt.