When Travis French was in prison, he thought about his kids, the troubles he heard they were having, and resolved to get them and care for them when he got out.
"I've been shot, been stabbed, lived rough. But the most painful thing is watching your kids grow up from behind bars," French, 51, said.
French was crying, and apologizing for it, though he did not need to. His tears were of joy. He's out of prison, he's clean, he has his kids. His daughter is about to graduate from Youth Home's school for outpatients. His life "is the best it's ever been," he said, and he credits Youth Home's help for that.
Youth Home is sort of a misnomer. The agency is widely known for its inpatient care for kids ages 12 to 14 with behavioral issues. But Youth Home also operates an outpatient clinic for anyone needing help and the French family made use of both to get their lives back on track.
That French wanted to talk publicly about the problems his family has overcome — he asked to be interviewed, instead of the other way around — is "pivotal in our field," Chrissy Chatham, director of development for Youth Home, said. Mental health problems are largely swept under the rug, unlike breast or prostate cancer, she said, and so don't have spokesmen. French is letting people know "you don't have to do it alone," she said.
Said French, "I don't think that, if it weren't for Youth Home, that I'd be clean."
French, of North Little Rock, who himself came from a family wrecked by drug addiction and alcoholism, began to use drugs — methamphetamines and alcohol — at an early age. His first trip to prison was when he was "15 or 16," he said, on burglary and theft of property charges. "I didn't have a clue," he said of his thinking. He served three years. After prison, he struggled. He eventually had two children, Tyler, now 20, and Tiffany, who will be 18 on Dec. 15. He could not stay clean and "got in a world of trouble," going back to prison for seven-and-a-half years, when Tyler was 9 and Tiffany 7. Even in prison, he was able to keep using, but when he was released in 2009, he'd been clean for several months. He wanted his kids back.
While he was in prison, his children had suffered, shuffled around between various family members. Both suffered physical abuse; Tiffany was also sexually abused. He promised his son that they'd go into business together when he was released. He took custody of them immediately after he was.
"I was flat broke. I had two kids that were a mess," French said. What he did know was that if he could stay off drugs, "they'd have a chance."
The kids were wary. "I didn't know crap about him," Tyler French said of his father.
"I wanted to be a father, but I didn't know how," French said. He felt so guilty about not being there for them when they were growing up that "they got away with murder" at his home, he said.
Tiffany, dressed in a loose white shirt and tie and with her blonde hair pulled back tightly, said that while her father was in prison, "I was miserable all the time," Tiffany said. "My brother had a big part of taking care of me. He didn't hit me." Both recalled being told by a family member at dinner, "Eat it or you wear it." That was the least of it. When the jailed French heard about what was happening, "all I could do was tell them to hang on."
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